The greatest upheaval in Latin America during the age of imperialism was the Mexican Revolution. For 35 years, one dictator, Porfirio Diaz, had dominated Mexico. He had permitted foreign companies to develop many of Mexico’s natural resources and had allowed major landowners to buy much of the country’s land from poor peasants. In 1910, when the aging Diaz jailed Francisco Madero, his opponent for the presidency, rebellion broke out.
Madero escaped and hoped for a general uprising that did not materialize. A guerrilla war broadened, though, and eventually put Madero in power in 1911. Counterrevolution followed, and in 1913 Victoriano Huerta, a government general, betrayed Madero and seized control of the government. Madero was taken prisoner and shot. A rebellion led by constitutionalist Venustiano Carranza against Huerta began and eventually developed into intense and prolonged civil war among various factions. Warfare dragged on for a decade and approximately 1 million lives were lost.
Underlying these struggles were widespread calls for rights to the land. The peasant leader Emiliano Zapata voiced these demands. The violence and unrest frightened American investors and the thousands of Americans who lived in Mexico. President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize Huerta’s government and openly supported Carranza. The idealistic Wilson opposed the Huerta regime because it had deposed Madero, whose movement Wilson had admired.
However, Wilson was at first reluctant to send troops into Mexico to protect American lives and property, deciding instead to wait and see what developed. In 1914, though, after the arrest of American soldiers, United States marines occupied the port at Veracruz, cutting off supplies and money to Huerta. Carranza’s revolt succeeded, but Pancho Villa, another revolutionary leader and rival, continued skirmishes with Carranza’s government.
Two years later, the United States sent troops into Mexico to capture Villa, who had raided a border town in New Mexico, killing several Americans. As American troops went deeper into Mexico, Carranza’s government became more upset. Tensions mounted, and for a time there was a threat of war. In 1917 the United States withdrew its troops from Mexico and focused on the world war that was taking place in Europe.