10 Ways Mexican Dictator Porfirio Diaz Actually Made a Positive Impact
Porfirio Diaz was the president of Mexico for 30 years—longer than anyone else in the country’s history. He led the country from 1876 to 1910 (with a four-year pause). He was a military commander and strategist who led the Mexican troops against the French.
Given that Porfirio Diaz pretended to remain in power forever, history remembers him as a dictator. But we can’t overlook all of the things Mexico has to thank him for, including:
- construction of streets, monuments, and buildings
- advances in science, culture, and arts
- diplomatic activity that led to a friendly relationship with the United States
- making Mexico an attractive investment destination
Read on to learn about the positive aspects of the Porfirio Diaz presidency. Find out why he was a respected and beloved head of state before becoming one of the greatest villains in the history of Mexico and the man who spurred the Mexican Revolution.
Who Was Porfirio Diaz?
José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori was born in Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca in Mexico on September 15, 1830. His presidency lasted for more than 30 years; this period of Mexican history is known as Porfiriato.
He was a great military commander who led Mexican troops during the Reform War and French Second Invasion. After winning the Battle of Puebla on Cinco de Mayo in 1862, President Benito Juárez named Diaz division general and granted him the military command of four states.
Porfirio rose up in arms against President Benito Juárez with the Plan de la Noria (Noria Plan). He assumed the Presidency in 1876.
The Porfiriato was the period of time when Porfirio Diaz was president. The era was characterized by the economical growth and modernization of Mexico.
The development of capitalism and proliferation of foreign investment led Porfirio Diaz to create national institutions, railways, telecommunications, schools, and industries. This led to greater political and economic stability, new and better hygiene habits, strong foreign policies, and the progress of culture and science.
Many local businesses were named after his ideas, using words such as:
- progreso – progress
- victoria – victory
- avance – advance
- triunfo – triumph
Porfirio Diaz’s True Legacy
Porfirio Diaz believed in democracy and hard work. Here are 10 ways in which he actually made a positive impact on Mexico.
1. Creation of Institutions
One of the most notable and transcendent legacies that Porfirio Diaz left after him was the institutionalization of the country.
From 1821 to 1877, nine individuals would have served 6-year presidential terms in Mexico. Instead, 44 different presidents and emperors led the country during this time!
Porfirio Diaz distributed the public affairs of the Executive Power into seven State Secretaries.
2. Political and Economic Stability
Porfirio Diaz inherited a bankrupt public treasury and international debt when he became president. He reduced costs, managed the resources better, created agreements with creditors to defer payments, established fixed interest rates, and restructured the internal and external debt, which granted Mexico the confidence of investors.
Porfirio created the National Mexican Bank, promoted national and international commerce, and appointed a cabinet that was made of people of diverse ideologies and backgrounds.
3. Construction of Railways
Porfirio Diaz implemented the construction of railways throughout the country. They soon became a symbol of progress.
By 1911, Mexico had more than 12,427 miles (20,000 km) of track. Railway construction contributed to Mexico’s economic stability and the conservation of social peace.
4. Creation of a National Education System
One of the main concerns of the Porfiriato was to educate all Mexicans. Porfirio Diaz wanted to create a standardized educational system. It mainly focused on the sciences and history.
The system incorporated many ideologies and debates of the time that made it a modern pedagogy. As a result, more kids attended school and became literate. Vocational and higher education reached unprecedented levels in terms of quality and number of students.
Porfirio Diaz created laws that made all Mexican schools secular, free, and compulsory. He appointed a Vigilance Committee to ensure that parents and guardians would comply with the constitutional obligation to send their children to school.
He also founded schools for teachers and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (National Autonomous University of Mexico – UNAM) which today ranks as one of the best in the world.
5. Cultural and Scientific Advancement
Porfirio inaugurated the most important archeological pieces of Mexico, including the Calendario Azteca (Aztec Calendar). He divided the National Museum into the Natural History and Archeology Museums.
