Antonio Diaz Soto Y Gama and Changing Mexico: A Twentieth-Century Political Journey

Article excerpt

When Vicente Fox Quesada became president of Mexico on December 1, 2000, conservatives celebrated the ascendancy of the Partido Accion Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN). For the first time since 1929, a political organization other than the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) held supreme power in Mexico. Where did all of this conservatism originate? What brought this party of middle-class and wealthy professionals, businesspersons, executives, and real estate magnates to power?

Shockingly, that conservatism originated with a group of individuals who had been anarchists, Marxists, or socialists at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1939, as tradition dictated, President Lazaro Cardenas handpicked his heir-apparent for the national presidency. A cadre of former revolutionaries then met in Mexico City to nominate an opposition candidate who supported Roman Catholic Christian family values, free enterprise, and an end to state-mandated public education. Among the group's leaders was Antonio Diaz Soto y Gama, often described as one of Mexico's leading revolutionaries) (1)

Soto y Gama had undergone a political transformation; an anarchist at the turn of the century, he had evolved into a devout Roman Catholic conservative. By the 1930s, he was a staunch anticommunist and, after World War II, acquired a reputation as a stalwart Cold Warrior. His activities and experiences leads one through the heart of Mexican political culture from the early 1890s through the late 1960s.

To understand what happened to the Mexican Revolution, one should follow Soto y Gama. The path he travelled certainly differs from that of other revolutionaries in both detail and magnitude. The general route and the sights to see along the way are strikingly illustrative. Soto y Gama leads the historian from late-nineteenth-century anti-Porfirismo, that is, opposition to the dictatorial reign of President Porfirio Diaz (1876-1880, 1884-1910), through turn-of-the-century anarchism, the anarcho-syndicalism of the early twentieth century, and the Mexican Revolution to the ascendancy of revolutionary caudillos, or strongmen, in the 1920s. His public career then crosses the De la Huerta rebellion (1923-24), the militant Roman Catholic Cristiada (1926-29), the Escobar rebellion (1929), and the Great Depression. He then appears in two simultaneous and equally critical moments in twentieth-century Mexican history, both of which occurred in 1938: the nationalization of British and North American petroleum assets in Mexico, and the violent confrontation in San Luis Potosi between the forces of regional strongman Saturnino Cedillo and the national government.

Soto y Gama's life provides a microcosm of Mexican political culture as it evolved over the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. By following his trail, one can understand not only pre-1967 Mexican political history, but also its trajectory thereafter. Soto y Gama's strong-willed self-righteousness impacted every situation he encountered. This is especially true during the Revolutionary Convention at Aguascalientes in October 1914, the aftermath of the assassination of former President Alvaro Obregon in 1928, and throughout the Cold War. More importantly, his life brings us into contact with a plethora of history-making people and events, including Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, Presidents Obregon, Calles, and Cardenas, and the bitter confrontation between leftists and right-wing extremists at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM) in 1948.

The Journey

Born in 1880, Soto y Gama reached adulthood without knowing any government other than that of Porfirio Diaz, known as the Porfiriato. He learned early to criticize that government, in large part, because his parents and grandparents had all been supporters of President Benito Jufirez and his successor, Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, whom Diaz overthrew in 1876. …