Alvaro Matute’s La carrera del caudillo is the first to appear, but the second chronologically, in a series of works that will encompass the years of the Carranza and Obregón administrations. This volume covers the period of the presidential campaign of 1919-20, the Revolt of Agua Prieta, and Adolfo de la Huerta’s interim presidency from May 24, 1920, until Alvaro Obregón’s inauguration as president of Mexico on December 1 of that year. The work is a much needed and extremely interesting study of this period, during which the Sonoran group took firm control of the last phases of the Mexican Revolution and of the beginning of postrevolutionary institution-building.
A major portion of the book is devoted to the presidential campaign, and particularly to the personalities and the followings of the three major candidates, Alvaro Obregón and Pablo González, both former divisional generals, and Ignacio Bonillas, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States who had been selected by President Venustiano Carranza to be nominated as his successor. Throughout his work Matute makes the point that, as no true political parties existed in Mexico at that time, personalities and personalism were the keys to the outcome of the political contest. Indeed, Matute sets the theme of his book with a quote from Martín Luis Guzmán: “In Mexico, which has no true political parties, and, even more serious, no national and local political ideas useful as guidelines for existence, every political contest becomes a program of messianic personalism” (p. 7). Matute describes vividly Obregón’s gathering of overwhelming support for his candidacy from almost all major groups in the country, with the exception of Carranza’s inner circle; Carranza’s and, to a lesser extent, Bonillas’s, simple misunderstanding of the power of the northern caudillo; and González’s gentlemanly, but elitist and ultimately ineffectual, efforts in his own behalf. In considering this material, Matute makes heavy use of Mexican newspapers and particularly of the opinions of leading journalists, to illuminate the way in which these candidacies were seen in the context of the times.
Other particularly valuable portions of the book consider the alliances and defections that led to Obregón’s and the Sonorans’ triumph in the Revolt of Agua Prieta and the way in which Adolfo de la Huerta, who emerges as an extremely talented politician, conciliated support for the government in his charge and moved toward total pacification of the country. Indeed, Obregón came to power with all of his major opponents either dead, exiled, or at least temporarily conciliated. This volume does much to explain the basis of alliances on which Obregón, during his presidency, was able to move rapidly and effectively to the institutionalization of the Mexican state. This reviewer looks forward to the next two volumes projected by Professor Matute, the first on Carranza’s period of office, and the second on Obregón’s own presidency.