Cinco de Mayo: A consequence of French antisemitism
For the record, Mexican Independence Day is September 16th. On that day in 1810, Mexico became the last major Spanish colony in the western hemisphere to declare independence from the king of Spain—who just happened to have been taken prisoner by Napoleon. Being bi-coastal with a large land mass, Mexico had been until then the primary seat of Spanish government in the New World…and, again, was the last to separate from Spain.
It has been verging on becoming common knowledge that Cinco de Mayo is more celebrated in the United States than in Mexico. Los Angeles may be considered the epicenter for the origin of this tradition. Of course, L.A. and all of California were once part of Mexico and continue to be home to many people of Mexican ancestry. During WW2, Mexico was a component of the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Their industrial produce plus a fighter squadron aided the Allied effort.
The fifth of May commemorates the Mexican victory over French forces in the battle of Puebla in 1862. In March 1863 the French came back and were then victorious. They then occupied Mexico City and installed Maximillian I as Emperor of Mexico on April 10, 1864. And yet the struggle continued.
Emperor Maximillian I (public domain photo)
Why did France invade Mexico in the first place? This is where it gets complicated. Mexico was having sort of a civil war between “Liberals” and “Conservatives.” The Conservatives wanted to establish a monarchy and make Roman Catholicism the official state religion. The Liberals represented all those who disagreed. Benito Juarez was the leader of the Liberals, who achieved success in 1860…at least for a while. BTW, the American Civil War had some connection to all of this. Once the Confederacy was defeated, the United States began to supply assistance to the Juarez forces.
According to Frederick Morton in The Rothschilds (1962), the French financial entity Credit Mobilier was established to provide an alternative to the banking juggernaut of the Jewish Rothschilds. In order to successfully send top secret messages, the Rothschilds often employed carrier pigeons. Being crafty, they sent out a false message on a bird in such a way that Credit Mobilier agents were likely to intercept it. What was the message? Essentially: “Bet the farm on the new Mexican bond.” And that they did.
The Rothschilds knew that the Juarez government had little, if any, intention of honoring the debt they were running up. When the Mexican bond default hit the fan, the French dictator Napoleon III got his shorts in a major wad. He ultimately chose a Hapsburg prince, Archduke Maximilian, to lead a French expeditionary force to take over the Mexican republic. That is after the French were defeated at Puebla, where Charles de Lorencez was the commander. Curiously, other than Morton’s book, no other source that I researched made any mention of the Rothschild connection. French antisemitism was later burnished into the legacy of history in 1894, by way of the story of Alfred Dreyfus.
After the Juarez forces defeated the French once and for all, Maximilian was executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867. Re-enactment of this event is a typical component of Cinco de Mayo celebrations…along with conspicuous consumption of cerveza. Also, Maximilion’s widow Charlotte survived the experience and spent the rest of her days wandering the halls of the Vatican. Hence the Mexican people refer to her as “Crazy Carlotta.” Seems to me that the conclusion of this story would make a bang-up grand opera. Imagine Charlotte belting out a haunting aria, while mists rise up from the stage floor—just as the curtains are drawn to a close.