The Politics of Governing: Villagers, Bosses, and Statesmen in Tlaxcala, Mexico, 1885–1911

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM
Wrigleyville Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Jaclyn Ann Sumner, University of Chicago
The Politics of Governing: Villagers, Bosses, and Statesmen in Tlaxcala, Mexico, 1885-1911

President Porfirio Díaz ushered in long-term political peace and economic prosperity for the first time in Mexico’s history as a nation. Díaz’s rule is historically portrayed as authoritative: his coercive methods of political control and exploitation of the lower and middle classes are well-documented. Authoritarianism, however, does not adequately explain the longevity and stability of the Porfiriato. By analyzing the regime of one of Díaz’s regional strongmen, Tlaxcalan Governor Próspero Cahuantzi, this paper elucidates the dynamic processes of governance that also sustained Porfirian rule. During his twenty-six year governorship, Cahuantzi dutifully carried out national plans to modernize and consolidate Mexico by building bridges, railroads, telegraph systems, and factories in Tlaxcala, and exacting new taxes on villagers to fund these projects. Yet, in addition to being a loyal Porfirista, Cahuantzi was a native Tlaxcalan, and he enacted various policies that assisted Tlaxcala’s large peasant and Indian population. An examination of state and municipal documents reveals that Cahuantzi allowed Indian small-landowners to control their territory in exchange for their labor in burgeoning textile factories, he sent armed guards to the state borders to prevent hacendados from encroaching on village lands, and he opened dozens of new primary schools in villages. In short, the governor used his insight into local affairs and his indigenous identity to negotiate local demands with new elements of an increasingly powerful state. In doing so, Cahuantzi created local political alliances and networks, which legitimated Porfirian authority. By looking at how Cahuantzi balanced the needs of rural peasants with those of a rapidly changing nation, my paper argues that regional compromise and governance underpinned national political order during the Porfirian regime.

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