Mexico



The Porfiriato

Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori strengthened his regime to create the internal order necessary to foster economic development; however, his authoritarian grasp on the presidency sparked the Mexican Revolution.

Learning Objectives

Describe the Porfiriato regime

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori was a Mexican soldier and politician. As president, he served seven terms in office for a total of 35 years (1876 to 1911).
  • Diaz initially served only one term in office in light of his past resistance to Lerdo’s reelection policy. During his second term, Diaz amended the constitution twice, initially allowing for two terms in office, then removing all restrictions on re-election.
  • As a popular military hero and astute politician, Diaz determined that his main goal as president was to create the internal order necessary to foster economic development throughout the country. His eventual establishment of peace, termed the Pax Porfiriana, became one of his crowning achievements.
  • Diaz developed many pragmatic and personalist approaches to the political conflicts that occurred during his first term in office and was skilled at playing interest groups against each other to create the illusion of democracy and quell rebellions before unrest began.
  • Diaz’s massive display of electoral fraud during the election of 1911 sparked the Mexican Revolution.

Key Terms

  • Plan de la Noria: A revolutionary call to arms with the intent of ousting Mexican President Benito Juarez.
  • Porfiriato: The period during which Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori and his allies ruled Mexico, from 1876 to 1911.

Jose de la Cruz Porfirio Diaz Mori was a Mexican soldier and politician, a veteran of the Reform War and the French intervention in Mexico. As president, he served seven terms in office for a total of 35 years (1876 to 1911). The period during which he and his allies ruled the country became known as the Porfiriato.

Painted portrait of Porfirio Diaz

Porfirio Diaz: Diaz served as president of Mexico for 35 years.

The Campaign of “No Re-election”

In 1870, Diaz ran against President Juarez and Vice President Lerdo de Tejada for president. Juarez won in July and was confirmed by Congress in October, but Diaz claimed the election was fraudulent. Diaz launched the Plan de la Noria, a revolutionary call to arms with the intent of ousting Mexican President Benito Juarez on November 8, 1871. The plan was supported by a number of local rebellions throughout the country, but ultimately failed. Juarez died while in office in 1872, and when Vice President Lerdo succeeded him to the presidency, he offered amnesty to the rebels, which Diaz accepted. Subsequently, Diaz took up residency in Veracruz and served as the region’s representative in the legislature.

Over time, opposition to Lerdo’s presidency grew as anticlerical sentiment and labor unrest increased, and Diaz saw an opportunity to plot a more successful rebellion. As a result, he left Mexico in 1875 for New Orleans and Brownsville, Texas, with his political ally Manuel Gonzalez. A year later, he issued the Plan of Tuxtepec as a call to arms against Lerdo, who was running for another presidential term. Lerdo was re-elected in July 1876, but continued rebellion and political unrest before and after the election forced him out of office. In November, Diaz occupied Mexico City and Lerdo was exiled to New York. General Juan Mendez was named provisional president, but Diaz was elected to the office in the beginning of 1877. One of Diaz’s government’s first actions was to amend the 1857 liberal constitution to prevent re-election to the presidency.

Diaz initially served only one term in office in light of his past resistance to Lerdo’s re-election policy. In order to side-step the convention, he handpicked his successor, Manuel Gonzalez, with the intention of maintaining his power in everything but name. During the four-year period of Gonzalez’s rule, corruption and official incompetence abounded, so when Diaz ran for office again in 1884, he was greeted with open arms by the public. At that point, very few people remembered the “no re-election” promise that had characterized his previous campaign, though some underground political papers reversed his previous slogan, “Sufragio Efective, No Reeleccion”, to “Sufragio Efectivo No, Reeleccion”. During his second term, Diaz amended the constitution twice, initially allowing for two terms in office, then removing all restrictions on re-election.

