Without the guidance of Benito Juarez, many of the positive reforms that occurred in Mexico would not have come to pass. He created a market-driven social system, and also worked on the separation of the church from politics; he also encouraged equal rights for all the people of Mexico. Starting from humble beginnings in a farming environment, he overcame illiteracy, earned a law degree and was a part of a grand scheme that brought positive social change to Mexico. He was a brilliant mind and driving force for change for his time.
Born in a tiny village in the state of Oaxaca, Benito came into the world in 1806; his parents died when he was three, and he spent the rest of his childhood working as a shepherd with his uncle's family. At the age of twelve, he walked to the closest city in order to attend school. He was completely illiterate and could only speak the native Zapotec language, not Spanish, but was insatiable in his hunger for knowledge.
At the age of 28, Juarez became a lawyer, and then a judge seven years after that. He was forced into exile in Louisiana after he opposed the dictatorship of Antonio de Santa Anna, when he served as the governor of Oaxaca. By 1855, the corrupt leader had been forced to resign, and Benito returned to his home and joined the liberal party, serving as the Chief Justice under the moderate president Ignacio Comonfort.
At the time, Mexico was torn by political strife between the liberal Republicans and the conservative Federalists. The former believed that the country should be modern, democratic, and capitalist, with a secular judicial system and equal rights for all citizens; while the latter wanted Mexico to resemble the old ways of the colony, when the country was governed by Spain, with a centralist control structure and a strong church.. These two sides had emerged in the aftermath of the War for Independence, unable to come to an agreement. All of this anger came to a head in the Reform Wars, which had erupted in part due to the Church-restricting laws that Benito and others were putting into place.
This civil war resulted in Benito being declared the interim president and he was officially elected to serve a four-year term in 1861. However, the victory was short-lived and a few months later the French army under Napoleon III invaded Mexico with the assistance of the defeated conservatives. Juarez was forced to flee the capital, running a government-in-exile out of Chihuahua state for the next six years.
Eventually, French forces withdrew and ensured victory for the liberals under Benito, after the Republicans pushed back into the capital (they also asked for help from the U.S., who conveniently lost ammunition and muskets at the border). Juarez was the Mexican president for two more terms, dying of a heart attack in his office. He is fondly remembered to this day as a progressive who dedicated his life to fighting for equal rights, democracy, and making Mexico into a modern country. His memory and accomplishments are commemorated on March 21st, a national holiday.
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