Carranza and the constitution. A mural in the National Museum of History in Mexico City depicts Carranza and the constitution.

What event does MX celebrate February 5?

It wasn't just a boring old constitution but a thrilling period in history

“What are we celebrating? The battle against the French in Puebla, right?”

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This was from a real conversation I overheard between two well-dressed businessmen in Mexico City last year around this time.

I get it; it is hard to keep up with all the history-related holidays in Mexico. But really? The Battle of Puebla? The same battle that is better known as the Battle of Cinco de Mayo?

A simple search of the internet would have shown these two gentlemen that every February 5 Mexico celebrates the anniversary of the establishment of its constitution.

For some reason this holiday is not very popular in Mexico, and the case of the uninformed businessmen is not an isolated case. It might be because the concept of writing and enacting a constitution sounds too governmental, a bunch of boring bureaucrats signing documents into law.

In general, people tend to believe that the establishment of the Mexican constitution was an insipid period in Mexican history, a period with no heroes wearing sombreros and riding horses as in the Mexican Revolution or during Mexico’s War of Independence.

But these notions about February 5 could not be any further from reality. The history of how the Mexican constitution was established is as thrilling as it gets. The current constitution was adopted in the middle of the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution.

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It was a period with a hero called Venustiano Carranza, villains like Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata and Álvaro Obregón, and a tragic and passionate end (just like a good Mexican telenovela or norteño song).

This is how it happened:

After the assassination in 1913 of the first revolutionary president, Francisco Madero, Carranza became one of the strongest revolutionary figures. He was the only leader able to reconcile the conflicting interests of the diverse groups of revolutionaries. Carranza’s ability to bring these rivals together earned him the nickname of “El primer Jefe.

In July 1914, Carranza, in his attempt to legitimize his authority, called for a revolutionary convention in Aguascalientes, but Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, fearing the birth of a new dictatorship, disagreed and distanced themselves from Carranza’s movement.

Having lost the support of the two most popular heroes of the revolution, Carranza found refuge in Veracruz while Villa and Zapata’s troops took Mexico City and imposed a series of interim presidents in the following years (neither Villa nor Zapata wanted to become president of Mexico).

That same year, Carranza launched an offensive against Villa and Zapata and managed to recover Mexico City. Once in power again, Carranza called for a constitutional convention and after many months of deliberation, drafting, and lobbying for support, a new Mexican constitution was adopted on February 5, 1917. Three months later, Carranza was elected the first president of the United States of Mexico (the official name since that year).

Some months after the ratification and adoption of the new constitution, United States of America President Woodrow Wilson recognized Carranza as the legitimate president of Mexico. Following the example of the U.S., other foreign governments recognized him as well. For the first time since the start of the revolution, Mexico had a president legitimized by the international community.

Things were looking good for Carranza up to that point, but then came the moment when his fate turned towards a tragic ending. During his term in office, his efforts were focused mainly on the reconstruction and reconciliation of Mexico, a titanic task that he would never fully accomplish.

The discontent of the different revolutionary factions kept growing and was harder to contain without the use of force. Then in 1919, the alleged involvement of Carranza’s allies in the assassination of Zapata in Morelos triggered a series of events that ended with a coup d’etat led by his own minister of war, Álvaro Obregón, in 1920.

Carranza had seen the writing on the wall and had begun the process of moving his government headquarters to Veracruz, where he could regroup and fight back. But on May 21, 1920, his luck ran out, and he was assassinated in Puebla before he could reach his base in Veracruz.

Carranza’s death brought about another long period of instability and chaos that needs more than a few paragraphs to be told. The Mexican constitution of 1917, Carranza’s enduring legacy, survived the anarchy of the Mexican Revolution and civil wars and remains the pillar of Mexico’s contemporary government.

If you made it this far into my column, you already know more than the two businessmen in Mexico City.

