On April 14, 1931, King Alfonso XIII left for exile and the Second Republic was proclaimed in Spain. With this, a new chapter was inaugurated in the history of the European country and also in its relationship with Latin America.
The Second Republic had one of its greatest allies in Mexico, since its proclamation, during the Civil War (1936-1939) triggered as a result of the coup d’état of General Francisco Franco, and even after the victory of the rebellious side that imposed a military regime that would last 40 years.
In fact, the North American country was one of the main recipients of Republican exiles after the war.
But in the region, not all countries had the same degree of relationship with the Spanish Republic.
An uneven reception
For the historian Clara Lida, the relationship of Latin America with the Second Republic depends on three factors: the country in question, the citizenship of that country and, thirdly, the Spanish communities in each country.
Lida, who was born in Buenos Aires and is a researcher at El Colegio de México (Colmex), where she directs the Mexico-Spain Chair, gives two opposite examples.
“In the case of Mexico, the Republic is very welcome, and very well received by the government of the time, a government after the 1910 Revolution, and by the general public,” he explains.
“They are both republican countries, and the idea that there is a republic in Spain is something very close to the Latin American world to begin with, and to the Mexican especially,” he continues.
However, he points out, “the Spanish community in Mexico, rather well-off, more traditional and closer to the monarchy, was not so in favor of the Republic.”
On the other hand, in Argentina there was a government that emerged from a military coup (1930), and this “did not receive much sympathy from the Republic,” says Lida.
Although in this case, “the general population was very receptive and a large part of the Spanish colony in Argentina, a large Spanish immigration closely linked to the world of work, received the Republic with great enthusiasm.”
Influence of American Republicanism
A less known aspect of the relationship between Latin America in general, and Mexico in particular, with the Second Republic, is the influence it had on the new Spanish republican Constitution.
“Those who participated in the formation of the Spanish Constitution were very aware of Mexican constitutionalism and many of its ideas were also applied to Spain, ” explains historian Lida.
This is because, except for the ephemeral antecedent of the First Republic (1873-1874), in Spain, there were no republican antecedents, “so that looking towards the American republics and towards American constitutionalism had a certain logic, although there was also influence from the German Weimar Republic “.
“In the case of twentieth-century Mexico, arising from an early revolution with a Constitution that in 1917 was very advanced and very progressive, that Constitution had a very direct influence on the Republican Constitution of 1931.”
The Constitution of Mexico established a clear division between the Church and the State, a clear inclination and vocation for secular and free education, a defense of the nationalization of subsoil wealth, and also had an article in favor of agrarian reform. .
“There were many articles that the Second Republic looked at not only with sympathy, but some adjusted to its own Constitution.”
On the page of the Spanish Congress, the influence of the Mexican Constitution on the Spanish of 1931 is recognized, in which “it already constitutionalizes the so-called fundamental rights of the third generation or social and economic rights.”
And the agrarian and educational reforms would be one of the priorities of the republican government.
Thus, for example, secularism is one of the political principles that inspire the Republican Constitution, which also establishes that “wealth is subordinate to the interests of the national economy, constitutionalizing the intervening and social State that could expropriate on the basis of a supreme social interest”.
In defense of the Republic
With the military uprising of July 1936 and the subsequent Civil War, again the positions in Latin America varied greatly.
Mexico made a staunch defense of the government of the Republic, while other countries in the region, such as Argentina or Brazil, quickly sided with the rebels.
“Mexico had a very clear and simple attitude towards the republican government in 1936: defend the Republic because it was a democratically constituted state,” Alberto Enríquez, professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the National Autonomous University, told BBC Mundo. from Mexico, for another report on the figure of Manuel Azaña, the last president of the Spanish Republic.
When the conflict broke out in 1936, Western democracies opted in the League of Nations (the precursor of the UN) for the Pact of Non-Intervention, which in practice meant turning their back on the Republic, something to which Mexico refused.
“Mexico manifests itself in favor of the Republic in all the international forums in which it participated, from the League of Nations to others in Latin America, (where) it was also a staunch defender of legitimately constituted governments and (took a position) against of military coups, “Lida also says.
That support, which began in diplomatic terms , also occurred in material terms .
“Within the limited possibilities of a Mexico that did not have great resources,” the country sent food, medicine and the few weapons it had to the Republican side, explains the historian.
As an anecdote of the support of the Mexican government to the Republic, during the commemoration of Independence in the Zócalo in 1936, the then president Lázaro Cárdenas, during the traditional cry that is normally “Long live Mexico!”, Added a “Long live the Spanish Republic! “.
Mexico, moreover, was the only country in the region that never recognized the legitimacy of the Franco government.
The legacy of the Republic in Mexico
One of the main consequences for Latin America of the victory of the rebels in the Civil War was the arrival of Republican exiles.
Mexico, with 20,000, was the country in the region that welcomed the most Republican refugees . Chile, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina received about 2,000 each .
The exiles reached other countries, especially France, but also the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
But Mexico gave special protection to Spanish refugees.
In fact, the Mexican ambassador to France, Luis I. Rodríguez, was in charge of protecting Manuel Azaña , who had crossed the French border on foot in 1939.
The last president of the Spanish Republic died from his health problems on November 3, 1940 in a room at the Hotel du Midi in the city of Montauban, in southwestern France.
The room, having been rented by the Mexican embassy, was considered Mexican territory.
And during his funeral, his coffin was covered by the Mexican flag.
“It will be covered with pride by the flag of Mexico. For us it will be a privilege, for the Republicans, a hope and for you, a painful lesson,” Ambassador Rodríguez replied to the prefect of Montauban, as he recounted in his newspapers of the time, edited by the Colegio de México in 2000.
Some steamboats would also depart from France for Mexico with thousands of Spanish refugees on board.
“Mexico made a great effort to support the Republicans displaced and threatened by the military coup,” explains Lida. “A clear policy of openness to Spanish exile was generated.”
In Argentina there was no such official support as in Mexico, although an intellectual academic exile also arrived that in the first years was also inserted in Argentine universities.
But in the case of Mexico, the country had come out of a revolution and that meant that it was rebuilding little by little on many levels.
One of the levels was academic and educational, and in that sense the North American country benefited from the arrival of Spanish intellectuals .
Mexican universities, such as the National Polytechnic Institute and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), were nurtured by these intellectuals.
“There were many Spanish intellectuals and artists in exile who were able to insert themselves into the Mexican, academic, university world of work … and they left a mark of what they knew, of what they brought with them of intellectual and professional baggage,” says Lida.
Some of them founded prestigious institutions such as the Casa de México in Spain, which is currently the Colegio de México, and the Ateneo Español de México .
The exiles also founded schools, some of which continue to function, such as the renowned Colegio Madrid and the Instituto Luis Vives.
With all this, and in some way, the Republic continued to live in Mexico.