gigatos | January 9, 2022
José Victoriano Huerta Márquez (January 13, 1916) was a Mexican engineer and military officer who served as president of Mexico from February 19, 1913 to July 15, 1914 as a result of a coup d”état.
He began his military career during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz and, during the democratically elected government of Francisco I. Madero, he was promoted to general during the first phase of the Mexican Revolution. During February 1913, Huerta led a conspiracy against Madero, who charged him with the defense of Mexico City during an insurrection initiated by generals Bernardo Reyes and Félix Díaz known as the Decena Trágica, where after several days of combat inside the city, both Madero and his vice president, José María Pino Suárez, were deposed, arrested and subsequently assassinated. The coup d”état was supported by the German Empire and the United States, during the administration of President William H. Taft. However, the administration of President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize the new regime and allowed the distribution and sale of arms to the rebel forces. Many of the great powers of that time recognized the coup regime, but with the triumph of the revolutionary forces against Huerta, they ended up withdrawing their support, in the face of the Wilson administration”s own threats.
Huerta was finally forced to resign in July 1914 and fled into exile after only 17 months in office, following the surrender of the Federal Army. He was arrested in 1915 by U.S. authorities for attempting to negotiate with German spies during World War I (1914-1918) and died in prison.
His collaborators were known as Huertistas during the Mexican Revolution. To this day, the military man continues to be despised for his role in the death of Madero, becoming known by the nicknames of El Chacal or El Usurpador.
According to the records in the books of the Parish Notary of Colotlán, José Victoriano Huerta Márquez was born on December 22, 1850 in the town of Colotlán and was baptized the following day (other sources indicate that he was born on March 23, 1845 in the ranchería of Agua Gorda). His parents were Jesús Huerta Córdoba, originally from Colotlán, Jalisco and María Lázara del Refugio Márquez Villalobos, originally from El Plateado, Zacatecas. His paternal grandparents were Rafael Huerta Benítez and María Isabel de la Trinidad Córdoba, the former from Villanueva, Zacatecas and the latter from Colotlán, Jalisco and his maternal grandparents were José María Márquez and María Soledad Villalobos. Huerta identified himself as indigenous and his parents were registered as Huichol, although it is said that his father referred to himself as mestizo. Huerta learned to read and write in the municipal school run by the local parish priest, which made him one of the few people able to do so in all of Colotlán. From a very young age, Huerta had resolved to pursue a military career as the only way to escape the inherent poverty of his town. His opportunity came when he was 15 years old, when in 1869, General Donato Guerra visited Colotlán and expressed his desire to hire a private secretary. Huerta decided to volunteer.
As a reward for his services, he was recommended and granted a scholarship to study at the Military College, where he obtained outstanding grades that earned him special recognition; President Benito Juárez, the first indigenous man to become president, praised him during his visit to the college to present the awards to the cadets with the following words:
From Indians who are educated like you, the homeland expects a lot.
During his time as a cadet, Huerta was an especially outstanding student in mathematics, which led him to specialize in artillery and topography.
After graduating from the Military College in 1877, Huerta was commissioned within the Corps of Engineers. After receiving the rank of lieutenant within it, he was put in charge of the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe in Puebla, and the castle of Perote in Veracruz. In January 1879, he was promoted to the rank of captain and assigned to the officer corps of the 4th Division in Guadalajara, within the engineering area. The officer in charge of the 4th Division was General Manuel González Flores, compadre of President Porfirio Díaz and former President of Mexico during the period from 1880 to 1884. During that time, González took Huerta under his protection and his career prospered. In Mexico City, Huerta married Emilia Águila Moya, whom he met during his service in Veracruz, on November 21, 1880. The marriage produced a total of 11 children. The names of their living children at the time of Huerta”s death in 1916 were Jorge, María Elisa, Victor, Luz, Elena, Dagoberto, Eva and Celia. Huerta participated in the “pacification campaigns” in Tepic and Sinaloa, where he distinguished himself for his role during the fighting. He was known for always making sure his men received their pay on time, even if it meant having to do so through questionable and harsh acts. After a complaint made by the Catholic Church that Huerta ordered the looting of a church to sell all the gold and silver it contained to pay his troops, Huerta justified himself by saying that “Mexico can live without priests, but it cannot live without soldiers”. On another occasion, following a complaint made by a bank, alleging that Huerta emptied one of its branches at gunpoint to pay his men, Huerta argued that he left a receipt promising to pay the bank what was stolen when he received the necessary funds from Mexico City. For the next 9 years, Huerta spent his military career conducting topographical surveys in the states of Puebla and Veracruz. His position allowed him to travel to various parts of the republic constantly. During the Porfiriato years, the French influence in Mexican culture was very strong and Huerta was no stranger to that current, given that his hero was Napoleon. Huerta unconditionally supported Diaz as he considered him the closest to the Napoleonic ideal, believing that Mexico needed “strong leadership” to achieve prosperity.
