THE GOVERNMENT AND ITS ADMINISTRATION
ARMY, NAVY AND POLICE ORGANIZATION
 THE Government of Mexico, that is, the one which exists on paper, is closely modeled on that
of the United States. The actual government has departed somewhat widely from this model,
so far as its administration is concerned. It has degenerated into an autocracy of the
most decided type, a system of personal and imperial rule sustained by the soldier and the
policeman. This was the system which developed under President Diaz, as autocratic in
effect as that of Russia under its imperial dynasty and powerless duma or legislature.
What result may come from the present series of revolutionary movements it is too soon to
say, other than that they have reform and the interests of the people for their alleged
The Constitution of Mexico provides for a Federal Republic, which now comprises
twenty-seven States, three Territories and one Federal District. This instrument calls for
a President and Vice-President, a Legislature composed of Senate and Chamber of Deputies,
and a Judiciary, with a Supreme Court as its dominating tribunal. In these respects it
follows the lead of the United States and differs from most of the other Latin-American
republics. The President is elected for six years—the term was four years until
1904. As in the United States, he is elected by a body of electors chosen by popular
suffrage. The Senators—two from each State—hold their positions for four
years; the Deputies—one for each 60,000 of population—for two years. The
Judges of the Supreme Court are elected—not appointed, as in the United States. The
business of this body relates to questions of law and
 justice concerning federal, political and international matters. The term of office of the
President and Vice-President begins on December 1st of the year of their election.
As regards the States, they, like those of the United States, have governments modeled on
that of the Federal Republic. Each has its Governor and Legislature of two bodies, with
jurisdiction over State affairs. Thus all the machinery of a Federal republic exists,
equal rights for all citizens and the sovereignty of the people being duly provided for,
no class distinction being acknowledged in the fundamental law. The Constitution
establishing this frame of government was adopted on February 5, 1857. By a series of
reform laws passed in 1859, and revised in 1873, Church and State were made independent of
each other and the powers and duties of the religious establishments strictly defined.
Under these laws the former influence of the Church over secular affairs has been brought
to an end.
The President is aided in the performance of his duties by a council and a cabinet of
seven members, each at the head of one of the governmental departments. The need and duty
of justice to all has been duly considered, the Supreme Court having fifteen judges, while
there are numerous courts of minor jurisdiction. Criminal trials are conducted on a system
resembling that prevailing in France. Juries consist of nine persons—instead of
twelve as with us. These must be men with occupations, education, or independent means.
There are also local courts and magistrates, dealing with small offenses, corresponding to
those in this country.
With all this machinery one would think that the government should be well administered
and justice rightfully and promptly dispensed. Such, however, is far from being the case.
Governmental institutions are one thing, human nature is another, and the most elaborately
written constitution is of little value to a people unfitted by character or want of
education for its requirements. As for the courts and magistrates,
 prompt justice is a rare occurrence, unless it be for the peons. What these obtain from
the courts is usually prompt enough, but that it is always justice is quite another
There is a magic word which seems to control the courts, manana—"tomorrow."
The art of putting off—the science of procrastination, shall we call it?—is
thoroughly understood and practiced. Thus those who are held in prison under suspicion are
apt to stay there indefinitely, awaiting in long suspense the snail-like process of the
courts, in some cases serving the term of a long sentence while waiting to be adjudged
guilty or innocent. In this matter, however, poor Mexico is not the only culprit. In the
United States courts rapid despatch of business is far from being the rule, especially in
civil cases, and before throwing mud at our neighbors it is well to make sure that our own
skirts are free from defilement.
Let us now take a passing glance at the way government is administered in Mexico. Liberty
prevails, the Constitution says so, but a potent ruling class, with absolute control of
army and police, is capable of converting any constitution into a useless document. In
fact, civil rights in Mexico are very much of a mockery. As for the Congress, it really
represents only a small section of the people. Though the Constitution calls for manhood
suffrage, ways have been found of limiting this right, the elections being so controlled
in many cases that the party in power dictates the result. Every citizen of the republic
is eligible by law to membership in the legislatures, except the clergy, who are forbidden
to enter either House. But while this liberty is provided for in the fundamental law, by
no means all citizens are open to help choose those whom they prefer to represent them,
and aside from this, the members of legislatures have very little to do with making the
laws. During the long reign of President Diaz ("reign" is the proper word) the laws came
from the President's easy chair, not from the seats of the
Congress-  men. Such a thing as opposition to a presidential decree was almost unknown, and the
missions of the senators and deputies seemed to be merely to put the seal of legislative
approval upon what Diaz had already determined upon.
