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What Is Cinco De Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo. A festivity becoming popular in the southern states yet not really
understood by the majority of folks celebrating it. Television adds, special discount offers
promoted by national store chains, local parades across a large number of towns and a
multitude of restaurants, local bars and venues including school celebrations and yet most
people have the vague notion that “Cinco de Mayo” marks the independence of Mexico.
This is inaccurate! In reality, Mexico celebrates “Cinco de Mayo” commemorating the victory
of the Mexican army over the French army of Napoleon III in the city of Puebla de los Angeles
led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin in 1862. The actual name of the holiday is “La Batalla
de Puebla” (the battle of Puebla).
Up until 1880, Mexico and France had a very dramatic rocky relationship to say the least.
Mexico experience two French interventions. The first one called the Pastry War in 1838-1839 (La guerra de los Pasteles) and the second one known as
the Maximilian Affair from 1861-1867.
The Pastry War
The Pastry War (Spanish: Guerra de los pasteles, French: Guerre des Pâtisseries),also known as
the First French intervention in Mexico or the First Franco-Mexican War (1838–1839), began in
November 1838 with the naval blockade of some Mexican ports and the capture of the fortress
of San Juan de Ulúa in Veracruz by French forces sent by King Louis-Philippe. It ended several
months later in March 1839 with a British-brokered peace. The intervention followed many
claims by French nationals of losses due to unrest in Mexico.
This incident was the first and lesser of Mexico's two 19th-century wars with France, being
followed by the French invasion of 1861–67 which supported the short reign of Emperor
Maximilian I of Mexico who was executed by firing squad at the end of said conflict.
During the early years of the new Mexican republic there was widespread civil disorder as factions competed for control of the country. The fighting
often resulted in the destruction or looting of private property. Average citizens had few options for claiming compensation as they had no
representatives to speak on their behalf. Foreigners whose property was damaged or destroyed by rioters or bandits were usually also unable to obtain
compensation from the Mexican government and they began to appeal to their own governments for help and compensation.
Commercial relationships between France and Mexico existed prior to France recognition of Mexico's independence in 1830, and after the establishment
of diplomatic relationships France rapidly became Mexico's third largest trade partner. However, France had yet to secure trade agreements similar to
those that the United States and England (then Mexico's two largest trade partners) had, and as a result of this French goods were subject to higher
French troops under Prince de Joinville attack residence of General Arista in Veracruz,
1838. In complaint to King Louis-Philippe, a French pastry chef known only as Monsieur
Remontel, claimed that in 1832 Mexican officers looted his shop in Tacubaya (then a town
on the outskirts of Mexico City). Remontel demanded 60,000 pesos as reparations for the
damage (his shop was valued at less than 1,000 pesos).
In view of Remontel's (which gave its name to the ensuing conflict) and of other
complaints from French nationals (among them the looting in 1828 French shops at the
Parian market and the execution in 1837 of a French citizen accused of piracy) in 1838
prime minister Louis-Mathieu Molé demanded from Mexico the payment of 600,000 pesos
(3 million Francs) in damages, an enormous sum for the time, when the typical daily wage
in Mexico City was about one peso (8 Mexican reals).
When president Anastasio Bustamante made no payment, the King of France ordered a
fleet under Rear Admiral Charles Baudin to declare and carry out a blockade of all Mexican
ports on the Atlantic coast from Yucatán to the Rio Grande, to bombard the Mexican
fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, and to seize the city of Veracruz, which was the most
important port on the Gulf coast. French forces captured Veracruz by December 1838 and
Mexico declared war on France.
With trade cut off, the Mexicans began smuggling imports via Corpus Christi, Republic of Texas and into Mexico. Fearing that France would blockade the
Republic's ports as well, a battalion of Texan forces began patrolling Corpus Christi Bay to stop Mexican smugglers. One smuggling party abandoned
their cargo of about a hundred barrels of flour on the beach at the mouth of the bay, thus giving Flour Bluff its name. The United States, ever watchful of
its relations with Mexico, sent the schooner Woodbury to help the French in their blockade.
Meanwhile, acting without explicit government authority, Antonio López de Santa Anna, known for his military leadership, came out of retirement from
his hacienda near Xalapa and surveyed the defenses of Veracruz. He offered his services to the government, which ordered him to fight the French by
any means necessary. He led Mexican forces against the French. In a skirmish with the rear guard of the French, Santa Anna was wounded in the leg by
French grapeshot. His leg was amputated and buried with full military honors. Exploiting his wounds with eloquent propaganda, Santa Anna catapulted
back to power.
The French forces withdrew on 9 March 1839 after a peace treaty was signed. As part of said treaty the Mexican government agreed to pay 600,000
pesos as damages to French citizens while France received promises for future trade commitments in place of war indemnities. However, this amount
was never paid and that was later used as one of the justifications for the second French intervention in Mexico of 1861.
Following the Mexican victory in 1867 and the collapse of the second French empire in 1870, Mexico and France would not resume diplomatic
relationships until 1880 when both countries left behind claims related to the wars.
The Maximilian Affair
Born: July 6, 1832, Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria
Died: June 19, 1867, Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico
Maximilian was the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire. He was a younger brother of the Austrian emperor
Francis Joseph I. After a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy, he accepted an offer by Napoleon III of France to
The second French intervention in Mexico (Spanish: Segunda intervención francesa en México), also known as the
Maximilian Affair, Mexican Adventure, the War of the French Intervention, the Franco-Mexican War or the Second
Franco-Mexican War, was an invasion of Mexico in late 1861 by the Second French Empire, supported in the beginning
by the United Kingdom and Spain. It followed President Benito Juárez's suspension of interest payments to foreign
countries on 17 July 1861, which angered these three major creditors of Mexico.
