How Mexico's Confidential Department Tracked Political Exiles

In 1924, as Mexico grappled with the aftershocks of the revolution, a clandestine force emerged: the Confidential Department. Created to keep tabs on political dissidents, this spy network forever altered Mexican politics.

How Mexico's Confidential Department Tracked Political Exiles
AGN, Photographic Archives, Díaz, Delgado y García Collection, box 1/1.

The echoes of rebellion may have subsided on the battlefield, but they resonated profoundly in the backrooms and secret corridors of power. As Mexico was trying to stabilize itself following a revolutionary movement, the political drama was reaching a crescendo in 1924. Central to the spectacle was the formation of the Confidential Department, a government intelligence agency that marked a significant transformation in Mexican politics. How did it operate, and why was it so concerned with political exiles like Adolfo de la Huerta? Let’s delve into this chapter of Mexican history.

The Sonora Group, a political alliance consisting of Adolfo de la Huerta, Álvaro Obregón, and Plutarco Elías Calles, played a pivotal role in the final phases of the Mexican Revolution. The group led the Agua Prieta rebellion that deposed Venustiano Carranza, paving the way for a new post-revolutionary State. But as the adage goes, “Nothing unites like a common enemy,” and once that enemy was gone, fissures within the alliance began to appear.

As the presidential succession of 1924 loomed, tensions rose between the Sonora Group and other power sectors. The rift became most apparent in the divide between de la Huerta and Calles. Obregón, the outgoing president, threw his weight behind Calles, causing de la Huerta to run for president under the Partido Nacional Cooperativista. This led to the infamous delahuertista rebellion, which effectively shattered the Sonora triad.

Adolfo de la Huerta: The revolutionary leader turned political exile.
Adolfo de la Huerta: The revolutionary leader turned political exile who found himself at the center of the Confidential Department's watchlist. Credit: Wikimedia

The Role of the Confidential Department

After the rebellion, the Obregonist and Callista movements emerged victorious. Calles ascended to the presidency, and de la Huerta fled to the United States in exile. Yet, the Mexican government wasn’t content to let sleeping dogs lie; it kept a vigilant eye on de la Huerta and his compatriots. Enter the Confidential Department, established in 1924, with a mission to exterminate opposition.

While this was not the first time that Mexico had used intelligence agencies to monitor opposition—both Porfirio Díaz and Venustiano Carranza had done so—the Confidential Department ushered in a new era of control. Its reach was vast, involving not just domestic agencies, but also Mexican consulates in the United States and hired agents abroad. It coordinated data collection through an intricate espionage network involving the Ministries of the Interior, War and Navy, and Foreign Affairs.

The meticulous work of the Confidential Department is exemplified by the case of Andres G. Garcia, a delahuertista agent operating in El Paso, Texas. Garcia was tracked by an agent identified as code number 48, who discovered Garcia's role in bailing out delahuertistas arrested by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating U.S. neutrality laws. Upon his return to Mexico, Garcia was arrested and deported back to the U.S., where he faced trial and imprisonment from 1930 to 1931. His name was subsequently placed on Mexico’s blacklist, ensuring his continued exile until his death.

The Confidential Department's actions during this period revealed the lengths to which the Obregón and Calles administrations would go to suppress opposition. This is not just a historical footnote but a sobering lesson about the dual role of state intelligence agencies: While they can be necessary for maintaining national security, they can also be wielded as tools of political repression. As we reflect on this chapter of Mexican history, the ethical implications of such state surveillance resonate more than ever in our increasingly interconnected, and surveilled, world.

Source: Archivo General de la Nación. ‘Exiliados y vigilados, la red de espionaje que estableció el gobierno mexicano a los miembros de la rebelión delahuertista’., Accessed 16 Sept. 2023.