Díaz Ordaz, Gustavo (1911–1979)

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Díaz Ordaz, Gustavo (1911–1979)

Díaz Ordaz was the president of Mexico from 1964 to 1970. He was the last president to preside over a period of consistent, stable economic growth, but his administration is largely remembered and widely condemned for his handling of student unrest on the occasion of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, resulting in the deaths of numerous citizens.

Díaz Ordaz was born March 12, 1911, in Chalchícomula, Ciudad Serdán, in the state of Puebla. His father was a government accountant and his mother a school teacher, his great grandfather was General José María Díaz Ordaz, and one of his direct ancestors was the conquistador and chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo. After studying at elementary and preparatory schools in Oaxaca, Díaz Ordaz received his law degree from the University of Puebla in February 1937. While still a student he had begun his public career, starting as a modest court clerk in 1932. Upon graduation he became a prosecuting attorney, then a federal agent, and later the director of the labor arbitration board in Puebla.

After serving briefly as vice rector of the University of Puebla in 1940–1941, Díaz Ordaz became secretary general of government in Puebla and then a member of Congress from his home state in 1943–1946. He moved from the lower to the upper chamber, serving as senator from 1946 to1952, and then joined the government secretariat, first as director general of legal affairs in 1952–1956, then as oficial mayor in 1956–1958; and finally as secretary of government, the most influential political post in the cabinet, in the administration of President Adolfo López Mateos from 1958 to 1964.

López Mateos, who had become a close associate of his when both served in the senate, appointed him as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate for president in 1964. Díaz Ordaz was serving as president when the Olympic Games took place in Mexico City in the fall of 1968. At the same time, his government became entangled in a conflict with a student movement that, as with such movements in many other countries, involved a number of issues. When students staged a demonstration in the Plaza of the Three Cultures in Mexico City's Tlatelolco district, the government called out army troops who fired on the demonstrators, leaving hundreds of students and bystanders dead. Archival research has revealed that the president used his personal presidential guard, dressed in civilian clothes, to fire first on the army troops, thus purposely perpetrating the army's violent response to what it believed was a student-initiated event. In short, neither the students nor the troops were responsible for what ensued.

The repercussions of this event shaped the generation of Mexican political and intellectual leaders of the 1990s, including former president Carlos Salinas, and altered the relationship between intellectuals and the government. Even more, this event raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the Mexican political and economic model and introduced pressures for political liberalization, the effects of which were to be seen in the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the 1988 presidential election. Many analysts trace the ultimate demise of Mexico's one-party system, along with the introduction of political pluralism, to the divisions that emerged from the violent suppression of student demonstrators. Finally, Díaz Ordaz's policies led to a serious decline in the legitimacy of the Mexican presidency, which also affected his successors.

Even before the debacle of 1968, Díaz Ordaz had discouraged the early efforts of PRI president Carlos A. Madrazo to democratize the party in 1965. After his presidency, his successor appointed him its first ambassador to Spain after a reestablishment of relations in 1977, but he was so unpopular, and the public outcry against him was so intense, that he resigned the appointment before serving and remained out of the public eye until his death on July 15, 1979.

See alsoMexico, Political Parties: Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).


Cabrera Parra, José. Díaz Ordaz y el '68. 2nd ed. Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1982.

Hellman, Judith Adler. Mexico in Crisis. 2nd ed. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1983.

Krauze, Enrique. El sexenios de Díaz Ordaz. Mexico City: Clío, 1999.

Novo, Salvador. La vida en el periodo presidencial de Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. 2 vols. Mexico City: Conaculta, 1998.

                                          Roderic Ai Camp

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Díaz Ordaz, Gustavo (1911–1979)

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