The battle of the Constitutionalists against the usurper president Victoriano Huerta dragged on from the spring of 1913 to July 1914. The opposition to the man who had come to power over the dead bodies of the democratically elected president, vice-president, and influential members of the Madero administration such as Gustavo Madero and Abraham Gonzalez, had fought a bloody and drawn out campaign for over two years. Among the Constitutionalist generals Pancho Villa stood out as the most powerful with an army close to 40,000 strong. With him was one of the most brilliant military strategists of Mexico, Felipe Ángeles. Ángeles had been a federal commander, then switched to the Madero camp in 1911. In the coup d'etat, the Mexican general remained loyal to President Madero, which earned him arrest and detention. In the summer of 1913, he joined the opposition forces under Venustiano Carranza. He rose to Secretary of War. However, as a rivalry and competition for military supremacy between Carranza and Pancho Villa developed, Ángeles threw his lot with Villa. While the differences between Villa and Carranza simmered below the surface as the common enemy Huerta fought his last, desperate battles, the demise of Huerta brought the split between the two Constitutionalist factions to the surface.

Not wanting the situation in Mexico deteriorate into chaos after Huerta's ouster, President Wilson tried to mediate the situation in an ABC power conference at Niagara in May and June 1914. In a series of secret meetings paralleling the Niagara Conference the Wilson administration and the forces opposing Huerta decided on the modalities of the takeover of Mexico City. Participants included lobbyist and representative of Carranza in the U.S., Charles Douglas, the Constitutionalist ambassador in the U.S., Rafael Zubaran Capmany, and Carranzista Foreign Secretary Luis Cabrera, who joined in the end of May after his return from Spain. Felix A. Sommerfeld and Sherburne G. Hopkins officially negotiated on the Constitutionalists’ behalf, but in reality represented Villa’s faction. The Wilson administration participated through Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan in Washington, Special U.S. envoy John Lind in Veracruz, and special envoy George Carothers who was embedded with Villa. Zubaran Capmany staunchly upheld Carranza’s stance of obstructing any U.S. attempt to mingle in Mexico’s internal affairs. As a result Secretary Bryan refused to talk to him directly and sent his communications via his personal friend turned Constitutionalist attorney Charles Douglas instead. Manuel Esteva, the Mexican Consul General in New York, who had been a personal friend of Sommerfeld for some time, as well as Enrique Llorente who Sommerfeld had recently established in New York to head the Villa junta, complemented Sommerfeld’s team. According to the German agent, the takeover of Mexico City would be accomplished in a matter of weeks through a three-pronged assault. Once Huerta was gone, either General Villar (who had been wounded in the Decena Tragica defending Madero) or General Ángeles would take over the provisional government as dictator.

 Felipe Angeles and Rafael Zubaran Capmany

Felipe Angeles and Rafael Zubaran Capmany

It seems that both Hopkins and Sommerfeld floated the idea of Ángeles becoming provisional President and dictator either as a trial balloon or without checking with the home office. Carranza’s reaction was swift. On June 20th 1914, when he heard rumors of Ángeles’ potential ascendancy to power, Carranza fired the general as his Secretary of War. Most Mexican military leaders including some of Villa’s own generals opposed Ángeles potential candidacy, because he was a former federal officer. Villa and Ángeles quickly told their U.S. power brokers to retract the idea. In a telegram published in the New York Times on June 21st, Villa's financial agent Lazaro De La Garza instructed Sommerfeld to “…categorically deny the statements that Gen. Villa has issued a manifesto proclaiming Gen. Angeles First Chief. Therefore it is completely false.” With or without Ángeles at the helm, Sommerfeld explained to German naval attache Karl Boy-Ed that after initiating changes in the Mexican Constitution, the provisional president would call for elections through which Carranza would be elected President. The “US government knows this plan and supports it,” Sommerfeld reported to Boy-Ed. “The plan” that the German described to Boy-Ed realistically did not aim for the election of Carranza to become President of Mexico. The allusion to “dictatorship,” and “changes in the constitution” allows for an interpretation of what Mexico would look like after Huerta if Hopkins and Sommerfeld had had their way: Carranza would never make it into a presidential contest. Villa and his huge military colossus would control the government through a puppet president named Felipe Ángeles. It would not take long for exactly that scenario to take shape with a minor change of personnel. On the 6th of November 1914, Villa chose General Eulalio Gutierrez Ortiz instead of Ángeles as his puppet. Hopkins and Sommerfeld had devised and executed yet another plan for Mexico - this time to benefit Pancho Villa the man they thought was Madero’s rightful political heir.

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