Alvin Silva was the twelfth President of the United States of Mexico, serving from April 1932 to January 1950. He was the last Mexican President to be democratically elected, and was the last member of the Liberty Party to serve as president.
Sobel does not reveal anything concerning Silva's early life or political career prior to his election to the Mexican Senate from Durango in the 1920 Mexican elections. Based on his surname, his family were presumably immigrants from Portugal or Brazil. As a member of the Senate, he was a faithful supporter of President Emiliano Calles' programs. Silva was presumably denounced for his support for the Manumission Act, and may have been physically threatened during the Bloody Season of 1920 - 1921 when the anti-manumission movement was at its height. However, he remained steadfast in his support for manumission, and remained in the Senate when two other supporters of manumission bowed to pressure and resigned.
After the election of Assemblyman Pedro Fuentes in the 1926 Mexican elections, Silva became a leading critic of Fuentes' attack on Kramer Associates. In 1931 he published The Search for the Mexican Soul, in which he called for an end to "old programs and ideas that were useful when conceived, but which mean nothing today." Silva was a strong defender of Negro rights, and although Hispano himself, worked long in defense of the Mexicanos. Silva was a strong believer in Mexican unity, writing "We must search out the national destiny. It is to be found within ourselves, but also outside the country. Mexico has a destiny in the world which it has long ignored. This can continue no longer." In a vitavision interview on 14 November 1931, Silva said, "While the President worries about Kramer Associates, the world is changing rapidly. A visit to Honolulu would do him a world of good, not only to refresh his sagging spirit, but to give him a better perspective on the world as it is, not as it was."
In the 1932 Mexican elections, Silva received the presidential nomination at the Liberty Party's national convention in Mexico City. The Liberty Party platform adopted at the convention called for increased public works, encouragement of private initiative in the states, better relations with other nations, and increased social insurance. One section pledged "effective action to control big business" but was vague and did not mention K.A. During the campaign, Silva called Fuentes inept "even when he concentrates his attention on a single objective." Silva won the election by a substantial margin, gaining 55% of the popular vote and winning majorities in every state except Alaska and his home state of Durango.
First Term as President
Upon taking office, Silva wound up the Zwicker Commission that Fuentes had established to investigate K.A. Silva cared little for internal affairs, believing that the U.S.M. was as united as it would ever be through internal reform. He told his Secretary of the Exchequer, Tito Señada, "No matter what the people receive, they will always want more, and will look to their neighbors for it." True unity, he said, could only come through foreign adventures, particularly war. "Mexico fought as one people in the Rocky Mountain War; Mexicans rejoiced in the Great Northern War; with all its drawbacks and problems, the Hundred Day War was fought by a united people. I do not say we should seek war; rather, our goal should be national greatness. But if national greatness requires a clash with a foreign power, so be it." In his inaugural address, he spoke of foreigners "who would threaten our nation. Even now, Hawaii is in danger of attack," paraphrasing a speech delivered by Benito Hermión just before the outbreak of the Great Northern War. This was noted by the North American journalist Charles Martin of the Burgoyne Herald, who wrote four years later that "The voice was Silva's but the words sounded suspiciously like those of El Jefe."
Silva began his foreign policy initiative by fortifying in 1933 by fortifying Hawaii and seeking to renew Hermión's alliance with the Germanic Confederation. Although German companies were competing with K.A. for markets in Africa and South America, the Mexicans and Germans both faced Japanese opposition to their efforts to gain increased influence in China. Word of the imminent alliance reached Marshall Gipson, the North American ambassador to Mexico City, who revealed it during Governor-General Douglas Watson's special Cabinet meeting on 8 May 1933. Silva signed an accord with German Chancellor Karl Bruning in 1934, and both men watched with interest as Watson attempted to increase North American defense spending while their own nations enlarged their armed forces in preparation for war.
Although Silva had roundly criticized Fuentes' attack on Kramer Associates, his own foreign policy brought him into conflict with the company. Silva regarded Japan as the U.S.M.'s chief foreign rival, while K.A. President John Jackson saw Japan as a lucrative market he wished to cultivate. This conflict may be the reason Jackson chose to move K.A.'s corporate headquarters from San Francisco to the Philippines in February 1936.
Jackson's announcement of the move on Monday, 24 February caught the world by surprise; Silva himself had spent the weekend vacationing in Acapulco. The result was a worldwide panic that was worsened the following month when the C.N.A.'s National Financial Administration went bankrupt. Most of K.A.'s business was still located in Mexico, and although the company's profits fell in 1936 and 1937, the Mexican economy suffered less from the Panic of 1936 than any other major power.
Re-election and War
Silva was renominated by the Liberty Party in the 1938 Mexican elections. In his acceptance speech, he claimed credit for the country's continued prosperity. "All around us there is poverty, yet we are rich; all around there is weakness, yet we are strong." Watson's loss to Councilman Bruce Hogg in the February 1938 Grand Council elections made it clear that the C.N.A. would not support the United Empire in the event of war, and this was interpreted by the Mexican public as a sign that war would come soon. The Mexico City Diario opined that "Now that North America has opted for neutralism, war seems inevitable, and Silva is the man for such a task." Silva was able to defeat his United Mexican Party opponent, Richard Brace of Jefferson, gaining 54% of the popular vote, with a majority in every state except Hawaii and Jefferson.
War finally began in August 1939, initially caused by an Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule. The following month, Bruning chose to provide military support for the Arab rebels, and the British responded by sending troops to reinforce the Turks. A clash between the Germans and the British near Damascus on 30 September 1939 led to the outbreak of the Global War.