Emperor Napoleon III of France was the instigator, justifying military intervention by claiming a broad foreign policy
of commitment to free trade. For him, a friendly government in Mexico would ensure European access to Latin
American markets. Napoleon also wanted the silver that could be mined in Mexico to finance his empire. Napoleon
built a coalition with Spain and Britain while the U.S. was deeply engaged in its civil war.
The three European powers signed the Treaty of London on 31 October 1861, to unite their efforts to receive payments from Mexico. On 8 December the
Spanish fleet and troops arrived at Mexico's main port, Veracruz. When the British and Spanish discovered that France planned to seize all of Mexico,
they quickly withdrew from the coalition.
The subsequent French invasion resulted in the Second Mexican Empire.[a] In Mexico, the French-imposed empire was supported by the Roman Catholic
clergy, many conservative elements of the upper class, and some indigenous communities; the presidential terms of Benito Juárez (1858–71) were
interrupted by the rule of the Habsburg monarchy in Mexico (1864–67). Conservatives, and many in the Mexican nobility, tried to revive the monarchical
form of government (see: First Mexican Empire) when they helped to bring to Mexico an archduke from the Royal House of Austria, Maximilian
Ferdinand, or Maximilian I. France had various interests in this Mexican affair, such as seeking reconciliation with Austria, which had been defeated
during the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, counterbalancing the growing American Protestant power by developing a powerful Catholic neighboring
empire, and exploiting the rich mines in the north-west of the country.
After heavy guerrilla resistance led by Juárez, which continued even after the capital had fallen in 1863, the French eventually withdrew from Mexico and
Maximilian I was executed in 1867.
1862: French Invasion
The British, Spanish and French fleets arrived at Veracruz, between 8 and 17 December 1861 intending to pressure the Mexicans into settling their debts.
The Spanish fleet seized San Juan de Ulúa and subsequently the capital Veracruz on 17 December. The European forces advanced to Orizaba, Cordoba
and Tehuacán, as they had agreed in the Convention of Soledad. The city of Campeche surrendered to the French fleet on 27 February 1862, and a French
army, commanded by General Lorencez, arrived on 5 March. When the Spanish and British realised the French ambition was to conquer Mexico, they
withdrew their forces on 9 April, their troops leaving on 24 April. In May, the French man-of-war Bayonnaise blockaded Mazatlán for a few days.
Mexican forces commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French army in the Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862. The pursuing Mexican army was
contained by the French at Orizaba, Veracruz, on 14 June. More French troops arrived on 21
September, and General Bazaine arrived with French reinforcements on 16 October. The
French occupied the port of Tampico on 23 October, and unopposed by Mexican forces took
control of Xalapa, Veracruz on 12 December.
Mexico - France in Present Day Diplomatic Relations
In December 2005, a French citizen called Florence Cassez was arrested in Mexico and charged
with kidnapping, organized crime and possession of firearms. She was found guilty by a
Mexican court and sentenced to 60 years imprisonment. Cassez always maintained her
innocence which began a diplomatic dispute between Mexico and France. At the time,
President Nicolas Sarkozy asked the Mexican government to allow Cassez to serve her
sentence in France, however the requests were denied.
In 2009, Mexico cancelled its participation of 2011 "The Year of Mexico in France" (350 events,
films, and symposium planned) as the French president Sarkozy declared that this year-long
event was going to be dedicated to Cassez, and each individual event would have some sort of remembrance of the Frenchwoman. In January 2013, the
Mexican Supreme Court ordered her release and Cassez was flown immediately back to France. Since her release, France pledged to assist Mexico in
creating a Gendarmerie in Mexico at the request of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
President François Mitterrand attending the North–South Summit in Cancun along with his Mexican counterpart President José López Portillo, 1981
Presidential Visits From France to Mexico
President Charles de Gaulle (1964)
President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1979)
President François Mitterrand (1981)
President Jacques Chirac (1998, 2002, 2004)
President Nicolas Sarkozy (2009)
President François Hollande (2012, 2014)
Presidential Visits From Mexico to France
President Adolfo López Mateos (1963)
President Luis Echeverría Álvarez (1973)
President José López Portillo (1980)
President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado (1985)
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1989, 1992)
President Ernesto Zedillo (1997)
President Vicente Fox (2001, May and November 2002, 2003)
President Felipe Calderón (2007, 2011)
President Enrique Peña Nieto (July and November 2015)
Historic Border Disputes
France and Mexico do not presently share a land border, although in the 18th-century French Louisiana did border New Spain.
The closest land to the French Pacific Clipperton Island is Mexico, and the two countries disputed the island's ownership for several decades, until
international arbitration finally awarded it to France in 1931.
Mexico-France Trade Relations
In 1997, Mexico signed a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union (which includes France). In 2015, two-way trade between France and Mexico
amounted to $5.8 billion USD. Between 1999-2008, French companies invested over $1.7 billion USD in Mexico. At the same time, between 1991-2009,
Mexican companies invested $594 million USD in France. France is Mexico's 16th biggest trading partner while Mexico is France's 53rd biggest trading
Resident Diplomatic Missions
France has an embassy in Mexico City.
Mexico has an embassy in Paris and a liaison office in Strasbourg.
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Updated May 1 2019