Political Career

As a popular military hero and astute politician, Diaz determined that his main goal as president was to create the internal order necessary to foster economic development throughout the country. His eventual establishment of peace, termed the Pax Porfiriana, became one of his crowning achievements. To achieve this goal, Diaz created a systematic and methodical regime with a staunch military mindset. He dissolved all local and federal-level authorities that had once existed in order to ensure that all leadership stemmed from his office. Legislative authorities that remained within Mexico were stacked almost entirely with his closest and most loyal allies. Diaz also suppressed the media and controlled the Mexican court system.

Diaz developed many pragmatic and personalist approaches to the political conflicts that occurred during his first term in office. Although known for standing with radical liberals, he made sure not to come across as a liberal ideologue while in office and maintained control of his political allies via generous systems of patronage. He was skilled at catering to interest groups and playing them off of one another to create the illusion of democracy and quell rebellions before unrest began. He maintained the structure of elections so that a facade of liberal democracy remained during his rule, but his administration became famous for their suppression of civil society and public revolts. He also paid the US $300,000 in settlement claims to secure recognition of his regime and met with Ulysses S. Grant in 1878 while the latter visited Mexico.

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On February 17, 1908, Diaz gave an interview with an American journalist, James Creelman of Pearson’s Magazine, in which he stated that Mexico was ready for democracy and elections. Diaz also stated that he would retire and allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. Immediately, opposition groups began the search for suitable candidates. As candidates began to campaign, Diaz decided he was not going to retire, but instead run against a candidate he deemed appropriate. He chose Francisco Madero, an aristocratic but democratically leaning reformer. Madero was a landowner and very similar ideologically to Diaz, but hoped for other Mexican elites to rule alongside the president. Ultimately, Diaz had Madero jailed during the election.

Despite this, Madero gained substantial popular support. However, when the results were announced, Diaz was proclaimed re-elected almost unanimously in a massive display of electoral fraud, arousing widespread anger throughout the country. Madero called for revolt against Diaz and the Mexican Revolution began. Diaz was forced from office and fled the country for Spain on May 31, 1911.

The Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution took place over the course of a decade and radically transformed Mexican culture and government.

Learning Objectives

Outline the events of the Mexican Revolution

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The outbreak of the Mexican Revolution is attributed to Porfirio Diaz’s failure in resolving the problem of presidential succession. In the short term, events were precipitated by the results of the 1910 presidential election in which Diaz committed massive electoral fraud and declared himself the winner against his then-jailed opponent, Francisco Madero.
  • Despite Madero’s lack of political experience, his election as president in October 1911 raised high expectations for positive change. These expectations were tempered by the Treaty of Ciudad Juarez, which stipulated that certain essential elements of the Diaz regime, such as the federal army, remain in place.
  • New institutional freedoms under Madero’s regime and his failure to reward the revolutionary leaders who brought him to power led to his resignation and the beginning of the Huerta dictatorship.
  • Although Huerta’s regime attempted to legitimize his hold on power and demonstrate its legality by pursuing reformist policies in the first several months of his presidency, after October 1913, he dropped all attempts to rule within a legal framework and murdered political opponents while battling revolutionary forces that had united against his regime.
  • On October 26, 1913, Huerta dispensed with the Mexican legislature, surrounding the building with his army and arresting congressmen he perceived to be hostile to his regime. Following a number of military defeats, Huerta stepped down from the presidency and fled the country less than a year later.
  • Huerta’s resignation marked the dissolution of the federal army and the beginning of an era of civil war among the revolutionary factions that united to oppose Huerta’s regime.
  • Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa’s forces fought each other at the Battle of Celaya in April 6-15, 1915, which ended in victory for the Constitutionalists and Carranza’s election to the presidency.
  • As revolutionary violence subsided in 1916, the leaders of Mexico met to draw up a new, strongly nationalist constitution. Though Carranza was able to enact many reforms, his regime remained vulnerable to Zapata in the south and Villa in the north.

