History, The Cardenas Era
Manuel Avila Camacho, anticlericalism, Bracero program, Petroleos Mexicanos, Mexican politics
In 1934 Calles selected Lazaro Cardenas as the PNR candidate and Cardenas was elected easily. Cardenas turned out to be much more independent than the puppet presidents who had preceded him, which surprised and angered Calles. After his election, Cardenas moved to reduce the role of the army in Mexican politics, and emphasized land reforms, social welfare, and education. When Calles opposed some of these reforms, he was sent into exile.
Cardenas established a reputation as a revolutionary reformer. By the end of his term, one-third of the country’s population had received land, usually as a member of a communal farm known as an ejido. Workers became a major political force and were able to press for improved wages and working conditions.
In 1936 an expropriation law was passed enabling the government to seize private property whenever it was deemed necessary for public or social welfare. The national railways of Mexico were nationalized in 1937. In 1938, after foreign-owned oil companies refused to pay workers a wage set by arbitration and backed by the Mexican supreme court, the Mexican government took over the property of the foreign oil companies. A government agency called Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, was created to administer the nationalized industry. The expropriations seriously affected the Mexican oil industry, making it difficult for Mexico to sell oil in U.S., Dutch, and British territories. Mexico was forced to arrange barter deals with Italy, Germany, and Japan. The oil trade with these nations, however, was cut short by World War II (1939-1945).
Cardenas’s successor, Manuel Avila Camacho, was selected to strengthen the economy as well as consolidate the social reforms. To those who viewed Cardenas as a true revolutionary, the election of 1940 represented the effective end of the Mexican Revolution. Avila Camacho softened anticlericalism and cut back on land reforms. World War II also shifted the country’s focus. Mexico declared war on the Axis powers on May 22, 1942, and cooperated fully with the U.S. war effort. Approximately 250,000 Mexicans served in the U.S. military, and one received the Medal of Honor. Mexican workers, both agricultural and industrial, worked in the southwestern United States during the war under a contract labor arrangement known as the Bracero program.
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