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This article is about Gen. Lázaro Cárdenas del Río. For his grandson, see Lázaro Cárdenas Batel. For the port city see Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán
Lázaro Cárdenas

In office
December 1, 1934 – November 30, 1940
Preceded by Abelardo L. Rodríguez
Succeeded by Manuel Ávila Camacho

Governor of Michoacán
In office
Preceded by Luis Méndez
Succeeded by Dámaso Cárdenas

Born May 21, 1895(1895-05-21)
Jiquilpan, Michoacán
Died October 19, 1970 (aged 75)
Mexico DF
Nationality Mexican
Political party Party of the Mexican Revolution
Spouse(s) Amalia Solórzano

Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (May 21, 1895 – October 19, 1970) was President of Mexico from 1934 to 1940.

Lázaro Cárdenas was born into a lower-middle class family in the village of Jiquilpan, Michoacán. He supported his family (including his mother and seven younger siblings) from age 16 after the death of his father. By the age of 18 he had worked as a tax collector, a printer's devil, and a jailkeeper. Although he left school at the age of eleven, he used every opportunity to educate himself and read widely throughout his life, especially works of history.

Cárdenas set his sights on becoming a teacher, but was drawn into politics and the military during the Mexican Revolution after Victoriano Huerta overthrew President Francisco Madero. He backed Plutarco Elías Calles, and after Calles became president, Cárdenas became governor of Michoacán in 1928. He became known for his progressive program of building roads and schools, promoting education, land reform and social security.


Presidential career

Calles continued to dominate Mexico after his presidency with administrations that were his puppets. After having two of his hand-picked men put into the position, the PNR balked at his first choice, Manuel Pérez Treviño, in 1934. Instead they selected Cárdenas to be the ruling party's presidential candidate, and Calles went along with it, thinking he could control him as he had the previous two. This however, was not so. Cárdenas's first move once he took office late in 1934 was to have his presidential salary cut in half. Even more surprising moves would follow. After establishing himself in the presidency, in 1936 Cárdenas had Calles and dozens of his corrupt associates arrested or deported to the United States, a decision that was greeted with great enthusiasm by the majority of the Mexican public.

Cárdenas subsequently decreed the end of the use of capital punishment (in Mexico, usually in the form of a firing squad). Capital punishment has been banned in Mexico since that time. The control of the republic by Cárdenas and the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) predecessor Partido de la Revolución Mexicana without widespread bloodshed effectively signalled the end of rebellions that began with the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

Cardenas was perhaps the only Mexican President who never employed armored cars or bodyguards to protect himself. In the presidential campaign of 1934, he travelled through much of the republic that was not accessible by train, by auto and horseback, accompanied only by a chauffeur and an aide-de-camp. This fearlessness generated widespread respect for Cárdenas by the electorate. He became the first occupant of the current official presidential residence of Los Pinos, and converted the previous residence, the ostentatious Spanish viceregal palace Chapultepec Castle, into the National Museum of History.

Russian exile Leon Trotsky was welcomed into Mexico by Cárdenas, reportedly to counter accusations that Cárdenas was a Stalinist. Cárdenas, like his 1920s predecessor Álvaro Obregón, understood that left wing and labor union support was critical to maintain control of the republic. The bloated and corrupt CROM union of Luis Morones was marginalized as Cárdenas promoted the "purified" Confederation of Mexican Workers of socialist Vicente Lombardo Toledano. The CTM and Toledano in turn supported Cárdenas' deportation of ex-President Calles. Cardenas was not as left-wing as Leon Trotsky and other socialists would wish, but still Trotsky described the Cardenas's government as the only honest government in the world.