Key Terms

  • Treaty of Ciudad Juarez: A peace treaty signed between then-President of Mexico Porfirio Diaz and revolutionary Francisco Madero on May 21, 1911, ending the fighting between their respective forces and ending the initial phase of the Mexican Revolution.
  • Plan de Ayala: A document drafted by revolutionary Emiliano Zapata during November 1911, denouncing President Madero for his perceived betrayal of revolutionary ideals and setting out a vision of future land reform.

The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle from 1910 through 1920 that radically transformed Mexican culture and government. Its outbreak is attributed to Porfirio Diaz’s failure to resolve the problem of presidential succession. In the short term, events were precipitated by the results of the 1910 presidential election in which Diaz committed massive electoral fraud and declared himself the winner against his then-jailed opponent, Francisco Madero. Armed conflict ousted Diaz from power and a new election was held in 1911, in which Madero won the presidency.

The Madero Presidency, 1911-1913

Portrait of President Francisco I. Madero

President Francisco I. Madero: Constitutional President of Mexico 1911-1913

Despite Madero’s lack of political experience, his election as president in October 1911 raised high expectations for positive change. However, these expectations were tempered by the Treaty of Ciudad Juarez, signed on May 21, 1911, between Diaz and Madero, which put an end to fighting between the two factions but also stipulated that certain essential elements of the Diaz regime, such as the federal army, stay in place. Madero called for the rebels who had brought him to power to return to civilian life. In their place, Madero increasingly relied upon the federal army to deal with armed rebellions that broke out in Mexico from 1911 to 1912.

The press, newly unencumbered by Madero’s less authoritarian regime, embraced their newfound freedoms by making the president himself the object of criticism. Organized labor exercised their newfound freedoms under the Madero regime by staging strikes, which foreign entrepreneurs found threatening to their business concerns. A rise in anti-American sentiment accompanied these developments. The anarcho-syndicalist Casa del Obrero Mundial was founded in September 1912 and served primarily as a center of agitation and propaganda rather than exclusively as a labor union. A number of political parties also proliferated across the country, including the National Catholic Party, which was particularly strong in a number of regions.

Madero, unlike Diaz, failed to reward those who had brought him to power, though many revolutionary leaders expected personal rewards or major reforms in return for their service. Emiliano Zapata, in particular, long worked for land reform in Mexico and expected Madero to make some major changes. However, during a personal meeting with the guerrilla leader, Madero told Zapata that the agrarian question needed careful study, giving rise to the belief that Madero, a member of a rich northern landholding family, was unlikely to implement comprehensive agrarian reform. In response, Zapata drafted the Plan de Ayala in November 1911, declaring himself in rebellion against Madero. Zapata renewed guerrilla warfare in the state of Morelos and Madero was forced to send the federal army to deal, unsuccessfully, with his forces.

Likewise, the northern revolutionary general Pascual Orozco felt slighted after being put in charge of large forces of rurales in Chihuahua instead of being chosen as governor of the same region. After being passed over and witnessing Madero’s refusal to agree to social reforms calling for better working hours, pay, and conditions, Orozco assembled his own army to rebel against the president, aggravating U.S. businessmen and other foreign investors in the northern region. For many, these upheavals signaled Madero’s inability to maintain the order that had underpinned Diaz’s 35-year long regime. Madero dispatched General Victoriano Huerta of the federal army to put down Orozco’s revolt in April 1912. Ultimately, Huerta was successful in ending the rebellion, leading many conservative forces to tout him as a powerful counter-force to Madero’s regime.

A number of other rebellions occurred during a period known as the Ten Tragic Days. During this time, U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson brokered the Pact of the Embassy, formalizing an alliance between Huerta and Felix Diaz, a nephew of the former president and rebel leader. The treaty ensured that Huerta would become provisional president of Mexico following the resignations of Madero and his vice president. However, rather than being sent into exile, the two were murdered during transport to prison, which though shocking did not prevent recognition of Huerta’s regime by most world governments. Following the assumption of Huerta of the presidency, former revolutionaries had no formally organized opposition to the established government.

