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7 October 1913 — the accidental hero of the Revolution

8 October 2012

Yesterday, there was an unusual ceremony held at the Mexican Senate Chamber… a 99-year late wake for Senator Belisario Domínguez, the accidental hero of the revolution, a victim of stating the obvious.

Born in 1863 in Comitán, Chiapas, Domínguez was sent to France as a teen-ager for his education, not returning until he was in his late 20s, having obtained a medical degree from the Sorbonne. In 1909 (when he was 46) Doctor Domínguez was elected Presidente Municipal of Comitán.  As a foreign educated provincial of the “liberal” stripe, he was something of an archetype of the “new” leadership Francisco I. Madero envisioned for Mexico in the post-Porfirian era… younger, but with the same social background of Don Porfirio’s geriatric “cientificos”.

With the success of Madero’s short 1910-11 Revolution opening up the political system, Domínguez was asked to run for the Senate on Madero’s Liberal Party ticket in the Senate elections of 1912, but he decided not to run, serving on as the “substitute” candidate, who would serve if anything prevented the elected Senator from holding office.  A highly educated professional and widower Domínguez moved temporarily to Mexico City in January 1913 to enroll his son in the National Preparatory Academy.  He and his son Ricardo had ringside seats to the “Ten Tragic Days” in February when the slaughter in the streets of Mexico City ended with Victoriano Huerta’s murder of Madero and his assumption of the Presidency.

A “constitutional coup” in that the letter of the basic document — Madero had resigned (with a gun pointed at his head), after Vice-President Pino Suarez had also resigned (with another gun at his head) leaving the hapless next in line for the Presidency, Secretary of Foreign Relations Pedro José Domingo de la Calzada Manuel María Lascuráin Paredes to appoint Huerta NEXT in the line of succession, and resign. Of course, being a “constitutional” government, Huerta couldn’t simply dissolve the Senate, but he could ignore it.

Or he could until Senator Leopoldo Gout died on 3 March, and his substitute, Dr. and now Senator Belasario Domínguez was suddenly thrust in a leadership role.  Relying on Senatorial privilege — the immunity from prosecution extended to sitting Senators — Domínguez turned Senate Chamber into what I guess could be called an “anti-bully pulpit”.  The doctor from Chiapas only paused in his criticism of Huerta to complain about allowing U.S. naval vessels to call at Veracruz… which, as it turned out, Domínguez was right in saying it would lead to a U.S. intervention.

Despite his Senate Privilege… not that Victoriano Huerta was all that scrupulous about constitutional niceties (or scrupulous, or nice, about anything) … Domínguez’ speeches on the Senate floor the week of 23 to 29 September 1913 sealed the doctor’s fate.

He was pulled out of his hotel room on 7 October 1913, driven to a cemetery in Coyoacán, tortured and shot. Huerta gave up on any pretense of being “constitutional” and simply dissolved the Senate a few days later.

While hardly a “perfect democracy” for most of the post-Huerta period, and even today far from perfect (what country is?)  our senators and deputies do get away with outrageous anti-adminstration remarks from time to time, and even have the temerity to once in a while point out patently obvious criminal activites by the government (or at least unconstitutional acts — like using the military as policemen in peacetime) with relatively few repercussions:   something of a rarity in this world, especially in Latin America, over the last century… a debt owed to the accidental legislator and accidental hero of the Revolution.


(There is a good short Spanish-language biography of Belisario Domínguez, by Javier Torres Landa V.,  at

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