Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the names behind the names of the streets in old Vallarta, south of the Cuale and why they got the names they did. That was my first mistake; never ask “Why” in Mexico!
5 Febrero, the first street south of the river, relates to 5/Feb/1917, the date that the Mexican Constitution was introduced by the man we will be looking at later in the article. Next comes Aquiles Serdan, a bit of an asterisk to a footnote of Mexican revolutionary history. Then Calle Francisco Madero, named after “the father of the Revolution” who became President on 6th November 1911 and was gunned down fifteen months later. A block away from Madero is the street named after Lazero Cardenas, President from 1934 to 1940 who stuck his finger in the eye of the Brits and the Americans by nationalising the Mexican oil industry. But now we backtrack in time to 1917 but move a block further south to examine the reason why Calle Venustiano Carranaza is so named.
Venustiano was born in 1859, the eleventh child of fifteen in the family. I can only assume that his mother had such a wonderful sense of humour that she named a son after the Roman goddess, Venus, the goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility as well as heading the heavenly departments of victory, fertility and prostitution. That’s not a name I’d have wanted to defend in junior school. Venus took two wives who gave him six children. None of them took their father’s name!
Carranza was born into a fairly wealthy family in the state of Coahuila, a large state in the north that borders Texas. During the struggle against the dictator Diaz he joined Francisco Madero and was happy when Madero became President in 1911. When Madero was assassinated in 1913 Carranza raised an army to fight against the new President, Victoriano Huerta. Huerta fled to the United States, and with the help of his Constitutionalist Army, Carranza set up a provisional government in Mexico but was opposed by Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata and their opposition plunged the country into civil war. Carranza’s army, under General Álvaro Obregón, trashed the forces led by Pancho Villa and secured Carranza’s position as provisional president.
Although he claimed the presidency in 1914, Carranza was not officially named President under the new constitution until 1st May 1917. Carranza had a difficult hand to play and, unfortunately, achieved little social or economic change while he was in office. Mexico was in desperate shape in 1917 because the revolutionary fighting had decimated the economy, destroyed the nation’s food supply and caused social disruption.
Mexican politics is never easy. Venustiano Carranza’s term was due to end in December 1920 but he hadn’t achieved what he wanted and decided that his protégé should succeed him. That was not a popular decision with many Mexicans and Alvaron Obregon, his erstwhile general, decided to interfere for the good of the country and led an armed rebellion against Carranza in April 1920.
Obregón brought his army to Mexico City, driving Carranza and his supporters out. Carranza headed towards Veracruz to regroup, but his train was attacked and he was forced to abandon it. He fled into the mountains but that night, 21 May 1920, he was shot as he slept. President Madero had been assassinated in 1913 and seven years later President Carranza bit the bullet. Seems like it’s a tough job at the top.
Today, Venustiano Carranza is remembered as one of the “Big Four” of the Revolution, along with Zapata, Villa and Obregón. Although for most of the time between 1915 and 1920 he was more powerful than any of them, he is today probably the least remembered of the four.
His street has lots of good stuff on it. You could at the Malecon with a late breakfast at Daiquiri Dick’s and wander leisurely inland. Within a couple of blocks is the sports bar/restaurant, El Torito, which is an excellent place to watch the Grey Cup if you’re a CFL fan. After crossing Constitucion you’ll find the funky art and fabulous food of the El Sofa Café and, almost to Naranjo is the carniceria Colin, a butcher’s shop selling traditional cuts of meat. Pretty well at the end, is El Brujo, another restaurant well known to travellers and residents. So ends the third street in a row that was named for a Mexican President. That won’t be the case next week.