Christian Delacruz addresses a crowd from the balcony of his newly won presidential palace, speaking of freedom from slavery and oppression as he announces the overthrow of his predecessor, Fuentes. The crowd roars its approval. Fuentes issues a warning as he is led away to prison.
Delacruz' wife Antonia, and daughter Blanca revel in their new status as first family while cabinet members Marco and Tomas speak of the nation's future. Delacruz' closest confidante Guajardo advises him in the ways of statesmanship.
The Bishop performs the rite of confirmation for Delacruz' son Miguel. Igneo, Delacruz' primary political advocate, uses the occasion to ask for Blanca's hand in marriage. Guajardo, Miguel's godfather, imparts advice to the young man. Igneo and Guajardo exchange their distrust of each other, and Delacruz, alone in the palace chapel, prays for the future of the nation.
A salsa band plays as Delacruz and Guajardo enter a posh nightclub. The band's singer Estella engages in a discourse on the nation's future from the voice of the people. Guajardo offers his viewpoint while playing with a large marionette. Estella and Delacruz dance to the cantina music, while Guajardo discards the marionette with a gesture of contempt.
Delacruz rushes into the cabinet meeting room to discuss the damage from the previous night's devastating earthquake with Cabinet members Tomas and Marco. It is revealed that Miguel was in a village with his cousins when the earthquake struck and is now unreachable. Delacruz announces that relief shipments will be sent to the most devastated areas; Guajardo discusses the shipment's security. Igneo delivers an inspirational speech to overcome catastrophe.
Antonia conveys her concern for Miguel's wellbeing, as Delacruz tells her, to her dismay, that rescue efforts are reserved for the hardest hit areas. Guajardo bursts in to announce that a train carrying relief shipments has been bombed. Antonia advises Delacruz to "sharpen your sword". Left alone, Igneo and Blanca proclaim their love amid darkening circumstances.
Outside the prison, Guajardo is surprised to encounter Blanca emerging, explaining that she comes every week to bring food. Guajardo warns her of the dangers. As he disappears into the prison Igneo approaches, and he and Blanca proclaim their undying love for each other.
Miguel lies dying of cholera in a bedroom of the presidential palace. Antonia admonishes Delacruz harshly, blaming him for Miguel's fate. Delacruz leaves Antonia by Miguel's bed to hear Guajardo warn him that Blanca has been used to pass information to prisoners, and that Igneo is in league with Fuentes. Delacruz dismisses his claims. The Bishop offers Delacruz his sympathy, then warns him of the worsening national situation. As he leaves, Miguel's room is spotlighted as he lies dead. The Bishop administers the last rites, and Antonia proclaims that Delacruz will answer for this.
Estella sits on the lap of the drunken Delacruz in the nightclub. Guajardo is advocating an aggressive approach to dealing with the Fuentesistas; Delacruz is reticent while Estella wants to dance.
Outside the cabinet hall, Antonia informs Delacruz of his son's death and reproaches him harshly. Dazed, Delacruz enters the hall as the Bishop is addressing the cabinet, warning of impending civil unrest. He is followed by a stirring speech from Igneo about traitors in their midst. During his speech, men in ski masks burst in, shooting Igneo and kidnapping Blanca. Delacruz is left kneeling alongside Igneo's lifeless body.
Delacruz stands at the palace balcony, speaking to no one, lamenting the cruel turn of events. Antonia joins him for a bitter reminiscence. They receive a phone call from one of the kidnappers, indicating that they have Blanca held captive. Blanca is seen handcuffed, calling out to Igneo, recalling a dream, engaging with Antonia. The kidnapper tells Delacruz to meet him at the nightclub, and he rushes off.
Delacruz is in the nightclub, drinking with Estella. Estella warns Delacruz that he has become like his enemies. Guajardo enters, informing Delacruz that Fuentes had been executed – without Delacruz' consent. Estella hands Delacruz the telephone; the kidnapper demands Fuentes release in exchange for Blanca. Delacruz is stunned; Guajardo convinces Delacruz to execute the remaining prisoners. Guajardo leaves as the cantina band plays. Shots ring out, and Delacruz is spirited away.
Blanca's body is carried into the palace as the Bishop tries to comfort Antonia before he administers the last rites. Delacruz enters, and Antonia lashes out at him in her grief, banishing him. Guajardo enters, revealing his alliance with Antonia.
There has been violence in the streets in the wake of the assassination attempt; Delacruz encounters the Bishop caring for the wounded. The Bishop warns him that his enemy is very close to him; Delacruz sees a boy with a marionette and makes the connection to Guajardo. Marco enters proclaiming that the riot is growing near as soldiers spirit Delacruz away. A mob approaches the palace dancing maniacally. The frenzy builds to an intense pitch; suddenly soldiers in jeeps appear and fire into the crowd with machine guns.
Antonia is with Guajardo in the cabinet room as he is subtly threatening any cabinet members who may be plotting against him. Delacruz enters in a rage, ordering Guajardo's arrest, but no one moves. Antonia admonishes Delacruz before Guajardo has him taken away. He then betrays Antonia, and Delacruz is shot handcuffed to his widow. Guajardo ascends to the palace balcony and addresses the crowd, speaking of freedom from slavery and oppression as he announces the overthrow of his predecessor.