Unlike his fellow Mexicano and chief rival, General Emiliano Calles, Fuentes was always aware of his origins as a member of the U.S.M.'s second-lowest racial caste, and he was determined to build a base of support among the Mexicanos. Self-educated and ambitious, he joined the United Mexican Party due to its promotion of Mexicano interests, and also because he sympathized with the expansionist foreign policy of its Continentalist Party predecessor. During his career representing his Assembly district in Chiapas, Fuentes became a leading advocate of Mexicano interests in the Congress.
Like most Mexicans, Fuentes had little interest in slavery before the Chapultepec Incident of January 1916. Even afterwards, he did not regard it as a major issue, saying in 1917 that slavery was "a pain, but not a cancer," and even signing an anti-slavery petition as a favor to a friend. However, as slavery became the primary issue in Mexico, Fuentes became a vocal supporter of its retention, running for re-election in the 1920 Mexican elections on an anti-manumission platform, and supporting incumbent President Victoriano Consalus. Like his fellow U.M.P. members, Fuentes accepted financial support from Kramer Associates, the country's dominant corporation. Fuentes was outraged when, on 30 April 1920, K.A. President Douglas Benedict came to an agreement with newly-elected President Calles in which he would support Calles' Manumission Act, while Calles would agree not to interfere with K.A.'s business operations.
Over the next two weeks, K.A.'s point man in the Assembly, Hernando Cromwell, gathered support for the Manumission Act among the company's clients there. However, Fuentes refused to follow Cromwell's orders. Instead, when the Act was formally introduced in the Assembly on 13 May, Fuentes spoke out against it, calling it "legal theft." He recalled the history of slavery in the U.S.M., and quoted Andrew Jackson and other notable supporters of the institution. He then pointed his finger at Cromwell and said, "We know who is behind you in this. It is Kramer Associates, more particularly Douglas Benedict. Kramer gold put you where you are, and Kramer gold is buying manumission. You were elected on a pledge to retain slavery, and now you have conveniently changed your mind. I challenge you to tell us why you have so acted."
The rest of the Assembly rose up to protest Fuentes' breach of decorum. However, Cromwell simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders. The Manumission Act passed the Assembly on a voice vote, and the same happened in the Senate the next day. President Calles signed the Manumission Act into law on 21 May.
The Bloody Season
Fuentes became the leader of the anti-manumission movement in Mexico. During the Bloody Season in the summer of 1920, the opposition to manumission turned violent. Thousands of slaves were attacked by hooded bands, and 154 were killed, often in horrible ways. Members of Congress who supported manumission were vilified, and seventeen Assemblymen and two Senators were forced to resign. By August, Fuentes' followers were burning down offices of the Manumission Bureau and threatening the lives of any officials who attempted to rebuild them. Although Fuentes was shocked by the violence, he refused to repudiate the anti-manumission movement. He said, "You cannot lead a people unless you accept the heart of their beliefs." He was unable to prevent the violence, although he later claimed that he attempted to moderate it. At the time, many Mexicans believed that Fuentes was preparing to overthrow Calles and make himself dictator of Mexico.
The Bloody Season ended in September 1920 after President Calles and a newly-freed slave named John Walker stared down an armed mob in Mexico City. By then, Fuentes' unwavering support of the anti-manumission movement made him the undisputed leader of the U.M.P. The battle over manumission had also turned the majority of Mexicans against Kramer Associates, and Fuentes also embraced the cause of bringing the company under government control.
Statehood Issue and Presidential Election
On 22 March 1922, President Calles announced his next proposed reform: holding plebiscites in the U.S.M.'s five client states choosing between independence and statehood. K.A. controlled the economies of the client states, and Benedict opposed Calles' reform, believing that any change would be for the worse. However, Fuentes supported Calles, since he wished to see the U.S.M. enlarged. Following Calles' announcement, Fuentes said, "The President will not expunge all his mistakes with this act, but it is right nonetheless, and should be supported." Sobel suggests that Fuentes recognized the controversial nature of the plebiscite proposal, and meant to use it against him regardless of the outcome.
Where manumission had made Calles and Benedict allies against Fuentes, statehood made Calles and Fuentes allies against Benedict. By April, Benedict's agents were working to block the proposal, while Fuentes rallied his Mexicano supporters in its defense. Benedict's supporters in Siberia and New Granada were able to prevent the plebiscites from taking place, but Fuentes' supporters were able to win approval in Alaska, Hawaii, and Guatemala. The plebiscites were held in early 1923, with Alaska and Hawaii supporting statehood, while Guatemala rejected it. The two territories received statehood in November 1923, adding to Fuentes' base of support.
Fuentes began preparing for the 1926 Mexican elections in 1924, and spent the next two years organizing his campaign. At the U.M.P. convention, he was able to gain the presidential nomination on the first ballot. In his acceptance speech, he promised to "explore every avenue, every facet of the Calles record, and expose this man for the fraud he is."
Early in the campaign, Calles denounced Fuentes as a "would-be tyrant," while Fuentes called Calles "a failure, simple and complete." However, at a vitavised debate on 5 January 1926, both candidates were wary and spoke guardedly. In a campaign speech in Tampico on 10 January, Fuentes said that he considered both the slavery and annexation issues closed. Sobel states that Calles had only run for a second term in order to protect the freedmen. Once Fuentes accepted manumission as an accomplished fact, Calles lost interest in the contest, and the remainder of the campaign was dull, with neither candidate making a major speech. On election day, Fuentes won every state except the Libertarian stronghold of Arizona.
