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The Last Caudillo presents a brief biography of the life and times of General Alvaro Obregon, along with new insights into the Mexican Revolution and.
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O2 B83 Unknown. More options. Find it at other libraries via WorldCat Limited preview. Bibliography Includes bibliographical references and index. Contents List of Illustrations. The Background of the Last Caudillo.
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From Santa Anna to Diaz. The Sonoran Background. An Improvised Leader, Obregon's Early Years. Obregon and the Beginning of the Mexican Revolution. Obregon's First Campaign. Chaos and Triumph, Obregon and the War Against Huerta. Obregon and the Clash Between Carranza and Villa. Obregon in the War Between the Factions. In other words, he quickly accomplished something that Villa and Zapata could not do—or would not do—in the time when they held the capital previously.
How did this happen? Nor was it simply a question of bad judgment on the part of Villa and Zapata. Ultimately, the steps taken by either side reflected the social composition of the different camps, and the overall political approach and outlook that characterized them and their leaders. The key was that one camp—the forces of Villa and Zapata—held to a parochial or provincial political perspective, one focused on local affairs over national ones. What occurred beyond their respective provincial confines was not as important to them. Villa and Zapata had a track record of radical reform, broader popular support, and, by extension, more men under arms.
But their local outlook made it very difficult for them, in various ways, to carry out their agenda on a wider scale. In contrast, the rump Constitutionalist camp was able to translate their broader perspective into a more effective political and military force. Villa and Zapata might have had the means to pursue this more ambitious road, but they did not have the political inclination. In what follows we explore why. First, where did this political provincialism or parochialism come from? On the one hand, it reflected one of the key motive forces of the revolution already discussed: a desire for local control, regional autonomy, and an end to central government interference.
Ambitious national programs of reform, of whatever stripe, carried with it the likelihood of additional meddling by the national state. There were rural people, accustomed to the decades of how this operated under the Porfirian dictatorship, who wanted none of it.
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For them, it was better to fight for the right to manage your own affairs within the patria chica , the small homeland. Political parochialism also reflected the nature of rural campesino life of this era. Their day-to-day focus was very often on the land, soil, rainfall, planting, and harvest. When this life was under threat, campesinos in Mexico had shown they were capable of tremendous political radicalism, best represented by Zapatista Morelos.
But leaders of volunteer campesino armies—like the Zapatistas—also had to recognize that major offensives could not happen at planting and harvest time. For them what happened in Mexico City should, in the best of circumstances, be of little or no concern. Indeed, Pancho Villa probably wanted more than anything to return home: to live as a popular caudillo, a benevolent patron for the people of Chihuahua. He fought against the obstacles to this goal, not for national power.
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Then he could settle into a nice ranch, devoting himself to raising horses and trading war stories—which for a time, toward the end of his life, he did. But to do this he had to defeat his enemies. His approach was a very pragmatic one: assemble the largest army possible. Villa believed he could command them all via his successful military leadership and personal charisma, rather than by means any particular ideology or political program.
The Last Caudillo: Alvaro Obregón and the Mexican Revolution
For Villa, assembling the broadest possible forces under his command was the key source of strength, and it served him well in the fight against Huerta. He was a brilliant officer and artilleryman, but for much of his life no friend of land reform and social radicalism. Ultimately, these heterogeneous elements hoped to ride the Villista horse to political influence once the dust settled. As we will see, it could not govern nationally. Its internal divisions would paralyze the convention government: when it came time to put forward concrete political solutions and reforms—even land distribution and labor rights—the right wing of Villismo was a continuous obstacle.
It was its adherence to a consistent political agenda. He wanted a force that could take and hold national power, and carry out its objectives nationwide. These differences were not yet in evidence when the convention swung to Zapata and Villa, and ostracized Carranza. It was again linked to this question of political provincialism. Villa and Zapata in Mexico City For the Zapatistas, the occupation of Mexico City after the convention was not a first step toward creating and administering a national regime. Taking the capital was simply a step to beat back the forces that would not let them carry out land reform as they wished in Morelos.
Zapata himself had little interest in political affairs in Mexico City: he remained in the capital only briefly, staying at a modest hotel near the train station. He even declined to address the crowds gathered to hear speeches at the National Palace.
Urban politics and urban society were a largely foreign place for the Morelos campesinos, Zapata included. In one noted incident, Zapatista soldiers, approached by a fire engine in the capital, attacked it—they mistook the giant red truck, its bells ringing, for a machine of war.
Meanwhile, the convention government, despite the radicalism of many of its members, was in disarray. In effect, they had set up a parliamentary talk shop in the midst of a civil war: there was no unified political direction coming from the convention.
Shockingly, it took the body more than a year to promulgate a nationwide land reform law, by which time their armies had already put to rout. The convention did not develop effective political, administrative, or military resources of its own. Indeed, Zapata and Villa were so uninterested in questions of urban politics that they simply handed over various duties in the capital to past Porfirian officials and bureaucrats, including the former chief of police.
Significantly, when a demonstration of working-class women came to the convention demanding relief and bread, all the delegates were able to do was to take up a personal collection among themselves. Another factor limiting working-class support for the convention was the chaotic nature of Villista authority in the capital. This led to a form of arbitrary, lawless rule when his troops were billeted in Mexico City. Homes were ransacked and looted, wine cellars emptied, hotels and restaurants trashed, cars seized and taken on joy rides—all accompanied by a great deal of shooting and revelry.
Wealthy residents were kidnapped and extorted for ransom, and a significant number of summary executions took place. None of this helped win them many supporters among the urban working class and the poor.
It was not that the latter had much sympathy for the rich. Most importantly, kidnapping or shooting a few rich people for their money was not part of a clearly articulated policy that could actually help the poor and working class—and they recognized this. Villa and his officers were undoubtedly hostile to the old Porfirian elite, but not especially concerned, politically speaking, with support from Mexico City workers. In addition, a good number of the Villista officers were highly ambitious and acquisitive.
While they were certainly anti-government rebels, they were not consistently animated by an egalitarian outlook. In a sense, they held on to an influential aspect of middle-class thinking: the powerful desire for individual self-advancement, unrestrained by others.
The influence of this perspective was limited in the case of the Zapatistas: the close connection between their struggle to the fate of the villages as a whole meant that the advance of any one campesino was seen intimately tied to that of others. Thus while some of the lawless Villista behavior could be characterized as plebian revenge, some of it was also a product of middle-class resentment, personal ambition, and greed.
But the patria chica was still where the their political attention lay, not in making changes in Mexico City. The campesino troops, whose struggle focused on their local villages, did not want to fight or legislate far from them.