Mexico City, 1909
The Eve of Revolution
Portifiro Diaz, a strongman of the Americas, rules Mexico like an aristocrat. In dress uniform covered with medallions, he looks like a Prussian Kaiser. Near him is the archbishop, baptizer of the aristocracy, presiding over a very wealthy church that has accumulated centuries of profits from the backs of the indigenous and campesinos.
While peasant cultivate the huge haciendas with oxen and wooden plows, the wealthy attend the Italian marble opera house with its fabulous glass curtain made by Tiffany. The mines are owned by a few capitalists, one of them a citizen of the United States, Meyer Guggenheim, William Randolph Hearst, the San Francisco newspaper tycoon, owns thousands of acres of Mexican land. Some haciendas, like the one owned by the Terrazas family, extend for one million acres. And the haciendas are grabbing more and more land, taking the ejidos (traditional communal lands) of the villages. Ninety percent of the population is living in poverty, ten percent in splendor.
The sugar plantations that have dominated the land in the South since the sixteenth century are expanding. Well-paid lawyers use tricks to grab land and water from their rightful but weaker users. Where the refinement of law fails, plantation foremen beat and cheat field hands. Racism undergirds the theft: The Indian…has many defects as a laborer, being as he is, lazy, sottish and thieving. Villages begin to disappear. One plantation owner uses his irrigation system to flood a whole village. The plantation owners meet resistance with brutality.
See Anita Brenner and George Leighton, The Wind that Swept Mexico