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Porfirio Diaz

José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz (1830 - 1915) was a dictator who ruled Mexico from 1876 until 1911 (except for a four year period).

Diaz was born in Oaxaca de Juárez[?], Mexico. He was a Mestizo, of Mixtec Indian and Spanish ancestry.. An army officer with humble rural roots, he became something of a hero due to his participation in the war against the French, where he won several important victories. He led the cavalry in the celebrated Battle of Puebla of 1862.

In 1876 he overthrew the government of President Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada[?]. Initially, he advanced a platform of reform, using the slogan "No Re-election" (for the President). After appointing himself President, he served one term and then dutifully stepped down, having one of his underlings elected in his place. The four-year period that followed was marked by corruption and official incompetence, so that when Diaz stepped up in the next election he was a welcome replacement, and there was no remembrence of his "No Re-election" slogan. In any case Diaz had the constitution amended, first to allow two terms in office, and then to remove all restrictions on re-elections.

He maintained power through manipulation of votes, but also through simple violence and assassination of his opponents, which as a result were very few. 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 against Diaz after an interview in which Diaz said he would allow the next election to be freely contested. In the end the attempt failed and Diaz forced Reyes into exile.

Diaz embarked on a program of modernization, attempting to bring Mexico up to the level of a modern state. His principal advisers were of a type called cientificos, akin to modern economists, because they espoused a program of "scientific" modernisation. These included the building of railroad and telegraph lines across the country, and 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 Diaz. 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 Diaz 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, Diaz 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).

In 1910 elections were held. Francisco Madero ran against Diaz for President. Madero quickly gathered much popular support, but when the offical results were announced by Diaz's government Diaz was proclaimed to be reelected almost unanimously, with Madero gathering only a miniscule number of votes. This massive rigging arroused widespread anger. Madero called for revolt against Diaz, and the Mexican Revolution began. Diaz was forced from office and fled the country in 1911.

In 1915, Diaz died in exile in Paris; he is buried there in the Cimetière de Montparnasse.

See also: History of Mexico

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