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History, The Mexican Revolution

Victoriano Huerta, occupation of Veracruz, Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregon, Emiliano Zapata

Madero was swept into office with few concrete ideas. As a wealthy northerner, he envisioned political reform, not revolution. Radical groups who had pinned their hopes on Madero quickly became disenchanted. Emiliano Zapata soon understood that Madero had no interest in revolutionary change. When Madero adopted a cautious policy on land reform, Zapata revolted and issued his Plan of Ayala in November 1911. The proclamation called for the immediate transfer of land to peasant farmers and insisted on the right of Mexican citizens to choose their own leaders. In the north, Madero’s former followers, most notably supporters of rebel leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa, felt betrayed and also took up arms against Madero.

Many feared that Madero could not control the increasingly chaotic situation. Anti-Madero conspiracies and an attempted coup further unsettled the nation. The head of Madero’s army, Victoriano Huerta, seized control of Mexico City and became provisional president in February 1913. Four days after assuming power, Huerta had Madero murdered. Huerta attempted to make peace with Zapata, but Zapata did not trust him and the fighting continued. A third group, known as the Constitutionalists, was outraged at the blatant seizure of power. This group, led by the governor of the state of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza, also challenged the federal army.

In the United States, President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize the Huerta government because Huerta had taken power illegally. Under Wilson’s order the U.S. Navy seized the port of Veracruz to prevent the delivery of weapons to Huerta’s forces. To Wilson’s surprise the occupation of Veracruz set off violent anti-American protests throughout Mexico. Nevertheless, Huerta resigned in July 1914.

Huerta’s resignation further split the rebels into factions. Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata pressed for social change and land reforms, while Carranza thought primarily in terms of political reforms. The two rebel leaders eventually teamed up against Carranza; by December 1914 rebel forces had occupied Mexico City and Puebla. Carranza’s general, Alvaro Obregon, succeeded in driving Villa and Zapata out of Mexico City, and his forces eventually dominated the country.

As head of the Constitutionalist forces, Carranza became provisional president in 1914 and manipulated events along the border to force the United States to recognize his government. Carranza insisted he could not control cross-border violence unless the United States recognized his authority. Mexican rebels had attacked a ranch, derailed a passenger train, and engaged in other types of violence on the U.S. side of the border, killing more than 100 people. In August 1915 a commission representing eight Latin American countries and the United States recognized Carranza as the lawful authority in Mexico. The rebel leaders, with the exception of Villa, laid down their arms.

In March 1916 Pancho Villa sent a raiding party into Columbus, New Mexico, apparently attempting to demonstrate that Carranza did not control northern Mexico. He evidently hoped to provoke a reaction from the United States—perhaps an arms embargo that might deny his enemies the weapons they needed. As a result of the raid, a punitive expedition under U.S. General John J. Pershing chased the rebels for more than a year, but failed to capture Villa.

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