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Franciso Javier Mina: Mexico’s Che

18 August 2009


chenoteChe Guevara:  middle-class, well educated Argentine, thwarted in his ambition to break the oligarchical stranglehold on his own people, took the revolution to other countries, dying in Bolivia at the age of 39… his handsome face becoming the icon of one revolution, and gracing the Cuban three-peso note.

C_mon_5_MinaFrancisco Javier Mina:  middle-class, well-educated Spaniard, thwarted in HIS ambition to break the monarchy, took HIS revolution to Mexico, dying at the age of 29.  His handsome visage was also an icon of revolution, and is the only foreigner among the many figures depicted on our  our five peso bicentennial  coins.

Mina, like Guevara, didn’t seem destined for a career as a dashing revolutionary figure.  Both came from solidly middle-class families,  took to revolution in the name of liberation, and went abroad to continue the struggle, dying young — and leaving a beautiful corpse to project the image of the dashing Latin American revolutionary.

Born 1 July 1789 near Pampalona in Navarre, Mina’s family was wealthy enough to send him to the University, a rarity among rural families in his day.  In 1808, when the French invaded Spain and put Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph on the throne, the 19 year old Javier organized a small resistance group of nine friends and headed for the hills.  Javier’s natural charisma attracted others, older and better armed to put themselves under his leadership.  Even his uncle, the future General, and Spanish national hero, Francisco Espoz y Mina, put himself under the younger man’s command.

The collaboration government coined a new word for the unconventional soldiers: guerrilla. It was meant to be dismissive, to suggest the unconventional untrained band was not a “real army” but “little soldiers” — something, to their detriment — they didn’t take seriously. With young Javier as their leader, the band grew to 1200 men. Taken prisoner in 1810, Mina’s youth and natural leadership made him popular with his captors, who styled him “The Prince of Guerrillas”, and treated him, not as an “enemy combatant” (or shot him out of hand), but as an honorable high-ranking prisoner of war.

During the occupation, a resistance movement had taken advantage of the temporary absence of the legitimate king to redefine the nature of government. While they, like the British parliament, retained the monarchy and the State church, going much further than even the radical United States, put power in the hands of the people, eliminating all property qualifications for voters and office-seekers.

The restored king, Fernando VII, had other ideas however, and Javier joined the struggle to free Spain. Forced into exile in England, his good looks and revolutionary opinions made him a favorite with the Whigs, that era’s “leftists”. He met an unlikely Fidel Castro in Theresa Servando Mier, a Mexican monk and lawyer, who had been sent to represent New Spain in the resistance parliament and had been kicking around in exile himself. Servando Mier told Mina of the Mexican struggle, and spoke of the ideals of Morelos — whose movement took the Spanish consistution as their model in crafting their own radical vision of a new society.

Servando Mier, though a man of the cloth, was something like Benjamin Franklin — a charming self-taught diplomat schmoozing his way through the Euopean halls of power, seeking support and arms for his revolutionary comrades in the Americas. And not above getting his hands dirty dealing with the less reputable arms dealers of his times. The monk put Mina in touch with a group of French pirates, recruited veterans of the Spanish resistance and other democratic radicals, as well as arms and cannons, putting the whole crew into Mina’s capable hands. They sailed out of Liverpool (the crew disguised as a merchant ship headed for Baltimore) on 16 May 1816. Briefly stopping in Baltimore, they headed for Mexico, by way of Cuba and New Orleans. At Matagorda (now in Texas), and Rio Bravo (today’s Matamoros) Mina’s group attempted to contact the Mexican fighters, but was unable to do so until they reached Soto la Marina, Veracruz — where they also engaged Royalist forces.

Fighting their way inland to Fuerte los Remedios, where the put themselves under the command of Morelos’ generals, Mina’s seasoned foreign volunteers fought several battles across the country. Mina himself was known throughout New Spain, and — despite his youth — was listened to when he proposed that criollos, penisulares and the native people all had a stake in creating an independent Mexico … the formula that eventually would be used to create the “Triguarante” government of Augustine Iturbide.

javier-minaThe hazards of war — and guerrilla warfare — being what they are, Mina was captured by the royalists 11 November 1817. Like with Che Guevara in Bolivia, there would be no formal trial for a rebellious foreigner rousing the rabble — just a firing squad.

In 1823, his remains were reburied in an honorable tomb in Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, later moved to the Monument of Independence, under the Angel.  Tee shirts didn’t exist in the 19th century, but woodcuts and cheap prints of Francisco Javier Mina were popular with students and leftists throughout Latin America in the 19th century.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. el_longhorn permalink
    18 August 2009 10:27 pm

    Great read.

  2. 28 December 2009 6:58 pm

    You might mention that he led an expeditionary force to Soto la Marina, 15 April 1817. The town in Tamaulipas today is hospitable, with at least one nice hotel and a good restaurant next to the bus station.

  3. 1 January 2020 4:41 am

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