Law making, in fact, had grown to be a mere sham of legislative activity. The Houses of
Congress, the membership of which had been chosen far more at the order of the President
than by the votes of the people, were of one mind in all questions. Such a thing as an
opposition party had almost disappeared. There were discussions, but they ended nowhere.
The acts to be passed had already been decided upon by the President in sessions of one,
and Congress was quick to pass these ready-made laws. The whole process of legislation had
grown to be a fraud, and this fact could not be concealed from observant people. An
autocratic rule over a supposed free people has its necessary limits. A party in
opposition is sure eventually to rise, and the endeavor to suppress that party leads to
revolution—in Mexico at least. Such was the story of the Diaz dictatorship, as will
be shown later.
An important official in the governing system of Mexico is the jefe politico, or
district governor, his district being somewhat similar to an American county, while at the
same time he serves as mayor of the chief town of his district. The rural police are under
his control and the power in his hands, in any case of loosely conducted government, is
very considerable. Thus the drafting for the army of the rank and file, of which more than
ninety-five per cent are obtained in this manner, is usually done by the jefe, and
on his method of doing this there is little or no check. To get rid of those who are
undesirable for any reason, political or other, the army fits in admirably. A laborer who
is so daring as to strike, an editor who ventures to criticize any act of the government,
rural property holders who claim to be overtaxed, are fair subjects for the draft, and any
other citizen from whom graft
 can be had on any pretense is excellent food for prey. It would not be just to accuse all
these officials of such practices, but as they often get their appointments through a
round sum paid to the governor they naturally feel like squeezing the costs, and what
extra is available, out of the public. We have elsewhere spoken of another mode of money
getting practiced by them in the way of providing laborers for the tobacco estates.
It is not only the jefes who abuse the power of their office. In truth,
unjust and oppressive doings are much too common in Mexico, often in disregard of law.
Thus the Constitution expressly stipulates that "arrest except for offenses meriting
corporal punishment is prohibited," and also prohibits "detention without trial for a
longer period than three days, unless justified as prescribed by law."
MEXICAN RURALES OR MOUNTED POLICE AT THE GRAVE OF THEIR VICTIMS,
THE INSURRECTOS OR REBELS. THE BODY ON THE LEFT-HAND END IS THAT OF EDWARD LAWTON, AN AMERICAN.
So says the Constitution, but not such is the rule. Arrests on very slight provocation,
for offenses certainly not calling for corporal punishment, are very common, the offender
being marched in police control under public view through the streets to the
Comisaria. Such offenses as noisy disputes, brawling, spitting, sitting in the
grass in the public park, and like trifles are commonly dealt with in this manner, instead
of by warning and reprimand. The detention of an accused person without trial far beyond
the period prescribed is also practiced, though not as much as formerly.
A case is told of a Canadian engine-driver, now a wealthy dweller in Mexico City, who some
twenty years ago ran his engine over a Mexican, killing him. He was at once arrested,
locked up in a filthy prison containing 1,500 others, kept there for three days without
the privilege of seeing a friend or lawyer, then detained some days in another prison
before he was given a hearing of any kind. Finally he was tried and acquitted, the affair
being proved to be a pure accident. Much worse was the case of another man arrested on a
similar charge, who was held in prison for eighteen months before
 being tried. The Habeas Corpus law is in force in Mexico as elsewhere, but little heed
seems paid to its enforcement or to the punishment of those who break its provisions.
It is an easy matter to become an inmate of a Mexican prison, but difficult enough to get
out of it, and a Mexican prison, even the best of them, is a very disagreeable place to
reside in. For what a man in America or England would be summoned to appear and answer, he
is seized and locked up in Mexico. In the case of a street accident, not only the
witnesses of the affair are arrested and detained, but the victim of the accident as well.
They are set free, usually, after a preliminary examination, but they have suffered the
disgrace of being marched through the streets under guard of a policeman. The Mexicans do
not seem to mind small matters like this, as they attach no sense of disgrace to it, but
it is apt to be bitterly resented by a foreign resident.
We have spoken of the conditions of Mexican prisons. There are two in Mexico City, the
Penitentiary and Belem, the latter the general prison for the city and the surrounding
district, and a horrible place it is said to be. In the Penitentiary only those are
confined who are sentenced for more than eight years. Visitors are freely allowed there,
for the place is well kept and the prisoners well fed. Belem is an old convent which now
serves as a prison. With proper capacity for less than five hundred, it often contains
more than five thousand, who are herded indiscriminately within its walls. This, as may
well be said, is not a show place like the Penitentiary. The prisoners are inadequately
fed, those who have no friends to supply them with food being allowed to die of slow
starvation. Disease is rife in the place. Every year or so an epidemic of typhus claims
its terrible toll of death, and the skin disease known as the itch, which fairly sets the
body on fire, is sure to be contracted by every inmate who is kept for a few days within
the walls. It is a result of the filthy condition of the place. Much more might be said of
the horrors of Belem, but the above must suffice.
