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The president who went to Hollywood

25 May 2020

Although Venustiano Carranza signed off on the 1916 Constitution, he didn’t necessarily approve of it… not when at the end of his term, the voters had the temerity to vote for the wrong candidate. The “Liberal Constitutionalist Army” put an end to his Carranza’s plan to hold on to office… and to Carranza himself, when his train… loaded down with the country’s gold reserves… was ambushed during his attempt to move the government to Veracruz and re-ignite the revolution from there.

To restore the new Constitution, Adolfo de la Huerta was installed as “acting President” on the 25th of May 1920. His term would only run until November, allowing Alvaro Obregon, to win the election that Carranza had cancelled when it was clear his chosen successor (the unknown Ignacio Bonillas) was going to lose, and lose badly. De la Huerta was one of those guys who’d never had the chance to turn his artistic pursuits into a living, although, unlike his contemporary, Adolf Hitler, he could return to his preferred vocation with some success. But then again, ending up in politics (as did Hitler) was not nearly the disaster for everyone that the German Adolf’s fall-back proved to be.

Although his family was well-off, a musician’s life would hardly support young Adolfo in the style to which he was accustomed. And, so, he also learned bookkeeping and accounting, landing him a safe, boring job in the Sononan state bureaucracy.  Taking a hand in civic affairs, he was appointed Secretary of the Guaymas “Anti-Reelection Society” in 1911 (opposing another term for Porfirio Díaz) which got him summarily fired from his cushy job and drove him into the Revolutionary camp.

Never a military man (unlike that other Adolf), but (again like that other guy in Germany), he did go into politics, winning a seat in the new State Senate, before going back to bureaucratic duties as chief clerk (basically head of the revolutionary’s civil service) for Carranza as the Constitutionalists consolidated the Revolution in 1915-16.  That was followed by a short stint as Governor of Sonora, and .. with the United States entering the First World War in 1917, and pressuring Carranza to shift from a neutral but pro-German position to one more aligned with the U.S.  Perhaps thinking musicians have charms to soothe the savage beast, he was also charged with smoothing over relations, and defending Mexican neutrality.  He returned to Sonora as Governor in 1918 for another two year term, as Carranza was attempting to consolidate federal power in the state … specifically to sell off the lands controlled by the still independent Yaqui nation.

Being an accountant and all, when Carranza tried to seize the national treasury, maneuvering to hold on to power in 1920, de la Huerta, together with his more military minded fellow Sonorans, Alvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elias Calles, drew up the “Plan of Agua Preita”… the last of the revolts within the larger 1910-20 Revolution.  The plan was quite detailed, but didn’t exactly spell out what the long-range plan was.  De la Huerta would be the interim president until Obregón could be elected, his term to be followed by Calles.  It would work out that way, but with a huge bump in the road.

During de la Huerta short term the last important dissident rebel, Pancho Villa, was convinced to lay down his arms, and the critical work of pacifying the country and restarting the economy began.   He oversaw Obregón’s election (by 94 percent of the votes… draw your own conclusions about “free and fair”), stepped down in November, to take a cabinet post as Secretary of the Treasury.

In 1923, with new elections coming up, meant to install Calles, de la Huerta either genuinely was “shocked, shocked and appalled” to find corruption had crept into public finance, or…was duped into backing an attempted counter-revolution by Catholics who had chafed at the anti-clerical laws that Callas promised to strengthen, joining with pre-revolutionary conservatives, disgruntled generals who chaffed at Obregón de-militarization and support for more pacific and useful social sectors like farmers and workers, and financially supported by the foreign oil companies.  The very short revolt ended with de la Huerta having to flee the country.

Not exactly in a position to receive a pension, not having had the foresight to steal a fortune, and only in his early 40s, de la Huerta had to find a job.  Or… being the creative sort he was… make one.  It was still the silent movie era, but Hollywood was the entertainment capital, not just move-land.  And so… there was a need for even silent film stars… expected to go on the road and do public appearances… were expected to be able to sing and dance.  And, politics is largely entertainment.  Although, in revolutionary Mexico, a much less dangerous kind.

Until he returned from exile during the Cardenas administration, he was a behind the scenes Hollywood figure, running a singing and dancing academy.



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