Today is May 5, Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican celebration that is not marked widely in Costa Rica. But the day means as much to Mexicans as the 1856 Battle of Rivas does to Costa Ricans. This was the day in 1862 when a smaller Mexican force routed a professional French army.
The scene was the plains outside the city of Puebla where Mexican troops held the high ground around the Guadalupe and Loreto forts. The French invaded the country because Mexico’s new government would not pay its international debts. Other European countries had reached agreement, but Napoleon III wanted to impose his rule on México.
Perhaps it was dysentery, the rains or overconfidence, but the 6,500 professional soldiers of the French forces were overwhelmed by 4,500 Mexicans and lost more than 400 soldiers.
The victory was a big boost to Mexican morale and for others in many areas of Latin America. The victory was not to stop the French. They returned reinforced, defeated the Mexicans again at Puebla the next year and then marched into Mexico City where Napoleon III installed Maximilian as the emperor.
When French troops pulled out, the republican government of Benito Juárez captured Maximilian and sent him to the wall. Napoleon III had been able to breach the Monroe Doctrine because the United States was in the middle of the civil War.