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The Mexican Situation from a Mexican Point of View

Cabrera, Luis
1913
Text

Cabrera, Luis, The Mexican Situation from a Mexican Point of View (Washington, DC: Confidential Agency of the Constitutionalist Government of Mexico, 1913)

 For Mexicans and Americans alike, the revolutionary events of the 1910s were difficult to understand, and many journalists and politicians offered different interpretations. In this source, Luis Cabrera, a member of the United States–Mexico Commission and Secretary of the Treasury in Mexico, analyzed the underlying causes of the revolution. He was writing in 1913 for a US audience. One important detail Cabrera does not mention is that Díaz’s government allowed businessmen to claim millions of acres of land that had been used by campesinos (peasants) and poor rural people for centuries. In other words, Díaz’s policies made a few people rich and many much poorer. For him, the main split in Mexican society was between a privileged elite (of which he himself was part) and a landless majority who demanded political rights. Who owned most of the land in Mexico? What happened to the land in the ejidos (peasant communities)? Although most historians would say that Cabrera correctly identified the causes of the Mexican Revolution, no modern historian would agree with his assumptions about Indians and mestizos. Like almost all educated white people in 1913, Cabrera believed in a hierarchy of races at different levels of civilization. This racial theory justified control by “the white race” over people of color. What words does Cabrera use to describe Indians and mestizos?

 

As you read the sources in this set, keep in mind there were four main social groups in Mexico in 1910: 

  • wealthy and powerful landowners and businessmen (creole and mestizo)

  • middle class (creole and mestizo)

  • urban workers (mestizo)

  • peasants/campesinos (Indian and mestizo)

 

Vocabulary

creole: person with European ancestors but born in Mexico (white, light-skinned)

mestizo: person with European and Indian ancestors

mainmort: a type of inheritance where the land cannot be sold; the correct term is actually mortmain, from the Latin words for “dead hand”

concessions: grants of special privileges to use land or extract resources

accentuated: emphasized

enjoy: here, it means “get”

peon: peasant, poor laborer; it is an insulting term

 

notwithstanding: despite, in spite of

 

This source gives students evidence about the two major causes of the Mexican Revolution — unequal land distribution and resentment of Porfirio Dίaz’s development policies. The history of Spanish rule in Mexico, events in nineteenth-century Mexico, and Dίaz’s dictatorial rule contributed to this economic inequality. A prominent Mexican intellectual, Luis Cabrera, identifies these key revolutionary factors for an American audience. Students should understand how peasant land in the ejidos ended up in the hands of wealthy landowners. Cabrera writes that peasants sold their land “through ignorance,” but the real reason is shown in his last sentence of that paragraph, when he writes that small properties could not compete economically with the large estates. Point out to students that the growing international market economy is part of the reason that small landowners could not compete. Students should also understand that his problematic classification of the native Indian and mestizo population as being at varying stages of civilization relates to the theory of the hierarchy of races that was so significant in the cultural discourses of imperialism. He uses the terms “ignorance” and “fifteenth century” to describe Indians and “eighteenth century” to describe mestizos. He means that they are backward and not suited for democracy.

SOCIAL ASPECT

Mexico has a population of 15,000,000 souls, 15 per cent of which are Indians, 75 per cent mixed, or mestizos, and 10 per cent of the white race. Mexico, however, has no real race question to solve. Indians and Mestizos mix easily with people of European nationality. The really important question arises from the different races forming the population of Mexico, since we have the different stages of civilization of the different types of people. It is hard to find a Government formula to rule people of fifteenth, eighteenth and twentieth century stages of civilization. The autocratic dictatorship which might suit the Indian population is entirely unfitted for European residents, and the democratic rule acceptable by foreign residents or by highly educated Mexicans would never suit the large percentage of the illiterate classes.

ECONOMIC CAUSES OF THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION

The Mexican problems have been and still are chiefly economic. The colonial policies of Spain in Mexico contributed in a large measure to create privileged classes. Large tracts of land were granted to settlers or conquerors and to the Church, and thousands of Indians were compelled to live upon the tracts of the land so granted. The Indian was kept practically in a state of slavery. The independence in 1810 did not materially change the condition of the masses. After the religious struggles in 1860, the Church lost its property, but great land areas owned by wealthy families still remained as mainmort, and are at present responsible for Mexico's the small properties were unable to withstand the competition.

From 1880 conditions in Mexico began to be complicated, by reason of the policies of General Porfirio Diaz for the development of the country. General Diaz thought that the best way to develop the resources of Mexico was to favor the establishment of large business enterprises and the formation of large corporations, to which special advantages were offered. He granted large concessions in lands, mines, railroads, industrial and banking institutions, to foreign investors, thus creating enormous monopolies and making more accentuated the contrast between the rich and the laboring classes of the nation. The cost of living was raised by the increase of capital. The wages of miners, railroad men and those of the industrial classes were somewhat increased, although not in proportion to the increased high cost of living. The wages of the rural laborer did not enjoy this increase, the income of the peon still remaining at a ridiculously low average. Notwithstanding the low rate of agricultural wages, the great land owners were still able to obtain labor, thanks to their political influence, which allowed them to keep the peons in practical slavery. crisis.


The communal lands formerly owned by the towns, and which were called ejidos, were, since about 1860, divided and apportioned among the inhabitants for the purpose of creating small agricultural properties, but through ignorance those lands were almost immediately resold to the large land owners whose properties were adjacent. This resulted in strengthening the oppressive monopoly exercised by the large land owners, as