May 5, 2012 -Cinco de Mayo has its roots in the French occupation of Mexico, which took place in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, the Mexican Civil War of 1858, and the 1860 Reform Wars. These wars left the Mexican Treasury in ruins and nearly bankrupt which is why on July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments were suspended. As a result, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Spain and Britain negotiated a resolve with Mexico and withdrew, unfortunately France, at the time ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish a Latin empire in Mexico that would favor French interests, the Second Mexican Empire.
The French Invasion
In 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat. From Veracruz the French marched towards Mexico City where they encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans near Puebla, at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The 8,000-strong French army attacked the poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,000 and surprisingly on May 5, 1862, the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army. This was a significant victory and made news around the world as France purported to have the best trained and equipped army of the time. In fact this was the first defeat suffered by France in fifty (50) years!
The Mexican Victory
This victory represented a much needed morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people at large. The History Channel stated: “Although not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s success at Puebla represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement.” Time Magazine wrote: “The Puebla victory came to symbolize unity and pride for what seemed like a Mexican David defeating a French Goliath.” Without question this victory helped establish a much-needed sense of national unity and patriotism.
Post Puebla Battle
Unfortunately the Mexican victory was short-lived. A year later and the assignment of an additional thirty thousand (30,000) troops, the French were able to depose the Mexican army, capture Mexico City, and establish Emperor Maximilian I as ruler of Mexico. Fortunately, the French victory was also short-lived, lasting only 3 years, from 1864 to 1867. With the U.S. Civil War over in 1865, the U.S. was able to provide more assistance to Mexico to expel the French, after which Maximilian I was executed by the Mexicans, along with his Mexican generals Miramón and Mejía, in the Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro and President Benito Juárez returned to govern from Mexico City.
Viva Mexico! Viva Cinco de Mayo