By 1890 Huerta had reached the rank of colonel and for the next few years (from 1890 to 1895) Huerta took up residence in Mexico City, becoming a frequent visitor to the presidential residence inside Chapultepec Castle, and as part of Díaz”s entourage. Although Huerta was appreciated inside the Castle for his behavior as a correct and efficient officer, who treated his subordinates with discipline, and his superiors with courtesy, during those years he began to suffer from insomnia and severe alcoholism problems. In January 1895 he led an infantry battalion against a rebellion in the state of Guerrero led by General Canuto Neri. The rebellion was put down after Díaz successfully negotiated with Neri, who surrendered in exchange for the promise of the dismissal of the unpopular governor of that state. During the fighting, Huerta displayed a reputation as a ruthless officer who refused to take prisoners and who continued to fight Neri”s followers even after Díaz had secured a cessation of hostilities. In December 1900, Huerta led a successful military campaign against the Yaqui Indians in Sonora. During the military campaign, which was almost one of extermination, when Huerta was not leading his forces against the Yaqui, he was also busy using his knowledge of topography to map the Sonoran terrain. From April 12 to September 8, 1901, Huerta was also in charge of putting down, relentlessly and violently, several indigenous rebellions in Guerrero. In May of that same year, he was finally promoted to the rank of general. During 1901 to 1902 he also fought the Mayan Indians in Yucatán and Quintana Roo. During the campaign, he commanded a total of 500 men and fought a total of 79 military actions during the course of 39 days. After the military campaign concluded, Huerta was promoted to brigadier general and decorated with the Military Merit Medal; as well as being promoted, at the request of his friend, General Bernardo Reyes, former governor of Nuevo Leon and Secretary of War and Navy, as a member of the Supreme Military Court of the Nation. In May 1902 he was promoted to commander of the federal forces in Yucatán, and in October he reported to Díaz that the territory had finally been pacified. During his stay in Yucatán, he became increasingly dependent on alcohol and his health began to deteriorate. In addition to being forced to wear sunglasses, claiming he could not stand the sun”s rays, Huerta developed episodes of tremors and his teeth began to decay, causing him severe pain. In August 1903 he was commissioned to head a committee charged with reforming the uniforms of the Federal Army. In 1907 he retired from the army citing health problems after developing cataracts while in the jungles of the southeast. He then wanted to apply his technical knowledge by taking the position of Chief of Public Works in the city of Monterrey and begin planning a new street layout, and even in the construction of the Ancira Hotel.
On the eve of the Mexican Revolution called by Madero against the Porfirian regime, Huerta was living in Mexico City, teaching mathematics. After the rebellion began, Huerta rejoined the army with his old rank, but did not participate in any of the initial actions of the revolt. However, after Diaz resigned, Huerta was in charge of escorting his presidential convoy to the port of Veracruz, which took him to exile in May 1911.
During the interim presidency of Francisco León de la Barra and the subsequent election of Madero to the presidency in November 1911, Huerta carried out a bloody campaign in the state of Morelos to suffocate the forces of Emiliano Zapata. Among the actions carried out by Huerta was the burning of several Zapatista towns and the subsequent extermination of their inhabitants. These actions led him to be accused of insubordination by Madero, who was trying to negotiate with the Zapatistas for the cessation of hostilities. Huerta already had a history of opposing the revolutionary forces and taking part in political intrigues against Madero, and his actions were decisive for a break between Zapata and Madero, which would lead the former to rebel against the new Madero government with the proclamation of the Plan de Ayala.
