The Pastry Wars


The Pastry Wars 


Mexican independence didn’t mean the end of conflict for the country. In fact, quite the opposite was true. Several wars marked the 19th century in Mexico, the first of which once again involved the French.


In the 1830s, France was one of the country’s major trading partners, but it was unable to obtain privileged status (unlike the United Kingdom and the United States), and products from France and its colonies were heavily taxed. Given the political instability of the decade, the French community in Mexico was also the victim of numerous abuses, including “forced loans” to alleviate the country’s economic problems. These merchants contacted French diplomats in Mexico to demand reparations, which were refused by Foreign Minister Luis Cuevas on the grounds that the country's recent period of revolutionary unrest cleared the Mexican government of any responsibility for these issues.


Among the French nationals demanding compensation was Remontel, a pastry chef who owned a pastry shop in Mexico City's Tacubaya district, who complained that it had been ransacked by Mexican troops during conflicts in the closing stages of the War of Independence in 1832. This funny detail led historians to refer to what followed as The Pastry Wars.


In 1838, a fleet of 26 French ships arrived off the coast of Veracruz and demanded payment of 600,000 pesos (an exorbitant sum for the time), failing which they would blockade all the Mexican ports they could to stop the country’s exports. At first, the government simply went around the blockade by passing Mexican products through the newly independent Texas, but Texas soon decided to stop this cooperation for fear of having its own exports blocked by the French.


Intervention by the United Kingdom settled the conflict, which was marked by battles between the French and Mexican armies for control of the many ports held by the French. President Anastasio Bustamante finally promised to pay the 600,000 pesos, and the French troops withdrew in March 1839.


But the money was never paid. Let’s not forget that Mexico occupied a prime position between North and South America and was of great commercial interest to European nations. Historians can debate the respective responsibilities of the countries involved in this conflict. But President Bustamante’s failure to keep his promise of payment fueled a certain Gallic hostility towards Mexico and was one of the reasons given for the second French intervention in 1861.


But that’s a story for another time in our short history of Mexico.