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President Porfirio Diaz

José de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori was a 16-year-old militia soldier during the U.S.-Mexican War, the beginning of a career of military and political service that would lead him to the presidency of Mexico. Born a poor mestizo in Oaxaca in 1830, Diaz had a brief stint as a neophyte for the priesthood before joining the army to oppose the U.S. invasion of Mexico. Although he saw no combat during the war, his patriotic zeal brought him to the attention of a fellow Oaxacan, Benito Juarez, who took Diaz on as a protégé.

Under the direction of his mentor, Diaz passed the law exams in 1853 and became active in liberal causes. He was one of the co-conspirators in the Revolution of Ayutla, which in 1855 drove Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna from power for the last time. When Juarez returned from exile and gained the presidency of Mexico, Diaz became one of his most loyal supporters and provided the military muscle for his liberal causes.

When the French engineered an intervention in 1862, Diaz commanded the Mexican cavalry on the storied Cinco de Mayo victory at the Battle of Puebla and earned the rank of general. By the end of that conflict, he had been wounded twice, eluded capture three times, and had defeated the imperialists on nine separate occasions. Diaz emerged a national hero, but he and Juarez had a falling out and the breach was never repaired. The one-time friends turned into political rivals.

Diaz assumed the presidency periodically in the 1870s, and, from 1884 until his ouster in 1911, served as the dictator of Mexico. Diaz died an exile in France in 1915, a hero of Mexico’s formative years and the last of the nineteenth century caudillo warlords