U.S. Intervention in Veracruz: How the United States planned to invade Mexico in 1919


Throughout history, the subject of foreign interventions in Mexico has yielded a rich bibliography that brings closer, from different perspectives, a better understanding of the events that began when the Mexican territory began to be constituted as an independent nation. Particularly the U.S. interventions have produced a good number of studies, both those related to the 19th century when half of our country was divided -between 1846 and 1848-, as well as the armed intervention in Veracruz in 1914 and the Punitive Expedition in 1916. The latter under the command of John L. Pershing, who entered Mexico through the border to pursue Pancho Villa, after the Centaur of the North carried out an assault on the American town of Columbus.

Another attempt at the military occupation of the American Union occurred in 1919. This has only been partially investigated as a phenomenon promoted by "interventionist factions" of the U.S. Senate, the U.S. press, the National Association for the Protection of American Rights in Mexico, made up of almost all the companies with capital invested in the country, and the Association of Petroleum Producers in Mexico. What has been said about the above events corresponds to chronicles or journalistic works carried out by contemporaries of the events, or to studies carried out by professionals who in recent times have found elements to analyze them within the vast Mexican-American historical universe of the last three centuries.

The occupancy plan

The Mexican Constitution of 1917 attempted to synthesize the diverse popular demands whose demands had given rise to the Revolution. The Magna Carta provided in its Article 27 that the nation had eminent sovereignty over the subsoil, minerals and oil, and also prescribed the distribution of land and water to the people once it had been expropriated from private individuals, mostly foreigners. From the beginning, these provisions were objected to by the northern neighbors, as well as reinforced their desire to overthrow Venustiano Carranza as President.

However, after the end of World War I, none of the plans that the U.S., England, and Germany had elaborated to influence the Mexican Revolution -particularly Constitutionalism- had yielded results. In fact, the "pro-German" Man of Cuatro Cienegas had reversed the roles and exploited the rivalries of those three nations for the benefit of his struggle.

Carranza, a stubborn promoter of Mexico becoming the "model of Spanish America", refused to sign a treaty of friendship and commerce with the United States that would provide a good basis for free trade operations, as well as opposing the creation of an international board of directors to safeguard the interests of the United States. At this time there was talk of a new intervention, as an alternative, said the American senators, to defend foreign interests in Mexico.

The U.S. press claimed at that time that military circles in Washington were already planning imminent military operations against Mexico along the border. According to the news, high-ranking officers of the U.S. Army had received instructions to be ready to march to the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo), where they would join the columns of General Pershing, who would take command of this new expedition.

The active propaganda of the U.S. Congress stated the procedures to be followed: 1), a peremptory demand would be sent so that the lives and interests of American citizens would be duly protected; 2), that just indemnities would be paid to the citizens of that nation who had suffered damages during the Mexican Revolution; 3), a committee composed of one American, one Mexican, and five neutrals would be created to rule on the claims that were presented so that when the committee approved a claim, the corresponding indemnity would be paid by Mexico; and 4), in case Mexico did not pay the approved indemnities, all its ports would be blocked and customs would be blocked. In the event that Mexico did not pay the approved indemnities, all its ports would be blockaded and customs would be administered by American officials until full payment of the approved indemnities was obtained.

According to U.S. legislators, it was impossible to estimate the amount of damages suffered by their fellow citizens with businesses in Mexico, in addition to the fact that there were cases in which these businessmen had been expelled from Mexico and were claiming large amounts in dollars in compensation. Among the plaintiffs were cotton and oil companies from the United States established in Mexico.

In Washington, it was known that the situation in Mexico was worsening at every moment, mainly due to the differences that existed between Generals Pablo González and Álvaro Obregón, candidates to the presidency of the Republic. It was said that González would have the majority of the Congress as well as the protection of the Executive, while Obregón, although with similar power and influence, had never been in harmony with the former governor of Coahuila.

In the United States it was claimed that most of the men of the Carrancista government were anti-American, ardent supporters of the Germans, protectors of the Germanic subjects residing in Mexico in relation to the judicial affairs in which they were involved, besides the fact that they had supported all the German intrigues generated in Mexico.