The Huerta Dictatorship, 1913-1914

Although Huerta’s regime attempted to legitimize his hold on power and demonstrate its legality by pursuing reformist policies in the first several months of his presidency, after October 1913 he dropped all attempts to rule within a legal framework and murdered political opponents while battling revolutionary forces that had united against his regime. For these reasons, Huerta’s presidency is usually characterized as a dictatorship. Huerta’s regime was supported initially by foreign and domestic business interests, landed elites, the Roman Catholic Church, and the German and British governments, and Mexico was militarized to a greater extent than ever before. Within a month of the coup that brought Huerta to power, several rebellions broke out across the country. The Northern revolutionaries fought under the name of the Constitutionalist Army and Zapata continued his rebellion in Morelos under the Plan de Ayala, despite Huerta’s interest in land reform as an issue. Huerta offered peace to Zapata, but he rejected it.

Incoming U.S. President Woodrow Wilson refused to recognize Huerta’s government despite the urging of Ambassador Wilson, who played a key role in the regime change. In the summer of 1913, President Wilson recalled Ambassador Wilson and sent his own personal representative John Lind to continue U.S.-Mexican diplomatic relations. Lind was a progressive who sympathized with the Mexican revolutionaries and urged other European powers to join America in non-recognition of the Huerta regime. He also urged Huerta to call elections and not step up as a candidate, using economic and military threats to back up his pleadings. Mexican conservatives were also seeking an elected civilian alternative to Huerta’s regime and brought together a number of candidates in a National Unifying Junta. The fragmentation of the conservative political landscape reinforced Huerta’s belief that he would not be removed from power, whereas the proliferation of political parties and presidential candidates proved to the country’s conservative elite that there was a growing disillusionment with Huerta and his regime.

On October 26, 1913, Huerta dispensed with the Mexican legislature, surrounding the building with his army and arresting congressmen he perceived hostile to his regime. Congressional elections went ahead, but the fervor of opposition candidates decreased. The October 1913 elections ended any pretension of constitutional rule within Mexico and civilian political activities were banned. Additionally, many prominent Catholics were arrested and Catholic periodicals were suppressed. Huerta’s position continued to deteriorate and his army suffered several defeats during this time. Finally, in mid-July 1914, he stepped down and fled the country. He died six months after going into exile after having been arrested by US authorities and held at Fort Bliss, Texas. Huerta’s resignation also marked the dissolution of the federal army and the beginning of an era of civil war among the revolutionary factions that united to oppose Huerta’s regime.

War of the Winners, 1914-1915

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Venustiano Carranza: Photograph of Governor of Coahuila Venustiano Carranza (center), the tall and distinguished-looking “First Chief” of the Constitutionalist forces in northern Mexico opposing Huerta’s regime.

The revolutionary factions that remained in Mexico gathered at the Convention of Aguascalientes in October 1914. During this time, there was a brief break in revolutionary violence. Rather than facilitate a reconciliation among the different factions, however, Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa engaged in a power struggle, leading to a definitive break between the two revolutionaries. Carranza expected to be named First Chief of the revolutionary forces, but his supporters were overpowered during the convention by Zapata and Villa’s supporters, who called on Carranza to resign executive power. Carranza agreed to do so only if Villa and Zapata also resigned and went into exile. He also stipulated that there be a pre-constitutionalist government to carry out the necessary political and social reforms the country needed before a fully constitutional government was reestablished. As a result of these conditions, the convention declared Carranza in rebellion and civil war resumed.

Northern general Villa formed an alliance with the southern leader Zapata. The resultant combined forces were called the Army of the Convention. In December 1914, their forces moved on Mexico City and captured it, Carranza’s forces having fled shortly beforehand. In practice, however, the Army of the Convention did not survive as an alliance beyond this initial victory against the Constitutionalists. Shortly thereafter, Zapata returned to his southern stronghold and Villa resumed fighting against Carranza’s forces in the north. In the meantime, the United States sided with Carranza, who was based in American-occupied Veracruz. The United States timed its exit from Veracruz to benefit Carranza, sending his forces munitions and formally recognizing his government in 1915.

