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Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858

Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858

by Will Fowler
Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858

Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858

by Will Fowler


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In mid-nineteenth-century Mexico, garrisons, town councils, state legislatures, and an array of political actors, groups, and communities began aggressively petitioning the government at both local and national levels to address their grievances. Often viewed as a revolt or a coup d’état, these pronunciamientos were actually a complex form of insurrectionary action that relied first on the proclamation and circulation of a plan that listed the petitioners’ demands and then on endorsement by copycat pronunciamientos that forced the authorities, be they national or regional, to the negotiating table. In Independent Mexico, Will Fowler provides a comprehensive overview of the pronunciamiento practice following the Plan of Iguala. This fourth and final installment in, and culmination of, a larger exploration of the pronunciamiento highlights the extent to which this model of political contestation evolved. The result of more than three decades of pronunciamiento politics was the bloody Civil War of the Reforma (1858–60) and the ensuing French Intervention (1862–67). Given the frequency and importance of the pronunciamiento, this book is also a concise political history of independent Mexico.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803284678
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 01/01/2016
Series: The Mexican Experience
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 400
File size: 523 KB

About the Author

Will Fowler is a professor of Latin American studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is the author or editor of several books, including Forceful Negotiations; Malcontents, Rebels, and “Pronunciados”; and Celebrating Insurrection, all published by the University of Nebraska Press.

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Independent Mexico

The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821â"1858

By Will Fowler


Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-8467-8


"Soft" Coups, Occupations, and "Gestures of Rebellion"

The Pronunciamiento, Past and Present Interpretations

On 23 February 1981, at 6:22 in the early evening, Guardia Civil Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina stormed into the Spanish parliament at the head of his paramilitary forces. His men fired several rounds of ammunition over the heads of the assembled politicians while he ordered them to remain still, waved a gun in the air, and shouted at them to "sit down, damn it" ("¡Se sienten, coño!"). With the exception of the outgoing prime minister Adolfo Suárez, the sixty-nine-year-old minister of defense General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, and the chain-smoking leader of the Spanish Communist Party, Santiago Carrillo, the more than three hundred politicians, gathered that day to vote over Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo's prime ministerial accession, flung themselves to the floor. With the television cameras still rolling, Spain would subsequently get to see the first thirty minutes of what became the only coup to be staged in Spain following its transition to democracy after dictator General Francisco Franco died in 1975. This would entail witnessing such outrageous scenes as that of the strutting mustachioed Tejero actually trying, but failing, to wrestle the aging lanky minister of defense to the ground. And while Tejero held Spain's entire political class hostage in Madrid, General Jaime Milans del Bosch ordered the tank division Maestrazgo Num. 3, stationed in Valencia, to roll out into the streets, to intimidate the civilian population into accepting the outcome of the coup.

I was fourteen years old at the time, living in Barcelona. I found out about the coup in the dressing rooms of the sports center where I used to go, just as I came out of my Monday Tae Kwon Do lesson. I remember running back home to tell my parents, who refused to believe me until they switched on the radio and discovered, much to their horror, that the national radio station in Prado del Rey was playing only military marches, having been occupied by troops from the Saboya Regiment. My father went down to the nearby colmado (corner shop) and stocked up on basics, "just in case," — bread, milk, cigarettes — and as we sat down to dinner in the kitchen, with my parents barely touching their food, I listened to them discuss the possibility of our heading to Perpignan and leaving Spain the next day. We feared, as most people did on that long winter night, that Spain was about to experience the kind of brutal repression countries to which Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay had been subjected since the early to mid-seventies when likeminded army officers had overthrown the existing governments by force.

On paper, Tejero's assault and capture of the Spanish Cortes in 1981 was intended as a straightforward coup d'état. As I have argued elsewhere, a coup d'état aims to overthrow the government without involving the population at large. It is typically carried out by members of the armed sector of the state against its own state's leadership. The successful coup is that which in one fell swoop takes out the government or certain individuals within the government by assaulting the National Palace and arresting, exiling, or killing the incumbent president and cabinet. As Eric Carlton has pointed out, it is "a high-risk, low-cost strategy" that does not require the "mobilization of large forces" and does not rely on "the uncertainties of recruitment and continued popular support." Textbook coups d'état could include the military action in Chile of 11 September 1973 and, more recently, that in Honduras of 28 June 2009. In Chile a junta made up of four generals, including Augusto Pinochet, overthrew Salvador Allende's elected socialist government by bombarding the Palacio de la Moneda and using mass executions, torture, and disappearances to quell any voices of dissent. In Honduras the forces led by Lieutenant Colonel René Antonio Hepburn Bueso broke into the residence of the elected president, Manuel Zelaya, escorted him onto a plane, and flew him out of the country, still in his pajamas, resulting in Roberto Micheletti becoming the de facto acting president of Honduras. In neither case was there an attempt to negotiate with the government or members within it. In neither case did the perpetrators of the coup seek to gain the support of the broader community before acting. Each was a clear-cut golpe de estado. Members of the army simply used their military might to topple the government and replace it with one that was more to their liking.