According to the Americans, the situation would worsen because both Pablo González and Álvaro Obregón had sympathies among the Mexican soldiers, which would make possible a new revolution that would serve Carranza to suspend the individual guarantees. To the above, the activities of Pancho Villa were added, and in the event that the Obregonistas and Gonzalezistas reached civil war, Felipe Angeles would be the one to decide the situation, whether he was on one side or the other.

During the second half of 1919 an intense controversy broke out and Carranza was accused of defying the United States, as well as mocking the Monroe Doctrine. In September, Washington remarked that there was no indication that Carranza had any change of mind in view regarding the fact that the oil deposits belonged exclusively to the country they represented, and that the confiscation of the foreign properties would be carried out by legal means.

At the end of 1919, a message received in New York from Mac Allen, Texas, reported that five squadrons of cavalry, three of them from Fort Sam Foreythe, and two from the Mac Allen garrison, had received orders to march in the direction of the town of Hidalgo, Texas, in order to prepare for possible contingencies that might arise on the border. It was then argued that such a deployment of troops would be made in anticipation of an attack by the Mexican revolutionaries.

However, Carranza continued to oppose American attempts to transform Article 27 of the Constitution. The self-proclaimed "champion of Spanish America" would always maintain his anti-American stance, so that it could serve as an example -he assured in his Doctrine- to the other Spanish American nations and so that they could form "their sovereignties, their institutions and the freedom of their citizens...".

Faced with the growing strength of the Obregonist movement -whose electoral struggle was carried out between 1919 and 1920 under more conservative slogans and contrary to the past revolutionary Jacobinism- Carranza's position became untenable. With the support of some royal troops, the latter left Mexico City and set out by train for Veracruz on May 7, 1920. After a brief skirmish between loyalist and rebel troops, Carranza and a small group of followers managed to flee on horseback through the Sierra de Puebla, until they reached the small town of Tlaxcalantongo where he was killed in the early hours of the morning as he slept. Naturally, this stopped the American occupation attempts in Mexico.

When Obregón took over the presidency of the United Mexican States, the northern neighbor conditioned its recognition and the resumption of regular diplomatic relations. The Manco de Celaya was required to formulate a treaty agreement stipulating the revision of the 1917 Constitution. This recommendation was included in the report submitted by the Senate Subcommittee in Washington which had made its investigations into the prevailing conditions in Mexico. Subsequently, in May 1921, a draft Treaty of Friendship and Commerce -which Carranza had opposed- was presented to the Mexican authorities for their consideration and it was assured that after its signature, recognition would be granted to the new government. This ended with the signing of the controversial Bucareli Treaties in 1923.

The renewed attempts of American intervention in Mexico during 1919 can be summarized in the following points: 1) once the First World War was over, the United States was in the fullest military capacity to undertake an armed attack against its southern neighbor; 2) the desire for revenge against Carranza -who remained neutral during the international conflagration and whose impartiality was interpreted as a pro-German alliance- also played a role; the desire for revenge had been reactivated that year among the most radical members of Wilson's government; 3), the importance of US economic interests would not be less important, which translated into the search for protection of foreign rights in Mexico; and 4), the death of Carranza would put an end to the plans for intervention, just as the arrival of Obregón to power would mark a turning point in the Mexico-United States of America relationship.

At that time, the oil deposits in the United Mexican States were believed to be inexhaustible. The wells explored mostly by foreign companies, mainly from the United States, were considered the best in the world, which made Mexico stand out as being absorbed by the frenetic development of world capitalism, headed by the northern cousins, once the First Great War was over.

As of the new revolutionary laws embodied in the Constitution of 1917, the economic interests of the United States were affected, both in the area of oil and other exploitable subsoil resources, in railroads, in other types of business as well as in the commercial and industrial activities of American citizens in Mexico. Before those motivations, the various political and national security factors that Washington argued during 1919 to intervene in Mexico could well be added.

By Luis Fernando Alvarez Aguilar, Source: Glifos via INAH