Mexico since the Revolution

Although the most violent period of the Revolution came to an end in 1917, political violence persisted and political life continued to be dominated by the leading Carrancista officers. In 1920 Carranza was assassinated after attempting to engineer the presidential victory of one of his supporters. His successor was Alvaro Obregón, who survived a full four years in office before handing over to Plutarco Elías Calles in 1924 but who was assassinated in 1928 after winning re-election. Calles was able to govern from behind the scenes during the three interim presidencies between 1928 and 1934. Under Calles the government came into conflict with the Church as it attempted to implement the anticlerical aspects of the Constitution; the Cristero Rebellion cost some 90,000 lives before it was ended by negotiation. The most important of Calles' initiatives was, however, the creation of a political party, the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR) which, despite several name changes, has controlled the Mexican government since .

Though handpicked for the presidency by Calles in 1934, Lázaro Cárdenas isolated his patron to prevent his continuing influence. Cárdenas was to become the most popular Mexican president of the 20th century, remembered in particular for two policies: agrarian reform and oil nationalization. During Cárdenas' six-year term, 20 million hectares of land were redistributed, twice as much as under all his post-Revolutionary predecessors combined. By 1940 one third of all Mexicans had received land, most of it in communal
rather than as individual holdings. The nationalization of all foreign-owned petroleum companies in March 1938, following years of disputes between workers and management, made Cárdenas a national hero, though it temporarily soured relations with the United States.

Since the Cárdenas years, Mexican governments have focused on encouraging industrialization. Manuel Avila Camacho, who succeeded Cárdenas, was a moderate Catholic who moved away from social reform and who encouraged foreign investment to stimulate industrial growth. The succeeding administrations of Miguel Alemán (1946-1952) and Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1952-1958) continued these policies but under Adolfo López Mateos (1958-1964) there was a move back to agrarian reform, though this time in favour of individual holdings; welfare reform and rural education were promoted. The political calm of the previous administrations was broken under the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970). Demands for a liberalization of the political system were rejected and several election victories by the opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) were annulled. The most serious crisis came in 1968 in the run-up to the Mexico City Olympics: on 2 October security forces opened fire, killing hundreds of students at a protest in Tlatelolco in the capital.

Luis Echeverría, who succeeded Díaz Ordaz in 1970, tried to offset the political unrest caused by these events by emphasizing economic nationalism and increased state involvement in social welfare and rural development, policies which involved the most rapid expansion in the state sector since the Revolution. By the end of his presidency these policies, combined with the worldwide inflation of the early 1970s, had contributed to an economic crisis which led to a 60% devaluation of the peso in September 1976 followed by another of 40% a month later.

José López Portillo, who became president in 1976, began with the disadvantage of having been Echevarría's finance minister. Large oil discoveries mainly in the southern states of Tabasco and Chiapas and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico dated from the Echevarría administration, but under López Portillo oil production steadily increased and by 1981 Mexico was the world's fourth largest producer. This new wealth was not, however, to provide a solution to the country's problems which included a rapidly increasing urban population and rising unemployment. Increased government spending on public works, welfare schemes and subsidies on consumer goods were financed partly by international borrowing. A slump in world oil prices and an increase in global interest rates led to an economic crisis in early 1982: the peso was devalued, its rate against the dollar dropping from 26 to 100. In September 1982, in the dying months of his presidency, López Portillo nationalized the banks, a move which did little to hide his legacy of the country's worst economic crisis of the century.

Under his successor, Miguel de la Madrid (1982-1988), the depth of this crisis became apparent. Mexico was forced to renegotiate its foreign debt, accepting severe cuts in government spending, which included sacking 51,000 federal employees and reducing the salaries of others. Nevertheless the peso continued to decline, especially after another drop in oil prices from 1986, falling against the dollar to 950 in January 1987 and 2300 by December 1987. In 1987 the annual inflation rate was officially 159% and by the end of de la Madrid's presidency Mexico's foreign debts was US$105 billion. In September 1985, in the middle of these economic disasters, an earthquake destroyed parts of the centre of the capital, leaving at least 8000 people dead. However, de la Madrid's presidency had marked important changes in economic policy, with his finance minister, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, introducing cuts in state spending and selling state industries.

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