Sunday, May 3, 2009

5 de Mayo..... The Battle of Puebla, Emperor Maximilian and the French occupation....

It seems every year the 5 de Mayo festivities are a "bigger deal" in the US than here in Mexico. There also seems to be a misconception that the 5 de Mayo is the equivalent to the 4th of July (actually our Independence Day is on September 16th) and so the beer companies come out in force, promoting a not wise consumption of their products all in the name of an independent Mexico..... This is hilarious to those of us that know what this is all about.... In any case, the true story begins way before the Battle of Puebla was ever waged in 1862 and is quite a complicated series of events, I'll explain.....

Benito Juárez was born in the small village of San Pablo Guelatao, located in the mountain range now known as the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca. His parents, were peasants who died when he was three years old. He worked in the corn fields and as a shepherd until the age of 12, when he walked to the city of Oaxaca to attend school. At the time, he was illiterate and could not speak Spanish, only the Zapotec language.

In the city, where his sister worked as a cook, he took a job as a domestic servant for Antonio Maza. A lay Franciscan, Antonio Salanueva, was impressed with young Benito's intelligence and thirst for learning, and arranged for his placement at the city's seminary. He studied there but decided to pursue law rather than the priesthood. He graduated from the seminary in 1827 and went on to gain a degree in law.

Juárez became a lawyer in 1834 and a judge in 1841. He was governor of the state of Oaxaca from 1847 to 1852; in 1853, he went into exile because of his objections to the corrupt military dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna. He spent his exile in New Orleans, Louisiana, working in a cigar factory. In 1854 he helped draft the Plan of Ayutla as the basis for a liberal revolution in Mexico.

Faced with growing opposition, Santa Anna resigned in 1855 and Juárez returned to Mexico. The winning party, the liberals, formed a provisional government under General Juan Álvarez, inaugurating the period known as La Reforma. The Reform laws sponsored by the wing of the Liberal Party curtailed the power of the Catholic Church and the military, while trying to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the U.S. model. The Ley Juárez (Juárez's Law) of 1855, for example, abolished special clerical and military privileges, and declared all citizens equal before the law. All the efforts ended on the promulgation of the Constitution of 1857, new federalist constitution. Juárez became Chief Justice, under moderate president Ignacio Comonfort. The conservadores (conservatives) led by General Félix Zuloaga, with the backing of the military and the clergy, launched a revolt under the Plan of Tacubaya on December 17, 1857 . Comonfort didn't want to start a bloody civil war, so made an auto-coup d'état, dissolved the congress and appointed a new cabinet, in which the conservative party would have some influence, assuming in real terms the Tacubaya plan. Juárez, Ignacio Olvera, and many other deputies and ministers were arrested. The rebels wanted the constitution revoked completely and another all-conservative government formed, so they launched another revolt on January 11, 1858, proclaiming Zuloaga as president. Comonfort re-established the congress, freeing all the prisoners and resigned as president. Under the new constitution, the chief justice immediately became interim president until proper elections could be made. Juárez took office on late January 1858. Juárez then led the liberal side in the Mexican War of the Reform, first from Querétaro and later from Veracruz. In 1859, Juárez took the radical step of declaring the confiscation of church properties. In spite of the conservatives' initial military advantage, the liberals drew on support of regionalist forces. They had U.S. help under some terms of the controversial and never approved McLane-Ocampo treaty. This turned the tide in 1860; the liberals recaptured Mexico City in January 1861. Juárez was finally properly elected president in March for another four-year term, under the Constitution of 1857.

Faced with bankruptcy and a war-savaged economy, Juárez declared a moratorium on foreign debt payments. Spain, Great Britain, and France reacted with a joint seizure of the Veracruz customs house in December 1861. Spain and Britain soon withdrew, but the French Emperor Napoleon III used the episode as a pretext to launch the French intervention in Mexico in 1862, with plans to establish a conservative regime.

In the Battle of Puebla, on May 5th, 1862, the Mexicans were led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Although the Mexican army was victorious over the French at Puebla, the victory only delayed the French invasion on Mexico City a year later, the French occupied Mexico. The French occupying forces placed Maximilian I, Emperor of Mexico on the throne of Mexico. The French, under U.S. pressure, eventually withdrew in 1866-1867. (which is why there are many descendants of the French in Mexico to this day and the influence in customs and food are still with us) Maximilian was executed by President Benito Juarez, five years after the Battle of Puebla.

The Battle was significant for at least two reasons. First, while outnumbered almost two-to-one, the Mexicans defeated a much better-equipped French army that had known no defeat for almost 50 years. Second, this battle was important because it would be "the last time that an army from another continent invaded the Americas."

Now in Mexico there were some people, who wanted something similar to what Europe had, decided that an Emperor was the ticket and so threw their allegiance behind Napoleon and conspired to bring a foreigner to rule the land.

The other reason they preferred a blond European was the fact that Benito Juarez, who was President Mexico as of 1858 faced strong resistance by the "whites" and created a problem at the time for resisting the French occupation, overthrowing the Empire, and restoring the Republic, as well as for his efforts to modernize the country. Juárez is often regarded as Mexico's greatest and most beloved leader. If he was so good, why all the resistance? Benito Juárez was the first Mexican leader who did not have a military background, and also the first full-blooded indigenous national to serve as President of Mexico and to lead a country in the Western Hemisphere in over 300 years.

