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Mexico-The Porfiriato, 1876-1910

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Mexico Index

The liberal republicans under Juárez's leadership consolidated the victory of the principles of the constitution of 1857. The Restoration, as the period from 1867 to 1876 is called, was marked by peace and tolerance toward the conservatives. Juárez returned to Mexico City on July 15, 1867, called for presidential elections, and presented himself as a candidate. By the end of the year, he was victorious.

The economy and the education system were vitally important to Juarez's new administration. Economic development was based on the improvement of communications, the exploitation of the country's natural resources, and the revamping of the mining sector through favorable tax guidelines. Seeking to reduce banditry and to attract investment capital, Juárez strengthened the rurales , the Rural Defense Force (Guardia Rural) responsible for the security of roads and land cargo, and placed it under the Ministry of Interior. The improvement of communications began with the completion in 1873 of the railroad that linked Mexico City with Veracruz, a Mexican venture that had been started in the 1850s. In the area of education, a complete reorganization was directed by a commission headed by the prominent physician and positivist intellectual, Gabino Barreda. He devised a school curriculum that concentrated on mathematics and the physical sciences. For the first time, education became mandatory. Despite new schools, the liberal aspiration for literacy and schools open to all remained an unfulfilled goal, as in most nineteenth-century rural societies.

At the end of his term in 1871, Juárez decided to seek reelection. His opponents were José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, whose candidacies divided the liberal faction and resulted in none of the candidates receiving a majority of the votes. With no clear winner, it was up to congress to choose among the three candidates or to reelect the incumbent president. The congress chose Juárez. Díaz invoked the principle of "no reelection" in the constitution of 1857 and staged a revolt in November 1871. On July 18, 1872, amidst the Díaz rebellion, Juárez died of a heart attack.

New elections were called in 1872, and Lerdo won the presidency. His administration was characterized by a continuous effort to bring peace to the country, and he intervened militarily in the countryside whenever it was necessary. Lerdo maintained the emphasis on communications through new railroad and telegraph lines. In education, he directed his energies to the construction of new schools and the enrollment of more students. When the time came for electing a new president, Lerdo showed interest in another four-year term. Díaz rose in rebellion a second time in March 1876, again defending the "no reelection" principle. Lerdo went into exile in the United States, and on November 21, 1876, Díaz occupied Mexico City. A political mastermind, surrounded by capable advisers, he held power directly or indirectly for the next thirty-four years. The period known as the "Porfiriato" (the period of Porfirio Díaz's rule) had begun.

The Porfiriato, 1876-1910

Propitious economic conditions did not greet Porfirio Díaz upon his rise to power in 1876. Mexico remained saddled with a huge foreign debt and an empty treasury. An army of bureaucrats was owed back wages, the country had a poor international credit rating, and persistent current account deficits caused serious balance of payments problems. Investment, whether foreign or domestic, was scarce, and the mining industry had yet to recover from the revolutionary wars. The relatively few mines in operation in 1876 were exploited haphazardly, and extraction and smelting techniques were archaic. Only a few miles of rail had been laid, transportation and communications were rudimentary, and dock facilities were dilapidated and unsafe. Endemic rural violence further hindered commerce.

During his first four years in office, Díaz began to tackle economic backwardness. He first decreed stiff measures against contraband moving across the United States border. Smugglers and bandits crossed the border from both sides, but Díaz would not permit United States troops to enter Mexico in search of them. Instead, he enlarged the Mexican border patrol. In 1877 Díaz agreed to honor US$4 million in claims by United States citizens against Mexico.

In 1880 at the end of his term and despite his followers' wishes, Díaz left office. The next president, Manuel González, continued Diaz's modernization program. Telegraph lines began to operate, and railroad construction was kept apace. In an attempt to meet his foreign debt obligations, González withheld the salaries of government officials, a move that led to a harsh campaign against the president.

During González's tenure, Díaz gathered a large following that restored him to office in 1884. Mexican positivism, embodied in the slogan "order and progress," was the backbone of the modernization scheme supported by the científicos , intellectual followers of Barreda. Led by José Ives Limantour, who served as adviser to Díaz, the científicos developed a plan for economic recovery that was to be carried out through the next twenty-seven years of the Porfiriato.

Data as of June 1996

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