 On an island in Vera Cruz harbor is an old military fortress called San Juan de Ulua,
which is now used as a prison. A military prison it is called, but it is really kept for
political suspects, and these in past years were so largely those who had given offense to
President Diaz that it became popularly known as "the private prison of Diaz." In this
place of detention for those daring to hold heretical political opinions we are told that
the prison cells were under the sea level, and that sea water seeped in upon the captives,
while the dark dungeons were too small for a full-sized man to lie in at length. Among
those sent there were the vice-president and other members of the Liberal party organized
in 1900, a leader in the strike at the El Blanco mills, and other gentlemen of note. Few
who once enter within those terrible walls are ever seen again in the light of day.
The Liberal Party spoken of came into existence in the autumn of 1900, after the sixth
election of Diaz was assured. It was directed against the Church, not against the
administration, and no objection was made to its organization A speech made in Paris by
the bishop of San Luis Potosi roused the people, who saw in it danger of an attempt by the
clergy to regain their political power. Liberal clubs were soon instituted and increased
so rapidly that in less than five months there were 125 of them, and about fifty
newspapers to advocate the cause. Then a call for a convention was made to meet in
January, 1901, at San Luis Potosi.
The convention, held in the Peace Theater, was crowded, there being many police and
soldiers in the hall, while a battalion of soldiers was drawn up in the street, ready for
use if needed. This was a peculiar and threatening accompaniment to a political
convention, an act full of the odor of autocracy. The speakers, warned by this
preparation, were careful not to criticize President Diaz, and the convention pledged
itself to use only peaceful means in its campaign of reform.
 The new party soon got into trouble, however, by planning to nominate a candidate for the
presidency at the next election, three years later. This was far too radical for the
government. It smelt of sedition, and the Liberals were soon made to see that they had
gone too far. Steps were taken to break up this daring knot of politicians, who had
ventured to talk of nominating a candidate in opposition to Diaz. The meetings of the club
were prevented by the police, and leading members were arrested on trumped-up charges,
being thrown into prison or forced into the army. Let us give an example of the methods
pursued. At a club meeting held at San Luis Potosi in January, 1902, soldiers and police
in citizens clothes were sent to the hall as spectators. A disturbance was quickly started
by the leader of these, a shot fired into the air, and immediately a crowd of policemen
pushed into the hall, using their clubs liberally on the members, though the latter had
kept quiet to avoid giving any cause for violence. In the end the president, secretary,
and twenty-five members were accused of resisting the police, sedition, etc., and
imprisoned for nearly a year, the club being dissolved.
Similar methods were used to dissolve other clubs, Liberal newspapers were destroyed by
the confiscation of plants and arrest of editors, and large numbers of club members were
imprisoned or drafted into the army, while still more violent methods were at times used.
In spite of this harsh treatment the new party was kept alive and some of the newspapers
continued to appear. In 1908 a number of these were suspended for over-bold utterances. As
a result of these persecutions on the part of the government the Liberals were goaded to
revolutionary movements. The first of these was launched in September, 1906. But the
government had gained information, by aid of spies or other means, of the plans of the
insurrectionists, and sternly put down the few risings that were attempted. Most of the
leaders had already been seized and imprisoned. Another outbreak was launched
 in June, 1908, most of the fighting in this being done by refugees in the United States,
who crossed the border and attacked the Federals. A month's time sufficed to put down this
insurrection, and peace again prevailed, the leaders and rebels seized being dealt with in
the usual harsh manner. Powder and shot summarily disposed of many of those taken arms in
THE RAPID FIRE SQUAD OF THE CONSTITUTIONALIST ARMY AT SANTA MARIA.
THE SQUAD IS EQUIPPED WITH THE MOST MODERN MACHINE GUNS AND WELL-TRAINED IN THEIR USE. REBEL SYMPATHIZERS
KEEP THEM WELL SUPPLIED WITH MONY AND MUNITIONS OF WAR.
