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AGUIRRE, LAURO

AGUIRRE, LAURO (1857–1925). Lauro Aguirre was a Mexican political dissident, intellectual, and newspaper editor, who spent the majority of his publishing career in El Paso, Texas. He was born on June 21, 1857 (according to his headstone), in the mining village of Batopilas in the Sierras of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico. He was the son of Juan N. Aguirre. He grew up in the mining town of Basotegochi in the neighboring state of Durango. While little is known of his early years, Aguirre benefitted from some type of formal education in his youth and in the early 1870s was admitted to the prestigious Colegio Militar de Mexico, where he obtained a degree in topographical engineering. Aguirre’s military service was short, since by 1879 he was working for the Federal Boundary Commission and surveying the boundary between Mexico and Guatemala. Aguirre subsequently worked with the Geographic Commission, but by the mid-1880s he entered the private sector and worked for Luis Hüller who owned a large surveying company as well as large parcels of land in Sonora and the Baja Peninsula. During his time near Guatemala, Aguirre met Tomasa Flores and married her about 1879. According to various census records, they had possibly up to seven or eight children.

Historians have pointed to a number of factors that may have led to the radicalization of Aguirre and his stance against the regime of Porfirio Díaz. Possibly his work for Hüller, which allowed Aguirre to travel extensively throughout Northwest Mexico, directly exposed him to the abuses and violence committed by the Porfirian regime upon indigenous groups like the Yaqui and the Mayo as well as small village Mexicans. In addition, the work with Hüller exposed Aguirre to the corruption involved in surveying and obtaining title to lands in the region. Aguirre engaged in land speculation himself but eventually lost out to more powerful or better connected rivals. A final causal factor for Aguirre’s radicalization, concerned his adherence to the Spiritist movement. Spiritism embraces the belief that while corporeal forms are temporary, the spirit is essentially immortal. These spirits continuously reincarnate with the purpose of attaining moral and intellectual perfection. Aguirre may have become an adherent of the Spiritist movement as early as his years in the Colegio Militar, as the movement was gaining popularity among certain bourgeois elements of Mexican society. 

By 1890 Aguirre was a committed Spiritist who held séances in his home and openly discussed his displeasure with the regime of Porfirio Díaz. During this time, he became acquainted with and befriended Tomas Urrea, a Sonoran land owner and political liberal, whose daughter, Teresa (or Teresita) Urrea (sometimes referred to as the Saint of Cabora) was gaining notoriety as a spiritual healer and defender of the poor. Urrea’s popularity with the poor as well as with the native tribes of northern Sonora caught the attention of the Porfirian authorities. Regardless of her peaceful intentions and protestations, she was regarded as an opposition figure around whom the poor and dispossessed could rally. Urrea and her father were forced into exile to the United States in 1892 and settled in Nogales, Arizona. Apparently Aguirre, who was similarly persecuted for his open opposition to Díaz, had fled to the United States that same year and also settled in Nogales. It is not clear if his family accompanied him at that time. Census records show that his older children had been born in Mexico as late as 1895, which indicates that Aguirre may have left the family in Mexico until 1896.

Aguirre’s exile into the United States signaled the beginning of his career as a dedicated opposition journalist. He published broadsides against the Díaz government, and much of the tracts he produced during this early period concerned statements attributed to Teresa Urrea, although there is sufficient evidence to discern that most of these ideas were formulated by Aguirre himself. In September 1892 the town of Tomóchic, Chihuahua, openly revolted against the government in the name of Teresa. Earlier that year evidence had been uncovered that suggested Aguirre had some communication or influence with the leaders of the rebellion. The prolonged siege of Tomóchic ended in October with the destruction of the town and the death of all of the rebels. Some historians have pointed to the Tomóchic massacre as the event that galvanized Aguirre’s revolutionary stance. The Mexican government’s actions sparked Aguirre and others to write a manifesto known as El Plan de Tomóchic that denounced the attacks and, among other demands, called for the equality of all people regardless of race, class, or gender. Aguirre, however, did not sign his name on the document. While in Arizona, he began the publication of an anti-Díaz newspaper titled El Independiente, which labeled him as one of the most radical anti-establishment figures of the era.

The constant concern that he would be kidnapped or assassinated in Arizona convinced Aguirre to move (with his family) to El Paso, Texas, early in 1896. He continued to publish El Independiente, which once again attracted the attention of the Mexican authorities. In March  1896, at the request of the Mexican government, Aguirre and his partner Flores Chapa were arrested and charged with inciting revolution. United States authorities, however, deemed the charges as lacking in evidence and released the pair from jail sixteen days later. Aguirre, joined by Teresa Urrea and her father in El Paso, continued publishing incendiary articles against the Díaz government. He was described in the American press as the real brains behind the violent revolts that had been inspired by Urrea, an idea that was upheld by the Mexican government’s efforts to silence him. Earlier that year a bloody riot (attributed to Teresita’s influence) erupted in Ojinaga, and a force of Yaqui Indians attacked Nogales, Sonora, in her name in August 1896. When government forces searched the bodies of the Yaqui attackers, they found direct evidence of the influence of Aguirre upon them in the form of articles and letters he produced. Soon after the Yaqui revolt, the Mexican government once again requested his extradition in September 1896, but the United States courts found insufficient evidence to warrant his extradition.

