Birthday: May 21, 1895
Died At Age: 75
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Lázaro Cárdenas del Río
Born Country: Mexico
Born in: Jiquilpan, Mexico
Famous as: President of Mexico
Spouse/Ex-: Amalia Solórzano (1932)
father: Dámaso Cárdenas Pinedo
mother: Félicitas del Río Amezcua
siblings: Alberto Cárdenas del Rio, Dámaso Cárdenas del Río, José Raymundo Cárdenas del Río
children: Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas
Died on: October 19, 1970
place of death: Mexico City, Mexico
Cause of Death: Cancer
Who was Lázaro Cárdenas?
Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was a military leader who served as a general in the Constitutionalist Army during the Mexican Revolution. From 1934 to 1940, he was the president of Mexico. He is widely recognised for his policies that led to the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1938 and the establishment of Pemex, the state-owned oil company. His policies also ushered in the resurgence of agrarian reforms in Mexico, confiscating large landed estates and allocating land to holders in collective holdings. While Cárdenas was originally from Michoacán and not Sonora, from where most of the prolific Mexican politicians of the 1920s emerged, he quickly garnered prominence as a loyal subordinate of Sonoran general and former president Plutarco Elías Calles. He even became the hand-picked candidate of Calles to contest in the 1934 presidential election. After Cárdenas was elected, however, he gradually decreased Calles’ hold on power and dispatched him into exile. Widely regarded as the most popular Mexican president of the 20th century, he is hailed as the "the greatest constructive radical of the Mexican Revolution" for bringing back its ideals but has been castigated as well for being an “authoritarian populist”. Cárdenas’ actions during his tenure effectively curbed the military’s ability to launch coups d'état. In December 1940, he completely transferred power to his elected successor, Manuel Ávila Camacho.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on May 21, 1895, in Jiquilpan, Michoacán, Lázaro Cárdenas was one of the eight children of Dámaso Cárdenas Pinedo and Félicitasdel Río Amezcua. His father ran a billiard hall. When he was 16 years old, his father passed away, and he subsequently had to take care of their lower-middle-class family.
By the time he turned 18, he had held jobs as a tax collector, a printer's devil, and a jail keeper. Despite having dropped out of school as a young boy, he continued to pursue knowledge throughout the remainder of his life.
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Career in the Military
Initially, Lázaro Cárdenas wanted to be a teacher, but after the Mexican Revolution broke out in February 1913, he became part of a branch of the revolutionary army that had General Guillermo García Aragón at its helm.
He progressed through the ranks to become a captain in 1914. After the revolutionary forces became divided into opposing sides, his loyalty towards Venustiano Carranza, the original leader of the revolution, persisted.
It was Carranza’s forces that ultimately emerged victorious from the revolution in 1920. In the same year, Cárdenas was made a general in the Mexican Army, and he continued serving in the military until 1929.
Career in the Politics
As with most of the revolutionary military leaders, General Lázaro Cárdenas joined politics. In 1928, he became the governor of his native state of Michoacán, holding the office for a full term, until 1932. He was instrumental in the creation of a nationwide party to strengthen the revolutionary regime.
With Calles, who served as the president of Mexico from 1924 to 1928, at the helm, the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR) was established in 1929. A year later, Cárdenas was appointed the party’s president. Guided by him, PNR metamorphosed from a fragmented conglomeration of regional parties into a national entity and a stakeholder in the stability in the revolutionary regime.
Cárdenas served as the Minister of the Interior for six weeks in 1931 and Minister of War and Marine for five months in 1933. After submitting his resignation from the latter job, he decided to contest in the 1934 general election of Mexico on PNR’s ticket.
He soon proved himself to be an exceptional presidential candidate. While his victory was pretty much guaranteed, he invested the following year to run a rigorous campaign. He travelled extensively and spoke to different groups of people.
In the early days of his presidency, President Lázaro Cárdenas displayed an uncharacteristic cautiousness. Calles pretty much controlled all facets of the government.
In the first year of his tenure, Cárdenas extended his own influence in the army, civil administration, and political structure. Ultimately, in 1936, he decided that he was strong enough to make a move against Calles and subsequently exiled the former president to the United States.
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During his tenure, Cárdenas implemented a plethora of reforms. Through the agrarian reform program, he seized large landed estates and then allocated twice as much land to peasants than the aggregation of all his predecessors. The result of this was that, by the end of his tenure, nearly half of Mexico’s cultivated land belonged to the farmers who were previously landless.
He also increased the capabilities of the government banks, so small farmers could take out loans. To give a political foundation to the land-redistribution program, he put all its recipients into a new National Peasant Confederation (Confederación Nacional Campesina, or CNC). This served as yet another step to consolidate the general political structure of his new government.
In early 1936, a second major stride was made when the Confederación de Trabajadores de Mexico was created to bring together the country’s fragmented central labour groups. Even today, it remains the largest confederation of labour unions in the country.
Cárdenas restructured the government party. In 1938, a national convention was set up to reorganise the party. It was subsequently given a new name, the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana (PRM). Previously, the membership of the party was only opened to aspiring politicians and government employees. The reassembling enabled mass groups to be part of the PRM. Four “sectors” of the party were introduced, labour, peasant, popular, and military.
This incorporation of the military into the PRM by Lázaro Cárdenas was a calculated act to diminish the power of the armed forces. Indeed, the involvement of the military in the Mexican politics has drastically decreased since then.
His government implemented active measures to expropriate foreign-owned industries. In 1937, the Cárdenas administration appropriated the country’s main railways. A year later, in March, they issued a motion that nationalized Mexico’s oil industry. In June, the state-owned petroleum company, Pemex, was set up.
At the end of his term, he oversaw the election of the next President of Mexico, General Manuel Ávila Camacho. He formally quit the office on November 30, 1940.
After stepping down as the president, Lázaro Cárdenas wanted to make his departure from politics. However, then the Second World War broke out, and Mexico declared war on the Axis Powers. Cárdenas came back to public life to serve as the Minister of National Defence from 1943 to 1945. Later, he was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Mexican Army.
He spent the next 16 years of his life in relative retirement. In 1961, he was made the executive member of the Commission of the Balsas River Valley, which operated Mexico’s regional electrification and development agencies in Guerrero. He came to symbolize the left faction in the government party, which became the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 1946.
He continued to be a member of the government party for the rest of his life. In the early 1960s, he supported the Independent National Peasant Confederation, an opponent of the CNC, and backed the National Liberation Movement, though he never became part of the left-leaning coalition.
Family & Personal Life
On September 25, 1932, Lázaro Cárdenas exchanged wedding vows with Amalia Alejandra Solórzano Bravo. They had met during his campaign to be the governor of Michoacán. The couple had a son together, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who had served as the head of the government of Mexico and contested for the presidency of Mexico three times.
Cárdenas died of cancer on October 19, 1970, in Mexico City, at the age of 75. He is interred in the Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City.