Agua Prieta had been a setup. The U.S. government had done everything in its power, short of engaging its own military, in an unprecedented move to make sure Villa would be defeated. According the special U.S. envoy George C. Carothers, who had been with Villa for the past years, the Mexican general appeared now “irresponsible and dangerous. He was subject to violent fits of temper and was capable of any extreme.”

Leon Canova, Head of the Latin American Desk in the State Department

Leon Canova, Head of the Latin American Desk in the State Department

Villa issued a damning proclamation against Carranza on November 9, 1915, with the gist that he had sold out the revolution and his country to the United States. Villa had become convinced that a secret pact between Carranza and the Wilson administration had precipitated his demise. He charged that Carranza had agreed to eight concessions: 1. Amnesty for all political prisoners; 2. U.S. rights over Magdalena Bay, Tehuantepec, and an oil zone for 99 years; 3. Mexico’s Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Finance ministries would be filled with candidates supported by Washington; 4. All paper money issued by the revolution would be consolidated; 5. All just claims by foreigners for damages caused by the revolution would be paid and all confiscated property returned; 6. The Mexican National Railways would be controlled by the governing board in New York until the debts to this board were repaid; 7. The United States through Wall Street bankers, would grant a $500 million loan; 8. Pablo Gonzalez would be named provisional president and would call for elections within six months. Historian Friedrich Katz, the premier scholar on the topic of Pancho Villa, researched the existence of this secret agreement thoroughly. He found evidence that Carranza agreed to examine U.S. claims for damages and that Speyer and Company had offered to support a new Mexican government with $500 million. The historian still concluded, “There is no evidence that Carranza ever signed such a pact.”

However, there was much more evidence than historian Katz and others cited bolstering the judgment that most of these eight points were indeed part of a secret understanding, even if it was never formally put to paper. Pancho Villa did have ample reason to believe that this agreement existed. John R. Silliman, the U.S. consul in Saltillo, approached the revolutionary chieftain in December of 1914, and offered recognition of his government for “the use of lower [sic] California [by the American navy], Magdalena Bay [as a naval station], and the Tampico oil fields.” Villa declined. The American lawyer, James M. Keedy, approached Villa with a message from Leon Canova, the head of the Mexican desk in the State Department in September 1915, after Villa had conceded to General Scott whatever the State Department required to recognize his faction. Canova demanded the power to name Villa’s cabinet in case of recognition. As it turned out, Keedy was a German secret service agent, whom Sommerfeld likely had dispatched. Sommerfeld, whose mission was to create an American military intervention, thus maintained his distance from the plans of a conspiratorial faction within the State Department, while remaining intricately involved.

General Scott’s papers are incomplete insofar as to the total list of demands as a prerequisite to recognition he presented to Villa in August. It could well have contained items such as the use of Magdalena Bay and American control over the Mexican railways. Undoubtedly, there were more attempts to wrest territorial and financial concessions from Villa as he grew more desperate in the fall of 1915. Villa cited such attempts to his confidantes, for example to the Chihuahuan Secretary of State, Silvestre Terrazas. However, Villa had clearly rejected any such proposals. Given the knowledge of the State Department’s desires for territorial and financial concessions one cannot blame Villa and his supporters, including General Scott, for wondering what Carranza had offered that got him such prompt recognition. Roque Gonzales Garza, one of Villa’s closest advisers and negotiator in Washington and New York, wrote to his Mexican chief on October 29, “… you have always been miserably deceived… I do not entirely know what has been decided concretely, but I am convinced that something very dark has been agreed on; for I have no other explanation for the sudden change in U.S. policy against our group and in favor of Carranza.”

The New York Times reported that the new Board of Directors of the National Railways of Mexico had been elected on the day after Gonzales Garza wrote to Villa that there must have been foul play. Wrangling over control of the railroads had driven American support away from Porfirio Díaz to Francisco Madero, and now to Venustiano Carranza. It was stacked with favorites of Charles Flint and Henry Clay Pierce. Alberto Pani remained the head of the board. He had been installed through Sherburne Hopkins for Henry Clay Pierce in 1914. Carranza clearly was cooperating in this for the U.S. critical industry and point six of Villa’s charges. Carranza released some political prisoners and immediately started to return confiscated properties. He allowed that American financiers stacked the National Railways’ Board in their favor. The First Chief also immediately began eliminating all fiat money and issued a new currency in the spring of 1916. Fascinatingly, although maybe just a fluke, the El Paso Herald printed right below the article reporting on the new Board of Directors for the Mexican railways that Carranza had not signed any secret agreement: “Denies That U.S. Imposed Any Condition on Carranza.” He might not have signed anything concrete. However, his actions subsequent to the U.S. recognition in October tell a story much in line with Villa’s accusations. Whether formally committed to paper or through informal channels, Villa had ample reasons to believe that Carranza had offered concessions to the United States that put Mexican sovereignty into question, especially if advisers close to him including Felix Sommerfeld told him so.

The avalanche of reports in the American press of Villa’s rage against the United States and President Wilson, in particular, precipitated the last known letter from Felix Sommerfeld to Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison in defense of Pancho Villa. Sommerfeld wrote on November 12, 1915, “I am enclosing a clipping from today’s N.Y. American with an alleged interview of one of the Hearst reporters [John W. Roberts] with General Villa… I do wish to protest most emphatically against these intentionally and willfully false statements created in the mind of an irresponsible reporter who might have received instructions from headquarters to write such stuff in order to conform with [sic] the political tendency of the paper.” Roberts had written under the heading “Whiskers Tie Mexico’s Fate, Writes Villa… Tell Mr. Wilson that he is not a democrat. Tell him I say he prefers whiskers [i.e. Venustiano Carranza] to valor, egotism to personal honor, shamelessness to the welfare of the Mexican people.”

Read the whole story of German involvement in Mexico in World War I in Felix A. Sommerfeld and the Mexican Front in the Great War.




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