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The Mexican Revolution and the U.S. Border: Research Perspectives

From: Journal of the Southwest
Volume 49, Number 4, Winter 2007
pp. 603-613 | 10.1353/jsw.2007.0006

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The Mexican Revolution and the U.S. Border: Research Perspectives Manuel Plana The Mexican Revolution of 1910–1920 marked the end of the status quo that had characterized U.S.–Mexican diplomatic relations during Porfirio Díaz’s thirty-year regime and initiated a phase of difficult bilateral relations. Starting in 1911, the policies of President William H. Taft toward the border region were aimed, first, at preventing subversive actions from originating in U.S. territory; second, at restraining arms and ammunition exports to rebel groups; and, finally, at intensifying border surveillance of the Southwest by U.S. armed forces. When the second phase of the revolution broke out in 1913, following the murder of President Francisco I. Madero and the rise to power of General Victoriano Huerta, the new administration of Woodrow Wilson continued his predecessor’s policies. Mexican and Mexicanist historiography has analyzed the diplomatic policy of the period in its various aspects:1 the political activity of refugees and exiles of the Maderist era and of revolutionaries , all of whom used the border as a base for their activities, as did counterrevolutionaries when World War II broke out;2 the theme of the exiles and their cultural and political profile, which recently has been the subject of new research;3 and the repercussions of these activities on political life in the U.S. border states, in consideration of the fact that beginning in 1913, counting on a sympathetic response, the Constitutionalists tried to establish links with the Mexican-origin population in the United States to organize the fight against Huerta.4 Between March and April of 1913, Sonoran revolutionaries controlled the border cities of Nogales, Naco, and Agua Prieta:5 the forces of Venustiano Carranza took up positions along the border between Coahuila and Texas until October 1913,6 while Ciudad Juárez fell under the control of Pancho Villa in November of that year.7 In the summer of 1914, after Manuel Plana teaches Latin American history and literature of the United States at the University of Florence. Journal of the Southwest 49, 4 (Winter 2007) : 603–613 604  ✜  Journal of the Southwest Huerta’s fall, the Constitutionalists regained control over the states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas along the border with Texas.8 Obtaining a steady supply of arms and ammunition was one of the most urgent problems that faced the northern revolutionaries. In part, the revolutionaries procured their weapons by taking them from the federal army; until February 1914, however, as documented in several reports to the American judiciary, they mainly smuggled armaments out of the United States in defiance of the arms embargo imposed by President Wilson. In the parts of northern Mexico controlled by the Constitutionalists , property belonging to foreign companies, particularly American companies, was for the most part respected in order to avoid diplomatic problems. Since the often illegal movement of cattle and agricultural goods toward the United States increased, control of customs became essential, and several measures were adopted regarding the payment of duties. Mining activities also experienced temporary disruptions. From the beginning of the struggle against Huerta, the lack of cash to feed and equip the revolutionary troops became a pivotal problem. The issuing of bank notes began with the first five million pesos of notes issued under the authority of Carranza on April 26, 1913, at Piedras Negras.9 A second issuance of twenty-five million pesos, known as the Ejército Constitucionalista circulation, followed at the beginning of 1914.10 Beginning in September 1914, after Huerta’s fall, the issuance of Constitutionalist bank notes was accomplished by the banks of Mexico City, whereas the issuance launched earlier that year, when Huerta still controlled the central part of the country, was commissioned in the United States.11 Due to the small amounts of these initial issuances compared to later ones, scant critical attention has been paid to this episode, even though it offers the opportunity to understand the financing mechanism of the revolutionary forces during those eighteen months, as documented in both U.S. and Mexican archives. Historiography on the revolution has amply confirmed that Carranza did not want to take out loans of any kind...