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Obregón, Alvaro—Transformation of Mexico

by Carrie E. Starks

At the end of the Mexico Revolution, Mexico was politically and socially unstable. It was General Alvaro Obregón who was the master mind that could rebuild after the Revolution. He served as the president of Mexico from 1920-24. He has been described as one of the greatest generals throughout the Mexican Revolution and his committed implementation of the Constitution of 1917 that made him one of the most radical presidents Mexico has seen. Obregón's mastery of the consolidation process between the varying political party that he was both a true Mexican and a diplomat.

Obregón was more European than Indian, like " Madero and Venustiano Carranza, but, unlike them, he was no full blooded aristocrat. Obregón's family may have had upper crust lineage, but he was well rounded man. Obregón rode the fence of social status therefore appealing to a variety of social classesan asset for a military officer and a politician. Obregón began as commercial chickpea farmer on a 150 hectare hacienda in Sonora. He was a successful farmer and business man. He married in 1902, but his wife died in 1907, leaving him with two small children and business problems, that he had little time, or concern, for politics. Madero's revolutionary triumph changed all that.

It was his military experience which changed the man dramatically and gave rise to his boundless ambition. For on the battlefield he displayed the most natural talent for soldiering. He first joined forces with Madero and defeated Orozco during the revolution. Obregón had returned only a few months to civilian life when he joined Venustiano Carranza take up arms against Victoriano Huerta , and his brilliant organizational and fighting abilities soon gained him command of the Constitutionalist Army of the Northwest. This invincible general—he never lost a battle—was soon the most feared and respected solider in Mexico. Under Carranza, it was he who administered the surrender of the Federal Army; it was he who stopped Villa from taking control of the Revolution, and it was he who began to build the new National Army. But once Carranza became Constitutional president in 1917, the tolerable relationship between the general and the President began to die away. Not only was Carranza apprehensive of the ambitions of his popular and powerful War Minister, but he also considered Obregón too radical politically. Obregón's resigned as War Minister to retirement to civilian life soon after Carranza became President in 1917. This only delayed the unavoidable clash between these two powerful revolutionary personalities.

Obregón had long been worried about militarism. He had warned Carranza that the treason, brutality, corruption, and personal opportunism of the revolutionary leaders were damaging the good name of the Constitutionalist Army. However, Carranza maintained his power by cooperating the nation's triumphant military chiefs. And understandably Obregón was most upset, after resigning as War Minister, to see so little implementation of his program of military reforms. Because of the ineffectiveness of Carranza in military matters, the army became demoralized and defected to Obregón in 1920.

Obregón publicly criticized Carranza, and basically declared his own candidacy with the Plan of Agua Prieta. He pledged that if elected he would clean up the widespread corruption in the government. Meanwhile, de la Huerta acted as the interim president. While, Obregón easily gained and diffused popularity and power from Porfirian elites, foreign business interests, ruthless caudillos, and land-hungry peasants (Gonzales 182). Through his labor and agrarian supporters Obregón could create political strictures and structures which would accommodate the various sources of power and more accurately reflect the ideals and aspirations of Revolutionary Mexico. For example, the Casa de Obrera Mundial ( an urban labor group) supplied him with six battalions of workers to fight against Villa. And at both the 1917 constitutional convention and 1919-20 presidential campaign, the workers' support of the military position had contributed to Carranza defeat.

After his successful 1920 rebellion, he became president over Carranza. The labor unions were rewarded because the guarantees in the 1917 Constitution concerning right to organize, to strike, minimum wages and maximum hours were enabled by Obregón. As president, his task was to creatively organize an authoritative system that would not only create a conducive political environment but economic environment as well that would satisfy the stratified social classes while implementing the ideals of the constitution. This created much unneeded turmoil during his first years as president.

The development of mass support was a key feature of Obregón's plan to establish a strong national government. The last such government has existed under Diaz, when the church, the business interests, and the landholders combined with the army to maintain effective control at the center. The Madero revolution had broken the Diaz system, but neither Madero, nor Huerta, or Carranza, could reestablish an effective new order. In place of the traditional forces, Obregón substituted workers and peasants as his civilian base, but like Diaz, he had developed a disciplined and loyal army to establish a viable central government. One way Obregón accomplished this task was through agrarian reform. Obregón redistributed land to peasants to appease the militant agrarian radicals to recruit them into his political alliance.

Another one of Obregón's accomplishments was making friends with the United States, unlike his predecessors. Obregón cautiously established good relations and understood the political power United States. By establishing rapport with the United States and important international financiers, he was able to make economical head for Mexico because of their natural resource—oil. They could now use their natural resources to repay their international debt. The Minster of Treasury de la Huerta, however, had a disappointing performance. And it was clear by late 1922 that Obregón had chosen Calles to succeed him for the 1924-28 presidential term instead of de la Huerta. Many divisionarios like de la Huerta who outranked Calles were not happy with this decision either and started conspiring against Calles. Obregón's selection of Calles alienated brought disharmony amongst many of his supporters and nonsupporters.

In December 1923, a rebellion by de la Huerta, Villa and others which made all Obregón's efforts to build a strong national army seem in vain. Obregón was faced with a military uprising which nearly destroyed his government. Clearly the rebel generals possessed warrior mentalities. Because they made the Revolution, they felt entitled to political power. They were unwilling to confine themselves to a police type role of defending the central government. They felt like the president was overly sympathetic to agrarian complaints about land distribution. Obregón won and executed all of his potential political rivals (Gonzales 201).

When Obregón's term ended in December 1924, only a start had been made in building a professional army. This work was to be continued by Obregón's handpicked successor, General Plutarco E. Calles. Calles was elected president, and enjoyed more political stability because of Obregón's previous hard work to stabilize Mexico. Obregón's reconstruction efforts resolved some of Mexico's debts problems and gained international diplomatic recognition through advanced negotiations with international banks (Gonzales 202).

In 1927-28, Obregón began his second presidential campaign. His programs were basically those of 1920-24. He showed more concern for agrarian reforms than before when he was preoccupied with military affairs. Obregón was again chosen president, but before taking office he was assassinated by a fanatical Roman Catholic. The middle aged Obregón died before he could further administer the ideals and the principles of the Mexican Revolution that would have ultimately affected the fate of Mexico for the next 100 years. Now a new loyal and efficient elite would have to administer to the growing resources of government, society and economy through a continuation of social and militaristic programs.

Obregón did what no other leader could accomplish—he restored order to the war torn, chaotic Mexico. The fearless general not only lead Mexico through countless bloody battles but he was a political Casanova in Mexico's history that will never be forgotten. Obregón was ambitious man who was not afraid to go into battle with anyone, anything and this was the confidence the Mexican people needed after such trying times.


Dillon, Dr. E. J. President Obregón—A World Reformer. Boston Small, Maynard and Company Publishers. C 1923.

Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution 1910-1940. University of New Mexico Press. C 2002. p 167-220.

Notes on the Mexican Revolution

Tuck, Jim. Alone At The Top: The Achievement of Alvaro Obregón 1880-1928. C1999.