Villa’s forces met with those of Carranza’s allies at the Battle of Celaya in April 6-15, 1915, which ended in a decisive Constitutionalist victory due to their superior military tactics. As a result, Carranza emerged as Mexico’s political leader with support from the army.

Constitutionalism Under Carranza, 1915-1920

As revolutionary violence subsided in 1916, the leaders of Mexico met to draw up a new constitution. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 that resulted was strongly national. Article 27 provided the government with the right to expropriate natural resources from foreign interests, enabling land reform. There were also provisions to protect organized labor and articles extending state power over the Roman Catholic Church within Mexico. Carranza also pushed for women’s rights and equality during his presidency, which helped to transform women’s legal status within the country.

Carranza, though able to enact many reforms, was still vulnerable to revolutionary unrest. Zapata remained active in Morelos, which due to its proximity to Mexico City remained a vulnerability for the Carranza government. The Constitutionalist Army, renamed the Mexican National Army, was dispatched to fight Zapata’s Liberating Army of the South, and government agents assassinated Zapata in 1919. Carranza also sent generals to track down Villa in the north, but they were only able to capture some of his men. Due to the legacy of Diaz’s “no re-election” policy, it was politically untenable for Carranza to seek re-election after his first term, so instead he endorsed political unknown Ignacio Bonillas when his term in office was nearly finished. However, some existing northern revolutionary leaders found the prospect of a civilian Carranza puppet candidate untenable and hatched a revolt against Carranza called the Plan of Agua Prieta. As a result, Carranza attempted to flee Mexico, but died on his way to the Gulf Coast.

The National Revolutionary Party

The National Revolutionary Party held power consistently from 1929 to 2000 by settling disputes among different political interest groups within the framework of a single party machine.

Learning Objectives

Describe the platform and political dominance of the National Revolutionary Party

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Political unrest, including continued violence after the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution, led to the foundation of the National Revolutionary Party, or PNR.
  • The PNR would undergo name changes over the years it remained in power. In 1938 its name was changed to Partido de la Revolucion Mexicana (PRM), and in 1946, the party was renamed Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).
  • The party was split functionally into mass organizations that represented various interest groups. Settling disputes within the framework of a single political party helped prevent legislative gridlock and militarized rebellions, but only provided an illusion of democracy to its constituents.
  • Over time, the party became synonymous with political corruption and voter suppression, and the growth of opposition parties led to the PRI’s loss of the presidency in 2000.

Key Terms

  • Democratic Current: A movement within the PRI founded in 1986 that criticized the federal government for reducing spending on social programs to increase payments on foreign debt. PRI members who participated in the Democratic Current were expelled from the party and formed the National Democratic Front (FDN).
  • National Revolutionary Party: The Mexican political party founded in 1929 that held executive power within the country for an uninterrupted 71 years. It underwent two name changes during its time in power: once in 1938, to Partido de la Revolucion Mexican (PRM), and again in 1946, to Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

History

Although the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920, Mexico continued to experience political unrest in the years that followed. In 1928, president-elect Alvaro Obregon was assassinated, giving rise to a political crisis. This led to the founding of the National Revolutionary Party (in Spanish, Partdio Nacional Revolucionario, or PNR) the following year by sitting president Plutarco Elias Calles. Calles’ intention in founding the PNR was to end the violent power struggles taking place between factions of the Mexican Revolution and guarantee the peaceful transmission of power across presidential administrations. In the first years of the PNR’s existence, it was the only political machine in existence. In fact, from 1929 until 1982, the PNR won every presidential election by well over 70 percent of the vote.

Photo portrait of Plutarco Elias Calles

Plutarco Elias Calles: Plutarco Elías Calles, president of Mexico (1924-28) and founder of the PNR in 1929.

