Streets of Mexico – April 2023

Vicente Guerrero

Vicente Guerrero lived by the coup, and so died by it. Of African, Native, and Spanish blood (he went by the nickname of “El Negro” as a child), his mixed heritage probably spelled his doom.

During the war for independence (1810-1821), when his father and uncle insisted he present his sword to the Spanish viceroy as a sign of loyalty, he refused, stating, “La patria es primero” (“The fatherland is first,” which became the motto of the state named after him). Instead, he joined Morelos’s army to fight for independence. After Morelos’s death, he became the only remaining revolutionary commander, utilizing ingenious guerilla tactics to fight the loyalist commander, Iturbide, to a stalemate. Guerrero sent him repeated pleas to join the cause of independence.

When Spain adopted a liberal constitution that threatened Church power, Iturbide finally accepted Guerrero’s offer. He proposed The Plan of Iguala, Clause 12 of which must have appealed to Guerrero: “All inhabitants… without distinction of their European, African or Indian origins, are citizens… with full freedom to pursue their livelihoods according to their merits and virtues.” (Alas, it was but words.)

Once Guerrero and Iturbide joined forces, the revolution was essentially over.

Independence did not mean democracy, though. In fact, the Mexican congress chose Iturbide to be emperor. Even so, disappointed liberals in congress soon opposed him, which eventually convinced him to disband it, a decision that was his undoing.

Claiming to fight for the restoration of congress, Guerrero joined Santa Anna Guadalupe Victoria, and Nicolás Bravo in an armed coup. Later, when Guerrero lost Mexico’s second presidential election to a conservative, he and Santa Anna joined forces again in another coup. Guerrero became president . . . of dubious legitimacy. (And, thus, the two of them established a terrible but enduring precedent of violent coups.)

As president, Guerrero did succeed in abolishing slavery nationwide in 1829. But what went around came around, and Guerrero himself was ousted by yet another violent coup. Unlike other deposed Mexican leaders, however, such as both Iturbide and eventually even Santa Anna, he was not allowed to escape into exile. Convicted of treason (of all things!), he was put to death—a powerful warning to any other aspiring presidents of Native, African, or Mestizo blood.

Today, a Mexican state, several towns and innumerable streets honor Vicente Guerrero.

This is a selection from Ellison’s book, Mexican Streets: Tales of Tragedy and Triumph, to be published on Amazon this month.

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David Ellison
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