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 PORFIRIO DIAZ - from Military Hero to Dictator

Porfirio Diaz
Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915) perhaps qualifies as one of Mexico's most controversial statesmen. President of the country for 30 years, Diaz is frequently remembered as being one of the country's most notorious dictators. The bitter irony to his record lies in his accomplishments, of which there were many. Diaz brought Mexico into the modern age and the country achieved financial solvency under his reign.

Porfirio Diaz, The Military Hero
General Porfirio Diaz, The Military Hero
Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, Porfirio Diaz had mestizo blood. He grew up in the capital of the state, the city of Oaxaca. The early years of his life were filled with economic hardship and tragedy. His father died when he was just three years of age, leaving the family impoverished. Porfirio's mother, struggling to raise eight children on her own, nonetheless recognized the importance of an education and enrolled Porfirio in the seminary.

However, Porfirio Diaz' destiny lay in the world of temporal affairs. He switched his studies from the the priesthood to law. Known to be a diligent student, one of his tutors was Mexico's future president and beloved hero, Benito Juarez. Influenced and inspired by Juarez' commitment to social justice, Diaz' early allegiance was to the ideals of liberalism.

Mexico during the second half of the 19th century was facing internal challenges as well as threats from abroad. War was in the air and Porfirio abandoned his studies to become a soldier. In short order, Porfirio Diaz became known for his bravery, cunning and ability. He fought valiantly during the War of the Reform and was promoted for his efforts. His daring maneuvers during the Battle of Puebla earned him the title of hero. This famous battle is why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated today.

Subsequent skirmishes had Porfirio captured and imprisoned. Walls and guards could not hold him and he would successfully escape his captors. His extraordinary abilities on the battlefield earned him the rank of General and the loyalty of the men who served under him. His future success was assured with a career in the military but Porfirio had further ambitions.

Breaking completely from his former mentor Benito Juarez, Porfirio ran against his elder for the office of president. He lost the election but undeterred, sought the office yet again when another rival succeeded Juarez, Lerdo de Tejada. Porfirio staged a rebellion and crafted the "Plan of Tuxtepec", a plan of governance that mainly rested upon the principle of a one-term presidential office with reelection forbidden.

Do�a Carmen, Wife of Porfio D�az
Dona Carmen Romero de Diaz, Wife of Porfirio Diaz
The subsequent election that followed brought Porfirio success. He became president in 1877 and served the remaining one term, abiding by his previously advertised platform. A hand-picked successor assumed the office next, Manuel Gonzalez. Chaos and instability dogged this administration. The next election saw Porfirio Diaz reneging on his earlier promise of a one-term presidential office. Porfirio promptly emerged the winner and assumed office.

From 1884 to 1911 Porfirio Diaz ruled Mexico as a dictator. He quenched all opposition by violence and intimidation. His reign of office is known as the "Porfiriato". Porfirio Diaz is credited with the establishment of the "rurales", bandits that the president heavily armed so that they could carry out his orders.

The poor and indigenous suffered enormously under the dictatorship of Diaz. Lands were taken away and the indigenous were forced into a debt-slavery system. As well, freedom of speech was not tolerated under the "Porfiriato". Hacienda owners however prospered as did other select groups.

Porfirio and his advisors followed the philosophy of positivism whose basic tenet prized economic development no matter what the cost. This philosophy provided a rationalization for Diaz and his followers, the cientificos who believed that only when economic stability is achieved can social progress be made.

Porfirio D�az and Do�a Carmen
President Porfirio Diaz and Dona Carmen
Indeed, under the reign of Diaz, Mexico prospered incredibly in terms of over-all economics. Mexico entered the modern age with electricity brought to the cities and thousands of miles of railway built. Factories sprung up and the national debt was paid in full.

However, the social atrocities occurring in tandem with these achievements created an unrest that could not be quenched. The cry of revolution could be heard throughout the country. Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and others answered the call. The Mexican Revolution had begun and Porfirio Diaz was forced to flee the country. He died in exile.

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