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Biography of Victoriano Huerta

The Mexican Revolution's Despised President

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Biography of Victoriano Huerta

Victoriano Huerta

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Carranza, Villa, Obregón and Zapata

Although Pascual Orozco quickly signed on, adding his forces to the federalists, the other revolutionary leaders were united in their hatred of Huerta. Two more revolutionaries appeared: Venustiano Carranza, governor of the State of Coahuila, and Alvaro Obregón, an engineer who would become one of the revolution's best field generals. Carranza, Obregón, Villa and Zapata could not agree on much, but they all despised Huerta. All of them opened fronts on the federalists: Zapata in Morelos, Carranza in Coahuila, Obregón in Sonora and Villa in Chihuahua. Although they did not work together in the sense of co-ordinated attacks, they were still loosely united in their heartfelt desire that anyone but Huerta should rule Mexico. Even the United States got in on the action: sensing that Huerta was unstable, President Woodrow Wilson sent forces to occupy the important port of Veracruz.

The Battle of Zacatecas

In June, 1914, Pancho Villa moved his massive force of 20,000 soldiers to attack the strategic city of Zacatecas. The Federals dug in on two hills overlooking the city. In a day of intense fighting, Villa captured both hills and the federal forces were forced to flee. What they didn't know was that Villa had stationed part of his army along the escape route. The fleeing federals were massacred. When the smoke had cleared, Pancho Villa had scored the most impressive military victory of his career and 6,000 federal soldiers were dead.

Exile and Death

Huerta knew his days were numbered after the crushing defeat at Zacatecas. When word of the battle spread, federal troops defected in droves to the rebels. On July 15, Huerta resigned and left for exile, leaving Francisco Carbajal in charge until Carranza and Villa could decide how to proceed with the government of Mexico. Huerta moved around while in exile, living in Spain, England and the United States. He never gave up hope for a return to rule in Mexico, and when Carranza, Villa, Obregón and Zapata turned their attention to one another, he thought he saw his chance. Reunited with Orozco in New Mexico in mid-1915, he began to plan his triumphant return to power. They were caught by US federal agents, however, and never even crossed the border. Orozco escaped only to be hunted down and shot by Texas rangers. Huerta was imprisoned for inciting rebellion. He died in prison in January, 1916, of cirrhosis, although there were rumors that the Americans had poisoned him.

Legacy

There is little to be said that is positive about Huerta. Even before the revolution, he was a widely despised figure for his ruthless repression of native populations all over Mexico. He consistently took the wrong side, defending the corrupt Porfirio Díaz regime before conspiring to bring down Madero, one of the few true visionaries of the revolution. He was an able commander, as his military victories prove, but his men did not like him and his enemies absolutely despised him.

He did manage one thing that no one else ever did: he made Zapata, Villa, Obregón and Carranza work together. These rebel commanders only ever agreed on one thing: Huerta should not be president. Once he was gone, they began fighting one another, leading to the worst years of the brutal revolution.

Even today, Huerta is hated by Mexicans. The bloodshed of the revolution has been largely forgotten and the different commanders have taken on legendary status, much of it undeserved: Zapata is the ideological purist, Villa is the Robin Hood bandit, Carranza a quixotic chance for peace. Huerta, however, is still considered (accurately) to be a violent, drunk sociopath who needlessly lengthened the period of the revolution for his own ambition and is responsible for the death of thousands.

Source: McLynn, Frank. Villa and Zapata: A History of the Mexican Revolution. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2000.

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