Saturnino Cedillo

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Saturnino Cedillo Martínez (November 29, 1890 in Ciudad del Maíz, San Luis Potosí - January 11, 1939 in Sierra Ventana, San Luis Potosí) was a Mexican politician who participated in the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War. He was governor of San Luis Potosí from 1927 to 1931 through the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR) and served as Secretary of Agriculture on two occasions, one under President Pascual Ortiz Rubio and again under President Lázaro Cárdenas. He maintained de facto control of his home state until shortly before his death.[1]

Saturnino Cedillo


Saturnino Cedillo was the son of Amado Cedillo and Pantaleona Martínez. Saturnino was born in 1890 in Palomas, a ranch belonging to the municipality of Ciudad del Maíz. He was one of seven siblings: Elena, Homobono, Magdaleno, Cleofas, Engracia and Higinia. It would be thanks to his brothers Cleofas and Magdaleno that Saturnino went into the revolution.

The first actions of dissent performed by the Cedillo family weren't against the government per se; they instead acted against the wealthy landowners who preyed on their small neighbor's lands and often served as government representatives. This type of practice was widespread throughout the Porfiriato.

At first, the Cedillos didn't show much interest in political issues, much less the anti-reelectionist movement that gained strength after the economic crisis of 1907. It was through a school teacher from the nearby Tula, Tamaulipas called Alberto Carrera Torres, a friend of Magdaleno Cedillo that the brothers began their involvement in politics. However, even after being introduced to politics, Cedillo didn't show much interest in the Maderista movement, in part due to its lack of positioning regarding the "agrarian question".

The first armed revolt the Cedillo brothers were involved in was against the Maderista government which ruled San Luis Potosí at the time. On November 17, 1912 they participated in a group of coordinated attacks in Río Verde, Tula, and Ciudad del Maíz. At the end, Saturnino and Cleofas read the Plan of Ayala to the peasants. After hearing about the failure of their attack on Río Verde, the brothers retreated to Tula, where they decided to cross the border into the United States in order to flee. Cedillo then got arrested at the U.S. - Mexico border after trying to return to Mexico with weapons he had bought to arm his men. He was transferred to San Luis Potosí, where he spent a relatively short time in prison before being released.

After Madero's assassination, the Cedillos momentarily surrendered to usurper Victoriano Huerta, before rising up in arms against him. What followed was a series of political maneuvers which allowed Saturnino to be on the triumphant side of several political conflicts. At first they joined Venustiano Carranza's constitutionalist movement, only to join Villistas and Zapatistas at the Aguascalientes Convention in 1914 when the two groups disavowed Carranza's government.[2]

After the death of his brothers Cleofas and Magdaleno shortly after the Battle of El Ébano in 1915 and after a skirmish near Ciudad del Maíz in 1917, respectively, Saturnino surrendered, but this was not accepted by the Constitucionalistas. After living in hiding for some years, things took a turn for the better with Álvaro Obregón's presidency. Cedillo adhered to the Plan of Agua Prieta and was rewarded with his inclusion in the Federal Army as a Brigade General. Cedillo was also given control of his native state.

Saturnino Cedillo thrived under the rule of the sonorenses. After Plutarco Elías Calles took power in 1924, Cedillo's cacicazgo became stronger, as did his control over the state's political affairs. Cedillo was granted with even more control after his intervention in the Cristero War, in which he was an important asset in fighting the catholic rebels in Jalisco and Guanajuato, having killed their leader, Enrique Gorostieta in 1929.[3] This control allowed him to create and maintain Military-Agricultural Colonies in his area of control, where veterans of his army and their widows could live and work the land. After Obregón's assassination at the hands of a religious fanatic who also hailed from San Luis Potosí, Calles's hold on Mexico's politics became even stronger.

By 1934 Cedillo had served as the Minister of Agriculture under Sonoran Pascual Ortiz Rubio, albeit shortly. He was held in high regard by the agraristas, whom he convinced of supporting then-presidential candidate Lázaro Cárdenas. Cedillo and Cárdenas shared similarities regarding land reform, but their beliefs on the matter differed radically due to the fact that Cedillo was in favor of land reform based on the concept of private ownership, while Cárdenas was a firm enforcer of the co-ownership known as ejidos. Similarly, Cedillo was against the nationalization of the oil and electric industries that took place under Cárdenas's presidency, speaking openly against them. These differences would prove fatal for the relationship between the two politicians.[4]

After a series of conflicts between the President and his Minister of Agriculture which resulted in the latter being left out of most of the decision making process, a downfall in relations between the two became inevitable. These included accusations from Vicente Lombardo Toledano, then leader of the government endorsed Confederation of Mexican Workers of Cedillo being a fascist, as well as General Francisco Múgica's attacks on Cedillo's proposed solution to the "agrarian question". The event that led to Cedillo's resignation was a conflict between him and students from Chapingo Autonomous University.

It was around this time that Graham Greene visited Gen. Cedillo at his home in Palomas. In his book about his travels to Mexico, Greene briefly describes his meeting with Gen. Cedillo, and talks about the existing concern from the federal government of an uprising led by the agrarian warlord.[5] By the Fall of 1938, most of Cedillo's private army had been disarmed, and important characters had been trying to convince him not to embark on a suicidal uprising against the cardenista government.[6] Cedillo did not listen, however, and rose up in arms against Cárdenas at the beginning of 1939. The inevitable happened and Saturnino was killed, allegedly after a skirmish with federal forces, although theories of treason by one of his men also exist, on January 11, 1939.


Although mostly forgotten by historiography, due to the fact that he was considered a traitor as he took up arms against the people, thanks in part to Lombardo Toledano's baseless accusations of Cedillo's links to the Nazis—which have since been disproven[7] —Cedillo's legacy can be still seen today, in the form of the former colonies that he founded in the surroundings of Ciudad del Maíz, and the commemoration that takes place in the same town on the 11th of January every year.


  1. ^ Ankerson, Dudley. Agrarian Warlord. Saturnino Cedillo and the Mexican Revolution in San Luis Potosi. Northern Illinois University Press. DeKalb. 1984.
  2. ^ Rojas, Beatriz. La pequeña guerra: Los Carrera Torres y los Cedillo. El Colegio de Michoacán. Morelia. 1983.
  3. ^ Paradoxically, Cedillo was himself a Catholic and sympathized with the cristero cause, which led to the anti-religious "Calles Laws" not being enforced in San Luis Potosí.
  4. ^ Martínez Assad, Carlos. Los rebeldes vencidos. Cedillo contra el Estado Cardenista. Fondo de Cultura Económica. México. 1990.
  5. ^ Greene, Graham. The Lawless Roads. Penguin Books. New York City. 2006.
  6. ^ Santos, Gonzalo N. Memorias. Grijalbo. México. 1986.
  7. ^ Katz, Friedrich. "Introducción", in Carlos Martínez Assad (comp.) El camino de la rebelión del General Saturnino Cedillo. Oceano. México. 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ankerson, Dudley. Agrarian Warlord: Saturnino Cedillo and the Mexican Revolution in San Luis Potosí. DeKalb IL: Northern Illinois University Press 1984.
  • Camp, Roderic Ai. "Saturnino Cedillo" in Mexican Political Biographies. 2nd edition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1982.
  • Falcón, Romana. Revolución y caciquismo: San Luis Potosí 1910-1938. Mexico City: El Colegio de México 1984.

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