Cinco de Mayo

While many bar-goers may know this as a holiday for drinking margaritas and tequila shooters, few know what they are celebrating.

Today is the anniversary of the Mexican army’s defeat of French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  The battle is a source of pride as the Mexican army was outnumbered 2 to 1 and was poorly armed relative to the French army, which had not been defeated since the Napoleonic wars.

What were the French forces doing in Mexico?  Well, in 1861, then-president Benito Juarez decided to stop interest payments on foreign debts.  This gave the expansionist Napoleon III a pretext to attack Mexico, which he did with alacrity.  While his first attacks were successful, the Mexican army managed to hold French forces temporarily at Puebla, delaying the march on Mexico City.  In the short run, the French army was successful and at the behest of Napoleon III, the Habsburg Maximilian was installed as Emporer in 1864.

While this was happening, the US had been understandably distracted by its own Civil War, but after that put pressure on the French to withdraw, once again invoking the Monroe Doctrine.  Due to such pressures, the French withdrew, leaving Maximilian and his wife Carlotta to be executed by a Mexican firing squad in Queretaro.

This occupation is signifcant as it marked the last time that a country in the Western Hemisphere was invaded and occupied by a European force.

For Napoleon III and the French army, it was the beginning of the end; shortly after this, they found themselves the losers in the Franco-Prussian war.  Oh, how fleeting success can be …

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