As he had indicated during the campaign, once he was in office, Fuentes ignored the freedmen, allowing the Manumission Bureau to carry on its work, and even increasing its budget in 1928. Instead, he focused his administration on reining in Kramer Associates. K.A.'s role in the manumission issue exposed its unpopularity among the Mexican people. Reformers who applauded Benedict's actions in ending slavery also advocated breaking up the company, and Mexicanos who had benefitted from Benedict's private policy of hiring and promoting them within the company were angered by his stance in favor of manumission. Fuentes himself sincerely felt that K.A. had become too powerful and influential in Mexican life, and he also feared that the company's interests in the Far East would conflict with those of the U.S.M.
Given K.A.'s power in the Mexican legislature, Fuentes knew he would be unable to gain passage of legislation nationalizing the company; and given its control of the Mexican economy, any attempt to reduce its profits via redistributive taxation would lead to a recession. Fuentes finally chose to follow the example of North American Governor-General Henderson Dewey's effort to reform his country's National Financial Administration. Dewey had created a commission to investigate the actions of the N.F.A., and that commission's findings, along with the N.F.A.'s own ill-considered objections to them, helped turn public opinion in the C.N.A. in Dewey's favor. On 17 June 1929, one month after Dewey reported the results of his own study, Fuentes announced the formation of the Zwicker Commission, headed by Secretary of the Exchequer Stanley Zwicker, which would "investigate large corporations in the United States of Mexico and make suggestions for legislation." In this way, Fuentes would be able to bring pressure to bear on members of Congress to support increased regulation of K.A., in spite of the company's financial control of them.
Benedict had retired as President of K.A. two months after Fuentes' election, and his successor, John Jackson, intended to do everything in his power to thwart Fuentes. Thanks to spies embedded within the Mexican government, Jackson was able to learn of Fuentes' plans for a commission well in advance, and a month and a half prior to Fuentes' announcement, Jackson called a press conference in which he announced a major restructuring of K.A.
Over the next four years, K.A. was in a permanent state of reorganization, which hindered the Zwicker Commission's investigation. Although Sobel does not say so, it seems likely that Jackson was also able to suborn members of the Commission to sabotage their own investigation. Unlike Dewey's efforts in the C.N.A., media reports in the U.S.M. depicted the Commission's efforts as inept, and celebrated Jackson as a genius. Again, although Sobel does not say so, it is likely that Jackson was able to use his financial power to influence media coverage of "the Fuentes-Jackson duel." Rumors began to spread that Jackson himself would challenge Fuentes in the 1932 Mexican elections, or support a Libertarian candidate against Fuentes. However, Sobel quotes Stanley Tulin to the effect that Jackson preferred Fuentes to a possibly more competent and dangerous successor. "The President is a dolt;" Tulin quotes Jackson as saying. "His successor might have more intelligence, and cause us real trouble."
Fuentes was renominated by the U.M.P. at its convention in 1932, and pledged himself "to the completion of this great task before us. If we end the influence of this behemoth over our lives and do nothing else in the next six years, posterity will consider our efforts well worth it." Sobel states that many of the convention delegates disagreed, but were unable to speak out against Fuentes.
The Libertarians nomated Senator Alvin Silva of Durango, and drafted a platform calling for increased public works, encouragement of private initiative in the states, better relations with other nations, and increased social insurance, as well as a vague pledge for "effective action to control big business." Silva attacked Fuentes' ineptitude "even when he concentrates his attention on a single objective," while Fuentes denounced Silva as a tool of K.A. and a pawn of Jackson. On election day, Fuentes won only the states of Alaska and Durango, while losing heavily in the Kramer-dominated states of California and Arizona.
Although Sobel depicts Fuentes' efforts to rein in K.A. as unsuccessful, Jackson evidently felt that his control of the Mexican political establishment had been permanently damaged, and in February 1936 he announced that he was moving K.A.'s corporate headquarters from San Francisco to Luzon in the Philippines. Fuentes remained a leading figure in the U.M.P., and in the 1938 Mexican elections he again sought the party's presidential nomination. Although Jackson had grown to distrust Silva and sought to engineer his defeat, he continued to oppose Fuentes, and instead supported the candidacy of Governor Richard Brace of Jefferson. Brace won the U.M.P. nomination, but was defeated by Silva in the general election.
Sobel makes no further mention of Fuentes after his 1938 nomination bid.
Sobel's sources for the life and career of Pedro Fuentes are Miguel San Martín's The Bloody Season (Mexico City, 1930); Zwicker's The Heart and Soul of Pedro Fuentes: A Portait from Life (Mexico City, 1935); Winston Clark's The Calles-Fuentes Campaign of 1926 (Mexico City, 1945); Dwight Hermon's Starkism in Mexico: The Public Career of Pedro Fuentes (New York, 1955); Harry McGraw's Calles and Fuentes: The Yin and Yang (Mexico City, 1959); and Tulin's The Kramer Associates: The Benedict Years (London, 1971) and The Kramer Associates: The Jackson Years (London, 1974).
This was the Featured Article for the week of 6 April 2014.
|Heads of State of the U.S.M.|
|Andrew Jackson • Miguel Huddleston • Pedro Hermión • Raphael Blaine • Hector Niles • Arthur Conroy • Omar Kinkaid • George Vining • Benito Hermión • Martin Cole • Anthony Flores • Victoriano Consalus • Emiliano Calles • Pedro Fuentes • Alvin Silva • Felix Garcia • Vincent Mercator • Raphael Dominguez|