Porfirio Díaz was born in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca into a middle-class urban family of Spanish-Indian ancestry. His father, a moderately well-to-do veterinarian and innkeeper, died whenPorfirio was only 3 years old. Though as a child he learned carpentry and shoemaking to help support his family, his mother sent him to study in a seminary in hope of his attaining the priesthood. ButDíaz did not want to enter the clergy; he left the school and entered the Institute of Arts and Sciences in the city of Oaxaca, where he studied law under Benito Juárez. Díaz's legal training left hima convinced liberal determined to break the stranglehold that the professional army, the Church, and large landholders held over contemporary Mexico.

Díaz's 34-year rule is known as thePorfiriato; it was a period of relative peace and economic growth. During his first term Díaz began to reestablish the federal government's power over the diverse Mexican states. He enlarged and gave greatpower to a constabulary, the Rurales. They destroyed many of the bandit gangs which had proliferated during the civil wars and later crushed all political opposition to Díaz's rule. He also formed acompromise with the Catholic Church, by which the federal government would not harass the Church if the latter would not interfere in Mexican politics.

In 1880 Díaz left the presidency to Gen. ManuelGonzález, a longtime supporter and friend. Díaz became governor of Oaxaca and watched while González ran the country into bankruptcy. Friends of the government made huge fortunes in public-landspeculation, and foreign companies bought up huge tracts of Mexican land. The government reversed the old Spanish mining laws and allowed foreigners to purchase subsoil rights, or ownership of all oils andmetals contained in the ground. The mining industry entered a boom period in which Mexico produced more gold and silver in 20 years than it had in the previous 4 centuries. Díaz, a widower, meanwhile... [continua]

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