Sunday, June 26

The other stories behind Mexico’s 200 years of independence

This Monday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will celebrate 200 years since what is known in Mexico as the consummation of independence, on September 28, 1821. It is one of the 15 events that the presidency organized this year to commemorate five centuries of the fall of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, and two centuries since independence, which for the president this last event would correspond to the First Transformation – and his election, the fourth.

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On Thursday, September 27, 1821, the so-called Trigarante army entered Mexico City and the following day signed an act declaring the independence of New Spain to create the new ‘Mexican Empire’. “The Mexican nation that, for three hundred years, has not had its own will or free use of the voice, today comes out of the oppression it has lived through,” says the document signed by 35 men, the first of whom was Colonel. Agustín de Iturbide. The colonel had fought on the side of the royalists initially, but in February 1821 he made an alliance with the rebel leader Vicente Guerrero – known as the Plan of Iguala – which was key to the September victory against the Spanish. “The heroic efforts of his sons have been, and are consummated, the eternally memorable undertaking,” reads the Sept. 28 document.

To celebrate the date, the Bank of Mexico has decided to draw a new image on 20-peso bills: a famous anonymous painting from the 19th century that imagines the arrival of that army in today’s capital, entitled Solemn and peaceful entry of the Army of the Three Guarantees to Mexico City. In this one, Iturbide is seen in the center and on horseback, surrounded by Mexican flags, but also many politicians, religious leaders, or military men like Guerrero. It is not a photo of the moment, but a glorious version of the event. And, in addition, of the centrality of Iturbide for the consummation, a version of many interpretations that have been constructed in Mexico about what happened in 1821 but that has been questioned.

“What happens with this period of history is that almost always attention has been paid to Iturbide, either to say that he is a hero or that he is a villain,” explains UNAM historian Alfredo Ávila to El PAÍS. “It is necessary to take away this leading role from Iturbide, stop seeing him as the one who did everything, because all the viceregal commanders, royalists, and insurgents were present,” as the table shows with all those who surround the colonel. However, Iturbide, Ávila explains, was the first to write himself at the center of this narrative. “Iturbide did a lot for us to follow that story: to begin with, he decided to enter the city on September 27, which was his birthday,” he says.

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'Solemn and peaceful entry of the Army of the Three Guarantees to Mexico City'.
‘Solemn and peaceful entry of the Army of the Three Guarantees to Mexico City’.INAH

The Spanish troops that dominated Mexico City were actually already withdrawing from the beginning of September, acknowledging their defeat, but Iturbide decided to wait for his birthday to enter the city as a form of “self-prominence.” Years later he wrote his memoirs and, explains Ávila, “there of course he says that he achieved the Plan of Iguala, that he achieved independence, and this was one of the sources from which historians lived for many years.”

One of the historians who has analyzed the way in which this year of independence has been remembered is Rodrigo Moreno Gutiérrez, also from UNAM. “There was that version of Iturbide as an epic feat in which he is a leading actor, and then that of other authors such as Vicente Rocafuerte, Guayaquileño, who in 1822 wrote from exile as an opponent to see that [el de Iturbide] It is a movement traitor to freedom and what should have happened was the establishment of a republic, ”Moreno explains to EL PAÍS.

Upon coming to power, Iturbide established a constitutional monarchy, of which he was briefly emperor, until his opponents succeeded in establishing the republic in 1924 and Iturbide went into exile. From that other vision, what happened in 1821 was something counterrevolutionary, anti-liberal, and there would be no ‘consummation’ of independence until the power of Iturbide was ended.

“This vision that there was a betrayal of independence was very valid in the debates of the 1970′s, when the role of Guerrero as a liberator was being discussed, and it was about recovering the figure of resistance of the insurgency of the time ”, explains Moreno. Iturbide, in the end, was not an insurgent like Guerrero, but a man who fought on the opposite side for many years. “To that extent, there were historiographical speeches that tried to establish that independence had not triumphed until the federal republic was established in 1824,” adds Moreno. In addition, among the complications of recognizing 1821 as a consummation, the professor explains, it is that he assumes that there was a beginning of that independence with the insurgent priest Hidalgo in 1810, despite the fact that Iturbide distanced himself from the rebels and their objectives. .

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President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has organized the 15 events of the year more in favor of that last interpretation in favor of the insurgents than for the entry of Iturbide in 1821. The first of the 15 events, in February, began by praising the virtues of Vicente Warrior; his last will be commemorating, on September 30, the warrior José María Morelos y Pavón.

“But it does not seem to me that the discussion has to end in false debates of Guerrero against Iturbide”, says Moreno about the commemoration of 1821. “It is no longer time to incorporate new fathers of the country, we do not need more fathers of the country, of true ”, he adds. “Processes of this magnitude must be recovered from a more collective, more conflictive, less progressive, and more genuinely historical point of view.”

An actor characterized as Vicente Guerrero during an event for the insurgent's 190 death anniversary, on February 14 of this year.
An actor characterized as Vicente Guerrero during an event for the insurgent’s 190 death anniversary, on February 14 of this year.Hector Guerrero

In the more recent debates there has been an effort to recover other corners of this independence process, such as those of the rebels from provinces who lived independently before 1821, or from the point of view of indigenous peoples. “For the Indians [la consumación] It could be February 12, 1822, the day the Towns’ Municipal Fund Plan was promulgated, extinguishing the last burdens that weighed on tributaries since the 16th century, “historian Martha Terán recently wrote in an article in the magazine Nexus. The date of 1821, then, was not the consummation of independence for everyone. Not even for Spain, which did not recognize the independence of its former colony until 1836.

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“The people of that time were not born with a national sentiment, but rather that identity is being transformed, and what I think is important to understand in 1821 are those transformations,” Andrea Rodríguez Tapia, doctor in history from the Colegio de Mexico. Rodríguez has studied how among the so-called royalists who opposed independence there were Americans who defended the status quo “because they still do not conceive this as a struggle as two nations, because they know that there were not these two nations.” That is no longer a story of national heroes and foreign villains, but of people who very slowly manage to question the ways of governing themselves without being clear about what they are throwing themselves at.

There were other historical processes that take away the role of the heroes of the country and give more relevance to what was happening outside of Mexico to understand the consummation of independence: the war in Spain between liberals and the absolutism of Fernando VII; or the previous independence processes in Buenos Aires, Peru or Colombia. “We forget that in reality all these leaders lived in a world that was interconnected, they had references, the news circulated, the press circulated,” says Rodríguez. Could Iturbide or Guerrero have been heroes without the war that weakened Spain or without the independence of the south of the continent?

“The focus of the president’s speech on 200 years will surely also respond to the context in which we are, because no interpretation is alien to its own reality,” says the historian. “In that sense, the interpretation that Andrés Manuel López Obrador will show will tell us more about this present, and about its administration, and historians of the future will see it that way. Each story, each story that we leave behind, is a part of us ”.

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