The sad tale of our "Emperor"....
Maximilian was born in Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna Austria, the second son of Archduke Franz Karl of Austria and his wife Sophie, Princess of Bavaria. His siblings were Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, Archduchess Maria Anna Caroline Pia and Archduke_Ludwig_Viktor. Maximilian was born with the title His Imperial and Royal Highness Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph, Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia.

He married his second cousin, Princess Charlotte of Belgium also known as Empress Carlota of Mexico.Carlota, daughter of Leopold I of Belgium, King of the Belgians, and of Louise-Marie_of_France, first cousin to both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. They had no children.They lived as the Austrian regents in Milan until 1859, when Emperor Franz Josef dismissed Maximilian. The emperor was angered by the liberal policies pursued by his brother in Italy. Shortly after Maximilian's dismissal, Austria lost control of most of its Italian possessions. Maximilian then retired into private life, chiefly at Trieste, near which he built the beautiful castle, Miramare.

In 1859 he was first approached by Mexican monarchists, led by local nobleman José Pablo Martínez del Río, with a proposal to become the Emperor of Mexico. He did not accept at first, but sought to satisfy his restless desire for adventure with a botanical expedition to the tropical forests of Brazil. However, after the French intervention in Mexico, under pressure from Napoleon III and General Élie-Frédéric Forey's capture of Mexico City and the Plebiscite which confirmed his proclamation of the empire, he consented to accept the crown in 1863 (Maximilian was not told of the dubious nature of the plebiscite, which was held while French troops were occupying most of the territory, after the Battle of Puebla but before the end of the occupation - plus the fact that he was the only one of his family without a crown, which during those times was a "right" for those born royal). His decision involved the loss of all his noble rights in Austria, though he was not informed of this until just before he left. Archduchess Charlotte was thereafter known as "Her Imperial Majesty Empress Carlota". Maximilian landed at Veracruz on 28 May 1864 with the backing of Mexican conservatives and "Napoleon III"; but from the very outset he found himself involved in serious difficulties since the Mexican liberals, led by Benito Juárez, who refused to recognize his rule. There was continuous warfare between his French troops and the Republicans. The Imperial couple chose as their seat Mexico City.

The Emperor and Empress set up their residence at Chapultepec Castle, now a museum, located on the top of a hill formerly at the outskirts of Mexico City that had been a retreat of Aztec emperors. Maximilian ordered a wide avenue cut through the city from Chapultepec to the city center; originally named Avenue of the Empress, it is today Mexico City's famous Paseo de la Reforma (The Reform Promenade). They made plans to be crowned at the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, but the coronation was never actually carried out, due to the constant instability of the regime. As Maximilian and Carlota had no children, they adopted Agustín de Iturbide y Green and his cousin Salvador de Iturbide y de Marzán, both grandsons of Agustín de Iturbide, who had briefly reigned as Emperor of Mexico in the 1820s (of "Chiles en Nogada" fame). They gave young Agustín the title of "His Highness, the Prince of Iturbide" and intended to groom him as heir to the throne.

To the dismay of his conservative allies, Maximilian upheld several liberal policies proposed by the Juárez administration – such as land reforms, religious freedoms, and extending the right to vote beyond the landholding class. At first Maximilian offered Juárez an amnesty if he would swear allegiance to the crown, which Juárez refused. Later Maximilian ordered all captured followers of Juárez to be shot, in response to the republican practice of executing anyone who was a supporter of the Empire. In the end, it proved to be a tactical mistake that only exacerbated opposition to his regime.

After the end of the American Civil War the United States began supplying partisans of Juárez and his ally Porfirio Diaz by leaving arms depots for them at El Paso del Norte at the Mexican border. Meanwhile Maximilian invited ex-Confederates to move to Mexico in a series of settlements called the New Virginia Colony, a plan conceived by the Confederate oceanographer and inventor Matthew Fontaine Maury. Maximilian also invited settlers from Austria and Germany. Nevertheless by 1866 the imminence of Maximilian's Abdication seemed apparent to almost everyone outside Mexico.

That year Napoleon III withdrew his troops in the face of Mexican resistance and U.S. opposition under the Monroe Doctrine, but the main reason was to increase his military contingent at home to face the ever growing Germany power of Otto von Bismarck. Carlota traveled to Europe, seeking assistance for her husband's regime in Paris and Vienna and, finally, in Rome from Pope Pius IX. Her efforts failed, and she suffered a deep emotional collapse and never went back to Mexico. After her husband was executed by republicans the following year, she spent the rest of her life in seclusion, first at Miramare Castle near Trieste, Italy, and then at Bouchout Castle in Belgium, where she died on 19 January 1927. The story goes that Carlotta went mad as a result of all this and never recovered the events that led to their expulsion from Mexico.

So you see, many other events during those years also contributed to our rich history and the 5 de Mayo events were only a small, but important part, of the whole. Hope you found this little history lesson interesting and will continue to tune in for more travel, history, recipes and comments of Mexico.......

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