Although it was thanks to the efforts of the revolutionary troops that the revolution called by Madero could triumph against Porfirio Diaz, Madero agreed with the interim government of De la Barra that the revolutionaries should surrender their weapons and that the Federal Army would remain active. Huerta declared his loyalty to President Madero and was in charge of leading the federal forces to appease all those who refused to follow the demobilization order, such as Pascual Orozco. During the actions against Orozco, Huerta had an altercation with the revolutionary commander Francisco Villa, who was also pursuing Orozco. Huerta alleged that Villa had refused to return some horses that his men had stolen from Huerta”s troops. Enraged, he had him arrested and ordered him to be shot. President Madero”s brothers intervened and Villa was only imprisoned for a few days in Mexico City, which angered Huerta. When he returned to the capital, he ratified his loyalty to President Madero and while he was undergoing a cataract treatment, Madero made him resign.
As Orozco”s rebellion became a really serious threat to Madero”s government, he was forced to reconsider his position and sent Huerta back to fight against the insurrectionary forces and quell them in one way or another. Under his command, Huerta had troops from the Federal Army and irregular troops under Villa”s command that had joined the contingent in April 1912. Huerta offered Orozco”s followers (called Orozquistas) amnesty, as they were increasingly weakened in numbers and capital. Finally, Huerta”s forces defeated Orozco”s forces at Rellano in May 1912. After that victory, Huerta “had suddenly become a national hero of great reputation”.
As Madero lost support, various internal and external groups conspired to remove him from the presidency. The best known of all was the one carried out by Porfirio Díaz”s nephew, Félix Díaz, together with generals Bernardo Reyes and Manuel Mondragón, known in the end as the Tragic Decade, which took place from February 9 to 19, 1913. The coup leaders had hoped to invite Huerta since January, but he declined the coup leaders” offers for fear of just being used and decided to wait for the events to develop, considering that Félix Díaz was expected to succeed Madero after the triumph of the coup. However, on the first day of the confrontations, February 9, General Reyes died in combat and General Lauro Villar, in charge of the defense of the National Palace, was wounded. After Reyes” death, Huerta was appointed by Madero as the new person in charge of the defense. This decision, according to historian Friedrich Katz, “would be one that having secured that key position, Huerta secretly joined with the conspirators and continued with the negotiations behind the president”s back. His objective was to weaken Madero militarily without revealing his own complicity in the plot.
A few days later, however, Huerta was discovered by Madero”s brother, Gustavo A. Madero, who arrested him and accused him in front of the president. U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson was one of the major players in the conspiracy to oust Madero and the architect of the Embassy Pact, also known as the Pact of the Citadel. Wilson believed that Huerta could not have carried out the plan without the certainty that the United States would recognize the new regime. After several days of fighting inside Mexico City between loyalist and insurgent forces, Huerta had Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez arrested and held them prisoner inside the National Palace on February 18, 1913. According to what was agreed in the Embassy Pact, Madero and Pino Suarez were to go into exile and Huerta would assume the presidency.
At first Félix Díaz was surprised by the news, since the initial plan was that he would occupy the presidency after the triumph of the rebellion. However, Huerta managed to convince him to let him govern in an interim manner to pacify the Maderistas. On February 22, 1913 Madero and Vice President Pino Suárez were escorted during the night to the Lecumbérri prison where, after being taken to the back of the building, they were artfully executed.
To give some semblance of legitimacy to the cuartelazo, Huerta had the Secretary of Foreign Relations Pedro Lascuráin assume the presidency on a provisional basis; according to the Constitution of 1857, the Secretary of Relations was third in the line of succession, behind the vice president and the President of the Supreme Court; although the latter had also been removed after the coup d”état. Lascuráin appointed Huerta as Secretary of the Interior, making him next in line for the presidency. After less than 45 minutes in the presidency, Lascuráin resigned and handed over power to Huerta. In an extraordinary session held in the middle of the night, in a Congress surrounded by troops loyal to Huerta, the legislators approved the appointment. Four days later, Madero and Pino Suarez were executed.
