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José de León Toral in prison during his trial.
José de León Toral as a young man.

José de León Toral (December 23, 1900 – February 9, 1929 in Mexico City) was an anti-government Roman Catholic who assassinated general Álvaro Obregón, then-president elect of Mexico, in 1928.

León Toral was born in Matehuala, San Luis Potosí, into a family of Catholic miners. He moved to Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution and witnessed the then-Constitutionalist general Obregón closing churches and arresting priests who were suspected of supporting former president Victoriano Huerta. In 1920, he joined the National League for the Defense of Religious Freedom, which opposed the governments of Obregón (1920–1924) and Plutarco Elías Calles and reportedly was also involved in the Cristero movement.

During the Calles administration, oppression against the Catholic Church greatly expanded in 1926 under the Calles Law, which provided severe penalties for priests and individuals who violated the provisions of the 1917 Constitution. For instance, wearing clerical garb in public (outside Church buildings) earned a fine of 500 pesos (approximately $250 US at the time); a priest who criticized the government could be imprisoned for five years, with no right to trial by jury.[1]

Some states enacted even more oppressive measures. Chihuahua enacted a law permitting only a single priest to serve the entire Catholic congregation of the state.[2] To help enforce the law, Calles seized church property, expelled all foreign priests, and closed the monasteries, convents and religious schools.[3]

Obregón had been more lenient to Catholics during his time in office, but the Cristeros and almost everyone else believed that Calles was his puppet leader.[4]:399 In 1927, two of León Toral's friends Humberto and Miguel Pro were executed after having been wrongly convicted[citation needed] of plotting to assassinate Obregón. Thus, having been incited by a Catholic nun, Concepción Acevedo de la Llata (also known as Madre Conchita), he decided to assassinate Obregón, whom he blamed for the Mexican government's atrocities against the Catholic Church, if Obregón was reelected.

On 17 July 1928, two weeks after Obregón had been re-elected president, León Toral entered disguised as a caricaturist to La Bombilla, a restaurant in San Ángel, during a banquet organized to honor General Obregón. He made a caricature of Obregón, an orchestra director, and Aarón Sáenz and showed them to Obregón[5], who told him the drawing had good likeness and suggested he continue. After Obregón turned around to sit down, León Toral suddenly drew a gun and shot him five or six times in the back, killing Obregón instantly.[4]:403

León Toral was arrested immediately and pleaded guilty, claiming he killed Obregón in order to facilitate the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ.[6] Mother Conchita was also arrested and received a 20-year prison sentence but was pardoned after serving 13 and eventually married Carlos Castro Balda, a bomber of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies.[7][8][9] León Toral was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad in February 1929. His last words were ¡Viva Cristo Rey! (Long Live Christ the King!), the battle cry of the Cristeros.


  1. ^ Tuck, Jim THE CRISTERO REBELLION – PART 1 Mexico Connect 1996
  2. ^ Mexico, Religion U.S. Library of Congress
  3. ^ Warnock, John W. The Other Mexico: The North American Triangle Completed p. 27 (1995 Black Rose Books, Ltd); ISBN 1551640287
  4. ^ a b Enrique Krauze (1997). Mexico: Biography of Power: A History of Modern Mexico, 1810–1996. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060163259.
  5. ^ Gobierno de la Ciudad de México. "Semblanza del General Álvaro Obregón". Delegación Álvaro Obregón. Retrieved 19 July 2018.
  6. ^ "MEXICO: Ladies & Gentlemen". Time. 12 November 1928.
  7. ^ Zabludovsky, Jacobo (15 July 2013). "Castro Balda se confiesa" [Castro Balda confess]. El Universal (in Spanish). Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  8. ^ "Milestones, Nov. 5, 1934". Time. 5 November 1934. Retrieved 16 July 2013. Married. The instigator of Mexican President-Elect Alvaro Obregón's assassination, an ex-nun, Maria Concepcion Acevedo y de la Lata (TIME, July 30, 1928); to Desperado Carlos Castro Balda, convicted of attempting to blow up the Mexican Chamber of Deputies
  9. ^ Zabludovsky, Jacobo (9 April 2007). "La madre Conchita y el aborto" [Mother Conchita and abortion]. El Universal (in Spanish). Retrieved 16 July 2013.