Academic journal article Journalism History

Contentious Voices amid the Order: The Opposition Press in Mexico City, 1876-1911

Academic journal article Journalism History

Contentious Voices amid the Order: The Opposition Press in Mexico City, 1876-1911

Article excerpt

One of the earliest developments in the history of the newspaper was its potential role as an adversary to the established power structures of society. At the heart of this adversarial role was the press's struggle for freedom to publish, which usually was part of a larger effort to attain political rights based on freedom and democracy.1 The opposition press fulfilled this function, and the level of tolerance accorded it has long served as a measure of a society's commitment to liberty. By examining the opposition press and its treatment by the government, the historian can gain a significant understanding into the political culture of a society's past. For the historian of Porfirian-era Mexico-the reign of Porfirio Dfaz as president,18761880 and 1884-1911, and the interregnum of President Manuel Gonzalez, 1880-1884-the opposition press of Mexico City provides an ideal case study of late nineteenth-century society and culture. The opposition press existed throughout all of Porfirio Diaz's dictatorship, never disappearing even in the face of the government's attempt to suppress this independent voice through imprisonment of journalists, fines, and seizures of printing presses.

This particular epoch in Mexican history represented a time of fundamental change as the country emerged from nearly a half century of chaos and internecine strife into a modern, prosperous, and orderly country. This transformation, however, came at a high social cost, especially to those Mexicans living at the lower end of the economic scale and those living in rural areas-the majority of Mexicans. Porfirio Diaz's attempt to drag Mexicans into a modern era was predicated on positivist principles of order and progress, the theme of his long-term reign as president. When Dfaz came to power in 1876, Mexico was in economic shambles. Existing infrastructure was in disrepair, new nineteenth-century technologies such as the railroad and telegraph were nearly non-existent, and lawlessness was rampant. By 1910, the economy was healthy and prosperous, railroads crisscrossed the nation, and order was restored, all of which greatly improved Mexico's standing in the international community as exemplified by tremendous foreign investment.

On the surface, Mexican society appeared to be headed down the road of modernization and prosperity, seemingly to be unified and orderly in an attempt to show the world that Mexico had thrown off the mantle of colonial backwardness and its refuse of chaos. Scholars of that period have, of course, disabused us of that idyllic picture. We now know that "order and progress" came at a very high expense-in terms of nationalism and liberty. Foreigners, in collusion with wealthy Mexicans and government officials, reaped most of the prosperity, taking millions of dollars in profit out of the country.2 Likewise, the peace came at the expense of liberty as law was used by the few to control and manipulate the many, creating a delicate balance that tended to emanate from the seat of national power-President Dfaz-through the state governors and down to the local level.3

A defining and discerning element of this political culture can be found in the Porfirian press in Mexico City. Newspapers of this period fell into one of two camps: they were either government-subsidized newspapers or they were independent. While the progovernment, subsidized newspapers are easy to identify and characterize, the independent press presents a much more complicated picture. An independent periodical could be liberal in nature or conservative; it could be anti-clerical or pro-church; it could be discretely critical of government policies or it could be openly oppositional. Similarly, it could begin publishing as a selfproclaimed liberal, independent newspaper and end as a closed-down, opposition paper, with its editors jailed and printing presses seized. Finally, it could be a longstanding, independent newspaper that outlasted the Porfirian regime or it could be an up-start, opposition newspaper that published for less than a year. …

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