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1917-2000 - Emergence of Modern Mexico

Venustiano Carranza19171920none
Adolfo de la Huerta 1920none
Alvaro Obregón 19201924none
Plutarco Elías Calles 19241928PRI
Emilio Portes Gil 19281930PRI
Pascual Ortíz Rubio 19301932PRI
Abelardo L. Rodríguez 19321934PRI
Lázaro Cárdenas 19341940PRI
Manuel Avila Camacho 19401946PRI
Miguel Alemán Valdés 19461952PRI
Adolfo Ruiz Cortines 19521958PRI
Adolfo López Mateos 19581964PRI
Gustavo Díaz Ordaz 19641970PRI
Luis Echeverría Alvarez 19701976PRI
José López Portillo y Pacheco 19761982PRI
Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado 19821988PRI
Carlos Salinas de Gortari19881994PRI
Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León 19942000PRI
Vicente Fox Quesada20002006PAN
Felipe Calderón Hinojosa20062012PAN
The constitution of 1917 gave Mexicans the legal and ideological framework on which to base national development: equality before the law, national self-determination, and a state-mediated balance between private property rights and social welfare objectives. In the decades that followed, different Mexican administrations would alternatively promote redistribution or economic growth, depending on a variety of circumstances.

Consolidation of the Revolution

From the 1920s through the 1940s, a series of strong central governments led by former generals of the revolutionary armies governed Mexico. Most Mexican presidents complied with the constitutional provision mandating a single six-year term (sexenio) with no re-election. During the late 1920s, President Plutarco Elías Calles established many of the institutions that would define the Mexican political system throughout the twentieth century. This system was based on an authoritarian state controlled by a hegemonic "revolutionary" party headed by a powerful president, economic nationalism, limited land collectivization, military subordination to civilian authority, anticlericalism, and the peaceful resolution of social conflict through corporatist representation of group interests. Tactics such as extensive use of state patronage, manipulation of electoral laws and electoral fraud, government propaganda and restrictions on the press, and intimidation of the opposition helped ensure the decades-long domination of government at all levels by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional-PRI). Through their top-down control of the PRI, presidents acquired the power to handpick their successors, decree laws, and amend the constitution virtually at will.

The ideology of the revolutionary regime took a leftward turn during the sexenio of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40). Cárdenas nationalized Mexico's oil industry and vastly expanded the acreage of nontransferable collectivized farms (ejidos) set aside for peasant communities. During World War II and the early years of the Cold War, the governments of Miguel Avila Camacho (1940-46) and Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946-52) repaired strained relations with the United States and returned to more conservative policies. In the postwar years, Mexico pursued an economic development strategy of "stabilizing development" that relied on heavy public-sector investment to modernize the national economy. Concurrently, Mexican governments followed conservative policies on interest and exchange rates that helped maintain low rates of inflation and attracted external capital to support industrialization. This dual strategy helped maintain steady economic growth and low rates of inflation through the 1960s.

Crisis and Recovery

During the presidencies of Luis Echeverría (1970-76) and José López Portilllo (1976-82), the public sector grew dramatically, and state-owned enterprises became a mainstay of the national economy. Massive government spending was sustained in part by revenues from the export of newly discovered offshore oil deposits. By the late 1970s, oil and petrochemicals had become the economy's most dynamic sectors. However, the windfall from high world demand for oil would be temporary. In mid-1981, Mexico was beset by falling oil prices, higher world interest rates, rising inflation, a chronically overvalued peso, and a deteriorating balance of payments that spurred massive capital flight.

In August 1982, the Mexican government defaulted on scheduled debt repayments - an event that heralded a regionwide debt crisis. President López Portillo responded to the crisis by nationalizing the banking industry, further undermining investor confidence. His successor, Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado (1982-88), implemented economic austerity measures that laid the groundwork for economic recovery. In September 1985, the country suffered another blow when two major earthquakes struck central Mexico. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people are believed to have died and 300,000 left homeless in the worst natural disaster in Mexico's modern history. Many victims lost their lives in modern high-rise buildings constructed in violation of safety codes. The high death toll and the government's inadequate response to the disaster further undermined public confidence in the PRI-dominated political system.

In the run-up to the 1988 presidential and congressional elections, a splinter faction of left-wing former PRI members opposed to market reforms rallied behind the independent presidential candidacy of Cuahtemoc Cárdenas. In the first competitive presidential election in decades, the PRI candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was declared the winner with a bare majority of the vote. Numerous irregularities in the vote tally, including an unexplained shutdown of the electoral commission's computer system, led to widespread charges of fraud. Overcoming a weak mandate and strong opposition from organized labor, President Salinas undertook a sweeping liberalization of the economy. Reforms included the privatization of hundreds of state-owned enterprises, liberalization of foreign investment laws, deregulation of the financial services sector, and across-the-board reductions in tariffs and nontariff trade barriers. Economic liberalization culminated in the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and the United States in 1992. Salinas's reforms were overshadowed by subsequent revelations of corruption within the top echelons of the PRI, as well as by the unexpected emergence of a rural insurgency in the southern state of Chiapas.

Despite the assassination of the original PRI candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, the presidential election proceeded as scheduled in the fall of 1994. The replacement PRI candidate, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, managed to stave off a serious challenge from the center-right National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional-PAN) to win the presidency.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:01:09 ZULU