Latin American Civilization: History and Society, 1492 to the Present

By Benjamin Keen | Go to book overview

17
THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION

THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION of 1910 developed into the first major effort in Latin American history to uproot the system of great estates and peonage, to curb foreign control over the national resources, and to raise the living standards of the masses. The famous Constitution of 1917 spelled out this social content of the revolution.

The revolution's first leader, the martyred Francisco Madero, emphasized narrow political rather than social objectives. But popular pressure forced his successor, Venustiano Carranza, to accept a personally uncongenial program of reform. Even after the return of peace in 1920, reform proceeded slowly and uncertainly. By 1928 many revolutionary leaders, grown wealthy and corrupt, had abandoned their reformist ideals.

Popular discontent with the rule of "millionaire Socialists" produced an upsurge of change in the administration of President Lázaro Cárdenas ( 1934-1940). Cárdenas distributed land to the villages, strengthened labor, and weakened foreign economic influence by the expropriation of the oil industry. His moderate successors virtually abandoned land reform but promoted irrigation and electrification projects that chiefly benefited large private farms and supported industry, which made notable progress. The shift to the right reached its climax in the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz ( 1964-1970). Discontent mounted among peasants and urban workers, whose real income shrank under chronic inflation and whose organizations had become docile instruments of a ruling party (the Partido Revolucionario Institucional -- PRI) that governed with an increasingly heavy hand. Savage suppression by the army and police of a peaceful student protest in the capital in October 1968, with hundreds of students and bystanders killed or wounded and other hundreds imprisoned, dismayed the country.

President Jose López Portillo ( 1976-1982), took office amid growing optimism about Mexico's economic future, an optimism that resulted from the discovery of vast new oil and gas deposits on Mexico's east coast. But the resulting oil boom, accompanied by a large expansion of production in capital-intensive

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