That it was Tejero's plan to carry out a similar swift and effective coup is unquestionable. According to Spanish novelist Javier Cercas, the franquista hardliner Tejero "aimed to bring an end to democracy, even at the cost of ending the monarchy." Having said this, a closer look at the events building up to 23 February 1981 and the intentions of the other high-ranking officers who orchestrated the assault on Congress, namely Milans del Bosch and General Alfonso Armada, shows that the military action of that day could be considered, from a certain angle, as a modern day pronunciamiento. In Cercas's mind there were two different coups unfolding at the same time: that perpetrated by Tejero in the Spanish parliament and the one the main instigators of the movement were hoping to bring about behind the scenes. To use Cercas's definition, Tejero's was a "golpe duro," a hard coup, while that of the other golpistas was a "golpe blando," a soft coup. For them it was meant to be "a bloodless coup in which the threat alone of deploying their weapons would suffice to make the King, the political class and the Spanish people accept the golpistas' demands."

For Armada, in particular, the hope was that in the context of the severe political and economic crisis in which Spain was immersed at the time, their "soft" coup would result in King Juan Carlos, as head of state, listening to and acting upon their demands by removing Adolfo Suárez from power — putting on hold the 1978 Constitution with its decentralizing "Estado de las Autonomías" (a federal state of sorts with autonomous regional governments, which grated with the golpistas' nostalgia for Franco's centralist values) — and would abolish all political parties and replace the current government with an emergency one of national unity with Armada at its head, awarding the army the power to crush the Basque terrorist group ETA effectively by whatever means. Both the Manifesto Tejero read out over the phone, to be inserted in the right-wing newspaper El Alcázar the following day, and Milans del Bosch's edict of 23 February 1981 ended with them professing their obedience and loyalty to the king. Had the soft coup unfolded as Armada intended, other commander generals and garrisons across Spain would have followed in Milans del Bosch's steps, ordered their troops onto the streets, and issued copycat statements of support and allegiance. The king would have realized that Armada's demands had the best interests of Spain at heart as well as the backing of the army and, in complying with them, would have avoided a bloodbath. Had Armada's coup been successful, like a pronunciamiento, it would have resulted in a forcefully negotiated change of government while retaining King Juan Carlos as Spanish head of state.

As it happens, King Juan Carlos had other ideas. After forces loyal to him regained control of the Spanish radio and television studios at Prado del Rey, the king addressed the nation at 1:14 a.m. on February 24, stating in unequivocal terms: "The Crown, symbol of the permanence and unity of the Patria, cannot tolerate, in any form, the actions and behavior of people who intend to interrupt by force the democratic process that was put in place by the Constitution the Spanish people voted for." Following the king's intervention, my parents and I stayed glued to our television during the early hours of the 24th, waiting for news, incongruously watching Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in The Princess and the Pirate (1944) dubbed in Spanish. As time went by it became obvious to Armada, Tejero, Milans del Bosch, and the other officers who joined the attempted coup that theirs was a lost cause and that they had little choice but to turn themselves in, which they did by midmorning.

The reason I have started a book on pronunciamientos in nineteenth-century Mexico by discussing the failed Spanish golpe of 23 February 1981 is because by adopting Cercas's notion of a soft coup, it is possible to begin to clarify what is meant here by a pronunciamiento. This is important given that common wisdom would still have us believe a pronunciamiento was nothing other than, to quote a popular source such as Wikipedia, "a form of military rebellion or coup d'état peculiar to Spain and the Spanish American republics, particularly in the 19th century." The pronunciamientos of Independent Mexico, with some notable exceptions in the 1840s, were not coups d'état; or if they were, they were precisely that: soft coups d'état. They were meant to be bloodless, and they were meant to negotiate political change forcefully, by use of threats and intimidation but without necessarily overthrowing the entire government or the head of state. In this sense a pronunciamiento was a "gesture of rebellion," to quote Miguel Alonso Baquer, whereby a garrison declared its insubordination to the government and threatened to use violence if the authorities did not attend to its grievances; town councils and state legislatures also made such declarations against national and/or regional government. Unlike a "hard" coup d'état, the pronunciamiento relied heavily on receiving pronunciamientos de adhesión: copycat pronunciamientos of allegiance from other garrisons and communities. In publicly coming out in support of the original "gesture of rebellion" by defiantly occupying their respective villages, municipalities, or cities and refusing to obey the authorities until their own demands were heard, the other communities gave force and legitimacy to the original pronunciados' demands.

