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    Mexico Ávila Camacho's Wartime Presidency, 1940-46
    Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies

    Cárdenas's nomination of Manuel Ávila Camacho, a relatively unknown career military officer, as the PRM candidate for the presidency in 1940 surprised many Mexicans. Numerous party members were aware of Ávila Camacho's conservative tendencies. Moreover, in contrast to the anticlerical position held by most Mexican politicians since the Revolution, during the presidential campaign Ávila Camacho had stated that he was a believer and a Roman Catholic. The new president took office on December 1, 1940, and, as expected, did not push for enforcement of the most populist articles of the constitution. Land reform was slowed down, and its emphasis shifted from reconstituting ejidos to promoting private ownership of land.

    The conservative bent of the new administration was especially evident in the administration's attitude toward labor. Fidel Velásquez, a more conservative labor leader, replaced Lombardo Toledano as head of the CTM. The government withdrew much of its support for organized labor, and controls were placed on the rights of strikers. By 1942 the CTM had lost textile and building industry workers, who felt alienated from the new leadership. Although the Ávila Camacho administration created the Mexican Institute of Social Security (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social--IMSS), the program initially benefited only a small portion of the labor force.

    Changes were also apparent in education as the Ávila Camacho administration introduced new education programs. Greater emphasis was placed on private schools, and the government started a campaign that encouraged each literate citizen to teach another person to read and write. Launched with much fanfare, the impact of the campaign was short-lived, however.

    Ávila Camacho's administration witnessed the expansion of World War II in Europe. Exercising its independence from the United States, Mexico initially attempted to remain neutral after the United States entered the war in December 1941. However, when two Mexican tankers were sunk by German submarines in May 1942, Mexico declared war on Germany. The declaration received full support from congress and most of the Mexican population. On September 16, 1942, several former presidents held an unprecedented meeting at the National Palace for a public display of solidarity in the face of war. Those present included former presidents de la Huerta, Calles, Portes Gil, Ortiz Rubio, Rodríguez, and Cárdenas. A comprehensive national security policy was developed to counter Axis espionage against Mexico and to defend Mexican oil fields and military industries. Mexico participated in the war effort mainly as a supplier of labor and raw materials for the United States, although a Mexican fighter squadron fought and sustained casualties in the Pacific theater.

    In 1942 the Mexican and United States governments negotiated a program to enlist migrant Mexican workers (braceros ) to assist in harvesting United States crops. The program was initially intended to supplement the depleted rural labor force in the United States, who had been displaced by the war effort. The bracero program, which continued into the 1960s, subsequently lured hundreds of thousands of Mexican laborers with and without legal documentation to seek employment across the border.

    By early 1946, the PRM's political power base included new groups in Mexican society. The party now had representatives of the business and industrial communities within its popular sector. As a sign that the official party viewed the transitional phase of the Revolution as ended, officials decided to rename the party the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional--PRI). The same January 1946 convention nominated Miguel Alemán Valdés to be the PRI candidate for the presidential term of 1946-52.

    The Alemán Sexenio, 1946-52

    The Alemán presidency marked a turning point in contemporary Mexican politics. With the election of Alemán (a lawyer by profession), the torch was passed to a new generation of civilian politicians who had not participated in the military campaigns of the Revolution. The age of the generals in Mexican politics was over. Henceforth, the military assumed a low profile, surrendering many of its institutional prerogatives to a civilian-dominated PRI.

    Alemán's presidency was also noteworthy because it represented the consolidation in power of a PRI faction that was more probusiness and less nationalistic than the Cárdenas wing of the party. One of Alemán's first acts as president was to reaffirm amicable postwar relations between Mexico and the United States. In a symbolic gesture of rapprochement, United States President Harry S Truman and President Alemán visited each other's countries. On September 2, 1947, Mexico was among the signatories of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty), which outlined a system of mutual defense on the part of Western Hemisphere nations against outside aggression.

    The Alemán administration attempted to promote industrialization and economic growth by embarking on an extensive program of infrastructure improvements. Major flood control and irrigation projects were built in northern Mexico, greatly expanding the opportunities for large-scale agribusiness. The exploitation of cheap hydroelectric power and the expansion of the national road network were undertaken to help spur heavy industry and tourism. By the end of Alemán's sexenio in 1952, Mexico had four times as many kilometers of paved roads (roughly 16,000 kilometers) as in 1946. Another legacy of the Alemán era was the completion in 1952 of a new campus--in what was then suburban Mexico City--for the flagship of the Mexican university system, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México--UNAM).

    Alemán was viewed as much less sympathetic than his immediate predecessors to the demands of labor and the rural populations of central and southern Mexico. To promote growth without generating high inflation, the government acted through the PRI-affiliated unions to suppress the wage demands of labor. The government also began a new strategy of "stabilizing development." The new program was based on promoting industrialization through import substitution (see Glossary), heavy subsidies of industry, and maintaining low inflation by suppressing real wages.

    Further straying from the ideals of the Revolution, Alemán's administration became noted for its tolerance of official corruption. The government's growing involvement in the economy provided ample opportunities for kickbacks and other forms of illicit enrichment, and several senior government officials became wealthy while in office. The scale of official venality was enough to spark a public outcry and protests from within the PRI. To restore popular faith in the ruling party, Alemán nominated Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, a former governor of Veracruz, minister of interior, and a man noted for his impeccable character, to succeed him in 1952.

    Data as of June 1996

    NOTE: The information regarding Mexico on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Mexico Ávila Camacho's Wartime Presidency, 1940-46 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Mexico Ávila Camacho's Wartime Presidency, 1940-46 should be addressed to the Library of Congress.

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    Revised 04-Jul-02
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