The Huerta government was quickly recognized by all foreign powers, but the administration of U.S. President William Howard Taft refused to recognize the new government, as a way of pressuring the Mexican government to resolve a border dispute at El Chamizal in favor of the United States, in exchange for recognition of the Huerta government. However, the new U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who had a greater inclination for democratic governments and a clear dislike for Huerta, who had assumed power by means of a cuartelazo and was implicated in the subsequent assassination of Madero, was willing to recognize the new government as long as it was ratified at the ballot box. Félix Díaz and the rest of those involved in the cuartelazo saw Huerta as a transitional leader and proposed to call for elections, hoping that they would be won by Díaz and his Catholic and conservative platform, however they were surprised to discover that Huerta had no intention of handing over the presidency.
Huerta acted quickly to consolidate his power and initiated negotiations with the rest of the governors. He also approached Pascual Orozco, whom he had previously fought on behalf of the Maderista government. Since Orozco still held command of a considerable number of forces in Chihuahua and part of Durango, Huerta considered it essential to obtain his support. Orozco had rebelled against Madero and Huerta, having dismissed him, saw the possibility of gaining his support. During a meeting with representatives of the Huerta government and the Orozco forces, Orozco established a series of conditions to be able to declare his support for the new government. First, Orozco asked for the recognition of the services of his soldiers against Madero and that they be employed as rural soldiers. Huerta agreed to the terms, and Orozco publicly declared his support for Huerta on February 27, 1913. At the same time, Orozco sought to negotiate with Emiliano Zapata to make peace with the Huerta government. Until that time, Zapata held Orozco in high esteem as a fellow revolutionary who had rebelled against the Maderista regime. However, for Zapata, Orozco”s support for Huerta was unforgivable, saying that “Huerta represents treason to the army. You represent treason to the Revolution.”
Huerta tried to continue consolidating his government, and the middle class in Mexico City was able to achieve important conquests before being suppressed by the new government. For example, the particular case of the Casa del Obrero Mundial. The Casa had called several demonstrations and strikes, which were at first tolerated by the Huertista regime. However, as time progressed, the new government suppressed the mobilizations, and also arrested and deported some of the leaders, finally destroying the building that housed the headquarters of the Casa del Obrero. Huerta also sought to suppress all the agitation provoked in favor of agrarian reform, which had its major focal point in the state of Morelos, by the forces of Emiliano Zapata. One of the intellectual voices in favor of agrarian reform was Andrés Molina Enríquez, who in 1909 published a book entitled Los grandes problemas nacionales (The Great National Problems) in which he denounced the bad distribution of land during the Porfiriato years. Molina Enríquez had joined the Huertista government as part of the Secretary of Labor. Although he had denounced the coup d”état against Madero, he had seen the new Huerta government as a necessary evil that he believed the country needed: that of a strong military leader capable of imposing the social reforms that Mexico needed, for the benefit of the masses. However, despite internal support within the Huerta regime for reforms, Huerta opted for an increasing militarization of his government, so Molina Enríquez decided to resign.
The English historian Alan Knight wrote that: “The constant political current followed by the regime, from beginning to end, was that of militarization: the growth and subsequent dependence on the Federal Army, the incorporation of the military in public posts, the preference for military solutions over political ones, the militarization of society in general”. Huerta, according to Knight, “came quite close to turning Mexico into a fully militarized state”. In principle, Huerta”s main objective was to return to the Porfiriato era of “order,” but his methods were far from those used by Díaz, who knew when to negotiate; seeking the support of regional elites, relying on both technocrats and army officers, former guerrilla leaders, caciques and provincial elites to sustain his regime. Meanwhile, Huerta depended entirely on the army to sustain himself in power, giving officers all the key positions in the administration, regardless of their talents, as he sought to rule the country with an iron fist, believing that military solutions alone were enough to control all problems. For this reason, Huerta was even more hated during his presidency than Díaz himself; even the Zapatistas, who had some respect for Díaz and saw him as a patriarchal leader who had enough sense to resign the presidency with dignity in 1911, saw Huerta as a barbarian who had Madero killed and sought to terrorize the country by force. Huerta also hated meetings with his cabinet, and issued orders to his ministers as if they were officers in his army, revealing a sense of autocratic rule.
