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Catarino Garza… an unfinished revolution?

19 March 2018

In September 1891, Catarino E. Garza issued a statement, declaring that the citizens of Mexico were “treated like ‘despicable slaves,’ that the Mexican government was plagued by ‘frightful corruption,’ that freedom of the press had been squashed, and that the Constitution of 1857 had been betrayed.” Garza called on Mexicans to “rise in mass in the name of liberty, the constitution and the public conscience.”

— Wikipedia

Garza was a Mexican citizen, who after failed attempts at shop-keeping and a selling Singer sewing machines , learned printing, and began a career as a newspaper editor on the Texas side of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande. As a newsman in an era when newspapers were the primary media source, and Spanish-language papers on the US side of the border felt free to openly criticize the Mexican government, Garza had been bitterly attacking Porfiro Diaz for years: ever since Don Porfirio had “unconstitutionally” run for a second term. Diaz had come to the presidency following a coup against the previous government 1876 claiming re-election to the Presidency as his rationale. Then “elected” when the interim president stepped down to make way for him, Diaz “allowed” his minion, Manuel Gonzales, to hold the office for a term… during which the Constitution was changed (at Diaz’ request) to allow the election of Presidents for non-consecutive terms. During that second term (1884-1888), Diaz got the constitution changed once again, to allow for re-election under “special circumstances” … which he managed to find in 1888… which was what Garza particularly railed against in his paper. And earned him more than one attempt on his life by hitmen (including, in one instance, a US customs inspector) and his decision to go into open rebellion.

Despite being a “mutualist” — favoring cooperatives over state or corporate enterprises, Garza had support from wealthy Mexicans living on both sides of the border, when he, and about 50 followers crossed into Mexico in April 1891 to being a guerrila campaign against the Diaz dictatorship. Although the Garzistas had support among the rural populace, his rebels were ruthlessly pursued by the Mexican Army and forced to retreat into Texas in 1892. Although the rebels were able to hang on for another year, mounting raids into Mexico, the rebellion failed, and Garza fled to Panama (then part of Colombia) where, in an abortive uprising against the Colombian government, he was killed in 1895.

Although a footnote to both U.S. and Mexican history, maybe we should be taking a closer look at the life and thoughts of Catarino E. Garza.  While there are a few academic dissertations on Garza and the “Garza War”, very little is available for the common reader.  But that is no reason to ignore his stuggle.   It might be highly relevant to US Mexican relations beyond the historic effect it had in tightening border security back in the 1890s.

After all, the putative next president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is a student of Garza.  AMLO recently wrote Catarino Erasmo Garza Rodríguez: ¿Revolucionario o bandido?  (Planeta, 2016… link is to a US “Kindle” version). Although AMLO disengeniously claims he is only bringing to light the story of a Mexican patriot, in  discussing Garza, Lopez Obrador seems to be obliquely signaling his own issues and agenda. Little is said about Garza’s mutualist theories, but as a theory that proposes giving more power to the workers, and curbing that of large scale capital, it might offer a clue as to the economic reforms an AMLO administration might pursue.   That the author justifies Garza’s revolt by pointint to the Diaz regime’s willingness to give foreigners control of natural resouces, it’s tight political control over the media and its dependence on military forces for internal control suggest other possible goals for the putative next administrion.  At the same time, the regime’s cavalier attitude towards democracy and constitutionalism is condemned, as is Diaz’ about-face when it comes to presidential elections.  This, it seems to me, is key:  if this is what the author sees as Garza’s most legitimate issue, one can presume he sees extention of presidential power as something to be eschewed… putting a damper on the campaign to paint AMLO as a wannabe dictator.

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