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Yucatan History

Home >> Mexico Destinations >> Yucatan >> Yucatan History
In February 1821, Mexico achieved independence from Spain. On 2 November of that year, Yucatán became part of independent Mexico. The State of Yucatán at that time included the territory of what is now the states of Campeche and Quintana Roo as well. In 1835, a conservative unitary system of government was instituted in Mexico. Yucatán became a department, and authority was imposed from the center. Discontent increased and an insurrection erupted in Tizimín in May 1838, advocating Yucatecan independence. In 1840, the local Congress approved a declaration of independence of Yucatán. At first, Governor Santiago Méndez blocked it, saying that Yucatán would again recognize the rule of the central government in Mexico City if the Mexican Constitution of 1824 were reinstated. Andrés Quintana Roo, sent to Mérida in 1841 by President Antonio López de Santa Anna, succeeded in settling the differences and signed a treaty with the local government.
But when Santa Anna later ignored the provisions of this treaty, hostilities resumed, and Governor Méndez ordered all Mexican flags removed from Yucatecan buildings and shipping in favor of the flag of the "sovereign nation of the Republic of Yucatán", two red and one white stripe, with a quincunx of stars in a green field. The Yucatecan Constitution was modeled in part on the 1824 Mexican Constitution and the Yucatán state constitution of 1825.

Santa Anna refused to recognize Yucatán's independence, and he barred Yucatecan ships and commerce in Mexico and ordered Yucatán's ports blockaded. He sent an army to invade Yucatán in 1843. The Yucatecans defeated the Mexican force, but the loss of economic ties to Mexico deeply hurt Yucatecan commerce. Yucatán's governor Miguel Barbachano decided to use the victory as a time to negotiate with Santa Anna's government from a position of strength. It was agreed that Yucatán would rejoin Mexico so long as various assurances of right to self-rule and adherence to the 1825 Constitution within the Peninsula were observed by Mexico City. The treaty reincorporating Yucatán into Mexico was signed in December 1843.
Once more, the central government rescinded earlier concessions and in 1845 Yucatán again renounced the Mexican government, declaring independence effective 1 January 1846. When the Mexican-American War broke out, Yucatán declared its neutrality. In 1847 the so-called "Caste War" (Guerra de Castas) broke out, a major revolt of the Maya people against the Hispanic population in political and economic control. At one point in 1848, this revolt was successful to the point of driving all Hispanic Yucatecans out of almost the entire peninsula other than the walled cities of Mérida and Campeche.
The government in Mérida appealed for foreign help in suppressing the revolt, with Governor Méndez taking the extraordinary step of sending identical letters to Britain, Spain, and the United States of America, offering sovereignty over Yucatán to whatever nation first provided sufficient aid to quash the Maya revolt. The proposal received serious attention in Washington, D.C. the Yucatecan ambassador was received by US President James K. Polk and the matter was debated in the Congress, with no action taken other than an invocation of the Monroe Doctrine to warn off any European power from interfering in the peninsula.
After the end of the Mexican-American War, Governor Barbachano appealed to Mexican President José Joaquín de Herrera for help in suppressing the revolt, and in exchange Yucatán again recognized the central government's authority. Yucatán was again reunited with Mexico on 17 August 1848. Frequent skirmishes and occasional large battles between the forces of the Yucatecan government and independent Maya of the eastern part of the peninsula continued through 1901, when the Mexican army occupied the Maya capital of Chan Santa Cruz. Some Maya communities in Quintana Roo continued to refuse to acknowledge Ladino or Mexican sovereignty as late as the 1910s.

Mid 19th century through mid 20th century

In 1857 Campeche broke off from Yucatán to become a separate state. On 24 November 1902, President Porfirio Díaz proclaimed the creation of the territory of Quintana Roo, separating that territory from the state of Yucatán. Sisal for making rope was probably the first major export crop of the Yucatán Peninsula. The region prospered from this lucrative crop until alternative rope materials came into wider use after World War I and henequen (sometimes called "green gold") was planted in other places around the world, setting up competing industries. The decades of the henequen boom was a fairly progressive era for Yucatán; the city of Mérida had electric streetlights and trolley cars before Mexico City. It is said there were more millionaires in Mérida at that time than anywhere else in the Americas. Today, the Paseo de Montejo, an avenue patterned after the Champs-Élysées in Paris, is lined with both abandoned and renovated mansions from that era.