It is because of this that at another level — in terms of the dynamic of most nineteenth-century pronunciamiento cycles in Mexico, especially once the practice was adopted by civilians and a whole range of subaltern groups in the 1830s — these soft coups d'état also shared a great deal in common with the cycles of protests that spread from town to town in 2011 as part of the so-called Arab Spring and Spain's 15 May indignado movement. Also similar were the U.S. "Occupy" Wall Street protests that broke out in New York, Chicago, Boston, Memphis, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Austin, Louisville, Atlanta, and seventy other cities. The dynamic was the same, whether it was to bring an end in Tunisia to President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's twenty-three-year dictatorial government through a constellation of simultaneous peaceful protests in Sidi Bouzid, Menzel Bouzaiene, al-Ragab, Miknassi, Kairouan, Sfax, Ben Guerdane, Tunis, Sousse, Monastir, Chebba, Thala, Kasserine, and Regeb, or to force the Spanish government to reform a whole range of laws through the peaceful occupation — acampadas — of the main squares of seventy-three Spanish cities, from A Coruña to Zaragoza. Peaceful acts of defiance and insubordination that started in one town were soon seconded in others, until in the case of Tunisia and later Egypt, it became impossible for the authorities to ignore the protestors' demands or their claim to represent the will of their aggrieved nations.

As would be the case with those nineteenth-century pronunciamiento cycles that succeeded in Mexico, the success of Tunisia and Egypt's constellations of protests and town square occupations relied on the governments' weakness and the willingness on the part of key military officers within them to back the protestors' (or pronunciados') demands. Events in Libya, Syria, and Bahrain would take a very different course: their respective governments — and in particular their armed forces — did not shy away from opening fire on the protestors repeatedly, resulting either in the outbreak of civil war, as in Libya and Syria, or in the government staying in place at the time of writing, as with Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in Bahrain.

In other words, the dynamic of the Mexican pronunciamiento cycle was one in which after the initial grito (cry) was launched there was the hope and expectation, on the part of the pronunciados, that other communities (garrisons and town councils) would second their demands (circulated in a signed petition or plan) with copycat pronunciamientos of allegiance. The idea was that should there be a significant number of these statements of adherence (actas de adhesión), the government would see the sense of listening to the "pronounced ones" and would back down on, retract, or change its unpopular policies, ministers, congress, and/or constitution. In the same way that the Occupy movements that spread across the world in 2011 claimed to represent the voice of the aggrieved majority — "We are the 99 percent" — the constellations of pronunciamientos de adhesión that mushroomed around Mexico's nineteenth-century original gritos were meant to prove, in themselves and because of their abundance, that the pronunciados' demands actually reflected the legitimate voice of an ignored general, national, and/or popular will.

Comparing the Mexican pronunciamiento to Armada's intended soft coup of 1981 and the waves of protests that spread across the world thirty years later against "corporate greed and financial mismanagement" in different forms should serve to highlight the complex nature of this nineteenth-century insurrectionary practice. It denotes how misleading it is to categorize the pronunciamiento as little other than a "coup d'état peculiar to Spain and the Spanish American republics." It is also a way of drawing attention to the relevance of studying how and why Mexicans adopted this particular practice to effect meaningful political change. Although the circumstances have changed, and today's "pronunciados" use information technology and social networking websites to communicate their grievances and organize their "gestures of rebellion," it remains the case that people, past and present, have been drawn to employing extra-constitutional means when all other legal avenues have been exhausted. Studying the Mexican pronunciamiento allows us, first and foremost, to understand the country's political culture following the consummation of independence in 1821, but it also offers us the chance to reflect more broadly on how, when, and why people rebel — sometimes violently, yet peacefully at other times.

As can be gathered already, a practice that shares similarities with such ostensibly different actions as a military-led soft coup and the coordinated popular protests of 2011 has proven difficult to define to date. Historian Michael P. Costeloe admitted as much in one of the earlier studies to engage with the subject of the nineteenth-century Mexican pronunciamiento:

The pronunciamiento in early nineteenth century Mexico is difficult to define for practical purposes of analysis. Variable in size, objective, cause and effect, it became an established and recognized means of seeking change. Often but not always accompanied by the threatened use of military force, it was used by leading politicians of all parties to demand change at the national political level but it also provided the opportunity for ambitious military officers to achieve promotion, dissatisfied merchants to obtain the repeal of laws, the poor to augment their income with loot, and bandits to legitimize their trade.


Excerpted from Independent Mexico by Will Fowler. Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Maps,
Chronology of Main Events and Pronunciamientos, 1821–1858,
1. "Soft" Coups, Occupations, and "Gestures of Rebellion": The Pronunciamiento, Past and Present Interpretations,
2. The Origins of Mexico's Mimetic Insurrectionism: The Foundational Pronunciamientos of Cabezas de San Juan and Iguala, 1820–1821,
3. The Voice of the Provinces: The Insurrectional Contagion of Mexico's First Pronunciamientos, 1821–1831,
4. When the Pronunciamiento Went Viral: The Popularization of the Pronunciamiento, 1832–1842,
5. From Forceful Negotiation to Civil War: The Pronunciamientos, Coups d'État, and Revolutions of the Mid-Nineteenth Century, 1843–1858,
Conclusion: Mimetic Insurrectionism, the Pronunciamiento, and Independent Mexico,

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