Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 24
surprised, and he gave out some little change, which I examined, and not being sure whether it was good or bad, put it into my own purse, giving the man a quarter instead. He thanked me warmly, tied the money up in the corner of a rag he had tied around his waist, and then went out and tried the other quarter. This also failed to pass, and he returned to the now furious storeman, who threatened to call the police if he did not go away. "If you do, I will tell them that you are passing counterfeit money,"' I said, whereupon he gave the peon another piece, and the poor fellow departed happy. While the storekeeper said some nasty things in Spanish about "Gringos," it is needless to add I did not buy, nor had he the least desire to sell to me.
A FEW NOTES ABOUT MEXICAN PRESIDENTS.
Very few people outside of the Republic of Mexico have the least conception of how government affairs are run there. The inhabitants of Mexico—at least it is so estimated—number 10,000,000 souls, 8,000,000 being Indians, uneducated and very poor. This large majority has no voice in any matter whatever, so the government is conducted by the smaller, but so-called better class. My residence in Mexico of five months did not give me ample time to see all these things personally, but I have the very best authority for all statements. Men whom I know to be honorable have given me a true statement of facts which have heretofore never reached the public prints. That such things missed the public press will rather astonish Americans who are used to a free press; but the Mexican papers never publish one word against the government or officials, and the people who are at their mercy dare not breathe one word against them, as those position are more able than the most tyrannical czar to make their life miserable. When this is finished the worst is yet untold by half, so the reader can form some idea about the Government of Mexico.
President Diaz, according to all versions, was a brave and untiring soldier, who fought valiantly for his beautiful country. He was born of humble parents, his father being a horse dealer, or something of that sort; but he was ambitious, and gaining an education entered the field as an attorney-at-law. Although he mastered his profession, all his fame was gained on the battle-field. Perfirio Diaz is undoubtedly a fine-looking man, being what is called a half-breed, a mixture of Indian and Spaniard. He is tall and finely built, with soldierly bearing. His manners are polished, with the pleasing Spanish style, compelling one to think—while in his presence—that he could commit no wrong; the brilliancy of his eyes and hair is intensified by the carmine of cheek and whiteness of brow, which, gossip says, are put there by the hand of art. Diaz has been married twice—first to an Indian woman, if I remember rightly, who left him with one child, and next to a daughter of the present Secretary of the Interior, Manuel Romero Rubio. She is handsome, of the Spanish type, a good many years younger than the president, and finely educated, speaking Spanish, French and English fluently. Mrs. Diaz has no children, but is step-mother to two—a daughter and a son of the president. The president, so far as rumor goes, follows not in the footsteps of his countrymen, has no more loves than one, and is really devoted to Mrs. Diaz.
There are two political parties, a sort of a Liberal and Conservative concern, but if you ask almost any man not in an official position he will hesitate and then explain that there are really two parties; that he has almost forgotten their names, but he has never voted, no use, etc. Juarez, who crushed Maximilian, while a good president in some respects, planted the seeds of dishonesty when he claimed the churches and pocketed the spoils therefrom. Every president since then has done what he could to excel Juarez in this line. When Diaz first took the presidency he had the confidence and respect of the people for his former conduct. They expected great things of him, but praise in a short time was given less and less freely, and the people again realized that their savior had not yet been found. When his term drew near a close, his first bite made him long for more, and he made a contract with Manuel Gonzales to give him the presidency if he would return it at the end of his time, as the laws of Mexico do not permit a president to be his own successor, but after the expiration of another term (four years) he can again fill the position.
The constitution of Mexico is said to excel, in the way of freedom and liberty to its subjects, that of the United States; but it is only on paper. It is a republic only in name, being in reality the worst monarchy in existence. Its subjects know nothing of the delights of a presidential campaign; they are men of a voting age, but they have never indulged in this manly pursuit, which even our women are hankering after. No two candidates are nominated for the position, but the organized ring allows one of its members—whoever has the most power—to say who shall be president; they can vote, though they are not known to do so; they think it saves trouble, time, and expense to say at first, "this is the president," and not go to the trouble of having a whole nation come forward and cast the votes, and keep the people in drunken suspense for forty-eight hours, while the managers miscount the ballots, and then issue bulletins stating that they have put in their man; then the self-appointed president names all the governors, and divides with them the naming of the senators; this is the ballot in Mexico.