A revolutionary movement is said to have been planned for October 14, 1909, but failed to
get beyond the status of a plan. It was discovered and the leaders of the clubs charged
with devising the movement were seized and condemned to two years' imprisonment. After
being fourteen months in prison some of them were released, the authorities deciding that
they were innocent. It is said, however, that the police seized them at the prison door,
took them to the police station, and from there they were drafted for five years into the
army. Thus ended the Liberal party in Mexico. Membership in it proved too dangerous an
occupation. It was succeeded later by the Democratic party, of which we shall speak in a
The government of President Diaz has been spoken of as an autocracy. It would be more
correct to call it an oligarchy, a government not by one man, nor by representatives of
the people, but by a group of aristocrats who served as aids and advisers of the
president. "He governs," says F. Carcia Calderon, "with the aid of the 'scientific'
party—a group which believes in the virtue and power of science, exiles theology and
metaphysics, denies mystery and confesses utilitarianism as its practice and positivism as
its doctrines." The group of advisers of the President did not call themselves
cientificos (scientists). This was a nickname applied by their opposers. They
were a body of clever men, friends of the President, not politicians, but men chiefly
devoted to their own personal interests, men who managed by this kind of provident
industry to add largely to their fortunes.
Presi-  dent Diaz saw to it that the governors of states should be cientificos. In this way
the government of Mexico was managed: the President, who took good care of his own
re-election, at the head; the state governors, chosen by vote but selected by the
President, as his pledged supporters; and the jefe politicos, mayors of towns and
rulers of surrounding districts, chosen by the governors, as the minor agents of power in
the nation. As for the people at large, they had the constitutional right of voting but
very little real share in the election of officials.
Whence came the "sinews of war" for the financing of this government? For many years they
came in a liberal measure from abroad, being furnished, at a satisfactory rate of
interest, by such European capitalists as trusted the good faith of the Spanish American
republics. The money raised by taxation or other internal measures was usually
insufficient to meet the demands, the country year after year spending more than it
earned, and facing a steadily increasing deficit. Such was the case up to the year 1893,
the revenue never exceeding the expenditure. After that date there came a change, and
until the end of the Diaz administration the balance of funds was annually on the side of
the treasury. This was due to progress in Mexican industrial affairs and the increasing
commerce of the nation, but especially to the work of an able financier, Senor Limantour,
the Secretary of Hacienda (Department of Finance). The progress of industrial development
was very largely due to the investments of foreign capital in mines, railroads, and other
lines of engineering works, which, as already said, now amounts to a very large sum. As
for the national debt of the country, it is largely held abroad, the internal payments
upon the foreign debt amounting to about $12,000,000 annually. An equal sum has to be paid
to railroad bondholders, while other amounts are paid as dividends to various private
enterprises. The total foreign debt is over $300,000,000, payable in foreign
 Currency with the exception of $68,000,000 payable in Mexican currency. The latest
additions to this debt were $13,000,000 in 1899.
The banking system appears to be well founded and solid, the leading banks being the
National Bank of Mexico, with $16,000,000 capital and $13,000,000 reserves. The Bank of
London and Mexico has $10,750,000 capital, and the Mexican Central Bank, $15,000,000. The
total capital of all Mexican banks is given as about $100,000,000. The currency was on a
bimetallic basis until 1905, when the gold basis was adopted. The fall in the value of
silver, so largely mined in Mexico, was to some extent beneficial to industry, but the
continual fluctuation in price had a disturbing effect on commerce. This was checked by
the adoption of the gold basis and the fixing of the value of the peso, or Mexican silver
dollar, at half an American dollar.
Coming now to the subject of the Mexican army and navy, the latter can be quickly disposed
of, since as a navy it is almost non-existent. There are six gunboats of from 1,000 to
1,300 tons each, armed with rapid-fire guns, two transports, two training ships and some
small revenue cutters. There is a naval school, a navy yard and a floating dock at Vera
Cruz, a drydock at Salina Cruz, and a shipyard at Guaymas. An insignificant equipment for
ocean warfare this, but one of the gunboats did good service during the rebel attack on
Tampico in the autumn of 1913, aiding greatly in saving that town from capture.
The army, according to a statement of President Madero in 1912, when in full strength had
107 generals, 6,236 officers, and 49,332 men. What it numbered in the succeeding period of
insurrection it is impossible to say, as the most strenuous measures were taken to fill
the ranks. The system of drafting is the chief means of obtaining soldiers, the volunteer
portion of the army comprising a very small percentage of the total. The
jefes are the principal drafting officials. Sometimes a
 governor will send culprits to the ranks instead of to jail, and in this way considerable
accessions are at times made, but as a rule the jefes perform this duty, and
take care to do so in a way that will be profitable to themselves. For those whose
political views are radical or in any way disturbing the army is a very convenient dumping
ground. The men thus disposed of are prisoners, and this is remembered in their treatment.
As a result one may hear the Mexican army spoken of as "The National Chain Gang."