As Huerta”s government gradually became a harsh military dictatorship, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson became openly hostile to the new government, removed Henry Lane Wilson from his post as ambassador and demanded Huerta”s resignation to make way for new elections. In August 1913, Wilson imposed an arms embargo on Mexico, which forced Huerta to approach European countries and Japan to obtain arms. Faced with the population”s gradual rejection of Huerta”s iron fist policies, Chiapas Senator Belisario Domínguez distributed copies of a speech he could not deliver in the Senate, accusing Huerta of starting a new civil war, of “covering the whole national territory with corpses” so as not to abandon the presidency, and of bringing about a conflict with the United States, while calling on Congress to remove Huerta from office before he sent the country into the abyss. Dominguez knew he was risking his life by publicly denouncing the Huerta regime and sent his wife and children out of the country before distributing copies of his speech. Dominguez was immediately arrested by two policemen, along with Huerta”s son and son-in-law, and taken to the Xoco cemetery in Coyoacan where he was brutally murdered for speaking out against President Huerta. His naked body was buried in a grave that his assassins had prepared beforehand. On October 10, 1913, when the Congress had announced the beginning of an investigation into the disappearance of Senator Domínguez, Huerta ordered his soldiers to dissolve the session and then arrested a total of 110 senators and deputies, 74 of whom were accused of high treason and sent to forced labor. Among some of the political prisoners was the future president of Mexico, Pascual Ortiz Rubio.
When Huerta refused to call elections, and with the situation even more critical due to the Tampico incident, President Wilson ordered the invasion of the port of Veracruz.
Huerta went into exile, first traveling to Kingston, Jamaica, aboard the German cruise ship SMS Dresden, arriving at the port of Bristol on August 16, 1914, on the British steamship HMS Patia of the United Fruit Company. He then traveled to Spain (Barcelona and Madrid) and arrived in the United States in April 1915.
Once World War I started in Europe, Huerta was contacted by officials of the German Empire who offered him economic support to try to return to power. He returned to America in April 1915, arriving in New York with his family, where he managed to meet with Captain Franz von Rintelen, a naval officer of the German espionage, who promised him money and weapons to attempt a coup d”état in Mexico and, in exchange, Huerta”s regime had to commit to start a war against the United States, in the hope that this would interrupt the sale of munitions that this country made to the allied countries. These meetings took place at the famous Manhattan Hotel and were monitored by Secret Service agents, while Huerta”s telephone conversations with von Rintelen were continuously intercepted and recorded.
After contacting his former rival Pascual Orozco and recruiting him for his conspiracy, Huerta traveled to El Paso, Texas, to meet him and several followers with the aim of returning to Mexico and starting an uprising, but on June 27, 1915 he was arrested by U.S. authorities at the Newman, New Mexico, train station along with Orozco himself, being charged with sedition as well as violating neutrality laws for conspiring with a belligerent power, because by then the Wilson regime, while seeking to prevent U.S. entry into the Great War, maintained sympathies towards the Triple Entente. Huerta was initially imprisoned in the military prison of Fort Bliss in Texas; after posting bail, he was allowed to leave the military prison and go to house arrest due to his very poor health, but when he tried to enter Mexico again, he was imprisoned again by the U.S. authorities.
According to the death certificate (Folio 1137, Record No. 364) Huerta died at the age of 63 at Providence Hospital in Fort Bliss County, El Paso, on January 13, 1916, victim of cirrhosis of the liver, a disease caused by his well-known habit of abusing alcoholic beverages, especially cognac, which he consumed in enormous quantities. He was buried in La Concordia Cemetery, until his remains were interred in Evergreen Cemetery, in El Paso. Although it was maintained that the cause of his death was caused by cirrhosis, there were also strong suspicions that he could have been poisoned by the United States.