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Benito Juarez (21 March1806-18 July 1872)

Benito Juarez was a Mexican lawyer and politician of Zapotec from Oaxaca who served five term s as President of Mexico. 1858-1861 as interim, then 1861-1865, 1865-1867, 1867-1871 and 1871-1972 as constitutional president.

He resisted te Franch occupation of Mexico, overthrew the Second Mexican Empire, restored the republic and used liberal efforts to modernize the country.

Benito Juarez was born in a small adobe house in the village of San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca located in the mountain rnge now own as the Sierra Juarez. His parents died when he was 3 and his grandparents died soon after so he was raised by his uncle. He describes his parents as “indio de la raza primaiva del pais” which means “Indians of the primitive race of the country”.

He worked in the corn fields and as a shepherd until he was 12 then walked to the city of Oaxaca de Juarez to go to school. At the time he could only speak Zapotec.

In the city where his sister worked as a cook he took a job as a domestic servant for Antonio Maza. A lay Franciscan, Antonio Salanueva was impressed with young Benito’s intelligence and thirst for learning and arranged for his placement at the city’s seminary. In 1843 Benito married Margarita Maza.

Juarez became a lawyer in 1834 and a judge in 1841. He was governor of the state of Oaxaca from 1847-1852; in 1853 he went into exile because of his objections to the corrupt military dictatorship of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He sent his exile in New Orleans, Louisiana, working in a cigar factory.

In 1854 he helped draft the Ayulta, a document calling for Santa Anna’s deposition and a convention to implement a new constitution.

Faced with growing discontent, Santa Anna resigned in 1855 and Juarez returned to Mexico. The winning party, the liberales (Liberals) formed a provisional government under General Juan Alvarez, inaugurating the period known as La Reforma.

The reform laws sponsored by the puro (pure) wing of the Liberal Party cutailed the power of the Catholic Church and the military while trying to create a modern civil society and capitalist economy based on the model of the United States.

The Lay Juarez (Juarez Law) in 1855 dictated all citizens equal before the law.

Two expressions attached to Benito Juarez are “Among individuals as among nations respect for the rights of others is peace” and “Law has been my shield and my sword” which is written inside many courthouses and tribunal buildings.

It is no wonder, then, why Benito Juarez’ birthday (March 21st) is a national holiday.

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