Occasionally the impressed soldiers, wild to regain freedom, break loose and run for
liberty. In such a case they are hunted like escaping convicts.
It is common to send such convict soldiers to the territory of Quintana Roo, which in
consequence has been spoken of as the "Siberia of Mexico," multitudes of political and
labor agitators being sent there as army exiles. This is the most unhealthful part of
Mexico and the death rate there is very large. The ostensible purpose of sending them
there is to fight the Maya Indians, who are in a perennial state of revolt.
The war between Provisional President Huerta and the Constitutionalists made the demand
for soldiers so large that they were recruited in the most illegal ways, men being seized
in the streets when on their way home from places of labor or abroad on other necessary
missions, and forced against all protests into the ranks. The newspaper offices especially
felt the ill effects of this system, from the employment of their men late at nights.
The Mexican soldier has the credit of being a brave and stubborn fighter. Recruited
usually from the lowest classes of the community, he is not prepossessing, either in dress
or carriage. He slouches along in a very unmilitary fashion, but as a campaigner he is
sturdy and tireless, surpassing in power of enduring fatigue the soldiers of more
civilized lands. He can live upon less food and march farther under a burning
 sun in a day than the soldiers of northern armies could in two. He smokes furiously
all day, and out of barracks is merry as a cricket. Usually an Indian, he at times behaves
in a way demanding discipline, but as a rule he is easily managed. While on the march
discipline does not always keep him in the ranks, and he slouches carelessly along,
whistling gaily, until reprimanded and sent back.
There is another trained body of men in Mexico, half police and half soldiers, men of a
very different type from the ordinary soldier, and trained into a splendid and highly
efficient body. These are the State Rurales, or rural police. This body has an
interesting history. It began with a troop organized by Santa Anna in his rough
independent fighting, and received the name of Cuerados, from its costume, that of
the cattle herders. When their occupation in this service ended they took to the road on
their own account as bandits, in which line they had many a sharp encounter with pursuing
troops. Their headquarters were in the Malinche Mountains, near Puebla; from which they
swooped in frequent raids, killing all who opposed them, and carrying into captivity all
who they thought could pay ransom. They came to be known as Plateados, from the plated
gold and silver ornamentation of their dress and horse harness. They kept on excellent
terms with the mountain peasantry, none of whom would betray them, and even government
officials are known to have at times protected them and shared their plunder.
It was President Comonfort, about 1858, who found a useful way of getting rid of these
plundering bands. On the principle of "set a thief to catch a thief," he induced them to
enter his service, not as regular soldiers, but on a special footing, and he soon had a
body of picked rural police, of unsurpassed ability in their particular function.
The Rurales, as now organized, number about 4,000 men, engaged for a five years'
term of service (subject to renewal), and are moved about wherever their service may be
 in case of trouble of any kind. Their first employment was to hunt and run down the hordes
of bandits with which the country was then infested, with orders to shoot on sight, never
giving quarter to men of this type. Their former mode of life fitted them admirably for
this work, and most of Mexico is today as free as the United States from robbers of the
bandit class. Since then they have been used in trouble of any kind, and with such
excellent results that the idea of employing similar bodies of men has made its way into
the United States. Such a body exists in the Pennsylvania Mounted Police, whose admirable
services in times of strike or other troubles have won high commendation. Most of these
have been trained soldiers and are well fitted for such a duty.
The Rurales wear a neat but simple uniform, a plain gray cloth jacket and
tight-fitting trousers, a gray, corded sombrero and a red necktie. Their equipment
consists of a carbine, two revolvers in holsters and one in hip pocket, and a machete, the
heavy knife so commonly used in Mexican dissensions. Their horses are serviceable animals,
capable of long travel and much endurance, and have handsome trappings, often embroidered
in gold thread. The men get low wages, but they live very cheaply, pasturage for their
horses costs nothing, and their greatest expense is probably for cigarettes, of which
Mexicans smoke enormous numbers.
While the Rurales have brought order into the country districts, the police
have been equally efficient sin the cities. A generation ago the city of Mexico was
infested to a frightful extent with beggars, thieves and cutthroats, murders were
committed nightly, and crimes of all kinds flourished. The city was filled with police,
but it was difficult to eradicate the haunts of crime and disorder. When the electric
lights were installed the wires were cut nightly in the worst quarters, and even in the
best quarters foul murders were committed. Many said that the police were in league with
 But the government kept up the work. Policemen were stationed in numbers through the worst
districts. The prisons were filled. The worst culprits were sent to Yucatan as plantation
workers. As a result the city has been thoroughly renovated, and its streets are now as
safe at night as those of any city in the world.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics