In reading this chapter of The Mexican Revolution 1910-1940 by Michael Gonzales it is clear Porfirio Díaz was quite the busy dictator of Mexico doing everything to centralize his power and control of the country and its people. Gonzales in this chapter presents the situation in Mexico under Porfirio Díaz in a general manner to set up the rest of the book without bogging the narrative down. In order to do this he tried and did about everything possible to garner support from most, especially those with the financial means to continually prop up his rule. He did not discriminate when it came to foreign investors or other governments. He would easily play American investors no differently than English or French investors. Díaz not only had foreign investors such as Andrew Carnegie or Lord Cowdray wanting to rub shoulders with him, but he had foreign governments willing to overlook some of his more repressive, self-serving policies. When you have Theodore Roosevelt declare in front of you that you “are the world’s greatest living statesman” (Gonzales, pg. 5) it just validated your ways and other powerful countries were supportive of your rule. As with today, for any foreign leader to be pictured with an American president serves a number personal and public validations and for Porfirio Díaz this was true as well.
Porfirio Díaz and President Taft 1909
Not having to worry about other countries, especially the powerful neighbor to the north interfering to bring your rule down was important to maintaining power. If Díaz’s rule would end it would have to come from within. This would eventually take place only after years of control and changing the dynamics of Mexico socially, industrially and politically.
As with any driven leader the goal was to stay in power for as long as possible. I call it the “good to be king syndrome,” which infects many politicos, regardless of place in the world. Porfirio Díaz was no different in this regard. In order to do this he needed to accept 19th century liberalism, economic policies, social and religious policies to align Mexico with other industrialized countries of the world. He also needed to reign in the propensity of American investors from totally running through Mexico buying everything like a kid running through a toy store. In order to do this he first and foremost needed to consolidate his political power across the board in Mexico. To do this it was not beneath him to venture into shady policies and placing people in positions of power who were in line and close to him personally. Controlling a country for Díaz meant being in complete charge of all dealings within its borders and not having control would weaken at the very least his grip on Mexico. A major part of a dictator maintaining control and one that cannot be overlooked is how a dictator handles the military. For Díaz, the military was a concern to his rule. As Gonzales points out, “during the course of his dictatorship, he cut the size of the army from 30,000 to 14,000 men and the number of generals by 25 percent. In addition, the president gradually replaced most military governors.” (Gonzales, pg. 17) Of course the generals who would remain were known to be extremely loyal to the Díaz regime and from his perspective would pose no internal or military threat against his rule.
Díaz and his goals of supreme rule over Mexico not only dealt with controlling the military, but also delved into the economics of Mexico. He understood another way to maintain power was to improve the economic conditions of the country. If people were happy economically they would never want to replace him. To do this the country went on a spree of projects designed to help the country economically. These would include a massive undertaking of adding thousands of kilometers of railroad track. A total of “24,560 kilometers of track were laid between 1880 and 1910.” (Gonzales, pg. 21) Adding kilometers of track would enable the expansion of trade to the United States and to increase products that could go to the Mexican ports more quickly. All the track added also led to expansion of not only agricultural production, but mining production as well. The ability to transfer products and materials more quickly was instrumental in taking Mexico forward economically and industrially. An effect of raising the internal transportation standards in Mexico helped bring about the revolution of 1910.
As Mexico became more accessible, Díaz became overly chained to outside interests investing heavily in the country. The over reliance of outside conglomerates can be seen by the rise in commercial farms and land being controlled by foreign investment. As more and more foreign entities were doing business in Mexico the people, particularly the peasant class was being squeezed from all sides. They were displaced, overworked, underpaid and one could say trampled upon by the policies and rule of Díaz. When the majority of people are feeling misery it is only a matter of time before the people rise and fight against the powers at be. Mexico was no different in this regard. The policies of Díaz directly contributed to the revolution and the rise of characters like Emiliano Zapata, and Francisco Modero.
Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 2002. Print.