The peaceful era of the Porfiriato allowed for the development and funding of culture and science in Mexico. Porfirio Diaz thought that any advance in science would positively impact the economy. He founded institutions, cultural and scientific societies, and public libraries.
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6. Communications and Public Works
Diaz made streets, highways, and public works to boost the country’s economy. All national communications services were centralized. These included telephones, telegraphs, monuments, lighthouses, railways, bridges, lakes, steamways, postal service, roads, canals, and drainage.
Porfirio Diaz was greatly influenced by French culture. That’s why many roads, houses, and monuments in Mexico City look, specifically in Polanco, Condesa, Downtown, and Reforma are similar to the ones in France.
By the end of his 30-year term, he inaugurated El Ángel de la Independencia (The Angel of Independence). The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) was completed shortly after the Revolution.
7. Foreign Policy
Porfirio Diaz modified laws, restructured the economy, and granted attractive concessions like tax exemption to attract foreign investors. As soon as he opened those doors, a huge amount of capital and technology flowed in.
Intense diplomatic activity and the fulfillment of external debt commitments that resulted in stable relationships were characteristic of the Porfiriato.
A commission was created to regulate financial agreements between the U.S. and Mexico. Commercial relations with France, Germany, Spain, and the UK had unprecedented reach. Porfirio Diaz sent his son as Mexico’s ambassador to Japan.
His administration had concrete objectives and strategies. Under Porfirio Diaz, for the first time, the US and Mexico were in a peaceful and supportive relationship.
8. Public Health
The Porfirio Diaz administration published a “How to be Healthy” manual. Porfirio thought that every well-respected nation had to have public health as a priority.
In the Porfiriato, no home could be built without basic services, lighting, and ventilation, and enough space for each of the people living in it. Public bathrooms appeared and everyone had to bathe, use soap, and brush their teeth regularly.
9. Natural Resources
Porfirio Diaz exported minerals and agricultural products like
- café – coffee
- cacao – cocoa
- hule – rubber
- chicle – gum
At haciendas (estates), agriculture quickly moved into international exportation. Mining was one of the most developing industries during the Porfiriato. Mexico still leads in silver production to this day. The exportation of minerals and oil soon became a great attraction to investors.
Mexico also started to export fabrics, stationary, footwear, stone slabs, cement, glass, steel, and food.
10. Naval Expansion
Porfirio Diaz created the Military Navy School and three other institutions to prepare soldiers for war at sea. As sea traffic increased, so did the quantity and quality of commercial ports including Veracruz, Salina Cruz, Manzanillo, and Tampico.
Why Porfirio Diaz Is Considered a Villain
Up until now, Porfirio Diaz presidency sounds respectable, uplifting, and even enviable. So why is he considered a villain?
Inequality, indigenous exploitation, and repression of the free press were factors that made the last years of Diaz’s government a ticking bomb. His positivist philosophy valued “order and progress” more than social wellness.
Porfirio Diaz pushed for the first industrial revolution in Mexico, but that created an unequal development that benefited certain people, groups, regions, and industries. He promoted private property, but only a few landlords controlled more than half of Mexico’s territory while 95% of the rural workers had no land at all.
Moving Toward Revolution
These are some of the things Diaz did that led to the Mexican Revolution:
- Modified the 1857 Constitution to allow re-election
- Approved a law that granted mining exploitation to the US and the UK
- Struggled with corruption, electoral fraud, socioeconomic breaches, and succession
- Responded to social tension with repression
- Promised to end his presidency but stayed anyway
Union strikes accumulated and rebellions officially started on November 20, 1910 and led to the Mexican Revolution. Porfirio Diaz and the federal military forces faced defeats. He resigned and left the country in 1911 to live in exile in Paris until his death.
Learn the Language of Mexico
The Porfiriato is one of the most engaging periods of Mexican history. Why not learn about the heroes, leaders, and villains of Mexico in Spanish? Learning Spanish is a game-changer that opens cultural doors and exciting job opportunities for you. Empower yourself to talk with more people throughout Latin America and in the US, as well.
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