Silva had hoped to gain German support for a war against Japan. Now that the Germans were fighting the British in the Middle East, Silva's plans were in disarray. When Bruning requested Mexican assistance against the British and the Turks, Silva declined. In the event, the Germans had no need for Mexican assistance. By the end of 1939, the Germans had defeated Britain's French allies, gained control of the Victoria Canal, and nearly succeeded in invading Great Britain itself. A year later, the Germans had conquered the Ottoman Empire and launched an invasion of India. By the end of 1941, India had fallen, and the Germans were poised to invade Southeast Asia.
Silva grew increasingly uneasy as his German allies won a series of victories that placed Europe and southern Asia under their control. Fearing that the Germans were preparing to invade China, and also fearing an attack from Japan, Silva began making preparations in late 1941 to enter the war. In early December he signed a secret treaty with Siberia for a joint invasion of China. On 1 January 1942 Mexican and Siberian airmobiles bombed the Japanese city of Nagasaki, while a second flight of Mexican airmobiles launched from carriers bombed Tokyo. The U.S.M. declared war on Japan the next day.
Throughout 1942, Mexican and Siberian troops drove into China, while the Mexican Pacific Fleet under Admiral Paul Suarez seized Pacific islands from the United Empire and the Japanese. The Germans meanwhile took Japanese Indochina and invaded Indonesia. The two nations' conquests slowed in 1943; the Germans were driven from Borneo, and attempted Mexican invasions of Japan, Taiwan, and Australia all failed. In 1944, the invasion of China stalled, and the Mexicans and Siberians began to lose ground, while the Japanese began recovering control of the Pacific from the Mexican Navy. By then, it was clear to both Bruning and Silva that their efforts were being hindered by the two supposedly "neutral" powers, K.A. and the C.N.A. "We fight in the Pacific," Silva said, "but the real enemy is in the Atlantic."
K.A. executives had been holding talks with the Japanese and Australian governments in 1939 and 1940, warning them of the coming Mexican attacks. By the time Silva went to war, the two countries had entered into an informal alliance with K.A. Silva responded in 1944 by cancelling the upcoming elections and seizing control of the Mexican media. This prompted the start of the Rainbow War, an anti-government insurgency led by the Black Justice Party and Causa de Justicia. With his control of the media, Silva was able to convince the public that the insurgency was being funded and led by Kramer Associates, so that Jackson was considered a war criminal of the first magnitude in Mexico City. Silva also announced on 22 March 1944 that all K.A. property in Mexico would be seized and nationalized. However, this proved ineffective, since Jackson's reorganization of K.A.'s assets in the early 1930s made it difficult to determine which Mexican businesses the company actually owned.
Silva was forced to withdraw Mexican troops from Asia to combat the insurgency, with the result that the Mexicans and Siberians were driven from China by the beginning of 1947. Meanwhile, a Japanese airmobile carrier task force bombed Honolulu in December 1944, and Silva was forced to withdraw his forces to Hawaii against the possibility of a Japanese invasion in the summer of 1945.
Silva pledged to resume the offensive in Asia in 1948. Instead, two Japanese armies invaded Siberia, and by December 1948 had carried out invasion attempts against Hawaii and Alaska which were driven off with heavy losses. The military defeats in the war and the continued insurgencies at home caused Silva's support to erode, and in July 1949 he announced that national elections would be held in January 1950.
The U.M.P. had opposed entry into the war, and Silva's control of the media meant that the party's leaders had been branded as little better than traitors. In desparation, the U.M.P. leaders nominated Admiral Suarez as their presidential candidate. Suarez had resigned as commander of the Pacific Fleet in 1944 in protest against Silva's leadership. Although Suarez intended to continue the war, he became the de facto peace candidate. The 1950 Mexican elections were marred by violence, as each side sought to intimidate the other's supporters. Suarez criticized Silva for not making provisions for servicemen's ballots, while Silva denounced Suarez for "demagoguery of the meanest kind, and serving the interests of the warlords of Japan and Taiwan.
Silva was narrowly defeated by Suarez, gaining 49% of the popular vote and majorities in the states of Hawaii and Arizona. After the election, Silva claimed that there had been irregularities in the California and Jefferson balloting, which Suarez disputed. The political violence continued to escalate as the date of Suarez's inauguration approached. The day before the inauguration, Colonel Vincent Mercator, the commander of the Guadalajara garrison, met with ten other garrison commanders, then announced that Suarez would not be allowed to take office. Silva was arrested for "crimes against the republic" and Mercator became the head of a military junta that took control of the Mexican government.
Sobel makes no further mention of Silva after his arrest in the Mercator Coup.
Sobel's sources for the political career of Alvin Silva are Silva's own The Search for the Mexican Soul (Mexico City, 1931); Señada's Mexico's Destiny and My Role in It: A Concession (Mexico City, 1939); Manfred Ohrens' Origins of the Global War (New York, 1941); Miguel Alavarces' The Global War: A Diplomatic History (Mexico City, 1960); Walter Davis's At Home: Life in the U.S.M. During the Global War (Mexico City, 1965); Kenneth Zarb's Guns and Wood: the Life of Paul Suarez (New York, 1969); and Mitchell Armitage's Justice Now!: A History of Domestic Opposition to the Silva Regime in the Global War (Mexico City, 1969).
This was the Featured Article for the week of 9 June 2013.
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