Enjoy your weekend, and if you happen to be in Mexico City, swing by the Casa Carranza museum on Rio Lerma street #35. There, original pieces connected to the drafting of the Mexican constitution of 1917 and personal belongings of Carranza can be seen in the permanent exhibitions.

Alvaro Amador Muniz hails from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, is an honorary Tennessean and an avid basketball player currently living in Mexico City. He can be contacted at alvaroamadormu@gmail.com.

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  • cooncats

    Excellent read, thanks!

  • DreadFool

    as long as we have a pachanga, who cares why

  • For an article that supposedly is celebrating the history of the Constitution, this says nothing about the Constitution or the importance of February 5. February 5 as the day of the Constitution goes back much farther than Carranza, Pancho Villa, Zapata and General Obregon. On February 5, 1857 a new liberal Constitution was promulgated in Mexico that for the first time implemented freedom of religion, reaffirmed the abolition of slavery, and the individual rights of citizens. In 1917 Carranza convoked a Constitutional Convention in Queretaro in order to reform the Constitution of 1857 to address the demands of the Mexican Revolution, such as land reforms, labor reforms, and human rights – the basic causes of the Revolution. He delivered a rough draft to this Convention and gave them 1 month to redact a new Constitution. They went much farther than he intended and delivered a Constitution with social articles not seen before in any Constitution. Article 123 established labor rights, the right to be unionized, a 48 hour work week, overtime pay, vacations, maternity leave and Article 29 which addressed natural resources and land reform and the prohibition of reelection. The new Constitution was published in the DOF on February 5, 1917. (keeping the original Feb 5 date as Constitution day). It effectively ended the Revolution and led to the recognition of the new Mexican government by other countries.

    • WestCoastHwy

      The Mexican Constitution, “fake news” worthy; Sorry Glenn Mcbride, you can tout about the Mexican Constitution all day and at the end of the day the Mexican Constitution is just that, another Mexican piece of paper that sits in a filing cabinet and collects dust. First and foremost, the likes of Pancho Villa and Zapata are not even close to the education level that would allow such men to form a constitution and secondly, the Mexican educational system has not improved to date that would allow Mexicans to make an educated amendment. I dare you to stand up for the Mexican Constitution, but understand that a shallow grave is not a good place.

      • You are commenting on a subject that you know nothing about. The Constitution was debated and redacted by people representing all the different groups with unique points of view that fought in the Revolution. Pancho Villa and Zapata were not involved in writing the Constitution. The Constitution is a remarkable document and believe it or not it is very effective in defending the human rights of Mexicans and foreigners in Mexico. You might try reading it. The first article of the Constitution since 1824 has stated that slavery is prohibited and a slave by putting his foot on Mexican soil becomes a free man. Mexico like any country has problems that it is working to resolve, but our Constitution has never defined a whole class of people as having 3/5 the value of a white man. Mexico is not responsibility for one useless war after another that has left millions dead and millions more as refugees. There is no Viet Nam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria in Mexico’s history. You are implying that a Mexico does not have persons with sufficient education to be capable of writing a progressive Constitution or defending it. You are wrong and there are millions of people that disagree with you. Maybe you should try reading it before you express such an ignorant zenophobic statement.

        • ChCh

          whenever you see WestCoastHwy, best to just skip over the whole thing, pretend it isn’t there

          • WestCoastHwy

            I consider you Slanderous Chichi’!

        • WestCoastHwy

          That’s my point Glenn Mcbride, no one cares about the Mexican Constitution especially the Mexicans. It’s just that, a piece of paper that collects dust in a filing cabinet. You need to study the Mexican Machete constitution were you must kill or be killed. Oh, for example, during the Wild West in the USA, there was a constitution but the cowboys and Indians just kept doing it the their way.

  • Güerito

    The most important thing you need to know about the Mexican Constitution is that it’s been amended, like, about a million times, and it remains merely precatory in nature. That is, it’s a long wish list of how things should be in Mexico that bares no reality to daily life in Mexico.

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