By RICARDO CASTILLO
One person not mentioned in Mexico during last Sunday’s official ceremony commemorating the 107th anniversary of the Feb. 9, 1913, Loyalty March was U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson. The ceremony held at Chapultepec Castle was a reenactment of the march led by then-democratically elected Francisco I. Madero from his home to the National Palace.
The date also marks the first of “10 Tragic Days” that pushed Mexico into a bloody internal civil war. Commemorations will continue through Feb. 19, which will also mark the 107th anniversary of the modern Mexican Army. In history, this period was labelled in Spanish as “La Decena Trágica” or 10 Tragic Days.
When Ambassador Wilson was appointed on Dec. 21, 1909, by then.U.S. President William Taft, he’d been ordered to remain aloof from the ongoing turmoil of Mexican politics, spurred by Madero’s candidacy. Wilson presented his diplomatic credentials on March 5, 1910, to then-still-President Porfirio Díaz, who had by then been in power more than 30 years.
In 1910, there was an election clearly won by the Progressive Constitutionalist Party, but Porfirio Díaz refused to step down. Madero and his followers declared that if Díaz did not hand over the presidency to the true democratically elected president, they would declare, on Nov. 20, 1910, a revolution against the government. They did just that and, finally, the old dictator was forced to step down and forced into exile in Paris on May 25, 1911.
With the Mexican Revolution convulsing the nation in those days, when Díaz finally stepped down, he did not deliver the presidency to Madero, but rather to Francisco León de la Barra, who promised to be a pro tempore president. De la Barra eventually turned the presidency over to Madero on Nov. 6, 1911, bringing the revolution to an end.
Some of Madero’s peculiarities made Ambassador Wilson uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Madero, a Maryland and University of California at Berkeley graduate (agriculture), and also a graduate from the École des Hautes Études Commerciales in Paris, certainly had the credentials to be president.
But Madero was also eyed in then-ultra-Catholic Mexico as a bit of a eccentric because he practiced spiritism and actively participated in séances as a medium. In fact, by the time Madero arrived to power, Ambassador Wilson had already labeled him “a lunatic.”
Plus, in Wilson’s view, Madero – a millionaire and landowner by birth – has “leftist” ideas, which of course clashed with Taft’s ultra-conservative ideology. It must be said, however, that Madero never posed a threat to U.S. investors in Mexico.
The year of 1912, however, was not an easy one for Madero. The brief previous revolution had spiked the political hornets’ nest and Madero ended up caught between large land owners like himself and the nearly-serf peasantry and, in particular, in disagreement with the farm workers leader Emiliano ZaEmiliano Zapatapata.
Moreover, a rebellion sprouted from within the army Madero inherited from Porfirio Díaz. The army finally turned against Madero, and it was here that Ambassador Wilson’s involvement came into play.
Madero realized that there was talk of a coup against him within the military, which led him to fire his secretary of the Army and replace him with General Victoriano Huerta, who, along with generals Felix Díaz and Bernardo Reyes, was actually plotting the coup. Madero did not know that Huerta was behind the plot to oust him. It was then that Ambassador Wilson invited the generals to the U.S. Embassy and agreed to help them to topple Madero in an arrangement now known as the Embassy Pact.
The war against Madero broke out on Feb. 9 as the rebel generals trenched up at the Citadel, taking siege of the center of the city. The National Palace fell on Feb. 19. Madero and Vice President José María Pino Suárez were arrested, and subsequently executed on Feb. 22, with the full knowledge of Ambassador Wilson, who had advised Huerta to have Madero and Pino Suárez sign their resignation in exchange for safe passage to Cuba, where they were to receive political asylum.
On Feb. 23, 1913, Mexican legislator Luis Manuel Rojas took the podium at the Chamber of Deputies to denounce the participation of Wilson as the true mastermind behind the coup. This is a condensed version of the deputy’s speech:
“I accuse mister (sic) Henry Lane Wilson, United States ambassador to Mexico, before the honorable criteria of the great American people, as morally responsible for the death of Francisco I. Madero and José María Pino Suárez, who were elected by the people as president and vice president of the Mexican Republic.
“I accuse Ambassador Wilson of having sided with the first armed uprising by Félix Díaz in Veracruz.
“I accuse Ambassador Wilson of having a personal resentment against President Madero.
“I accuse Ambassador Wilson of personally meddling in Mexican politics, having contributed in a powerful manner to the downfall of both Presidents Diaz and Madero.”
Immediately, then-already-President General Victoriano Huerta defended Wilson and reacted indignantly Deputy Rojas’ accusations, claiming that the murders of Madero and Huerta werea mistake by his soldiers as they were going to leave for Cuba.
On Nov. 25, 1912, there was a presidential elections in the United States, with Democratic Party candidate Woodrow Wilson winning the election over Republican Theodore Roosevelt and incumbent President Taft.
Immediately after Madero’s execution, Ambassador Wilson began lobbying with still-President Taft about the benefits the coup in Mexico had brought. He also plqyed up Victoriano Huerta as a would-be great president.
But Taft was on his way out and Woodrow Wilson, a lawyer and political science professor, was not too sure of Henry Lane Wilson’s side of the story. He ordered investigators to look into the matter as he’d read differently in reports published by Pulitzer’s New York World, which he believed were the truth.
President Wilson worried a lot about the situation in Mexico, but it took time for him to come to a conclusion, so he maintained the ambassador in his post through July, creating in Mexico the belief that, just like Taft, President Wilson supported the coup and Huerta.
Eventually, President Wilson summoned the ambassador to the White House on July 17, 1913. Again the ambassador touted the great value of Victoriano Huerta and tried to minimize the civil war that broke out after the execution of Madero.
At the end of Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson’s one-hour monologue, he was asked to turn in his resignation.