Victoriano Huerta (1850-1916) was a Mexican general who served as president from February, 1913 to July of 1914. An important figure in the Mexican Revolution, he fought against Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Félix Díaz and other rebels before and during his time in office. A brutal, ruthless fighter, the alcoholic Huerta was widely feared and despised by his foes and supporters alike. Eventually driven from Mexico by a loose coalition of revolutionaries, he spent a year and a half in exile before dying of cirrhosis in a Texas prison.
Before the Revolution
Born into a poor family in the State of Jalisco, Huerta joined the military while still in his teens. He distinguished himself and was sent to the military academy at Chapultepec. Proving to be an efficient leader of men and a ruthless fighter, he was a favorite of dictator Porfirio Díaz and rose quickly to the rank of general. Díaz tasked him with the suppression of Indian uprisings, including a bloody campaign against the Maya in the Yucatan in which Huerta razed villages and destroyed crops. He also fought the Yaquis in the north. Huerta was a heavy drinker who preferred brandy: according to Villa, Huerta would start drinking when he woke up and go all day.
The Revolution Begins
Huerta was one of Díaz' most trusted generals when hostilities broke out after a farcical 1910 election. The opposition candidate, Francisco I. Madero, had been arrested and later fled into exile, proclaiming revolution from safety in the United States. Rebel leaders such as Pascual Orozco, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa heeded the call, capturing towns, destroying trains and attacking federal forces whenever and wherever they found them. Huerta was sent to reinforce the city of Cuernavaca, under attack by Zapata, but the old regime was under assault from all sides, and Díaz accepted Madero's offer to go into exile in May of 1911. Huerta escorted the old dictator to Veracruz, where a steamer was waiting to take Díaz into exile.
Huerta and Madero
Although Huerta was bitterly disappointed by the fall of Díaz, he signed up to serve under Madero. For a while in 1911-1912 things were relatively quiet as those around him took the measure of the new president. Things soon deteriorated, however, as Zapata and Orozco figured out that Madero was unlikely to keep certain promises he had made. Huerta was first sent south to deal with Zapata and then north to fight Orozco. Forced to work together against Orozco, Huerta and Pancho Villa found that they despised one another. To Villa, Huerta was a drunk and martinet with delusions of grandeur, and to Huerta, Villa was an illiterate, violent peasant who had no business leading an army.
The Decena Trágica
In late 1912 another player entered on the scene: Félix Díaz, nephew of the deposed dictator, declared himself in Veracruz. He was quickly defeated and captured, but in secret he entered into a conspiracy with Huerta and American ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to get rid of Madero. In February 1913 fighting broke out in Mexico City and Díaz was released from prison. This kicked off the Decena Trágica, or “tragic fortnight,” which saw horrible fighting in the streets of Mexico City as forces loyal to Díaz fought the federals. Madero holed up inside the national palace and foolishly accepted Huerta's “protection” even when presented with evidence that Huerta would betray him.
Huerta Rises to Power
Huerta, who had been in league with Díaz all along, arrested Madero on February 17. He made Madero sign a resignation which designated Huerta as his successor, and then Madero and Vice-President Pino Suarez were killed on February 21, supposedly while “attempting to escape.” No one believed it: Huerta had obviously given the order and hadn't even gone to much trouble with his excuse. Once in power, Huerta disowned his fellow conspirators and attempted to make himself dictator in the mold of his old mentor, Porfirio Díaz.