In 1938, Lazaro Cardenas, the president of Mexico at the time, renamed the PNR to Partdio de la Revolucion Mexicana, or PRM. The PRM’s revised aim was to establish a socialist democracy of workers. In practice, however, this was never achieved, and the PRM was split functionally into many mass organizations that represented different interest groups. Settling disputes within the framework of a single political party helped to prevent legislative gridlock and militarized rebellions, which were common during the Mexican Revolution. For these reasons, its supporters maintained that the party itself was crucial to the modernization and stability of Mexico as a whole. In fact, the first four decades of PRM rule were dubbed the “Mexican Miracle” due to the economic growth that occurred as a result of import substitution, low inflation, and the implementation of successful national development plans. Between 1940 and 1970, Mexican GDP increased sixfold and peso-dollar parity was maintained. Party detractors, however, pointed to the lack of transparency and democratic processes, which ultimately made the lower levels of administration subordinate to the whims of the party machine.

Photo portrait of Lázaro Cárdenas

Lázaro Cárdenas: Lázaro Cárdenas, president of Mexico (1934-40).

Corruption and Opposing Political Parties

As in previous regimes, the PRM retained its hold over the electorate due to massive electoral fraud. Toward the end of every president’s term, consultations with party leaders would take place and the PRM’s next candidate would be selected. In other words, the incumbent president would pick his successor. To support the party’s dominance in the executive branch of government, the PRM sought dominance at other levels as well. It held an overwhelming majority in the Chamber of Deputies as well as every seat in the Senate and every state governorship.

As a result, the PRM became a symbol over time of corruption, including voter suppression and violence. In 1986, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the former Governor of Michoacan and son of the former president Lazaro Cardenas, formed the Democratic Current, which criticized the federal government for reducing spending on social programs to increase payments on foreign debt. Members of the Democratic Current were expelled from the party, and in 1987, they formed the National Democratic Front, or Frente Democratico Nacional (FDN). In 1989, the left wing of the PRM, now called Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, went on to form its own party called the Party of the Democratic Revolution. The conservative National Action Party, likewise, grew after 1976 when it obtained support from the business sector in light of recurring economic crises. The growth of both these opposition parties resulted in the PRI losing the presidency in 2000.

The Mexican Economic Miracle

The Mexican Economic Miracle refers to the country’s inward-focused development strategy, which produced sustained economic growth form the 1940s until the 1970s.

Learning Objectives

Explain the Mexican Economic Miracle

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The reduction of political turmoil that accompanied national elections during and immediately after the Mexican Revolution was an important factor in laying the groundwork for economic growth.
  • During the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas, significant policies were enacted in the social and political spheres that had major impacts on the economic policies of the country as a whole.
  • The Mexican government promoted industrial expansion through public investment in agricultural, energy, and transportation infrastructure.
  • Growth was sustained by Mexico’s increasing commitment to provide quality education options for its general population.
  • Mexico benefited substantially from World War II due to its participation supplying labor and materials to the Allies.
  • In the years following World War II, President Miguel Aleman Valdes (1946-52) instituted a full-scale import-substitution program that stimulated output by boosting internal demand.

Key Terms

  • Bracero Program: A series of laws and diplomatic agreements initiated on August 4, 1942, that guaranteed basic human rights and a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour to temporary contract laborers traveling from Mexico to the United States.
  • import substitution industrialization: A trade and economic policy that advocates replacing foreign imports with domestic production.

The Mexican Economic Miracle refers to the country’s inward-focused development strategy, which produced sustained economic growth of 3-4 percent with modest 3 percent inflation annually from the 1940s until the 1970s.

Creating the Conditions for Growth

The reduction of political turmoil that accompanied national elections during and immediately after the Mexican Revolution was an important factor in laying the groundwork for economic growth. This was achieved by the establishment of a single, dominant political party that subsumed clashes between various interest groups within the framework of a unified party machine. During the presidency of Lazaro Cardenas, significant policies were enacted in the social and political spheres that had major impacts on the economic policies of the country. For instance, Cardenas nationalized oil concerns in 1938. He also nationalized Mexico’s railways and initiated far-reaching land reform.

