Cinco de Mayo

Introduction

Cinco de Mayo stands for the 5th of May in Spanish language. It is a public holiday always commemorated significantly with street carnival in about 21 states in the US which have significant Mexican populations and in Ontario Canada. Though Cinco de Mayo is not held as a public holiday in Mexico, Mexicans are very proud of the significant events that led to the celebration of the day and schools are closed on that day. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the outnumbered and poorly equipped Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza over the French invading armies at the 1862 Puebla battle.

Background to the Battle

Mexico had won independence from Spain in 1821 after a long and bloody struggle which was followed by a war with America between 1846 and 1848. Shortly after, the Mexican civil war took place in 1858 and all these wars essentially drained the Mexican economy and left its government broke so that the country could no longer meet up with its obligations to creditors. This made President Benito Juarez in 1861 to declare that all payments of foreign debts would be suspended for two years. There was an immediate strong response by France, Britain and Spain and these countries sent naval convoys to Veracruz demanding for the settlement of debts owed to them. The Mexican government was able to negotiate successfully with the British and Spanish who withdrew but France under Napoleon saw this as an opportunity to reestablish her empire in the Americas.

The Battle of Puebla

The French invaded Mexico with a 6,500 strong force through the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz and began to march towards Mexico City. Around Puebla, the French army was engaged by a smaller and poorly equipped army of about 4500 and was amazingly defeated sparking off scenes of joy and celebration throughout the country. The magnitude of this victory becomes clear when put in proper historical perspective. The French army as at this time was generally regarded as the greatest fighting force on the planet and had not tasted defeat in at least half a century. Although the Mexican victory was short lived because a year later the French sent another 30,000 force and decisively defeated the Mexicans and set up Maximilian as ruler and a puppet of the French government. The government of Maximilian was also short lived because it was overthrown by Mexican forces three years later with the help of the Americans. When Mexico succeeded in driving out the French forces, it executed Maximilian. Essentially, Cinco de Mayo is held to celebrate the courage of General Zaragoza and his men in the Battle of Puebla.

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