Porfirio Díaz. Porfirio Díaz.

Gen. Porfirio Díaz, a historical reappraisal

This year marks the 100th anniversary of his death

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of ex-president Gen. Porfirio Díaz, who died in Paris in 1915, surrounded by his loyal friends and his lifetime companion, Carmelita Ortiz Rubio.

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Although his last years of exile were spent in a discreet and comfortable manner, he always regretted not being able to return to the country he loved. Much can be said against Mr. Porfirio, but he can never be singled out as unpatriotic.

By the time he tried to be reelected for the last time, Díaz was an elderly and sick man (suffering from a very painful and incurable jaw infection). This stubborn act was the main cause of his fall and of the ensuing Madero (Maderista) uprising and resulted in the harshest criticisms of his long presidential administration.

He left a power vacuum that the Madero revolution couldn’t fill. Nefarious characters, like Victoriano Huerta, were left lurking, ready to take advantage of the situation with a military coup that actually sparked a nationwide armed movement, and the consequent confusion that prevailed in the years after.

Of course, many historical accounts of the time, and throughout the greater part of the 20th century, retold the defeat of the tyrant by the Revolution. They spoke of the dictator that had single-handedly stalled institutional change, who protected great landowners to the detriment of the peasants, who supposedly sold the nation’s resources to foreign interests, etc.

Thus, the image of Mr. Porfirio was systematically satanized during the Revolution and in the post-revolutionary and revolutionary nationalism periods.

At the end of the 20th century a select group of historians started a discrete process of historical reappraisal, trying to rescue many of the actions and decisions made by President Díaz that had effectively contributed to the development and modernization of our country, such as: the road and rail systems or the formation of a coherent and representative Mexican state, which for the first time became a player on the international stage.

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The Díaz administration also reinforced and upheld the conquests obtained by the Reform Laws, begetting what was later known as the “Porfirian Pax,” a state of national security that was unfortunately achieved, in many cases, through repressive measures, such the caste war, or the wars against the Apache and Tarahumara.

Throughout his long administration, Porfirio Díaz managed to create an inner circle of officials and businessmen, called “The Scientists,” who often aided him in solving national problems and crises. Nevertheless, none of them was able to convince him of his unsustainable position at the turn of the century.

One of his biggest yearnings was to be president during the centennial independence celebrations, which was attended by personalities from around the world.

His achievements will soon be recognized, and some of his flaws pardoned. His remains will finally be retrieved from their burial site in Paris and repatriated, to be buried in his beloved state of Oaxaca.

Armando González is a journalist and broadcaster who lives in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. 

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