José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori was a Mexican politician (September 15, 1830 – 2 July 1915) that would later become the president of Mexico (from 1876 to 1880 and from 1884 to 1911) and one of the most controversial figures of the country.
The term Porfiriato refers to the years when Porfirio Díaz ruled Mexico.
The participation of General Porfirio Díaz in the Battle of Puebla that took place May 5 1862 is commonly mistaken with that of the general's brother, Félix Díaz. It is believed that General Díaz led the volunteer cavalry that protected the flanks of the Mexican army during the battle, but this was in fact his brother Félix who was in charge of a unit of volunteer lancers. By the time of the battle, General Díaz had reached the rank of brigade general in charge of an infantry brigade.
General Bernardo Reyes, General Díaz's brigade was placed in the center between the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe, where he repelled a French infantry attack that was sent as a diversion to distract the Mexican commanders' attention from the forts that were the main target of the French army. General Díaz with his unit fought off a larger French force and then chased after them, in violation of the orders of General Ignacio Zaragoza, who commended the actions of General Díaz during the battle as "brave and notable". There was a second battle of Puebla, fought on April 2, in which the Díaz did lead cavalry units against conservative positions around the city.
In 1863, Díaz was captured by the French Army. He escaped and was offered by President Benito Juárez the positions of secretary of defense or army commander in chief. He declined both but took an appointment as commander of the Central Army. That same year he was promoted to Division General (similar to Lieutenant General).
In 1864, the conservatives supporting Emperor Maximilian asked him to join the imperial cause. Díaz refused. In 1865 he was captured by the Imperial forces in Oaxaca. He escaped and fought the battles of Tehuitzingo, Piaxtla, Tulcingo and Comitlipa. In 1866, Díaz formally declared his loyalty to Juárez. That same year he earned victories in Nochixtlan, Miahuatlan and la Carbonera and once again captured Oaxaca. He was then promoted to general. Also in 1866, Marshal Bazaine, commander of the Imperial forces, offered to surrender Mexico City to him if Díaz withdrew support of Juárez. The offer was declined.
He remained popular well after the defeat of the French and the death of Juárez in 1872.
In 1874 he was elected to Congress from Veracruz. That year Lerdo de Tejada's government faced civil and military unrest, and offered Díaz the position of ambassador to Germany, which he refused. In 1875 Díaz traveled to New Orleans and Brownsville, Texas, to plan a rebellion (see American businessman James Stillman), which was launched in Ojitlan, Oaxaca on January 10, 1876, as the Plan de Tuxtepec. After appointing himself president on November 28, 1876, he served one term and then stepped down in favor of his hand-picked successor Manuel González, one of his underlings. The four-year period that followed was marked by corruption and official incompetence, so that when Díaz stepped up in the next election he was a welcome replacement, and there was no remembrance of his "No Re-election" slogan. During this period the Mexican underground political newspapers spread the new ironic slogan for the Porfirian times, based on the slogan "Sufragio Efectivo, No Reelección" (Effective suffrage, no re-election) and changed it to "Sufragio Efectivo No, Reelección" (No effective suffrage, Re-election). In any case Díaz had the constitution amended, first to allow two terms in office, and then to remove all restrictions on re-election.
He maintained power through manipulation of votes, but also through simple violence and assassination of his opponents, who consequently were few in number. He was a cunning politician and knew very well how to manipulate people to his advantage. A phrase used to describe the order of his rule was "Pan, o palo" ("bread, or the stick"), meaning that one could either accept what was given willingly, or face harsh consequences. From 1892 onwards Díaz's perennial opponent was the eccentric Nicolás Zúñiga y Miranda, who lost every election but always claimed fraud and considered himself to be the legitimately elected president of Mexico.
Though he wished to modernize the country, Díaz by no means opposed the existence of the haciendas, and in fact supported them strongly throughout his rule. He appointed sympathetic governors and allowed the plantation owners to proceed with a slow campaign of encroachment, using the Ley Lerdo, onto collectively owned village land, and enforced such seizure through his well-equipped rural police (rurales). Another support for Diaz was the Mexican Federal Army (Federales).
In a 1908 interview with the U.S. journalist James Creelman, Díaz stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and elections and that he would step down and allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. Many liberals formed clubs supporting the governor of Nuevo León, Bernardo Reyes as a candidate for the presidency, although Bernardo Reyes under the orders of Díaz never formally announced his candidacy. Despite Reyes silence, however, Díaz continued to perceive him as a threat and sent him on a mission to Europe, so that Reyes was not in the country for the elections.
University of California, Berkeley–educated Francisco I. Madero answered the call for candidates. Although Madero was very similar to Díaz in his ideology, he hoped for other elites in Mexico to rule alongside the president, unlike Díaz. Díaz, however, did not approve of Madero and had him jailed during the election in 1910.
Despite this, the election went ahead. Madero had gathered much popular support, but when the official results were announced by the government, Díaz was proclaimed to have been re-elected almost unanimously, with Madero gathering only a minuscule number of votes. This undisputable case of massive electoral fraud aroused widespread anger. Madero called for revolt against Díaz, and the Mexican Revolution began. Díaz was forced from office and fled the country for France in 1911.