Today in Latin America, Cubanization and Pancho Villa

Cubanization of Mexico

albert-fall-teapot-domeToday in 1914 (95 years ago) New Mexico Senator Albert Fall demands the “Cubanization” of Mexico, referencing the Spanish-American War and the subsequent US occupation of the island following 1898. He may have also been conjuring, if less than occupation, than something like the Platt Amendment, which bound Cuba to the US forever (until it was rescinded in 1934).

Fall is best known as the one of the most corrupt Senators in American history, infamous for the Teapot Dome Scandal in which he was paid by oilmen in turn for access to public lands. He is, to this day, the only high ranking public servant to serve jail time for his crime (one year). But it is with Mexico we continue. Fall, like many at the turn of the century, held preconceptions about Mexico that spilled into his public life – not that many minded such discourse. Involved as he was in oil (Teapot Dome, anyone?), it would be interesting that Fall had strong opinions about Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution.

One could accuse Fall of treason (the reserves that Fall gave his oil buddies access to were being used by the Navy to get them through national security crises) or call him a hero, depending on how you see it. In addition to the “Cubanization” of Mexico, this month also marks an important document written by Fall to the government of Mexico in 1921, after he was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Warren G. Harding.

In the document he calls for five terms, or “recommendations”:

1. A commission established to determine damage to American property in Mexico, presumably during the Mexican Revolution.

2. Another commission to settle boundary disputes between the US and Mexico.

3. “That Article 27, or any decree or law issued or enacted thereunder should not apply to deprive American citizens of their property rights therefore legally acquired; that clause with reference to teaching schools by ministers of the Gospel; to the preaching of Christianity by Americans and like clauses should not be enforced against American citizens.”

4. Agreements for the further protection of property rights in Mexico in the future.

5. All dialogues noted above will be “written down in the form of protocol or preliminary agreement.”

He goes on, in the New York Times article to say that as long as he has anything to say about it (which he was in position to say something about it), Mexico would not be recognized by the US. He mentioned that he decided whether US policy towards Mexico be inaction or actions to protect US interests. All in all, America’s elites stood behind Fall, although many disagreed merely along partisan lines.

What we view now as arrogance was legitimate then. History, however, does not absolve Senator Fall – for Mexico does not agree to these demands, especially in 1938 (March 2) when the country nationalizes its oil and expropriates American companies in full. The march for Christianity was locally decided in the Cristero Wars in the 1920s – but otherwise, Fall has no legacy besides being so crooked, the folk-legend goes, that as they tried to bury him in 1924, they had to screw him into the ground. Good riddance.

Pancho Villa

Directly related to our dear Albert Fall, who was elected the first senator of New Mexico in 1912, today 97 years ago, Pancho Villa organized bands to raid Columbus, New Mexico, killing 12 Americans.

Pancho Villa is among the names from the Mexican Revolution that have stood the test of time (the other being Emiliano Zapata – among others). Villa is remembered as the first General of the Mexican Revolutionary Army and was to the North of Mexico City what Zapata was to the South – a domineering matrix of might and ideas. The road to power in Mexico in the early twentieth century led through Villa’s División del Norte.

In North American history, Villa has also captured imaginations. Today in 1916, Villa ordered 700 Revolutionary troops into New Mexico in retaliation to the US recognizing Carranza as head of the Mexican state (another story in itself). With an alliance forming between Villistas and Zapatistas, this action had mutual reinforcement mechanisms as it releases Northern anger over the recognition by the US and assures Zapata and others of his loyalty to the cause. The group attacked Columbus, New Mexico, encountering a detached 13th Calvary division of the US army. Less than twenty Americans were killed to almost 80 Villistas. The attack lasted hours before returning.

I cannot attest to the sentiment now, but folks like Zapata and Villa were depicted as monsters and barbarians and, thus, like Albert Fall’s paranoid yet arrogant calls for Mexico to acquiesce to American demands, the US needed to find the man who attacked our soil – that job was set aside for General John Pershing. In his expedition to find Villa, which has since become famous in its folly.

On March 15, Pershing, with President Wilson’s blessing, led a 10,000 man force to find Pancho Villa. It is hard to pin down why the expedition failed given the man power, the use of airplanes, and the emerging might of the US armed forces (although the loss of morale and alcoholism remain a convincing reason). The group never found Villa and disbanded in January 1917. Some argue that Pershing in a sense succeeded by hemming Villa’s ability to use the US border to his advantage for the rest of the Revolution, but the raids continued despite Pershing, just as Mexicans cross US borders despite Border Patrol. When it was over, he complained about Wilson’s inability to give Pershing more reign:

when the true history is written, it will not be a very inspiring chapter for school children, or even grownups to contemplate. Having dashed into Mexico with the intention of eating the Mexicans raw, we turned back at the first repulse and are now sneaking home under cover, like a whipped curr with its tail between its legs.

The town is still divided today – possibly just to mock Pershing and bolster Villa.


~ by Daniel on March 9, 2009.

One Response to “Today in Latin America, Cubanization and Pancho Villa”

  1. That was a really good piece!

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