Today’s La Vida En Black, History Month message is about Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s first black president, and also that nation’s version of Abraham Lincoln. In 1829 Presidente Guerrero issued Mexico’s own slavery abolition decree (which led a few years later to Texas slave holders seceding from Mexico).
Vicente Guerrero was born in the small village of Tixla in the Mexican state of Guerrero. His parents were Pedro Guerrero, an Afro-Mexican and Guadalupe Saldana, an Indian. Vicente came from humble beginnings. As a young man he took the work he could find as a mule driver on his own father’s mule run. This work set him on a journey that shaped his life and ideologies. Guerrero worked all over Mexico and began to hear the voices of the people and their collective ideas of independence.
On one of the journeys, he met the famed rebel General Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. In November of 1810, Guerrero embraced the General’s ideas of revolution and joined Morelos. Morelos, unfortunately, was assassinated by the Spaniards and Guerrero became Commander-in-Chief. Guerrero then negotiated a deal with the Spaniard General Agustin de Iturbide.
Iturbide agreed to a partnership with the independence movement and supported Guerrero on a series of nationwide measures known as “El Plan de Iguala.” This plan, however, gave civil rights to Indians but not to Afro-Mexicans. Guerrero refused to sign the plan unless equal rights were also given to Afro-Mexicans and mulattos. Clause 12 was then incorporated into the plan. It read: “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.”
Subsequently, Guerrero served as a part of a three-person “Junta” that governed the then-independent Mexico from 1823-24. Guerrero, head of the “People’s Party,” called for public schools, land title reforms, and many other liberal programs. Guerrero was elected the second president of Mexico in 1829. As president, Guerrero went on to champion the cause not only of the racially oppressed but also of the economically oppressed.
Presidente Guerrero formally abolished slavery on September 16, 1829. Shortly thereafter, betrayed by a group of reactionaries who drove him out of his house, Presidente Guerrero was lured to have dinner with a traitor on his boat, instead Vicente was captured and ultimately executed by firing squad.
Historian Jan Bazant speculates as to why Guerrero was executed rather than sent into exile, as Iturbide had been, as well as Antonio López de Santa Anna, and long-time dictator of late-nineteenth century Mexico, Porfirio Díaz. “The clue is provided by Zavala who, writing several years later, noted that Guerrero was of mixed blood and that the opposition to his presidency came from the great landowners, generals, clerics and Spaniards resident in Mexico…Guerrero’s execution was perhaps a warning to men considered as socially and ethnically inferior not to dare to dream of becoming president.”
Guerrero’s political platform was based on the belief of civil rights are for all,including Afro-Mexicans. Mexicans with hearts full of pride call him the “greatest man of color.” On this President’s Day, La Vida En Black History Celebrates Presidente Vincente Guerrero!