Today is a public holiday in Mexico, Día de la Constitución, or Constitution Day. So I’m going to tip-toe into some Mexican history, with my friend Jorge’s help, on a few major events leading to the Mexican Constitution of 1917, that he believes are important.
Jorge says that the citizenry in Mexico was unsatisfied after suffering through the 30-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. This unhappiness triggered civil and political unrest from 1908-10. In 1910 Francisco Madero spearheaded the Madero Rebellion. Waiting in the wings was Venustiano Carranza, who served in the revolutionary cabinet and as Governor of the State of Coahuila.
In 1912, army General Victoriano Huerta joined a conspiracy with imprisoned Diaz’s nephew, Félix Díaz and U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to topple Madero. In February 1913, violence broke out in Mexico City and Madero was trapped in the presidential palace while forces loyal to Diaz fought the federal troops. President Madero unwisely accepted the offer of protection from Huerta. Instead, Huerta arrested the President and forced him to sign a resignation document which named Huerta as his successor. President Madero and Vice-President Pino Suarez were murdered on February 21st. Once the coup d’état was complete, Huerta disowned Diaz and Wilson in order to claim the dictatorship.
Venustiano Carranza again enters the picture as the chief figure in the movement to restore constitutional power and to unseat Huerta. A short-lived revolutionary
coalition of Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Carranza chased Huerta into exile in 1914. Meantime Carranza and Zapata disagreed and split up.
Carranza evacuated Mexico City and withdrew to Veracruz while Zapata remained in the capital. After more strife, the tide turned and Carranza’s forces prevailed and the Carranza regime was recognized in January 1915. All this time, Carranza had been advocating popular agrarian and anti-clerical reform.
After consolidating his regime, Carranza submitted his draft proposal of a constitution then convened a constitutional convention in December of 1916. During the convention, revolutionary soldiers revised the draft and added articles to strengthen the federal government and weaken the status of the powerful Church. The conventioners added strong restrictions on major landowners and foreign investors, who had become too powerful in domestic affairs. The proposed constitution added agrarian reforms, control of the subsoil and mineral wealth, and protection for labor.
In league with the Constitutional Convention, the Mexican Congress composed the final draft of the new constitution. On February 5, 1917, legislators approved and passed the Constitution into law.
Among the most progressive of the reforms instituted by the new constitution, were those that affected labor. Both employers and employees have the right to form coalitions to advance and protect their interests and needs. The new document introduced the principle of equal pay for equal work. Workers’ Compensation was also established.
Of special note, is the provision of the federal government to enact land reform measures. The Mexican government was granted the authority to confiscate property and use it in the interest of the majority of the Mexican citizens. This was enacted to protect the national interests from the problem of foreign corporations exploiting the petroleum and mineral wealth of Mexico.
Among the other important revisions was the prohibition of a President from serving consecutive terms. The powerful Church also came under regulation with new restrictions on land ownership by religious institutions and secularization of public education. The new constitution also restored many of the communal land back to control of Native Americans.
Unfortunately, President Carranza did not embrace several of the new provisions, so he failed to enforce them. Domestic unrest thus continued across the country. Then, in 1920, another Huerta, Adolfo de la Huerta allied with Plutarco Calles, and Álvaro Obregón Salido. All three of the generals, initiated a coup d’état. President Carranza was killed during the violence. His successor, General Obregón assumed power in the aftermath.
Obregón worked to restore order to the violence-torn nation and to rebuild the economy. Obregón did institute land reforms and set up rural school districts. Unfortunately he also used force, bribery, and concessions to foreign corporations to consolidate support. In 1923, Obregón arbitrated and adjusted U.S. oil companies’ claims in Mexico. Later that year, the US government supported Obregón’s regime during a failed coup d’état by his opponents.
Long-sought stability and order finally came to Mexico following World War Two, when the war industries retooled to serve civilian needs. Post-war President Miguel Aleman was elected as the first in a series of civilian presidents that continues to this day.