Mexico under Plutarco Calles, 1924–34
For a full decade beginning in 1924 Mexico found itself in the firm grip of General Plutarco Elías Calles. Though more popular among reformist groups in 1924 than Alvaro Obregón, ten years later his name was anathema to Mexican liberals. Born in Guaymas, Sonora, in 1877 to a poor family, Calles attended normal school in Hermosillo, did quite well in the classroom, and upon graduation, became a primary school teacher in the public school system. His political career began with the Revolution, and he served in a number of minor political and military capacities before becoming provisional governor of his home state in 1917. His loyal support of Obregón over a ten-year period won for him official endorsement for the presidency in 1924, and, with labor and agrarian support, he carried the election easily.
Conservative elements in Mexico were far from elated by the election that year, for Calles enjoyed a liberal, even a radical, reputation. Landowners, both domestic and foreign, feared loss of property; industrialists anticipated higher wages for their workers; and church leaders recognized the new president as a confirmed anticleric. Each fear, it appeared, was grounded in understandable fact, and Calles soon let it be known that his domestic policy would not be characterized by the compromise and caution so typical of his predecessor. He was not only willing to ride the swelling tide of social revolution but sincerely believed, at least at the outset, that its course was inevitable. Better to be out in front, he conjectured, than to be dragged along.
Calles was the most strong-willed president since Díaz. He had an abiding faith in his own political instinct and, over his years in office, became increasingly domineering. Outspoken but often eloquent in public oratory, Calles was untormented by scruple when treating with his enemies. As the years passed he became less and less tolerant, more openly dictatorial, and relied heavily on the army to dispatch govern-