Some of these policies were carried on, albeit more moderately, by Manuel Avila Camacho, who succeeded him to the presidency. Camacho initiated a program of industrialization in early 1941 with the Law of Manufacturing Industries, famous for beginning the process of import-substitution within Mexico. Then in 1946, President Miguel Aleman Valdes passed the Law for Development of New and Necessary Industries, continuing the trend of inward-focused development strategies.

Growth was sustained by Mexico’s increasing commitment to primary education for its general population. The primary school enrollment rate increased threefold from the late 1920s through to the 1940s, making economic output more productive by the 1940s. Mexico also made investments in higher education during this period, which encouraged a generation of scientists and engineers to enable new levels of industrial innovation. For instance, in 1936 the Instituto Politecnico Nacional was founded in the northern part of Mexico City. Also in northern Mexico, the Monterrey Institute of Technology and High Education was founded in 1942.

World War II

Mexico benefited substantially from World War II by supplying labor and materials to the Allies. The Bracero Program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements initiated on August 4, 1942, that guaranteed basic human rights and a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour to temporary contract laborers who came to the United States from Mexico. Braceros, meaning manual laborer, literally “one who works using his arms”, were intended to fill the labor shortage in agriculture due to conscription. The program outlasted the war and offered employment contracts to 5 million braceros in 24 U.S. states, making it the largest foreign worker program in U.S. history. Mexico also received cash payments for its contributions of materials useful to the war effort, which infused its treasury with reserves. With these robust resources building up after the war concluded, Mexico was able to embark on large infrastructure projects.

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Braceros: Some of the first Braceros arriving in Los Angeles by train in 1942.

Camacho used part of the accumulated savings from the war to pay off foreign debts, which improved Mexico’s credit substantially and increased investors’ confidence in the government. The government was also in a better position to more widely distribute material benefits from the Revolution given the robust revenues from the war effort. Camacho used funds to subsidize food imports that affected urban workers. Mexican workers also received high salaries during the war, but due to the lack of consumer goods, spending did not increase substantially. The national development bank, Nacional Financiera, was founded under Camacho’s administration and funded the expansion of the industrial sector.

Import-Substitution and Infrastructure Projects

In the years following World War II, President Miguel Aleman Valdes (1946-52) instituted a full-scale import-substitution program that stimulated output by boosting internal demand. The economic stability of the country, high credit rating, increasingly educated work force, and savings from the war provided excellent conditions under which to begin a program of import substitution industrialization. The government raised import controls on consumer goods but relaxed them on capital goods such as machinery. Capital goods were then purchased using international reserves accumulated during the war and used to produce consumer goods domestically. The share of imports subject to licensing requirements rose from 28 percent in 1956 to more than 60 percent on average during the 1960s and approximately 70 percent during the 1970s. Industry accounted for 22 percent of total output in 1950, 24 percent in 1960, and 29 percent in 1970. One industry that was particularly successful was textile production. Mexico became a desirable location for foreign transnational companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and Sears to establish manufacturing branches during this period. Meanwhile, the share of total output arising from agriculture and other primary activities declined during the same period.

The Mexican government promoted industrial expansion through public investment in agricultural, energy, and transportation infrastructure. Cities grew rapidly after 1940, reflecting the shift of employment towards industrial and service centers rather than agriculture. To sustain these population changes, the government invested in major dam projects to produce hydroelectric power, supply drinking water to cities and irrigation water to agriculture, and control flooding. By 1950, Mexico’s road network had also expanded to 21,000 kilometers, some 13,600 of which were paved.

Mexico’s strong economic performance continued into the 1960s when GDP growth averaged around seven percent overall and approximately three percent per capita. Consumer price inflation also only averaged about three percent annually. Manufacturing remained the country’s dominant growth sector, expanding seven percent annually and attracting considerable foreign investment. By 1970, Mexico diversified its export base and became largely self-sufficient in food crops, steel, and most consumer goods. Although imports remained high, most were capital goods used to expand domestic production.

