Conference Dispatch: Coloquio de la Constitución de 1917 y el constitucionalismo en el noroeste de Mexico

Within a few years, Mexico’s Constitution of 1917 will mark its 100th anniversary. In preparation, since 2013, the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas has organized a series of conferences, involving more than 100 scholars and up to 50 individual institutions. They form part of Dr. Catherine Andrew’s project on constitutionalism, exploring the social and political legacy of this topic in Mexican history. The goal has been to produce new and original academic works that examine the Constitution of 1917’s significance from local, regional, and national perspectives, examining Mexico’s history over the last century as well as encouraging reflection on the country’s future. Last week marked the close of the most recent conference hosted by the CIDE in Aguascalientes.

The conference examined the impact of constitutionalism on northwestern Mexico and opened with a session by Ignacio Marván from the División de Ciencias Políticas at CIDE. He spoke in depth about Venustiano Carranza and his legacy not only as a political and military leader nationally, but Dr. Marván also talked about his legislative work as a senator from Coahuila and how that experience informed his political philosophy in subsequent years. Later, the first morning panel led to a spirited discussion in the Q&A about Villa’s legacy.

Luis Barrón and Ignacio Marván

Luis Barrón and Ignacio Marván

Over the following afternoon sessions and into the next day, more than a dozen presenters gave papers on a wide range of topics, including municipal conflicts, land reform, state voting rights, and the role of the United States. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel with Dr. Alonso Domínguez Rascón (Museo Casa de Juárez, Chihuahua) and Juan Carlos Sánchez Montiel (Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez). Their work covered Chihuahua’s role in this history; Domínquez described how land reform affected regional power structures, while Dr. Sánchez explored state legislation in the nineteenth century, and how it addressed contemporary views of electoral politics between the Constitutions of 1857 and 1917. In addition, other panels included fascinating work on Sonora and Baja California by scholars Ignacio Almada Bay, Miguel Ángel Grijalva, Zulema Trejo Contreras and Ana Luz Ramírez from the Colegio de Sonora and Edith Gonzalez Cruz of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur.

Catherine Andrews, Edith González Cruz, and José Enciso

Catherine Andrews, Edith González Cruz, and José Enciso

The conference came to a close on Friday afternoon with a talk by Felipe Ávila from the Instituto Nacional de Estudios Históricos de la Revolución de México. He spoke on the legacies of constitutionalism and Villismo in northern Mexico as the revolution disrupted and ultimately destroyed the control of oligarchic landowners in the region. Dr. Ávila described the political shocks of the revolutionary period and their regional significance in the northwest, emphasizing how Villista and Zapatista revolutionaries did not simply take control of the existing political, economic, administrative structure, but also embarked on the building of a new political order as the central state led by Huerta collapsed. The revolutionary armies implemented governmental mechanisms for tax collecting and justice, carrying out a deliberate political project.

Felipe Ávila

Felipe Ávila

Dr. Ávila described how these groups formed part of broader political currents moving towards the establishment of a new national government that would unify the country. The alliance between Villismo and Zapatismo created a powerful bloc in the political negotiations underway, which clashed with Carranza and his supporters in the constitutional convention in Aguascalientes. This tension underscored how the problems between the revolution’s caudillos reflected the political impossibility of resolving deep ideological differences, ultimately leading to new waves of armed conflict after 1914.

With the conference concluded, participants came together one last time for a farewell lunch. Below, I’ve included an image of the schedule of everyone who presented at this month’s conference in the history of the Constitution of 1917 and its legacy in northwestern Mexico.

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