The Course of Mexican History

By Michael C. Meyer; William L. Sherman et al. | Go to book overview

36
Alvaro Obregón Cautiously Implements
the Constitution

DOMESTIC REFORMS

With the election of Alvaro Obregón to a four-year presidential term in 1920, Mexican politicians set to work on implementing the Constitution that had been drafted and promulgated at Querétaro in 1917. The war-torn country was closer to peace than it had been for a decade. Zapata had been killed, and, just a few weeks before Obregón assumed the high office, even the indomitable Pancho Villa had accepted a peace offering from the federal government. A good-sized hacienda, Canutillo, was given to him as an assurance that he would not again break the peace. The rigorous defender of the poor had grown tired, and he swallowed his pride to settle down in the comfortable role of an hacendado.

Obregón immediately turned his attention to the pressing problems of national reconstruction. A powerful and persuasive orator, he enjoyed a wide base of popular support. He was far from being a radical, but, unlike the nineteenth-century liberals, he was concerned with more than political reform. Unfortunately, the beginning of his administration coincided with the post–World War I economic slump. Prices of gold, silver, copper, zinc, henequen, and cattle were depressed. Unemployment was rampant in these industries, and the government’s foreign exchange from these products fell off drastically. Hunger and general privation were more evident than they had been during the late Porfiriato. Only the price and demand for oil remained stable, and by 1921 Mexico was producing 193 million barrels, making it the world’s third largest producer of petroleum. Oil reserves, even with an inadequate taxation structure, sustained the administration and enabled the president to embark upon a modest implementation of the Constitution of 1917.

To implement Article 3 Obregón named José Vasconcelos, one of Mexico’s most illustrious men of letters, to be secretary of education.

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