Díaz, Porfirio

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Díaz, Porfirio

Porfirio Díaz (pôrfē´ryō dē´äs), 1830–1915, Mexican statesman, a mestizo, christened José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz. He gained prominence by supporting Benito Juárez and the liberals in the War of the Reform and in the war against Emperor Maximilian and the French (1861—67). Defeated by Juárez in the presidential election of 1871, Díaz charged fraud and led a revolt against the government, which was not suppressed until after the inauguration of Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada. Díaz again lost in the presidential race of 1876. He refused defeat, rose against Lerdo, and gained the presidency. Aside from a brief interregnum from 1880 to 1884 when he handpicked Manuel González as his temporary successor, he remained in power until 1911. His rule was ruthless and ultimately effective. Conspirators were crushed, and banditry was officially eliminated by incorporating marauders into a state police called the rurales. He shrewdly matched interest groups against each other, leaving the president supreme; elections were a mockery. Yet he also sought conciliation with previously hostile sectors, particularly the Catholic Church and the U.S. government. Díaz's policy encouraging foreign investment defused U.S. interventionism and led to U.S. recognition of his regime. Material prosperity under Díaz grew. Roads, railroads, and telegraph lines greatly increased. Díaz was influenced by positivism, the belief in the triumph of science and the scientific method. Positivists such as Jose Ives Limantour (1854–1935), the leader of the Científicos, reformed the fiscal system and gave Mexico financial stability. Mexico became a land of peace and prosperity, ruled in the interest of the few. Díaz sold three quarters of the nation's mineral resources to foreign interests and apportioned millions of acres among friendly hacendados. The peasants, far from obtaining social justice, lost more of their communal lands (see ejido); half of the entire rural population was bound to debt slavery. Opposition and discontent grew rapidly in the last decade of Díaz's rule. In 1909, Díaz declared his intention to restore democratic rule, yet his fraudulent reelection the following year demonstrated his promises empty, and sparked a revolution headed by Francisco I. Madero. In 1911, Díaz was forced to flee the country; he died in exile.

See studies by J. F. Godoy (1976), J. Coatsworth (1980), and P. J. Vanderwood (1981).

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