How Mexico Fought Franco

Just two countries supported the Republic during the Spanish Civil War: the Soviet Union and Mexico. While Soviet help came with strings attached, Mexico’s reflected the country’s contentious relationship with its old colonial master.

Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas with some of the ‘Niños de Morelia’ escaping Franco’s Spain, Mexico City, 1937. Bettman/Getty Images.

In 1937 a boat carrying 450 Spanish children, aged between five and 15, docked at the sultry tropical port of Veracruz on Mexico’s Atlantic coast. The children – not, in most cases, orphans, but refugees whose families had sent them across the world to escape the civil war then ravaging Spain – were feted on arrival and taken, via Mexico City, to a boarding facility in Morelia, a conservative Catholic town in the western state of Michoacán. Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40), who was a native of Michoacán, and his wife Amalia Solórzano, played a prominent role in welcoming the so-called ‘Niños de Morelia’ (‘Children of Morelia’). But, after the official junketing was over, the children faced a tough challenge. Life in the facility was spartan and discipline was lax. Some of their Mexican minders regarded them as hooligans. The children complained about the Mexican food – tortillas (maize pancakes) and frijoles (beans) – and asked for bacalao (cod) and vino tinto (red wine), which they did not get. They also offended conservative Catholic opinion by ostentatiously saluting with the clenched fist of communist solidarity.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.