Victoriano Huerta (1854-1916) was a Mexican general and political leader who, in 1913, overthrew the first government to emerge from the Mexican Revolution and became the executive of a counterrevolutionary regime.
Victoriano Huerta was born of Huichol Indian parents in Colotlán, Jalisco, on Dec. 23, 1854. He received military training at the Chapultepec Military College. During the rule of Porfirio Díaz, Huerta's abilities brought him recognition and advancement to the rank of general. In 1901 he was in command of the military campaign which crushed the resistance of the Maya Indians. When Díaz's regime collapsed in 1911 and the aging dictator was forced into exile, Gen. Huerta commanded the escort which accompanied Díaz safely to Veracruz.
At the very time that Francisco Madero was endeavoring to arrange for the peaceful discharge of the revolutionary forces in Morelos, interim president Francisco de la Barra ordered Gen. Huerta to crush the peasant followers of Emiliano Zapata. When Madero, who wanted a peaceful solution, assumed the presidency, Huerta was sent into temporary retirement. Nonetheless, the impatient agrarians of Morelos rebelled against the new administration less than 3 weeks after it took office. When Pascual Orozco pronounced against Madero in February 1912 in northern Mexico with conservative backing, Huerta was recalled to active duty and, after careful preparations, crushed the rebellion. Returning to the capital, he was rankled by Madero's treatment of him.
The revolt led by Bernardo Reyes and Félix Díaz in February 1913 made it necessary for Madero once more to place his fate in the hands of Huerta. After the carnage in Mexico City known as the "Ten Tragic Days," Huerta made a deal with Félix Díaz to betray the Madero government. Madero and his vice president, Pino Suárez, were seized and, influenced by promises that they and their associates would be protected, resigned their posts. Huerta assumed the provisional presidency and, on the night of Feb. 22, 1913, while being transferred from the National Palace to prison, Madero and Pino Suárez were assassinated by their escort.
Although there is no evidence of Huerta's direct responsibility in the tragic events, he and his administration could not escape blame for the bloody trail which led to his secretary of war. Madero's martyrdom unified the divided revolutionaries, and United States president Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize a regime which had come to power through murder. Having outmaneuvered Félix Díaz, Huerta became president in a farcical October election and tended to conduct national business behind a bottle of cognac in the Café Colón.
The regime of the heavy-drinking Huerta became more oppressive the more desperate the leader became. Opposition was suppressed, and critics like Senator Belisario Domínguez met violent death. With the dissolution of Congress, all pretense of representative government ended. Venustiano Carranza became the first chief of the Constitutionalist movement to avenge Madero and reestablish constitutional government. These forces, led by Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Álvaro Obregón in the north and Zapata's guerrilla army in the south, were aided by the lifting of the United States arms embargo.
The brief arrest of some American sailors at Tampico (April 1914) became an "affair of honor" for President Wilson, who, to prevent a German arms shipment from reaching Huerta, ordered the occupation of Veracruz. This almost permitted Huerta to rally the nation behind him. Military victories by revolutionary forces—Villa at Torreón and at Zacatecas and Obregón on the west coast— splintered Huerta's army, and on July 15, 1914, Huerta escaped to Veracruz.
After living for a time in Forest Hills, N.Y., Huerta traveled to the southwest border to join other antiregime plotters. Arrested for conspiracy, he died at El Paso, Tex., on Jan. 13, 1916, shortly after being released for health reasons from Fort Bliss.
While there have been no full biographical studies of Huerta, there recently has developed a revisionist effort emphasizing the need for serious restudying of the man and his regime. This need was pointed out by William L. Sherman and Richard E. Greenleaf in Victoriano Huerta: A Reappraisal (1960). Details of Huerta's role in the De la Barra and Madero periods are to be found in Stanley R. Ross, Francisco I. Madero: Apostle of Mexican Democracy (1955). Two scholarly studies of diplomatic relations during Huerta's government are available: Peter Calvert, The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1914: The Diplomacy of Anglo-American Conflict (1968), and Kenneth J. Grieb, The United States and Huerta (1969). See also John Womack, Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (1969). □