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Harris III, Charles H., and Louis R. Sadler. The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906- 1920.

Harris III, Charles H., and Louis R. Sadler. The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. xv + 488 pages. Cloth, $37.50.

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the first great revolution of the twentieth century, ended Porfirio Diaz's thirty-five year authoritarian rule in Mexico. Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler, emeriti professors of history at New Mexico State University-Las Cruces, begin their fascinating book about El Paso during the Mexican Revolution with an account of the first presidential summit in American history. The summit between Diaz and U.S. President William Howard Taft took place in the neighboring border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez in 1909. Seeking yet another term as president, Diaz knew that in order to maintain control of Mexico he needed the backing of the United States, whose citizens had several billion dollars of capital invested in Mexico. The Taft administration hoped that Diaz's supporters in Mexico would be strengthened by the U.S. president's public display of friendship during the summit.

The citizens of El Paso and the Diaz administration worked together to ensure the summit's success. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent in El Paso on decorations, flags, and cleanup. Across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's largest border city, a vast amount of money was expended on a summit banquet in the Juarez Customs House, which was transformed into a replica of one of the grand salons of the Palace of Versailles. Yet, at the same time, El Paso served as a base of operations for Mexican exiles struggling to overthrow Diaz. "Ironically," Harris and Sadler point out, "Diaz himself had set the precedent of using Texas soil as a revolutionary sanctuary when he made Brownsville his headquarters for the 1876 rebellion that had elevated him to power" (p. 16). Four thousand U.S. and Mexican troops were deployed to El Paso and Ciudad Juarez to maintain peace. In El Paso, security was bolstered by employing police and sheriff's department personnel, as well as U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Customs agents.

After emphasizing that U.S. and Mexican covert operatives collaborated to keep their respective nations' presidents safe during the summit, Harris and Sadler present an engagingly-written and meticulously-researched account of the activities of U.S. and Mexican intelligence agents in El Paso prior to and throughout the course of the Mexican Revolution. Home to numerous followers of the Mexican anarchist exile Ricardo Flores Magon, El Paso had become a hotbed of anti-Diaz activity in the years preceding the historic 1909 summit. By the time of the summit, El Paso boasted the presence of six railroads. The largest city between San Antonio and Los Angeles, El Paso was the American Southwest's trade and transport center.

Francisco Madero, the son of a wealthy northern Mexican landowning family, challenged Diaz in the presidential election of 1910. Claiming that Diaz's electoral victory was a fraud, Madero escaped to San Antonio and launched the Mexican Revolution. Harris and Sadler explain El Paso's lively role in this important period in Mexican history and U.S.-Mexican relations, as the U.S. government influenced events in Mexico by diverse means, including military intervention, supporting one Mexican revolutionary faction over another, extending diplomatic recognition to or withholding it from various Mexican governments, imposing or lifting arms embargoes, and selectively enforcing U.S. neutrality laws.

Employed by the U.S. government and American businesses that sought to maintain influence in Mexico, as well as by the Diaz administration and those Mexicans who sought its defeat, clandestine operators would become ubiquitous in El Paso during the Mexican Revolution. American and European mercenary soldiers joined in the struggle to oust Diaz. In violation of U.S. neutrality laws, the Shelton-Payne Arms Company in El Paso became the principal supplier of munitions to Madero's troops. Meanwhile, certain El Paso area customs officials, sheriffs, and detectives were on the Diaz administration's payroll as secret agents. Madero succeeded in ousting Diaz by temporarily unifying Mexico's assorted anti-Diaz forces. In 1911, Diaz went into exile in Paris. Thereafter, as Mexican politics became marred by the bloody struggles of numerous factions competing for power through continually shifting alliances, El Paso became home to an international assortment of adventurers, counterfeiters, covert agents, detectives, gunrunners, mercenaries, propagandists, revolutionists, and smugglers. In addition, throughout the decade of the Mexican Revolution, El Paso became a safe haven for many elite Mexicans, who sent their families and money to safety in the United States.

The Secret War in El Paso highlights the importance of the entire Mexico-U.S. border region for the Mexican Revolution. All of the leading revolutionary figures, excluding Emiliano Zapata, were northern Mexicans. Access to U.S. border cities, especially El Paso, was crucial to the operations of revolutionary leaders like Venustiano Carranza, who served as president of Mexico from 1915 until he was assassinated in 1920. Harris and Sadler recount how the influence of Carranza's most infamous adversary, Pancho Villa, rose and fell according to Villa's capacity to supply his army through El Paso. With the United States serving as a source of war materiel, money, and volunteers for Mexico's revolutionaries, El Paso became a refuge, a base for propaganda, and a market for the various revolutionary factions' booty. As a consequence, El Paso's banks and businesses profited enormously. Furthermore, with the influx of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers, nearby Fort Bliss became the most important military post in the United States.

Harris and Sadler's chronologically-arranged account ends with the restoration of order in Mexico following the presidential election of Alvaro Obregon in 1920. Scholars and students of U.S.-Mexican relations and U.S. intelligence history will greatly appreciate The Secret War in El Paso. Utilizing a wide variety of U.S. and Mexican sources, most notably previously classified Federal Bureau of Investigation documents and Mexican secret agent reports from El Paso and Ciudad Juarez found in the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations archives, Harris and Sadler have made an extraordinary contribution to the literature on the Mexican Revolution.

Reverend Deacon David M. Carletta, PhD

Church of St. Matthew & St. Timothy

New York, New York
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Author:Carletta, David M.
Publication:International Social Science Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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