The Monster - Page 2

WRITERS ISSUE: An excerpt from El Monstruo

Up in Puebla, Díaz's agents murdered Madero’s lieutenant, the revolutionary shoemaker Aquiles Serdán, and his family, two nights before the festivities were slated to kick in. In Morelos, Zapata and the peasant army he had assembled bided their time, waiting to see who would make the first move first.

Mexicans are never on time. Finally, in January, Doroteo Arango AKA Francisco “Pancho” Villa, a popular Chihuahua desperado of Hobsbawmian proportions, and his ruthless cohort Pascual Orozco, declared themselves in revolt and were immediately joined by the Maderista governor of Coahuila, Venustiano Carranza and his “Constitutionalist” Army. Díaz's Federales were beaten back at Ciudad Guerrero, Mal Paso, and Casas Grandes. Villa laid siege to Ciudad Juárez on the border, the vital railhead that linked Mexico City to the United States and was the lifeblood of the country’s commercial transactions.

By February 1911, with the synchronicity that sometimes made the Mexican Revolution work, the Zapatistas had advanced to Xochimilco. Workers in the heart of the city suffering from what the Porfirian rag El Imparcial tagged ”huelga-manía” or strike fever, declared seven major strikes that paralyzed the Monstruo in 1910–1911. Demonstrators were emboldened enough to assemble in the Zócalo and shout “Death to the Dictator!” beneath Don Porfirio’s balcony by spring. Others menaced his mansion on Cadena Street in the Centro Histórico and were repelled by the gendarmes.

Pablo Escandón fled Mexico for Europe, kvetching to the press that Mexico had fallen into “niggerdom.” Don Porfirio’s class of people was stunned by this threat to their carefree lives and comforts. Indeed, the leisure class had not changed all that much from when the criollos and Gachupines cowered inside the city as Hidalgo’s Indiada advanced on El Monstruo.

After three and a half decades in power, the Dictator remained a figure of adoration in the mansions of La Condesa. For the university students, largely the sons of the ruling class, Don Porfi was the epitome of modernity. To them, Villa and Orozco and Carranza were the Barbarians of the North, Zapata the Attila of the South, and they cast the Dictator as the savior of civilization as they knew it.

But the old man was 81, and it hurt just to keep a stiff upper lip. The medals weighed heavily on his chest. He knew in his heart of hearts what his adorers could not admit—the jig was really up. Ciudad Juárez was days away, even via the modern rail system he had built, and the army’s mobility to supply his troops was restricted. Don Porfiriopochtli, as political cartoonists were drawing him now, had, like the Aztecs, expanded his empire to a point where he could no longer defend it.

In May, the Dictator sent his vice president, Francisco León de la Barra, to the north to negotiate an easy exit to his 34 years on the throne of Mocuhtezuma, and on May 24, 1911, having brokered an agreement with Madero that León de la Barra would remain as provisional president for the next six months, the old man set sail from Puerto, México, for Paris, France, aboard the German steamer Ypringa with this famous caution: “The wild beasts have been loosed. Let us see who will cage them now.”

Wild celebrations broke out in Mexico City as if to underscore the old man’s dictum—15,000 workers invaded the Chamber of Deputies and marched on the National Palace, where the Dictator’s police opened fire, wounding scores. The offices of the Porfirian mouthpiece El Imparcial were set afire. By July, the Monstruo was shut down by a general strike.