Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives his regularly scheduled...

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives his regularly scheduled morning press conference, decorated with an image of Francisco "Pancho" Villa, a general in the Mexican Revolution, at the National Palace in Mexico City, Feb. 28, 2023. Mexico’s president praised Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, for his 1916 attack on Columbus, New Mexico, a raid that killed 18 Americans, mostly civilians. Credit: AP/Marco Ugarte

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president on Tuesday praised Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa for his 1916 attack on Columbus, New Mexico, a raid that killed 18 Americans, mostly civilians.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the attack “daring” and said “we should thank” Villa for it.

“We should thank Villa for, among other things, the daring feat of having attacked Columbus, New Mexico, to prevent what he considered acts of treason,” López Obrador said.

Mexico has long honored Villa in government textbooks and monuments, but that was for his domestic role in the 1910-17 Revolution that ousted dictator Porfirio Diaz. The Columbus attack was mostly related to Villa’s personal disputes, not the Revolution, and previous Mexican administrations had remained mostly silent about it.

López Obrador quoted his favorite historian, Pedro Salmerón, as saying the attack was “a symbol of resistance against imperialism.” It would not be the first time the president's fondness for Salmerón has caused problems.

In 2022, López Obrador tried to appoint Salmerón as Mexico's ambassador to Panama. But Panama refused to accept Salmerón after sexual harassment allegations against him surfaced. Obrador criticized Panama for that decision and called Salmerón “a great historian.”

Villa's forces attacked Columbus in the early morning of March 6, 1916, looting and burning homes and businesses. Around a dozen or so Columbus residents and eight U.S. soldiers were killed before members of the U.S. 13th Cavalry Regiment drove the Villistas back across the border. Some 70 to 75 of the attackers also died.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered an 11-month military expedition into Mexico to chase down Villa, but they never managed to catch him.

Historians have long debated the reason for Villa’s attack. University of Houston history professor José Ángel Hernández said it came as Mexico was locked in a violent civil war. Villa felt betrayed by President Woodrow Wilson, who Villa believed would recognize his rebel government, Hernández said.

Instead, Washington recognized the government of another Revolutionary leader, Venustiano Carranza. That enraged Villa, who was also reportedly angry at an arms dealer in the United States who had purportedly sold him defective ammunition.

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