Today is the birthday of Benito Juarez, the 19th century president of Mexico. Every year, on the third Monday in March, Benito Juarez Day is celebrated as a national holiday in Mexico. This year it fell on Monday March 19, and being a public holiday it meant that banks, school and businesses were closed for festivities in celebration of his life. So who is Benito Juarez and why is he so loved and admired as a national hero?
Benito Juarez was born on 21 March 1806, and had to overcame many challenges in his early years of life. He was orphaned as a child and lived in desperate poverty, forced to work a labourer until the age of 12. After moving to Oaxaca to live with his sister he began to learned Spanish and later entered the Santa Cruz seminary and later graduated from the Institute of Science and Art with a law degree. Juarez worked as a lawyer and then as a politician until he was elected president of Mexico on January 15, 1858.
The Juarez presidency took place during an era chaos eras in Mexico’s history. It was during this time that the nation’s consolidation as a republic. Juarez had a significant part to play, with his rule referred to by historians as ‘La Reforma” (The Reform). The resulting political and a social revolution that followed led to many significant reforms to the Mexican constitution.
Juarez was also instrumental in putting up a resistance to the French occupation in Mexico, also managed to overthrow the Second Mexican Empire in order to restore the Mexican Republic. He also worked to reduce the Catholic Church’s influence on politics in Mexico and campaigned on behalf of the rights of indigenous peoples. These efforts, considered quite liberal for this time period, resulted in the modernization of the Mexican nation.
Juarez ended up serving five terms as Mexico’s 26th president, over 14 years in total, until July 18, 1872 when he died. To this day he is still the only full-blooded native to ever serve as president of Mexico. You will find his name everywhere in Mexico, including the northern city of Ciudad Juarez which is named after him. In Playa del Carmen you will find a bust of his head at the corner of the main street Juarez Avenue (also named after him) and the highway.
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