Cardenas sought to actively help the Republican government in the Spanish Civil War, but those efforts were largely thwarted by the Roosevelt administration. After the war ended with the defeat of the loyalist Republicans, Cárdenas gave specific instructions to his ambassador and envoys in Europe to give safe haven and protection to all exiles, including President Manuel Azaña, actively sought for deportation by the Spanish fascist government and by French collaborationist authorities. Azaña died in France under Mexican diplomatic protection, but Cárdenas was able to bring to Mexico tens of thousands of refugees, among them distinguished intellectuals who left a lasting imprint in Mexican cultural life. But not only intellectuals were granted asylum in Mexico: from the 4,559 passengers who arrive to Mexico in 1939 on board the ships Sinaia, Ipanema and Mexique, for example, the largest groups were formed by technicians and qualified workers (32%), farmers and ranchers (20%), along with professionals, technicians, workers, business people students and merchants- this last group represented 43% of the total[1].

Cárdenas is considered by many historians to be the creator of a political system that lasted in Mexico until the end of the 1980s. Central to this project was the organization of corporatist structures for trade unions, campesino (peasant) organizations, and middle-class professionals and office workers within the reorganized ruling party, now renamed the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM). During Cárdenas's presidency, the government expropriated and redistributed millions of acres of hacienda land to peasants, and urban and industrial workers gained unprecedented unionization rights and wage increases. The railway Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México was nationalized in 1938 and put under a "workers administration". However, Cardenas and subsequent presidents also used the PRM and its successor, the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, to maintain political control; leaders of the worker and campesino organizations delivered votes and suppressed protests in exchange for personal favors and concessions to their constituencies.

In the elections of 1940, Cárdenas on principle refused to make an outright endorsement of the PRM nominee Manuel Ávila against Ávila's opponent, Juan Andreu, insisting on open debate and free elections. The elections, however did not follow the pattern Cárdenas wished. The campaign was peppered with violent incidents and on election day, the opposing parties hijacked numerous polling places and each issued their own "election results". After "official" results declared Ávila as winner, Andreu threatened revolt then attempted to set up a parallel government and congress, nevertheless, Ávila assumed office, his inauguration attended by US Vice President Henry A. Wallace.

Oil expropriation

Also central to Cárdenas's project were nationalistic economic policies involving Mexico's vast oil production, which had soared following strikes in 1910 in the area known as the "Golden Lane," near Tampico, and which made Mexico the world's second-largest oil producer by 1921, supplying approximately 20 percent of domestic demand in the United States.

Cárdenas's efforts to negotiate with Mexican Eagle, in the managerial control of Royal Dutch/Shell, and Standard Oil of New Jersey were unavailing, and the companies rejected a solution proposed by a presidential commission. So at 9:45 p.m. on the evening of March 18, 1938, Cárdenas nationalized Mexico's petroleum reserves and expropriated the equipment of the foreign oil companies in Mexico. The announcement inspired a spontaneous six-hour parade in Mexico City; it was followed by a national fund-raising campaign to compensate the companies.

Even though compensation for the expropriated assets was included in this legislation, the act angered the international business community and vexed foreign governments, especially the United Kingdom. The government was more worried about the lack of the technical knowledge required to run the refineries, especially on how to obtain a critical chemical component needed to obtain gasoline from oil; without it, the refineries were worthless. Before leaving, the oil companies had made sure they did not leave behind anything of help to the Mexican government, hoping to force Cárdenas to accept their conditions. On Cárdenas's instructions, an elite team of around 30 engineers and gifted students were tasked to discover how to obtain the needed chemical before the national fuel reserves ran out in a matter of weeks. They were on the verge of achieving their goal when an apparently accidental explosion killed them all. A second team was assembled and they succeeded; Cárdenas sent to each president of the oil companies a little box with a vial filled with the Mexican formula[citation needed].

The British severed diplomatic relations with Cárdenas's government, and Mexican oil and other goods were boycotted, despite an international ruling in favor of Mexico's government. However, with the outbreak of World War II, oil became a highly sought-after commodity. Mexico began to export oil to Nazi Germany. The United States and Britain decided this was unacceptable, so they settled their grievances with Mexico and ended the boycott. Mexican Eagle and Royal Dutch/Shell held out longer and received a better deal after the conclusion of the war.

The company that Cárdenas founded, Petróleos Mexicanos (or Pemex), would later be a model for other nations seeking greater control over their own oil and natural gas resources and, 70 years later, it remains the most important source of income for the country, despite weakening finances. Seeing the need to assure the technical expertise needed to run it, Cárdenas founded the National Polytechnic Institute.

