Victoriano Huerta was a brilliant army man who was the military dictator of Mexico from 1913 to 1914. He is acknowledged as likely the most ruthless and corrupt leader in Mexico's history.
Huerta was born in 1854 in Colotlán, Jalisco, the son of a Mestizo father and an Indian mother. He studied at the Military College of Chapultepec, where he reportedly did very well in astronomy and mathematics, as well as engineering and surveying. When he graduated he was made a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, and by 1890 was serving as a colonel under Porfirio Diaz. Huerta greatly admired Diaz, who had achieved great success while also being of Indian descent. Diaz later promoted Huerta to General, which was very gratifying for him to receive from the object of his admiration.
While serving under Diaz, Huerta met Emelia Aguila, who he married and with whom he had eleven children. He distinguished himself by participating in the campaign against the natives in Quintana Roo in 1903, and fought against the Zapatistas in Morelos in 1910. Ironically, his Indian roots did not keep him from ruthlessly putting down these native uprisings, as well as others in Sonora and Guerrero.
Serving under Madero
When Francisco Madero overthrew Diaz and became President in 1911, Huerta was allowed to remain in the army. He was named head of the federal forces when Pascual Orozco and others rebelled against Madero, but secretly was plotting against Madero and conspiring with his enemies, including US ambassador Henry Lane Wilson. In February of 1913 Huerta himself overthrew Madero and took control of the government. Huerta placed his former boss on trial, but never had the chance to try him, as Madero was mysteriously gunned down while being transferred to prison. This was in turn a primary reason for the US refusal to recognize Huerta's government.
Mexico's Brutal General
Huerta became President of Mexico in October of 1913, despite not being a listed candidate. He had promised the US that he would hold free and democratic elections, but he was displeased by the outcome, and declared the results void appointing himself President. Not only was the economy a major difficulty, though, but opposition parties also plagued his military dictatorship. For this reason, Huerta became ever more tyrannical, installing his own police force which brutally kept the population from speaking out against his regime. On the other hand, he did initiate some mild reforms, including increasing the education budget and building more schools.
The major domestic opponents to Huerta's government were Venustiano Carranza, Francisco Villa, and Emiliano Zapata. US President Woodrow Wilson continued to be an outspoken critic of Huerta, instituting a policy of non-recognition of any government which was not elected by the will of the people -- a policy which he later extended to all of Latin America. Wilson's determination to oust Huerta led to international conflicts such as the Tampico incident and the US occupation of Veracruz. Steady pressure from the insurgents, especially after they were bolstered by US supplies delivered to Veracruz, led to Huerta's downfall.
Huerta resigned in July of 1914, having been in power just over a year. He and his family went into exile in Barcelona, but a year later they moved to the US, despite the fact that it had been opposed to his regime in Mexico. While in the US, Huerta began conspiring with Germany. The German government promised him $900,000 and weaponry if he would return to Mexico and set up a pro-German government. Huerta moved to Texas to be able to better plan and prepare for his coup. Unfortunately for him, he and Orozco were arrested when the US intercepted messages revealing his conspiracy with Germany. He was placed in detention at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas.
Victoriano Huerta had a long history of alcoholism. During his reign, he apparently could often be found in taverns, heavily guarded, drinking copious amounts of brandy -- his detractors joked that his two favorite foreign friends were Hennessey and Martel. His alcohol abuse was only exacerbated by his imprisonment in the US, where his drinking increased drastically. On January 14, 1916, he died of complications of cirrhosis of the liver.
Victoriano Huerta came from humble beginnings, but had a significant impact on Mexico's early years as an independent nation. He was a better general than he was a President, as he is acknowledged as the most brutal leader of Mexico in its history, despite his brilliance and education. His most significant impacts may have been to unite the disparate revolutionary factions opposed to his rule, and to place the factions who supported him -- the Church, the business classes, and the foreign community (including the US) -- in a position of permanent distrust by the governments since Huerta's regime.
- Jaime Suchlicki
- Distant Neighbors
- Alan Riding