To give you fair warning: this blog will be spending the next few days in the world of July 5 1929, as that day’s edition of the Toronto Daily Star was a rich source of material. To start off, here’s a photograph of the President of Mexico that appeared on the front page of that day’s paper:
Emilio Portes Gil (1890-1978) was the president of Mexico at the time of this photograph, and was a comparatively youthful 38 years old. But what this photo caption does not tell you is that he was effectively a puppet president.
Some background: in the 1920s, the Mexican constitution did not allow anyone to run for president for consecutive terms. However, there was nothing stopping anyone from becoming president, taking a break for a term, and then taking over again. So two men, Alvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles, decided to support each other and basically take turns as president. This would have worked out well for both of them, except that Obregón was assassinated in 1928 shortly after becoming president again.
This left Calles in a bit of a pickle. He couldn’t be president again, because he had just been president. So he tried the next best thing: he ensured that the man who was appointed president in Obregón’s place would do whatever he wanted. Three men took turns in this role of puppet president between 1928 and 1934; Portes Gil, pictured here, was the first. In the meantime, Callas wielded power behind the scenes, and was given the nickname of “el Jefe Máximo”, or “the Maximum Leader”.
After handing over power in 1930 to the next puppet president, Portes Gil served as Minister of the Interior and was Mexico’s first representative at the League of Nations. He retired from politics in 1936, and then did nothing worthy of mentioning in his Wikipedia article until he passed away over forty years later.