Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution

Chuck Morse Speaks 

Jos√© Doroteo Aranrgo A√°mbula (5 June 1878 – 20 July 1923), better known as Francisco “Pancho” Villa, was a political and military leader during the Mexican Revolution of 1911-1920. Pancho Villa also became a cultural figure both in Mexico and in the United States where he employed a Hollywood agent and appeared as himself in three movies. Since then, he has been portrayed by a number of Hollywood leading men including most recently Johnnie Depp. He began his public career as the head of a band of “banditos” in the Durango Mountains of Northern Mexico. The enduring image of Pancho Villa is as a Robin Hood figure with a broad sombrero and a sash full of bullets.

The Mexican Revolution 1910-1920 has been described as the 20th Century’s first Communist Revolution. Launched 7 years before the Bolshevik coup in Russia, the Mexican revolution did not produce a leader as ruthless and as single-minded as V.I.Lenin. Instead the Mexican revolution degenerated into a prolonged and violent squabble between factions, each with its own ideas and each led by a militia leader with an over-arching ambition and cut of the same cloth as the traditional Spanish Conquistador. Pancho Villa, the commander of the Division del Norte, was one such leader.

Villa established a reputation as a champion of the poor in northern Mexico where he set himself up for a while as the virtual caudillo of the State of Chihuahua where he served as Governor 1915-1916. Villa and his militia were known as the Villistas. He cultivated a reputation for robbing from the wealthy Haciendas and redistributing the proceeds to his soldiers and the poor thus winning respect and loyalty as well as fear in the countryside. Villa robbed and commandeered trains passing from the United States to Mexico City. To supplement his income he augmented his loot by printing his own currency. He handed over land confiscated from the Haciendas to the poor and to his allies and fellow soldiers.

At the age of 16 Villa, according to his own story, shot a Hacienda owner for attempting to rape his sister.  He then fled to the Durango hills where he became a member of a notorious gang of bandits headed by Ignacio Parra. In 1902, Villa was arrested for stealing mules but avoided execution due to the influence of Pablo Venezuela, to whom he sold the stolen goods. Drafted into the federal army, Villa deserted after several months making his way to Chihuahua.

After the 1913 assassination

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