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Politics, Poverty, and Corruption in 20th-Century Mexico
Post-Revolutionary Mexico: Mexico’s 1910 revolution produced a new constitution in 1917 that attempted to address the varied demands of the many sectors of the country’s population. In the following years, politics stabilized gradually as “revolutionary heroes” took leadership positions in the new government. Between 1920 and 1946, all of Mexico’s presidents and most provincial leaders were veterans of the revolution. Quickly a system of political cronyism began to emerge.
President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40): Cardenas came to power under the influence of strongman (and former president) Plutarco Elias Calles. Nevertheless, in a short time Cardenas was able to break free from Calles’s interference and promote a reform program that targeted large portions of Mexico’s population. Cardenas is credited with implementing the “true reforms” of the revolution. These included land reform, labor concessions, nationalization of resources, education and welfare programs, etc.
President Miguel Aleman (1946-52): Aleman was the first non-veteran to become president in the decades following the revolution. He defined his administration as one of bringing modernization and economic growth to the country. He pursued these goals through massive industrialization projects; although many of those projects were marred by corruption. Most scholars consider his presidency to mark the onset of the insidious system of favoritism, bribery, and general corruption that plagued Mexico’s political and economic development throughout the 20th century. The films Los Olvidados and La Ley de Herodes are both set during the presidency of Miguel Aleman.
Mexican Miracle: Refers to a period of unprecedented and dynamic economic growth in Mexico between (roughly) 1945 and 1973. During that time, Mexico virtually reversed the economic problems that had resulted from the decades of revolution and recovery. GDP rates increased at 6+%/year during this period. Coinciding with this economic growth, Mexico saw its economic base shift from agriculture to industry and its population move from the countryside to cities.
Industrialization/Urbanization: As a consequence of new economic policies, Mexico’s economic base shifted to industry and its population largely relocated to cities during the era of the Mexican Miracle. Since new industries were primarily located in urban areas, and agricultural no longer provided families with a reasonable standard of living, much of the country’s peasant base relocated to urban areas to search for work as industrial laborers. Even though investments were pouring into urban infrastructure, most major cities could not accommodate the rapid influx of people. Urban slums developed and grew rapidly on the outskirts of many major cities in Mexico (and throughout Latin America).
The income disparity was increasingly evident in major cities served in stark contrast to the development and “modernization” that seemed to characterize Mexico’s economy on the surface. In the 1950s, only a few voices questioned the status quo (Luis Bunuel was one of them) – but criticism of the system did accelerate in later years.