Wednesday, October 27

Oaxaca Street Names: Porfirio Díaz

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You walk down them every day, you say their names all the time, but do you know what they mean? This is the section of Que Pasa Oaxaca where we explore the story behind Oaxaca’s street names!

Prolongación de Porfirio Díaz – or ‘profiterole street’ as some of my acquaintances like to call it – is named for a controversial, you could even say infamous, figure in Mexican history.

Porfirio Díaz hailed from Oaxaca and was President of Mexico for 35 years until 1911 – so long that his period of rule is known as the ‘Porfiriato’.  

It took Díaz a while to become the President of Mexico, but he wanted it really, really badly. After leading a successful military career in his youth he attempted several revolts starting from 1871, but wasn’t successful until 1877 when he first became president.

Turns out Díaz liked being president so he, in a classic dictator move, changed the constitution to remove restrictions on re-election. During his term his focus was on stability for Mexico and economic growth – which sounds nice on paper, but in reality included taking control of the courts, smothering the media, quashing opposition and giving government positions to his friends.

He was deft at keeping people sweet and playing people off each other – buying people off by offering them positions they couldn’t turn down, and all the while he managed to stay tight with both the Catholic Church and the Masons. The kind of political fodder that would make for a gripping Netflix series.

Díaz favoured the ‘trickle down’ approach to economics; opening the country up to foreign investment and letting landowners run rampant on indigenous owned land.

For some middle class Mexicans the Porfiriato is remembered as a time of incredible growth for the country, when miles of railway tracks were built, mining flourished and the peso was at it strongest.

On the other hand, Díaz was a tyrant who completely neglected Mexico’s rural population.  During his rule the rich got richer and the masses got left behind.  As a result, this atmosphere of inequality generated racism, classism, exclusion and slavery.  Education, health and employment were not a priority and thousands of subsistence farmers were dispossessed from their land.

Eventually the discontent spilled over and the end of Díaz’s reign in 1911 marked the start of the Mexican Revolution: but that is another story altogether.

Díaz was forced to flee to France and died in exile; he is buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris and sporadic attempts have been made to return his remains to Mexico, albeit without much success.

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