Cárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc (1934–)

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Cárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc (1934–)

Prominent Mexican politician Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was born May 1, 1934, in Mexico City. Cárdenas's 1988 presidential candidacy, representing a coalition of opposition parties, provoked the strongest support against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) since 1952. Cárdenas's parties, which included the Partido Popular Socialista (PPS), the Partido Auténtico de la Revolución Mexicana (PARM), the Partido Mexicano Socialista (PMS), and the Partido del Frente Cardenista de Reconstrucción Nacional (PFCRN), won four senate seats in Michoacán and the Federal District and captured most of the congressional seats in the key states of México, the Federal District, Michoacán, and Morelos. Cárdenas himself received a reported 31 percent of the vote to Carlos Salinas de Gortari's reported 51 percent.

Most observers believe extensive fraud took place, and some analysts assert that Cárdenas actually defeated Salinas. In the 1991 congressional elections, however, support for Cárdenas's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) declined to only 8 percent of the electorate. In 1994 Cárdenas once again ran for the presidency on his party's ticket. The PRI was successful in associating electoral violence with the PRD among many voters, and combined with Cárdenas's poor performance in the televised debates, he was unable to build on his strong showing six years earlier, coming in at a distant third place with 17 percent of the vote. Despite this poor showing, when the leadership of the Federal District was converted to an elective position in 1997, Cárdenas became the party's candidate, easily defeating both the PRI and National Action Party (PAN) nominees.

Using the Federal District's thirty congressional seats as a base, the PRD restored its strength in the four states where it performed strongly in 1988. Cárdenas became the party's standard bearer in 2000, and based on his and the party's resurgence in 1997, he imposed himself as the presidential candidate a third time, producing further splits in the party. Again, he ran a distant third in the presidential race, capturing 17 percent of the vote. His influence declined within the PRD after 2000, and when he did not run for the party's nomination in 2005, he opened the way for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the head of the Federal District, to become the party's candidate. López Obrador restored the PRD's congressional influence and almost won the 2006 election, with 35 percent of the vote.

Cárdenas is the son of General Lázaro Cárdenas, without doubt Mexico's most popular president of the twentieth century. This fact accounts in part for his own political popularity, especially among the campesinos, who considered Lázaro Cárdenas an agrarian savior. The son studied at public and private schools, and at the Colegio de San Nicolás inMorelia. He graduated from the National School of Engineering on January 22, 1957. Cárdenas then studied abroad on a Bank of Mexico fellowship, interning in France and for Krupp in Germany (1957–1958)

Cárdenas received his first taste of electoral politics in 1951, when as a preparatory student he supported the candidacy of General Miguel Henríquez Guzmán, who—as Cárdenas would later do—left the government's fold to oppose the official party presidential candidate. Later he joined the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN), a loosely constituted leftist opposition movement supported by his father, serving on the national committee with Heberto Castillo, who would join him in the 1988 presidential campaign.

After engaging in a private engineering practice in the 1960s, Cárdenas began holding various public positions. In 1970 he became subdirector of the Las Truchas steel complex, a decentralized federal agency, and in 1973 served as director of the public trust fund for the city of Lázaro Cárdenas. In 1976 he was elected senator from his home state, but he left his post that same year to serve as undersecretary of forest resources and fauna in the secretariat of agriculture and livestock. In 1980 he resigned this position to run for governor of Michoacán as the PRI candidate. Elected, he served until 1986, when he began his efforts to reform the official party. He and other reformers advocated democratizing the internal structure of the PRI and the electoral system in general. Their economic policies were populist, focused on debt renegotiation, deficit spending, and an increased state role in the economy. When the government leadership refused to accept their views, Cárdenas, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo (a former president of the PRI), and other leaders left the party in 1987. Not all the reformists followed their lead. Some, who called themselves the critical current, remained within the PRI.

Following the 1988 elections, Cárdenas's coalition reorganized itself as the Partido de la Revolución Democrática and offered intensive opposition in races for mayor and state legislative and gubernatorial posts. The strength of Cárdenas's opposition movement, and its persistence after the 1988 presidential elections, contributed significantly to the pressure for electoral reform and internal change within the government party. Many PRD members and candidates were persecuted before the 1994 election. Cárdenas used his personal stature within Mexico and abroad to appeal for honesty in the electoral process, thus contributing significantly to Mexico's democratic transformation.

See alsoLópez Obrador, Manuel Andrés; Mexico, Political Parties: Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD); Mexico: Since 1910; Salinas de Gortari, Carlos.


Ascencio, Esteban. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas: El hombre, el político, el líder. México, D.F.: Editorial Rino, PRD, 2000.

Bruhn, Kathleen. Taking on Goliath: The Emergence of a New Left Party and the Struggle for Democracy in Mexico. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

Cárdenas, Cuauhtémoc. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas: Política, familia, proyecto, y compromiso. México, D.F.: Grijalbo, 2003.

Cornelius, Wayne A., Judith Gentleman, and Peter H. Smith, eds. Mexico's Alternative Political Futures. La Jolla, CA: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego, 1989.

                              Roderic Ai Camp

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