Senor Manuel Gonzales readily accepted Diaz's proposition and stepped into the presidency. He had also been a loyal soldier, and was as handsome as Diaz, though some years his senior. Gonzales is a brave man, powerfully built, but was so unfortunate as to lose his right arm in battle. He has, however, learned to write with his left in a large, scrawling style. He has a legal wife, from whom, however, he is separated. While he was the filling presidential chair she made a trip through the United States, and gained some notoriety by being put out of the Palmer House because she did not pay bills contracted there on the strength of being the wife of the President of Mexico. On her return to the land of the Aztecs, she found that the law could not touch the Czar Gonzales, who was living like a king, nor could she get a divorce, as Mexico does not sanction such luxuries. She started a sewing establishment, but it is said that she is living in abject poverty, and, like all Mexican women, with the door to the way of gaining an honest livelihood barred against her because of her sex. Their family consists of two sons, both captains in the army—Manuel, twenty- seven years old, and Fernando, twenty-five—fine-looking and well educated. The latter is said to be quite good to his mother. It is reported that Manuel Gonzales and Miss Diaz, the only daughter of the president, are to be married shortly.
Gonzales while in power issued several million dollars' worth of nickel money, which the people refused to accept. One day, as he was being driven from the palace in an open carriage, he was surrounded by a mob who threw bags of the coin on him, while others cried out for his life. The driver—who, by the way, was at that time the only negro in the City of Mexico—fiercely fought those who had stopped his team and resisted by main force their efforts to unseat him. He wanted to drive the fine-blooded horses right over the angry, howling mob, but Gonzales calmly told him to desist, and then, revolver in hand, descended from the carriage, asked the people what they wanted, swore roundly at them and commanded them to disperse.
The effect was astonishing. Without one outburst, as though quelled by an immense army, that maddened mob moved away and Gonzales re-entered his carriage triumphantly, and was driven home unmolested and uninjured. The money, however, was sold for almost nothing, and some Europeans were smart enough to buy. In a short time the government bought it all back, paying cent for cent, and I know personally one man who made $100,000 in one day on his lot. In truth, it was the foundation of more than twenty fortunes in Mexico at the present time. Eight months before Gonzales retired he tried to force the people to accept the English debt law. They refused, and filled the halls of Congress, in which they had congregated, with cries and groans. They would not cease at the presidential command, and Gonzales ordered the soldiers to fire on them several times. It was impossible that in such a narrow space all should escape death, yet no true report was ever made of the affair.
When Gonzales went into office $900,000 could be counted in the treasury. On the last day of his term his annual income exceeded $200,000 and his salary, which was $30,000 yearly. On the morning of his last day he sent to the treasurer to know how much money yet remained in the treasury. "One hundred thousand dollars," was the reply. Gonzales requested that it be sent to him and when the treasurer meekly hinted that it might be good for his neck to know to whom to charge It, Gonzales replied that if he did not know that much he had better send his resignation. The money was in the president's hand in a very short time after this. Next he bought a $2 ticket from the state national lottery and with it sent a little line to the managers. See that this draws the prize to-day." The first prize was $100,000. Strange to relate his ticket drew the fortunate number, and Gonzales closed his eyes that night with a murmur like Monte-Cristo as he gazed upon the sea, "The world is mine!" That evening the people were so glad that they gathered in an impassable mob around the palace and cathedral, and tried to enter the latter, that they might proclaim their feelings by ringing forth from the numerous bells which hang in the mammoth towers, one happy peal; but an army was soon on the spot and prevented any demonstration. Investigation showed $25,000,000 missing and the government employes unpaid.
Experts figure out that Gonzales raked in $25,220,000 in his four years of official life, and he didn’t have to go to Canada, either. Gonzales immediately went to Guanajuato as governor, where he was received with open arms and when the people, who found the bank broke just as they expected to take it, began to whisper that they would like a little investigation, Gonzales swore he would spend every cent they were clamoring after in raising an army to overthrow the Diaz Government. On hearing this Diaz slunk off like a half-drowned cat and made a law which went into effect June 22, 1886, taking a percentage off every government employe to help pay up the Gonzales deficiency.
Gonzales is modest; he don’t want the presidency any more. He wisely invested his hard-earned cash in an estate. His palaces and haciendas are something wonderful for size, beauty, and furnishment. Of course, give a man a bad name and everything mean is laid at his door; but it is credited to him that he took a fancy to a very rich hacienda, and he told the owner he would