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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 in Cuba.

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 radicalism.

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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