Cinco de Mayo: Commemorating a Small Battle Over Debts, Not Independence
Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of the Mexican Army’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. This internationally celebrated fiesta date first took place in the aftermath of the Mexican–American War of 1846–48 and the 1858–61 Reform War. The Reform War was a civil war and it pitted Liberals (who believed in separation of church and state and freedom of religion) against the Conservatives (who favored a tight bond between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican State).
These wars left the Mexican Treasury nearly bankrupt and on July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years as Mexico defaulted on a number of foreign debts that it owed to England, Spain, and France. All three countries invaded Mexico, but England and Spain retreated by the next year. France however, stayed in hopes of creating a monarchy in Mexico led by the Archduke of Austria, Maximilian.
When General Charles de Lorencez's French soliders met General Ignacio Zaragoza's fewer and poorly trained Mexican troops, Zaragoza's forces ended in triumph. Of 8,000 French soldiers, 462 were killed in the Puebla battle compared to 83 of 4,000 Mexican soldiers losing their lives. Although this win was small, it lent support to Mexico's resistance against the French who withdrew from Mexico six years later.
On May 9th, 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday regarded as "Battle of Cinco de Mayo". Although recognized today in some countries as a day of Mexican heritage celebration, it is not a federal holiday in Mexico but still celebrated regionally.