Although consumed by his revolutionary interests, Aguirre continued to be involved with land interests in Mexico. He apparently maintained some acreage in the Altar district of Sonora (at least in 1900), and in May 1900 he surveyed and helped negotiate the purchase of more than 33,000 acres of land in Sonora for two El Paso businessmen.  The 1900 U. S. census listed Aguirre, his wife Tomasa, and seven children as residents of El Paso. Interestingly, Aguirre’s occupation was given as a laborer in a tobacco store. The two youngest children had been born in Texas.

On September 13, 1900, Aguirre renamed his newspaper El Progresista and began to publish news speculating about Díaz’s failing health and other news that was generally censored by the mainstream Mexican press. In 1901 some of Aguirre’s news articles made their way into the El Paso Daily Herald, which on occasion published English-language translations. The continued revolutionary tracts drew the ire of the Mexican government to the degree that Aguirre feared that he would be kidnapped and deported to Mexico. In 1902 he formally requested protection from the United States federal government as a political refugee, but his request was dismissed as lacking merit.

At some point in 1905, Aguirre once again published another radical newspaper this time titled La Reforma Social. His newspaper was one of among many others that were published in El Paso by Mexican dissidents during this era. Aguirre had also allied himself with Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magon, the founders of the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) and the leading Mexican anarchists of the era. The brothers had been heavily persecuted by the Mexican authorities and had been forced to flee to the United States. As a member of the PLM and a cell leader of the Magonista movement, Aguirre included within his newspaper writings by the brothers that called for the violent overthrow of the Díaz regime, as well as news that was censored within Mexico further incurring the wrath of Mexican authorities, who once again attempted to find a way to have Aguirre deported to Mexico to silence him permanently. 

In the fall of 1906, Aguirre and Ricardo Flores Magon (who was in El Paso at the time) along with other confederates planned a border incursion into Ciudad Juárez, as a signal for a full-blown rebellion against the Mexican government. Mexican authorities were forewarned and immediately took steps to stop the planned rebellion. The Mexican government was able to halt the border excursions, but PLM confederates in the state of Veracruz proceeded as planned, leading to the bloody Acayacuan Rebellion. U. S. authorities arrested Aguirre on October 20, along with fellow conspirator Antonio Villarreal, and charged them with violating American neutrality laws, based upon the supposition that Aguirre’s report on the revolt taking place in Minatitlan, Veracruz, could only have been obtained if he had foreknowledge of the event. Subsequently, Enrique Creel, the governor of Chihuahua presented American authorities with forged documents purporting to demonstrate that Aguirre was guilty of murder in order to gain his extradition. The United States tried Aguirre in November and held him in jail until December 22, 1906, when he was released after magistrates rejected the fraudulent evidence.

Aguirre went back to publishing La Reforma and once again was arrested in June 1908 for violating neutrality laws. He was accused of fomenting the attack of the Las Vacas garrison in Coahuila. Again Aguirre was released for lack of evidence, and he returned to his publishing efforts. 

On December 7, 1909, Aguirre became a naturalized U. S. citizen. The 1910 federal census reported Aguirre as operating a printing business in El Paso. By that time he had been married for twenty-nine years, and three sons and one daughter still lived in the household. Aguirre continued to publish until 1913, but by then his goal of getting rid of Díaz had been accomplished by the events of the Mexican Revolution, and he apparently retired from publishing. In 1920 his passport listed his occupation as civil engineer. Aguirre stayed in El Paso with his family for the rest of his life. He passed away on January 9, 1925, at the age sixty-nine. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso. His wife, who had endured the years of persecution with her husband, burned most of his papers and other publications after his death.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

James S. Griffith, Folk Saints of the Borderlands: Victims, Bandits, & Healers (Tucson, Arizona: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2003). David S. Romo, Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez, 1893–1923 (El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press, 2005). Jesús Vargas Valdez, Tomóchic: La Revolución Adelantada, Vol. 2 (Ciudad Juarez: Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, 1994). Paul Vanderwood, The Power of God Against the Guns of Government: Religious Upheaval in Mexico at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

Jose Maria Herrera

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Handbook of Texas Online, Jose Maria Herrera, "Aguirre, Lauro," accessed September 24, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fag05.

Uploaded on October 18, 2016. Modified on February 9, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.