The 20th Century
The Mexican Revolution
Several decades of political oppression under Díaz and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor sowed the seeds for a full-scale revolution. The country’s underrepresented workers and peasants—led by liberal Francisco Madero and aided by a bandit named Pancho Villa and a peasant named Emiliano Zapata—rose up against Díaz. The rebels prevailed, but through the course of the conflict, they divided into factions, one of which, the Magonistas, took control of Tijuana in 1911. Madero was executed in 1913.
Following several more years of instability, revolutionary Venustiano Carranza became president and drafted the Constitution of 1917, which returned lands to the peasants as cooperatively owned ejidos. Three years later, supporters of Carranza’s political opponent, Álvaro Obregón, overthrew Carranza.
Obregón stayed in office four years and initiated more educational reforms. Plutarco Elías Calles, who succeeded him in 1924, redistributed three million hectares (7.5 million acres) of land and helped establish the National Revolutionary Party (PNR), a regime that would maintain a tight grip on the country for the next 70 years.
Northern Baja began to develop a tourism-driven economy around the time of the U.S. Prohibition, in 1920. With alcoholic beverages illegal north of the border, U.S. residents flocked to Tijuana and Mexicali to drink and gamble in newly opened casino resorts. Flush with cash, the cities began to invest in manufacturing and agricultural infrastructure. Building of the Transpeninsular Highway began in 1927. The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 caused a deep recession just a few years later.
Nationalist Reforms and World War II
In 1938 PNR candidate Lázaro Cárdenas, a mestizo, became president of Mexico and enacted far-reaching social reforms. He redistributed 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres) to the ejidos and established Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), as a government-owned oil monopoly. Foreign investors fled the country as a result. Under Cárdenas, the PNR became the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which would control the Mexican government until 2000.
In 1942 the United States allowed Mexican citizens to work north of the border for short periods of time under the Bracero Program, which stayed in place until 1962 and contributed to rapid urban development along the international border.
Following World War II, Mexico enjoyed steady growth in its manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Northern Baja became Mexico’s 29th state in 1952, with a population of 80,000 (the minimum required for statehood). Southern Baja remained a sparsely populated territory of isolated ranches and fishing settlements. A small number of Mexicans from the mainland visited La Paz to shop in the duty-free zone. But commerce by land was difficult because it took 10 days to drive the rough road from Tijuana to La Paz. A paved highway was needed to link the prosperous border zone with the rest of the peninsula.
Construction of the 1,700-kilometer (1,054-mi) Transpenisular Highway (Mexico 1) was completed in 1974, opening the door to greater commerce and tourism. Baja California Sur became Mexico’s 30th state less than one year later. In 1975 the government decided to invest in tourism infrastructure along the corridor between San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, setting the stage for the destination resort we know today as Los Cabos.
Baja California (Norte) and Baja California Sur are socially more progressive than the majority of mainland states. In 1989 BCN elected a National Action Party candidate as governor, becoming the first state in the nation to vote in an opposition party to the PRI. For its part, BCS voted in a leftist coalition party consisting of the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, or Democratic Revolutionary Party) and the PT (Partido Trabajadores, or Workers Party). These victories represented major milestones in Mexican politics, long notorious for election fraud and corruption.
From Devaluation to Democracy
Mexico experienced another period of instability under President Ernesto Zedilo when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect in 1994. Indigenous uprisings in Chiapas on the mainland, the assassination of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana, and the exposing of systemic corruption at the highest level of government scared investors out of the country, triggering a currency crisis and severe recession in early 1995.
But in the final years of the century, a grassroots movement succeeded in gradually and peacefully transforming the country into an open, multiparty democracy. In July 2000 the Mexican people elected the first non-PRI candidate in 70 years to the presidency, Vicente Fox of the National Action Party. Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy, written by New York Times reporters Julia Preston and Samuel Dillon, chronicles this period of change in an engaging, narrative format.
With its close ties to the U.S. economy, Baja California emerged from the currency crisis stronger in many ways than the mainland. But it faces grave challenges today in the form of organized crime, human trafficking, and corruption among law enforcement officials.
In July 2006 Felipe Calderón (PAN) was elected president of Mexico in a contentious election by a margin of only 0.56 percent over López Obrador (PRD). Amidst allegations of voting irregularities by the losing party, the initial election results were challenged. The ghosts of Mexico’s past civil unrest hung in the air during the months it took to confirm the initial results.
During his term, Calderón took on the drug cartels and corruption at the city level. The Tijuana city police force had its guns confiscated and officers temporarily armed themselves with slingshots. Narco-violence raged on at press time, although it was confined to the border region and a few mainland states.
© Nikki Goth Itoi from Moon Baja, 9th Edition