López Mateos, Adolfo (1958-1964)
By Andrea Holland
Adolfo López Mateos is considered the first true orator in the
presidency of modern Mexico. He is, perhaps, the most fondly remembered of the presidents
in the post-war era in Mexico. He was much like his contemporary in the United States,
John F. Kennedy, in that their appeal lied in their individual style and charisma. Also,
both were younger presidents than that of their predecessors. His life, sadly, was marked
by continuous illness with debilitating migraines that eventually led to his death a few
years after he left the political office as President of Mexico. Another point of interest
is that he was a man who had a tremendous passion for women. Before, during, and after his
courtship with his wife, he carried on numerous romantic affairs with other women.
López Mateos, the fourth son of Mariano López, a dentist, and
Eleano Mateos, a school teacher, was born in Atizaphan de Zaragoza in the state of Mexico
on 26 May 1909. His mother moved the family to Mexico City, where she served as a director
of an orphanage in order to support the family after the death of the father when López
Mateos was just a young boy. Adolfo attended primary school on a scholarship from the
Donde Foundation at the Colegio Frances in Mexico City, and in 1926 he entered the famous
Scientific and Literary Institute of the State of Mexico. He was not a dedicated student,
however, and often barely made it through courses by having to take special exams in order
to pass. His love for oratory, camping, and of love often kept him distracted. He met Eva
Samanoa, a young school teacher, at the ate of sixteen and after a courtship of twelve
years they finally married in 1937. He graduated from the Scientific and Literary
Institute in 1929 and eventually obtained his law degree in 1934 from the National School
of Law with a thesis on crimes against economic policy.
Adolfo began putting his speech making talents to work in, a
dangerous cause, the 1929 presidential campaign of José Vasconcelos against Pascual Ortiz
Rubio, the handpicked candidate of former President Plutarco Elías Calles. Like many
other young intelligent men of this time period, Adolfo read the novel Sascha Yeguilev
and perceived himself as the same pure and handsome young man who gives his life for the
transformation of his country. He was part of the Student Directorate of the
Pro-Vasconcelos Convention. Adolfo and a fellow student were attacked and one of his
dearest friends died during the attack by gunmen. He had to flee to Guatemala for a few
months, but returned in 1930 when he saw that the pressure had eased. The most reasonable
course for his life at this point was to enter the government bureaucracy.
Adolfo López Mateos would spend the next decade in the limbo of
bureaucracy. During this time, he earned little political recognition, but in 1941 he
would deliver a speech at a banquet which deeply moved the Mexico state political boss,
Isidro Fabela. Fabela, who admired Mateos' intelligence and political skills, guided him
into such posts as director of the state Literary and Scientific Institute, alternate
federal senator, and then eventually senator. López Mateos also established a close
friendship with Adolfo Ruiz Cortines. When Cortines became president, he appointed López
Mateos as his minister of labor. At the end of his term, Ruiz Cortines, bestowed on his
friend the all-important dedazo("pointing finger") which meant that he
would be the candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party(PRI). This
nomination guaranteed Adolfo the accession to the presidency. Adolfo López Mateos went on
to obtain 90 percent of the total vote in the 1958 election.
Several days prior to his presidential oath, López Mateos had a
migraine attack in which he had to be carried away from a public function on a stretcher.
Oddly, on the day of his swearing in, he abruptly stopped talking and sat down for a
moment. When he finally stood up again to be sworn in, he could not extend his arm like he
was supposed to while taking his oath. This would be just the beginning of López Mateos'
physical ailments. Just following his inauguration, someone asked the new president to
state his political philosophy and he responded by saying "I am left within the
Constitution." President López Mateos made it clear that he would not tolerate those
whom he considered left of the Constitution. Being left of the Constitution generally
meant that one was considered to have Communist ideals. The president imprisoned the head
of the railroad union, Demetrio Vallejo, based upon charges of "social
dissolution". This, in the eyes of the president, was a form of sedition. López
Mateos also jailed the head of the teachers union and the internationally known painter,
David A. Siqueriros. Just when foreign businessmen and industrialists got comfortable with
López Mateos, he demonstrated the tendency to part from conservative, business-based
politics like that of former Mexican Presidents.
