By: Juliana Lima & Nathalia Piotrowski

Assuming Presidency

Lázaro Cárdenas Del Rio was president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940. Before this, he had been a general in Carranza’s army and governor of Michoacán, his native state. During his presidential campaign, Cárdenas demonstrated his concern with the Mexican people by visiting “virtually every city, town, and village in the country”.[1] This president was a “strong believer in creating a powerful, unified state”. [2] During his presidency, Cárdenas continued his travels to the Mexican states and captivated the support of many through his “democratic simplicity”.[3] He cut his own salary and made himself available to all who asked for his assistance. Even though initially succumbing to the jefemaximo’s ways, he eventually broke free of Calles, refusing to be his puppet president. Calles used to be the jefemaximo who introduced puppet presidents that he could control to rule Mexico. Cárdenas disagreed with his methods of ruling and established democratic principles in Mexico as soon as he had built enough governmental support. Calles was initially given the command over the army and administration, but Cárdenas slowly worked to get support from these areas. As soon as he gained enough support, he publically challenged Calles, closing down all of the illegal gamble houses in Mexico, mostly owned by Calles and his revolutionary family. Calles, angered with Cárdenas’s opposition against his commands, ordered the Mexican senators to condemn Cárdenas’s supposed radicalism. Cárdenas in response dissolved Calles’s cabinet and created his own cabinet, with senators who shared elements that were anti-Calles. In April 1936, Calles formed alliance with the fascist Gold Shirts organization and planned a coup against Cárdenas. Seeing this, Cárdenas ordered the immediate deportation of Calles to the United States, later fleeing to Germany. 


Cárdenas’s Land Reform

            During Obregón and Calles, land distribution to the peasants was seen as a “safety valve”[4], something that would prevent the peasants from uprisings, and so land distribution was a slow and ineffective process. However, Cárdenas was an avid supporter of land reform and thought it was essential for a better Mexico. He distributed land in three main ways according to the climate and soil of the region. The primary way of distribution was the ejidos, or communal farms. Each ejidatario was able to utilize a section of this communal farm. Cárdenas also established ranchos, mostly in northern Mexico. Where conditions favored the cultivation of a commercial crop, Cárdenas established large cooperative farms. Unlike Obregón and Calles, Cárdenas provided the people with the infrastructure required to prosper. Seeds, machinery, technical assistance, and credit were given to the people. The Banco de CréditoEjidal was created to help administer and grant this credit to the Mexicans. With the great increase of land distribution – 45 million acres to 12,000 villages by the end of his rule- Cárdenas provided the “general modernization of Mexican life and society”.[5] He provided the people with land distribution that was based on their reality, which raised the Mexican peasants’ standards of living and contributed to the growth of the Mexican internal market and industry.

            Despite all these improvements, it must be remembered that Cárdenas could not just magically improve years of land destruction. The land he granted the peasants was usually arid and infertile, since the law stated that the landowner of the estate could choose the section of land he wish to keep to himself. Naturally, they chose the most productive land, leaving the unfertile land to the peasants. Also, despite his attempt to provide the Mexicans with the infrastructure needed, many times this infrastructure was inadequate. Also, as Keen and Hayes point out, the peasants received the land from the government and were controlled by the DepartamentoAgrario, Banco de CréditoEjidal, and Peasant Leagues. This means that the peasants became very dependent on these authorities, which later fell into corruption.


What about his labor reform?

Cárdenas was a president who showed serious interest towards the workers. He “revitalized”[6] the labor, dissolving the corrupt and ineffective CROM and establishing the CTM (Confederación de TrabajadoresMexicanos). He encouraged the workers to fight for their rights, including higher wages and better working conditions. Cárdenas’s interest for the workers was demonstrated on March 18,1938, when he proclaimed the nationalization of Mexican oil, creating PetroleosMexicanos (PEMEX). The nationalization occurred because of a workers’ unions strike against the North American and British oil companies, who refused to raise the wages of their workers. This day symbolized the Mexican “declaration of economic independence”[7] and is what Cárdenas most memorable accomplishments. During WWII, Mexican exportation of oil greatly benefitted Mexico’s economy. On the other hand, this nationalization of oil did not lead to the expropriation of all foreign industries. About “90 percent of Mexico’s mining industry remained in foreign hands”[8]. When the foreign countries saw how committed Cárdenas was with the labor unions, they settled down and did what they could not to anger the workers, as what happened with the oil industry. There were structural disadvantages related to the labor reform, however. As in the land reform, workers became dependent on the government-created authorities, who later on were taken over by corruption.


How about economic reforms?

As mentioned above, Cárdenas was a supporter of the workers and their rights, but he was also a supporter of the private enterprises. He assisted the Mexican industry through government loans and taxes meant to protect them and create a safe market for the Mexican consumer goods. These loans and protections were insured through the creation of NacionalFinanciera in 1934, a government bank. Also, Cárdenas greatly encouraged industrialization through the process of import substitution. Instead of importing products, he encouraged the people to buy national products. A factor that greatly helped Cárdenas was that during this time the world was preparing itself for World War II, and so there was a reduced availability of imports. 



Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM)

During Cárdenas, the predominant Mexican party, the PartidoNacionalRevolucionario (PNR) was reorganized and renamed as the Partido de la Revolucíon Mexicana (PRM). There was three main pillars to this new reorganized party: Labor, peasantry, and military. The power given to the military generals in the administration was decreased. The peasants were represented by the ConfederacíonNacionalCampesina(CNC) and the labor was represented by the CTM


Cárdenas supported women’s rights?

Cárdenas became a supporter of women’s struggle to obtain rights, after suffering pressure by their well-organized movement. He supported them through their struggle to be granted equality and promised them their own section in the PNR so they could have a say in the matters that interested them. The United Front for Women’s Rights at that time were struggling for the right to vote and to participate in elections, protection for women workers, integration of indigenous women and centers for women’s cultural education and vocational training.


Education and Indigenous Rights

Cárdenas paid a great deal of attention to rural education (the education of children of farmers, workers, and soldiers). He also valued greatly Indian education, being of Tarascan origin. He created the Departamento de AsuntosIndigenas to protect Indian interests and the InstitutoNacional de Antropología de México to encourage the study of Indian culture.


Cárdenas slows down as his term ends

Towards the end of his presidency, Cardenas abandoned many of his reform projects. He slowed down the pace of land distribution. However, he guaranteed his people that they were vital for Mexico’s progress, and that he would continue to protect their interests.

Now that you know a little bit more about Cárdenas,how about a little quiz? (The questions are relatively easy, but pay attention to the explanation of each of the answers.
Cárdenas (middle) serving as general in Carranza’s Army
This cartoon drawn by Juliana Lima shows Cárdenas holding the land rights sombrero in his hands and giving the thumbs up signal, as if everything was going to be alright.
“Cárdenas for Peace”, published by the Taller de Gráfica Popular- “por la soberanianacional, la emancipacioneconomica y la paz (For national sovereignty, economic emancipation, and peace.)
Useful Links:

This website is an article about Lázaro Cárdenas, discussing his role as the “Mr. Clean” of Mexico. It covers his reforms and so can be considered a good website

The above website has a good deal of information that was clearly added to the summary of Cardenas rule. Not only does it explain and describe is rule but also give highlights of earlier presidents and adds information about how Cardenas differed from those and explains a lot about his land, labor, and agrarian reforms.

Even though this source is extremely brief it does in fact give a good overview of what Cardenas did and main point of his rule. ‘Then again’ it also gives a brief conclusion of how was Cardenas rule seen and what were that basic changes that Mexico had during his innovating times.

Even though it is not specifically concentrated on Cardenas we believe it might add on to knowledge from the beginning of Mexico’s changes that include social, political, economical, as well as revolutionary thoughts because of unsatisfied peoples.

Above, there is a site that is considerably brief; however, it has information about Cardenas early life, military career, and goes up to his presidency and procedures taken as president, and finally talking about the end of his career. It does have a great deal of deep details but it does say enough to have a broad idea of Cardenas presidency and focuses during it.

This video is a good brief summary talking about the expropriation of oil in Mexico and how it affected the country and because it was an advertisement it is talking about how the nation should be protected and not sold.

Some Questions Involving Cárdenas:

  • To what extent were the goals of the revolution achieved by 1940?
  • “Economics is the driving force of history”- To what extent is this true during Cárdenas’s presidency?
  • To what extent was the Constitution of 1917 implemented by 1940?
  • Discuss the “improvement” of land reform between 1920-1940.
  • To what extent can Cárdenas be considered an “honest politician”?
  • To what extent can Cárdenas be considered the “hero of the Mexican Revolution”?

If you want more help, check out these books:

Knight, Alan, “Cardenas Del Rio, Lazaro” Encyclopedia of Latin American

History and Culture.New York, Charles Scribner's sons, 1996.Vol 1,

pg. 553-555.

-                  This book contains information about Cárdenas’s life before he becoming president and during his presidency. Nice focus on Cardenas’s land reforms and the ejidos.

Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. “Cárdenas and the Populist Interlude. ”A

History of Latin America. New York. Houghton Mifflin Company.2000.

 6th Ed. Pg. 293-296

-                  As used in the classroom, this book serves basically for background information and it compares Cardenas’ acts to previous presidents and talks about his view and purposes that are priorities in his presidency. However biased it does give a good point of view of how Mexico passed through those changes and how did they affect the country as a whole.

Sources used:

Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. “Cárdenas and the Populist Interlude. ”A

History of Latin America. New York. Houghton Mifflin Company.2000.

 6th Ed. Pg. 293-296

“Lázaro Cardenas. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Chaidez, Maria. “Cárdenas President of Mexico.” David W .Koeller. 2003. 26 Oct 2009.

“Lázaro Cárdenas” (1895-1970). 26 Oct 2009. (pictures taken from here).

“Printed Art and Social Radicalism.’ University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art. 26 Oct


of Cárdenas for Peace taken from here).



[3] Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. A History of Latin America. (Page 293)

[4] Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. A History of Latin America. (Page 288)

[5] Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. A History of Latin America. (Page 294)

[6] Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. A History of Latin America. (Page 294)

[7] Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. A History of Latin America. (Page 295)

[8] Keen, Benjamin. Hayes, Keith. A History of Latin America. (Page 295)