How Mexico influenced the Second Spanish Republic 90 years ago (and what was its legacy in Latin America)
On April 14, 1931, King Alfonso XIII went into exile and the Second Republic was proclaimed in Spain. With this, a new chapter was inaugurated in the history of the European country and also in its relations with Latin America.
The Second Republic had in Mexico one of its greatest allies, since its proclamation, during the civil war (1936-1939) started following the coup d’état of General Francisco Franco, and even after the victory of the rebel camp which imposed a military regime that would last 40 years.
In fact, the North American country was one of the main recipients of Republican exiles after the war.
But in the region, not all countries had the same degree of relations with the Spanish Republic.
For historian Clara Lida, Latin America’s relationship with the Second Republic depends on three factors: the country in question, the citizenship of that country and, third, the Spanish communities in each country.
Lida, born in Buenos Aires and researcher at El Colegio de México (Colmex), where she heads the Mexico-Spain Chair, gives two opposite examples.
“In the case of Mexico, the Republic is very welcome, and very well received by the government of the moment, a government after the Revolution of 1910, and by citizenship in general, ”he explains.
“They are both republican countries, and the idea that there is a republic in Spain is something very close to the Latin American world to begin with, and especially to the Mexican world,” he continues.
However, he underlines, “the Spanish community of Mexico, rather well-off, more traditional and closer to the monarchy, was not so favorable to the Republic”.
In place, in Argentina, there was a government resulting from a military coup (1930), and that “did not receive much sympathy from the Republic”, says Lida.
Although in this case “the general population was very receptive and much of the Spanish colony in Argentina, a significant Spanish immigration closely linked to the world of work, greeted the Republic with great enthusiasm”.
Influence of American republicanism
A less well-known aspect of relations between Latin America in general, and Mexico in particular, with the Second Republic is the influence it had on the new Spanish Republican Constitution.
“Those who participated in the shaping of the Spanish Constitution They were very aware of Mexican constitutionalism, and many of their ideas were applied to Spain as well.», Explains historian Lida.
Indeed, with the exception of the ephemeral antecedent of the First Republic (1873-1874), in Spain there was no republican antecedents, “so that looking towards the American republics and towards American constitutionalism had a certain logic, although there was also the German Weimar Republic ”.
“In the case of 20th century Mexico, born of an early revolution with a Constitution which in 1917 was very advanced and very progressive, this Constitution had a very direct influence on the Republican Constitution of 1931.”
The Constitution of Mexico established a clear division between church and state, a clear inclination and vocation for free and secular education, a defense of the nationalization of the wealth of the subsoil and also had an article in favor of land reform.
“There were many articles which the Second Republic considered not only sympathetically, but some were adapted to its own Constitution. “
In the page of the Spanish Congress, the influence of the Mexican Constitution on the Spanish of 1931 is recognized, in which “it already constitutionalizes the so-called fundamental rights of the third generation or the social and economic rights.
And the agrarian and educational reforms they would be one of the priorities of the Republican government.
So, for example, secularism This is one of the political principles which inspire the Republican Constitution, which also establishes that “wealth is subordinated to the interests of the national economy, constitutionalizing the intervening and social state which could expropriate on the basis of a social interest. supreme ”.
For the defense of the Republic
With the military uprising of July 1936 and the ensuing civil war, positions in Latin America again varied considerably.
Mexico fiercely defended the government of the Republic, while other countries in the region, such as Argentina and Brazil, quickly sided with the rebels.
“Mexico had a very clear and simple attitude towards the Republican government in 1936: to defend the Republic because it was a democratically constituted state,” Alberto Enríquez, professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, told BBC. ‘National Autonomous University. . of Mexico, for another report on the figure of Manuel Azaña, the last president of the Spanish Republic.
When the conflict broke out in 1936, Western democracies opted within the League of Nations (ancestor of the UN) for the Non-Intervention Pact, which in practice amounts to turning its back on the Republic, which Mexico refuse.
“Mexico manifests itself in favor of the Republic in all the international forums in which it has participated, from the League of Nations to others in Latin America, (where) it has also been a staunch defender of legitimately constituted governments and (a took a stand) against military coups, ”Lida also said.
This support that started in diplomatic terms, it also happened in material terms.
“Within the limits of the limited possibilities of a Mexico which did not have great resources”, the country sent food, medicine and the few weapons it had available to the Republican side, explains the historian.
As an anecdote of the support of the Mexican government to the Republic, during the commemoration of the Independence in the Zócalo in 1936, the president of the time Lázaro Cárdenas, during the traditional cry which is normally “Long live Mexico! “, Added a” Long live Mexico! the Spanish Republic! “.
Mexico, moreover, was the only country in the region that never recognized the legitimacy of the Franco government.
The legacy of the Republic in Mexico
One of the main consequences for Latin America of the rebels’ victory in the civil war was the arrival of Republican exiles.
Mexico, with 20,000,was the country in the region that hosted the most Republican refugees. Chile, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina received around 2,000 each.
The exiles reached other countries, notably France, but also the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
But Mexico has granted special protection to Spanish refugees.
Indeed, the Mexican Ambassador to France, Luis I. Rodríguez, was responsible for protecting Manuel Azana, who crossed the French border on foot in 1939.
The last President of the Spanish Republic died of his health problems on November 3, 1940 in a room at the Hôtel du Midi in the town of Montauban, in southwestern France.
The room, having been rented by the Mexican Embassy, was considered Mexican territory.
And at his funeral, his coffin was covered with the Mexican flag.
“He will be proudly covered with the flag of Mexico. It will be for us a privilege, for the Republicans, a hope and for you, a painful lesson ”, answered the ambassador Rodríguez to the prefect of Montauban, as he told it in his newspapers of the time, edited by the Colegio de México in 2000..
Some steamboats are also said to leave France for Mexico with thousands of Spanish refugees on board.
“Mexico has made a big effort to support Republicans displaced and threatened by the military coup,” explains Lida. “A clear policy of openness to Spanish exile has been generated.”
On Argentina there was no official support like in Mexico, although there was also a university intellectual exile that in the early years it was also inserted in Argentine universities.
But in the case of Mexico, the country had emerged from a revolution and that meant that it was gradually rebuilding itself on several levels.
One of the levels was academic and educational, and in this sense the North American country benefited from the arrival of Spanish intellectuals.
Mexican universities, such as the National Polytechnic Institute and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), were nurtured by these intellectuals.
“There were many Spanish intellectuals and artists in exile who were able to fit into the Mexican work world, university, university… and they left a trace of what they knew, of what they brought with them intellectual and professional baggage, ”explains Lida.
Some of them founded prestigious institutions like the Casa de México in Spain, which is currently the Colegio de México and the Ateneo Español de México.
The exiles also founded schools, some of which continue to function, such as the famous Colegio Madrid and the Instituto Luis Vives.
With all this, and in a way, the Republic continued to live in Mexico.
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