López Mateos distributed out more land to the peasants than any
president since Lázaro Cárdenas. Land redistribution had almost been forgotten as a
revolutionary goal, but López Mateos stepped up the efforts on a individual and
collective basis. He nationalized United States- and Canadian-owned electric companies,
involved the government in the efforts of providing low-cost housing, expanded the social
security apparatus, brought forth an aggressive Mexican public health campaign, and also
vigorously attacked the rising illiteracy rate in Mexico.
Adolfo López Mateos created the National Commission for Free
Textbooks in February 1959, under the direction of one of the great narrators of the
Revolution, Martin Luís Guzmán. This program planned to distribute millions of required
texts in Mexican primary schools. The educational platform of his administration stirred
up the emphasis on rural schools. Five years into his presidency, education became the
largest single factor in the budget of Mexico. López Mateos launched an "eleven-year
plan" in order to raise the level of education in his country as well as restoring
the practice of free student breakfasts for primary school students. His cultural
enthusiasm during his years as president are evident in the fact that he organized a
series of museums which honored the history of Mexico. For example, the museum of Natural
History in Mexico City and the Museum of Anthropology, which has presiding over it a
statue of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, which bears on its wall "to look with pride
into the mirror of your past."
In the area of foreign policy, López Mateos managed to remain on
excellent terms with the United States, even after declining to go along with the United
States' initiatives in Cuba. As President of Mexico, he tried to keep his country neutral
within the crisis which arose between the United States and Cuba. His country voted
against Cuba's expulsion from the Organization of American States and Mexico would become
the only country in the Western Hemisphere that retained diplomatic relations with Cuba.
However, at the same time, López Mateos condemned the Soviet Union for placing missiles
After one century of disagreements, bitterness, and resentment, the
President of the United States took matters into his own hands. In 1963, John F. Kennedy
met with López Mateos and together they finally solved the dispute of the Chamizal. This
was a 600-acre strip of formerly Mexican territory which ended up in Texas after the Rio
Grande changed course. They proposed to move the Rio Grande back to its original position
of 1864 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. To keep the course of the Rio
Grande from shifting, they developed a plan to build walls around the river to keep it
from moving. Both governments agreed to share the cost of all the digging for a new river
channel. President Kennedy and Adolfo López Mateos made diplomatic history when they did
away with the on-going Chamizal dispute.
Prior to the end of his presidential career, he sponsored an
amendment to the Constitution which would change electoral procedures in the Chamber of
Deputies. Did López Mateos just do this to appease his critics? Well, to some degree he
did, but he did demonstrate a liberalizing tendency for change. He would listen to the
various criticisms about the Mexican political system and to some degree it seems that he
wanted a more democratic change. It is here that one must realize that democratic change
and principles in Mexico do not need to be compared to those in the United States. If you
base Mexico's change on that of principles established in the United States then you are
missing the point. Mexico was trying to establish more democratic principles that work for
Mexico, not the United States. If anything, Adolfo López Mateos should be remembered for
the value he placed upon compromise. Another important factor to remember is that he
served just at the right time, just prior to the movement of social dissidence and student
Adolfo López Mateos had been a sick man for many years by the time
he left office in 1964. Ferocious migraines had plagued him again and by this point he
became close to near physical collapse. A year after he left office enormous pains in his
head once again took over him. This time his migraines were diagnosed as a cerebral
aneurysm and López Mateos ' future became very bleak. An operation revealed that he had,
actually, seven aneurysms which are swollen cancerous blood vessels in the brain. He
gradually lost control of his body. An emergency tracheotomy had to be performed which
cost the great orator his power of speech. Adolfo López Mateos, after being subjected to
a vegetative state for several years, died on 22 September 1969. His legacy should be
remembered as a nationalist who worked diligently for Mexican interests in the world
abroad and a human statesmen concerned with the powerlessness of the masses.
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