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Porfirio Diaz

Home >> Mexico History Directory >> Porfirio Diaz

Porfirio Diaz José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori (15 September 1830 – 2 July 1915) was President of Mexico, considered a dictator, who ruled Mexico from 1876 until 1911 (with the exception of one single four-year period).

Early Years
Porfirio Díaz was born in 1830 in the city of Oaxaca, Oaxaca. He was a Mestizo, of Mixtec Indian and Spanish ancestry. His father, José de la Cruz Díaz, died when he was 3 years old. His mother, Patrona Mori de Díaz, was innkeepers until that business failed. She sent young Porfirio to the Seminario Pontifical in 1843, but he was not cut out for the priesthood. He joined the local militia in 1846, dreaming of defending the country from a threatened United States invasion. Tutored by Benito Juarez, he studied law and passed the legal exams in 1853. Díaz soon became a prominent local activist in the liberal opposition to the conservative Santa Ana dictatorship.

Liberal War Hero
After the liberals came to power, Díaz became district subprefect in 1855, then a captain in the Oaxaca national guard in 1856. He rose to colonel in the national army and commander of the Tehuantepec district during the War of the Reform of 1857-1861 between the liberals, led by President Benito Juarez, and the conservatives.


During the French Intervention of 1862, Díaz became a national hero for leading a cavalry charge during the Battle of Puebla of 5 May 1862, celebrated as as Cinco de Mayo. He was promoted to brigadier general. In October 1863 he took command of the Army of the East and later became governor of Oaxaca state. Díaz was captured by the French in February 1865. Following his escape, he rebuilt an army with which he captured Puebla in April 1867 and liberated Mexico City on June 20, helping to restore Juarez to power. Díaz retired from the army in 1870 to wait with his family at his farm, La Noria, until the 1871 presidential election.

The Porfiriato
Díaz lost the 1871 race to Juárez, failed to mount a successful post-election armed revolt, then got to work organizing for the 1876 contest. Running on a platform of reform, one term presidencies, and respect for the constitution, he also reached out to conservative and clerical factions. After again losing to the government machine headed by President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada in 1876, Díaz overthrew the government and appointed himself president on November 29, 1876. He served one term and then dutifully stepped down in favour of Manuel González, one of his underlings. The four-year period that followed was marked by corruption and official incompetence, so that when Díaz ran in the next election he was a welcome replacement, and there was no remembrance of his "No Re-election" slogan. During this period underground political newspapers spread the new ironic slogan for the Porfirian times, based on the slogan "Sufragio Efectivo, No Reelección" (Real suffrage, no re-election) and changed it to "Sufragio Efectivo No, Reelección" (No real suffrage, Re-election). In fact, Díaz had the constitution amended twice – first to allow two terms in office, and then to remove all restrictions on re-elections.
Díaz maintained power through manipulation of votes, but also through simple violence and assassination of his opponents, which consequently were few in number. He was a cunning politician and knew very well how to manipulate people to his advantage.
In 1899 he faced some small opposition from Bernardo Reyes, an official in his government, who decided to run for president after Díaz gave an interview in which he said he would allow the next election to be freely contested. In the end the attempt failed and Díaz forced Reyes into exile.

Economic Development, Human Exploitation
Díaz embarked on a program of modernisation, attempting to bring Mexico up to the level of a modern state. His principal advisers were of a type called científicos, akin to modern economists, because they espoused a program of "scientific" modernisation. These included the building of railroad and telegraph lines across the country, including the first Mexican railway between Veracruz and Mexico City. Under his rule the amount of track in Mexico increased tenfold; many of these rails remain in operation today without remodelling. He introduced the idea of steam machines and technological appliances in industry and invited and welcomed foreign investment in Mexico. He also encouraged the construction of factories in Mexico City. This resulted in the rise of an urban proletariat and the influx of foreign (principally United States) capital.
The growing influence of U.S. businessmen, already a sore point in a Mexico that had lost much land to the United States, was a constant problem for Díaz. His modernisation program was also at odds with the owners of the large plantations haciendas) that had spread across much of Mexico. These rich plantation owners wanted to maintain their existing feudal system (peonage), and were reluctant to transform into the capitalist economy Díaz was pushing towards because it meant competing in a global market and contending with the monetary influence of businessmen from the United States.
Though he wished to modernise the country, Díaz by no means opposed the existence of the haciendas, and in fact supported them strongly throughout his rule. He appointed sympathetic governors and allowed the plantation owners to proceed with a slow campaign of encroachment onto collectively-owned village land, and enforced such theft through his well-equipped rural police (rurales).

Collapse of the Regime
In a 1908 interview with the U.S. journalist Creelman, Díaz stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and elections and that he would step down and allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. Francisco I. Madero answered the call for candidates. Díaz, however, did not approve of Madero and had him gaoled on election day in 1910.
The election, however, went ahead. Madero had gathered much popular support, but when the official results were announced by the government, Díaz was proclaimed to have been reelected almost unanimously, with Madero gathering only a minuscule number of votes. This undisputable case of massive electoral fraud aroused widespread anger. Madero called for revolt against Díaz, and the Mexican Revolution began. Díaz was forced from office and fled the country for France in 1911.
In 1915, Díaz died in exile in Paris; he is buried there in the Cimetière du Montparnasse.

• Díaz is usually credited with the saying, "Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!"
• Refering to his policy of coopting political opponents, Díaz reportedly said, "a dog with a bone neither barks or bites" or "a dog with a bone in its mouth neither steals or kills."
• As he headed for exile in May 1911 following the revolt by Francisco Madero, Díaz reportedly remarked, "Madero has unleashed a tiger; let’s see if he can control him."