Art and Culture in 20th-Century Mexico

The Mexican Modernist School used large-scale murals to reinforce political messages, especially those that emphasized Mexican rather than European themes.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of major works of art in Mexico during the 20th century

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Mexican Revolution had a dramatic effect on Mexican art, and the Mexican government commissioned murals for public buildings to reinforce political messages, especially those that emphasized Mexican rather than European themes.
  • The Mexican muralist movement reached its height in the 1930s with four main artists: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco,and Fernando Leal. It is now the most studied aspect of Mexico’s art history.
  • Diego Rivera’s murals were greatly influenced by his leftist political leanings, dealing with Mexican society and reflecting the country’s 1910 Revolution.
  • Frida Kahlo de Rivera was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits. Though she painted canvases instead of murals, she is still considered part of the Mexican Modernist School due to the emphasis of Mexican folk culture and use of color in her works.

Key Terms

  • surrealist: A cultural and artistic movement that mixed dream and reality into one composition.
  • Mexican Modernist School: The artistic movement within Mexico that was especially prolific in the 1930s, glorifying the Mexican Revolution and redefining the Mexican people vis-à-vis their indigenous and colonial past. Large-scale murals were its preferred medium.

Mexican Muralism and Revolutionary Art

The Mexican Revolution had a dramatic effect on Mexican art. The government allied itself with intellectuals and artists in Mexico City and commissioned murals for public buildings to reinforce political messages, especially those that emphasized Mexican rather than European themes. The production of art in conjunction with government propaganda is known as the Mexican Modernist School, or the Mexican Muralist Movement. Many such works glorified the Mexican Revolution or redefined the Mexican people vis-à-vis their indigenous and colonial past. The first of these commissioned works was done by Fernando Leal, Fermin Revueltas, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera at San Ildefonso, a prestigious Jesuit boarding school.

The muralist movement reached its height in the 1930s with four main artists: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Fernando Leal. It is now the most studied aspect of Mexico’s art history. These four artists were trained in classical European techniques and many of their early works were imitations of then-fashionable European paintings styles. Many Mexican government buildings featured murals glorifying Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past and incorporating it into the definition of Mexican identity. Many of these muralists also revived the fresco technique in their mural work, although some like Siqueiros moved to industrial techniques and materials such as the application of pyroxilin, a commercial enamel used for airplanes and automobiles.

Diego Rivera

Rivera painted his first significant mural, Creation, in the Bolivar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City in January 1922 while guarding himself with a pistol against right-wing students. In the autumn of 1922, Rivera participated in the founding of the Revolutionary Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors, and later that year he joined the Mexican Communist Party. His murals were greatly influenced by his leftist political leanings, dealing with Mexican society and reflecting the country’s 1910 Revolution. He developed his own native style based on large, simplified figures and bold colors. A strong Aztec influence was present in his works, and much of his art emulated the Mayan steles of the classical era.

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Mural by Diego Rivera: Mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central in Mexico City, featuring Rivera and Frida Kahlo standing by La Calavera Catrina.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo de Rivera was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits. While she painted canvases instead of murals, she is still considered part of the Mexican Modernist School due to the emphasis of Mexican folk culture and use of color in her works. She was married to muralist Diego Rivera and like Rivera was an active communist. Kahlo was influenced by indigenous Mexican culture as demonstrated by her use of bright colors, dramatic symbolism, and primitive style. She often included monkeys in her works; while this is usually a symbol of lust in Mexican mythology,  Kahlo’s portrayal was tender and protective. Christian and Jewish themes were often depicted in Kahlo’s work. She combined elements of classic religious Mexican traditions with surrealist components in her paintings.

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Frida Kahlo by Guillermo Kahlo: Kahlo in 1932, photographed by her father, Guillermo.