Post presidential career

After his presidential term, Cárdenas served as Mexico's secretary of defense until 1945.

It is often said that Lázaro Cárdenas was the only president associated with PRI who did not use the office to make himself wealthy. He retired to a modest home by Lake Pátzcuaro and worked the rest of his life supervising irrigation projects and promoting free medical clinics and education for the nation's poor. He also continued to speak out about international political issues and in favor of greater democracy and human rights in Latin America and elsewhere. For example, he was one of the participants in the Russell Tribunal for investigating crimes of war in Vietnam.

Lázaro Cárdenas died of cancer in Mexico City. His son Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and his grandson Lázaro Cárdenas Batel have been prominent Mexican politicians.

In his honor, his name was given to a number of cities, towns, and a municipality in Mexico; including Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, the municipality of Lázaro Cárdenas, Quintana Roo and other smaller communities. There are also many streets that have been named after him, including the Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico City, and highways in Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexicali. Šetalište Lazaro Kardenasa (Lázaro Cárdenas promenade) in Belgrade, Serbia is also named after him. There is also a street in Barcelona, Spain, and a monument in a park in Madrid dedicated to his memory, in recognition of his role in admitting defeated Spanish Republicans in Mexico after the Civil War in that country.

Lázaro Cárdenas was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1955, which was later renamed for Lenin as part of de-Stalinization.


President Cárdenas and his administration are given credit for expanding the distribution of land to the peasants, establishing new welfare programs for the poor, nationalizing the railroad and petroleum industries, including the oil company that Cárdenas founded, Petróleos Mexicanos. However, not all the programs and ideas that Cárdenas put into place have worked out the way he planned. At the beginning, and throughout most of his Presidency Cárdenas was described as having Jesus-like abilities, but toward the end of his Presidency unhappy landowners and foreign capitalists began to challenge his programs and his power.

Additionally, Cárdenas's party, the PRI, did not lose a presidential election until 2000, partly due to electoral fraud, or coercion to maintain power. This legacy led his son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, to form the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) to contest the 1988 presidential election. Since that year, the PRD has become one of the three major parties in Mexico, in many ways gaining working class support that previously went to the PRI.

In his Political Testament, written the year before his death, and about 30 years after his regime ended, and published after his death he realized that his regime had failed to make the changes in political distribution and corruptness that were the basis for his presidency and the revolution. He expressed his dismay, in the fact that certain people and groups were making themselves rich to the detriment of the mainly poor majority. It was said about Cárdenas at his eulogy that, “he was the greatest figure produced by the revolution… an authentic revolutionary who aspired to the greatness of his country, not personal aggrandizement.” II.


See also


  1. ^ Pla Brugat, 1989, quoted by Clara E. Lida (1993): Los españoles en México: población, cultura y sociedad, in: Simbiosis de Culturas. Los inmigrantes y su cultura en México, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla (ed.), México DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, pp. 425-454, here p. 443.
  • Becker, Marjorie. Setting the Virgin on Fire Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan peasants, and the redemption of the Mexican Revolution. Berkelely: University of California P, 1995.
  • La Cultura de Mexico, quoted in Manual Suarez Valles, Lazaro Cardenas: una vida fecunda al servicio de Mexico (Mexico City, 1971) p. 25.

1.The Political Legacy of Lázaro Cárdenas Author(s): Charles H. Weston, Jr. Source: The Americas, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Jan., 1983), pp. 383-405 Published by: Academy of American Franciscan History Stable URL: Accessed: 26/02/2009 14:16

2. Becker, Marjorie. Setting the Virgin on Fire Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan peasants, and the redemption of the Mexican Revolution. Berkelely: University of California P, 1995.

Political offices
Preceded by
Abelardo L. Rodríguez
President of Mexico
Succeeded by
Manuel Ávila Camacho
Preceded by
Luis Méndez
Governor of Michoacán
Succeeded by
Dámaso Cárdenas
Party political offices
Preceded by
Emilio Portes
President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party
Succeeded by
Manuel Pérez Treviño

Simple English

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