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“Yo Fui Plutarco Elias Calles” (I Was Plutarco Elias Calles)
By Sal Osio, JD
From the Publisher's Corner
Mi Punto de Vista
“Yo Fui Plutarco Elias Calles” (I Was Plutarco Elias Calles)
by Alfredo Elias Calles
Book Review
By Sal Osio, JD, Publisher

 The author becomes the surrogate, the alter ego, of General Calles, as the latter is known even now, following his death in 1945. The author is the grandson of the General and becomes his spokesman. He relates the General’s memoirs in the first person. A reader becomes comfortable in the role, as the General ‘speaks from the grave,’ once it becomes evident that spiritually grandfather and grandson have blended in a transcendence that accounts for the fusion of their essence – the communion of their souls in the sphere of the infinite.

 General Calles is credited in the history of Mexico as being the founder of the political apparatus, eventually known as the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) that brought peace and stability to the country without the bloodshed that previously commanded the transfer of power. The PRI provided Mexico with progress and stability commencing with the presidency of the General and continuing though current history. It may be rightfully said the Calles is synonymous with the creation of the modern Mexican state.

 Through his grandson, General Calles shares with us his private thoughts and intimacies, his zeal and dedication to the creation of an independent state based on constitutional government, free of the yoke of the Catholic Church and the wealthy class, the unholy alliance which monopolized the wealth and power of the nation at the expense of the people.

He shares his experience in being seduced by the revolution of 1910 which overthrew the thirty year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and established the Mexican Constitution of 1917, following the assassination of Francisco Madero, the philosopher and ideologue of the Revolution.

His advent from teacher, rancher and entrepreneur, and eventually to General under the auspices of his lifelong friend and mentor, Alvaro Obregon, and comradeship with “Fito” de la Huerta – the ‘Three Sonora Musketeers’ as they were known - is filled with the political intrigue and treachery, based on greed and power, that was as great an enemy as the opposition of the clergy and aristocracy.

He relates the excesses of revolutionaries such as Pancho Villa and even the usurpation of Venustiano Carranza, who succeeded Madero as constitutional head of state.

 As he ascends to power in 1924 for a four year term as president of the republic, following the presidency of his dearest friend and mentor, Obregon, Calles tells us of his many challenges, primarily the state of the economy and, more daunting, the constant threat of the United States who sought to control the petroleum production of Mexico.

Threatened with an invasion and/or military excursion, one of several previously undertaken by his northern neighbor, President Elias Calles ordered his general, Lazaro Cardenas, to destroy the oil fields if the United States made any move to confiscate Mexico’s patrimony.

At once, “El Hombre Fuerte” - the strong man - of Mexico, with limited resources, after a revolution which emaciated the country and killed some one million of its citizens, faced with the threat of its powerful and imperialistic neighbor to the north, attacked by the controlled media and vested interests of the clergy and the rich, a society grounded on ignorance and poverty, and, surrounded by the treachery of ambitious conspirators aspiring to power, took the reins of the government, as if riding his steed, with firmness, discipline and resoluteness. He became an authoritarian strong man in the cusp of dictatorship.

 A tragic event in the life of General Calles was the assassination of his closest friend, Obregon, in 1928, when he was elected to the presidency for a second term upon completion of Calles’ presidency. Although the issue of reelection was negated as a possibility among the three musketeers, Obregon had reneged on this commitment contrary to the understanding with Calles, justified on the basis that Mexico needed a strong man and lacked one among the candidates for office. Although Calles had acquiesced to Obregon, clearly he did not approve, a fact well know to the political elite.

As a consequence there was suspicion that Calles may have had a hand on the murder of Obregon.  In fact, a Catholic zealot had engineered the assassination. Following the death of Obregon, by default, Calles became a mentor to the successive presidents, earning the title ‘Jefe Maximato.”  His stewardship was criticized by his retractors as a dictatorship de facto.

 For twenty years that Cardenas climbed the ranks of power and became a general, he was the subordinate and protégée of Calles. On numerous occasions Cardenas expressed his loyalty, devotion, gratitude and friendship to Calles. Soon after he became president, however, a disagreement in ideology ensued between the mentor and his protégée. Cardenas was a convert to bolshevism as practiced by the Soviet Union. Calles was opposed. Cardenas felt insecure that he was being overshadowed by his mentor and, therefore, felt compelled to be recognized without reproach. Accordingly, he masterminded a plot to get rid of Calles.

 Since the presidency controlled the press Cardenas once more planted the accusation, since then discredited, that Calles was the author of Obregon’s assassination; that Calles was conspiring to overthrow the constitutional government and usurp power as a dictator; that Calles had enriched himself and his family and friends during his presidency; and, that Calles indiscriminately had persecuted and slaughtered the Catholic faithful. Without access to the press,

Calles was unable to defend himself. But, more important, Calles chose to subordinate his interests and reputation in order to avoid an armed conflict that would ensue if he sought truth and justice.  He was exiled by Cardenas and lived in San Diego, California – a welcome reprise in his personal life - for the six years of Cardenas presidency.

 Cardenas became a Mexican hero and a living legend when he expropriated the petroleum from the U.S. interests, which process had actually commenced with his predecessors, particularly Obregon and Calles. In short, Cardenas took credit for a fait accompli that belonged collectively to the leaders of the Mexican Revolution. In essence Cardenas double crossed his benefactor to take credit for his deeds and to elevate himself at his expense.

The author makes this point, which is largely ignored in Mexican history which idolizes Cardenas, with a touch of irony as General Calles condemns his ‘friend’ for the treachery – “La quema de Judas” – considering that Calles was without equal the person most responsible for Cardenas ascendancy to the presidency.

 All along Calles relates to us his private moments, his family life and personal life style, his mystic encounters with “La Buki” a Yaqui Indian woman by adoption, his love affairs, the relations with his closest friends and, more important, his intrinsic values and ambitions.

 This insight is based on the author’s personal fusion with his grandfather, his pedigree, and as the beneficiary of numerous anecdotes of the General’s life related to him by family members, friends and relatives. And this relationship, spiritual as it is, makes this first person biography unique and priceless. Clearly, not a living soul could reach the breath and depth that the author, Alfredo Elias Calles, has achieved. When coupled with the author’s command of the Spanish language and free verse, poetic prose, writing style sprinkled with satire and, in select cases, sarcasm, the historical narration is the source of gratification and erudition to the reader – a treat to our Spanish language audience and, hopefully, in the near future as a translation in English may be forthcoming, of equal benefit to the rest of our readership.
“Yo Fui Plutarco Elias Calles” by Alfredo Elias Calles is available in Spanish at Amazon
Sal Osio is the Publisher of Hispanic Visa.com. Contact at sposio@aol.com