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Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011

Mexico's convoluted war for independence
may have lessons for today

Mexico's Congress, formed 190 years ago today,
needs to finally get its act together

190 years ago today, on Sept. 28, 1821, Mexico's Congress announced the "Mexican Empire" as an independent nation. Perhaps the oddest contradiction about Mexican independence from Spain, which took 11 years, is that the general who marched the forces into Mexico City to consummate the nation's sovereignty was a soldier who had fought revolutionaries tooth and nail following the Sept. 16, 1810 cry for independence. Gen. Agustín de Iturbide also had the forces formally march into Mexico on Sept. 27, so that the event would occur on his 38th birthday.

agustin de iturbideThe congress named Iturbide president on Sept. 28, 1821. On May 19 of the following year, the Congress named him emperor, and he crowned himself on July 21. (It is as if Benedict Arnold re-switched sides and became king of the United States!) There were many republican-minded Mexicans opposed to a monarchy, however, and Iturbide abdicated on March 23, 1823 and went into exile on May 11. He returned to what is present-day Tamaulipas on July 24, 1824, with the idea of leading opposition to what was perceived as the threat of a Spanish reinvasion. He was executed five days later. Later, he became revered as an independence hero and his remains are buried in a chapel at the Mexico City cathedral.

Mexico had a long, 11-year war for independence, and many issues involved in the conflict were papered over and never seemed to get resolved, just as many issues in Mexico today are papered over and never seem to get resolved either.

The lesson for Mexico: Get your act together!

Why is Mexico called Mexico?

One of the names put forth was Mexico Septentrional, another, Anáhuac

relatos historia de mexico "Mexico is born: What name for the new country?" is the title of an article in the magazine Relatos e Historias En México this month written by historian Alfredo Ávila Rueda.

The country could have been called América Septentrional, the name used in the Plan de Iguala Gen. Agustín de Iturbide signed Feb. 24, 1821, with independence leaders Vicente Guerrero and Guadalupe Victoria, both of whom later became presidents of Mexico. América Septentrional means Northern America and refers to the seven stars of the Big Dipper.

The name could have been Anáhuac, the name the Aztecs gave the territory they ruled.

Spain's colony was called New Spain. México was the name of the city where the Spanish viceroy lived. The Gulf of Mexico was a term often used for the body of water between present-day Mexico and Florida.

Ávila Rueda writes that those fighting for independence in the beginning did not seem to care much for the term Mexico, because it was associated with the seat of the Spanish colonial government. The publications produced by the insurgents, such as El Despertador Mexicano or El Ilustrador Mexicano, called on "all the inhabitants of América" to fight against the gachupines of Mexico City. But Ávila Rueda said the term América wound up being too vague to help drive an insurgency. The terms América Septentrional and Anahuac started being used more.

In October 1814, the Congress of Anáhuac, meeting in Apatzingán in what is now Michoacan because fighting precluded it from meeting in Chilpancingo in what is now Guerrero state, proclaimed the "Constitutional Decree for the Liberty of Mexican America."

Ávila Rueda says historian Ernesto Lemoine says the name "Mexican Republic" was first used by Cuban adventurer José Alvarez de Toledo, editor of the Louisiana newspaper El Mexicano that reported news of the revolution of the "United Mexican States." Alvarez called insurgent leader José María Morelos "president of the United States of Mexico." Ávila Rueda said Morelos, who was executed after being captured in 1815, wound up adopting the term "United States of Mexico."

servando teresa de mierThe writer Servando Teresa y Mier (right) preferred the term Anáhuac. He became a member of Mexico's second Congress.

Ávila Rueda writes that in 1821, in the bloom of independence, neo-Aztec references were abundant as people imagined the resurrection of the "Mexican Empire" conquered three centuries before by the Spaniards. The Sept. 28, 1821 Act of Independence from the new nation's Congress says the Mexican nation was shaking off 300 years of Spanish oppression. Still, it never specifically called the country Mexico.

In 1823, some opposed to a strong central government sought the use of the term Anáhuac for the new nation. But the term Mexico wound up winning out. The 1824 Constitution called the new country the United States of Mexico.

Felipe Calderón tried to change country's name in 2003

carlos salinas de gortariIn 1993, shortly before all hell broke loose in Mexico, Mexico's Congress was exploring the idea of renaming the country "Mexico" instead of "The United States of Mexico." The idea, backed by then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was cast aside after the Zapatista rebellion on Jan. 1, 1994 and the March 23, 1994 assassination of Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana. (That day, March 23, is the same day that Iturbide abdicated.) Among other notable 1994 events: Salinas' former brother-in-law was felipe calderonassassinated in September, and in December, the peso collapsed.

In 2003, then-federal deputy Felipe Calderón, who now is president, also proposed changing the country's name to just México instead of the United States of Mexico. Story, La Jornada.