Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mexican Holds World Record for Shortest Presidency

Pedro Lascuráin didn’t hold office long enough for his official portrait in the Presidential Sash.

Pedro Lascuráin was in the office on February 19, 1913—the office of President of Mexico.  He dawdled for about 45 minutes before departing.  In the process he set the unchallenged world’s record for the shortest term in office by any national president.
Lascuráin was a distinguished looking gentleman, a lawyer from one of the impeccable old families of Mexico.  No drop of mere Indio or Meztizo ran through his veins.  Yet he was not, as you might imagine, an irredeemable reactionary.


Born in 1856 and educated at the Escuela Nacional de Jurisprudencia he was mayor of Mexico City in 1910 when he threw his support to Francisco I. Madero and his Anti-Reelectionist Party. 


Madero opposed the sham re-election—for the sixth time—of long time President/dictator Porfirio Diaz.  For his trouble, Diaz had him arrested.  But he escaped to the United States and from there launched the Mexican Revolution.  It was as if a great damn burst.  All over Mexico peons and middle class reformers rose up.  Portions of the military, reading the tea leaves, joined them.  By May 25, 1911 Diaz was forced to resign.  Madero rose to power first as caldillo de la revolución and was then elected as President by nearly 90% of the vote in what for Mexico was a fairly honest election.


Madero tapped his fellow patrician Lascuráin as his Foreign Secretary.  The former Mayor was perfect for the striped pants formality of the Diplomatic service.  His main job was to keep American Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson placated.   It was assumed that Lascuráin’s respectability and obvious innate conservatism would re-assure a skeptical Wilson that the new government was moderate and responsible.  Alas Wilson listened more to American business interests scared of the avowed leftism of many Revolutionary figures and to the promises of certain generals that if allowed to come to power they would protect those interests.

From the beginning despite his enormous personal popularity, Madero was in trouble.  His policy of reconciliation, including leaving many Diaz supporters in power and in control of Congress, angered radicals led by Emilio Zapata in the south and Pancho Villa in Chihuahua.  They were also upset by foot dragging on promised land reforms.  On the other hand reactionary generals launched several rebellions.  Madero came to rely on General Victoriano Huerta to put down rebellions like that of Pascual Orozco.  That was a mistake.


Huerta and other generals were in contact with Ambassador Wilson, who encouraged them to oust Madero and promised that the U.S. Government would not interfere in support of the constitutionally elected government.


A clueless Madero recalled Huerta to the capital to take command of forces in the Federal District trusting him for support against both more reactionaries and potential leftist rebellions.


In February 1913 things came to a head when Huerta with the support of two of the rebel generals previously disposed of, Bernardo Reyes, and Félix Díaz, Porfirio Díaz’s nephew, launched a coupe d’ ėtat.  After a few days of fighting, Huerta captured on February Madero and Vice President José Maria Pino Suárez and held them at the National Palace.


At the insistence of Wilson, Huerta, Reyes, and Díaz met at the American Embassy.  The ambassador informed him that President William Howard Taft had grown squeamish about the coupe and insisted that some veneer of constitutionality had to be in place to save the administration from embarrassment.  All parties then signed el Pacto de la Embajada (the Embassy Pact) promising a legal transfer of power and the safe conduct of Madero and Suárez out of the country in exchange for recognizing Huerta as the new President.


Huerta then proceeded to the National Palace.  He had a plan.  Under the Mexican Constitution of 1857, the Foreign Minister stood third in line for the presidency behind the vice-president and attorney general.  The attorney general was disposed.  Lascuráin under what can be assumed was extreme duress, was then sworn in as President.  He had time for just two official acts.  The first was to appoint Huerta Interior Minister—the next officer in the line of succession.  The second was to write out his resignation as President, making Huerta his legal successor.  The whole process took about 45 minutes—some say less.


Lascuráin was politely shown the door and departed alive and not under arrest.  On the way out he declined Huerta’s offer for a high post in the new government.


Huerta’s troops surrounded the national Congress which later that night rubber-stamped the charade.  Huerta was officially president.


Four days later a contingent of Ruarles—paramilitary police and not part of the Mexican Army, took Madero and Suárez from prison and riddled them full of bullet holes, claiming that they were attempting to escaped.  The thin cover of the troops not being under Huerta’s direct command and patently unbelievable story aroused international condemnation.


The Mexicans call the whole affair la Decena Tragica—the Ten Tragic Days.


In Washington incoming President Woodrow Wilson was not amused.  He recalled the other Wilson—the conspiratorial ambassador.  Relations with the Huerta government steadily deteriorated with reports of his routine brutality and his refusal to step down and allow democratic elections.  After a minor dust up between Huerta forces in the port of Tampico, which was being besieged by revolutionaries, and sailors from the U.S. Navy Squadron stationed off shore to protect oil interests, Wilson ordered the Navy and Marines to occupy the city.


Meanwhile Huerta enemies, north and south, gained ground and inflicted loss after loss on his army.  On July 15, 1915 he was forced to resign and flee the country.


In exile Huerta would continue to plot a comeback.  He found support in the German Embassy in the U.S. which offered him arms and support in the hope that a hot war on America’s southern border would keep the US out of World War I.  The plot was easily discovered.  Huerta was arrested and later died of cirrhosis of the liver in an American prison.


As for the hapless Lascuráin, he was reviled by many for his reluctant part in Madero's ouster and death,  He retired from public life and resumed the practice of law.  Later he served for 17 years as the President of a small, conservative law school in the capital.  He died in relative obscurity on July 21, 1952 at age 92,

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