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López Mateos, Adolfo (1910–1969)

López Mateos, Adolfo (1910–1969)

Adolfo López Mateos (b. 26 May 1910; d. 22 September 1969), president of Mexico (1958–1964). The accession of López Mateos to the presidency in 1958 represented the control of a postrevolutionary generation of politicians who, for the most part, were born in the first two decades of the twentieth century. López Mateos also represented politicians who had opposed the Mexican establishment in the 1929 presidential campaign, in which he and a prominent group of students joined forces with José Vasconcelos in a bitter and unsuccessful campaign. During the transitional period of his presidency, from 1958 to 1959, López Mateos faced a most difficult labor strike, that of the railroad workers' union, led by Valentín Campa. This strike revealed the union leadership's failure to represent the rank and file and demonstrated the willingness of the new, untried president, who had achieved the office largely on the basis of his skill as labor secretary in avoiding such confrontations, to apply force when necessary. As a result of his use of army intervention, government-dominated union leadership strengthened its hold over this and other unions. In 1960 López Mateos briefly risked his early political successes by refusing to join the United States and most of the rest of Latin America in breaking relations with Castro's Cuba. In fact, he only succeeded in reinforcing Mexico's independent course in foreign affairs—a strategy followed by most of his successors.

On the economic front, López Mateos inherited a devalued peso, but in spite of pressures to devalue once again, he pursued a moderate economic philosophy, promoting the stabilization of the peso and the gradual, steady expansion of the economy. He appointed as treasury secretary Antonio Ortiz Mena, who became the financial architect of an unprecedented twelve years of growth and continued at the helm of the treasury in the next administration. The López Mateos administration's repressive control of the urban working classes extended to the countryside, as exemplified by the notorious execution of peasant leader Rubén Jaramillo while in the hands of government troops. The forced sacrifices of the Mexican working class were what made possible the economic growth of the 1958–1964 period. This expansion in turn produced a growing middle class and the beginnings of an important industrial infrastructure. There is probably no president in recent times who inherited a better economic and political situation than López Mateos's successor, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.

López Mateos was born in Atizapán de Zaragoza, México. His father, a dentist, died when he was quite young, leaving his mother to support five children. He attended the Colegio Francés in Mexico City on a scholarship, and completed his secondary and preparatory studies in Toluca, México. A student activist at a young age, he joined the Anti-reelections movement in 1929, working as a librarian to support himself. He attended law school at the National University (1929–1934). Disenchanted with Vasconcelos's failure to win the presidency, he attached himself to the president of the ruling National Revolutionary party (1931–1933). In 1934, he began working for the government printing office, becoming a labor representative of the National Workers Development Bank in 1938 and later serving in the secretariat of public education. President Miguel Alemán Valdés, whom López Mateos represented on numerous assignments abroad, selected him as one of the PRI's candidates for senator from his home state in 1946. In 1951, while still a senator, he became secretary general of the party, organizing the campaign committee for Adolfo Ruiz Cortines's presidential bid (1951–1952). Ruiz Cortines rewarded him for his efforts by appointing him secretary of labor, a position he served in successfully until his own candidacy for the presidency in 1957. He became the only person in the history of the party to win the presidential office from the labor post. After he left the presidency in 1964, president Díaz Ordaz asked him to organize the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Severe illness prevented him from fulfilling this assignment, and he died after a stroke.

See alsoDíaz Ordaz, Gustavo; Mexico, Political Parties: Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); Ortiz Mena, Antonio.


Frank Brandenburg, The Making of Modern Mexico (1964).

Tomás Contreras Estrada, México y Adolfo López Mateos (1959).

L. Vincent Padgett, The Mexican Political System (1966).

Olga Pellicer De Brody and José Luis Reyna, Historia de la Revolución Mexicana, 1952–1960, vol. 22 (1978).

Olga Pellicer De Brody and Esteban L. Mancilla, Historia de la Revolución Mexicana, 1952–1960, vol. 23 (1978).

Robert E. Scott, Mexican Government in Transition, rev. ed. (1964).

Additional Bibliography

Krauze, Enrique. El sexenio de López Mateos. México: Clio, 1999.

Novo, Salvador. La vida en México en el periodo presidencial de Adolfo López Mateos. México, D.F.: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1997–98.

                                         Roderic Ai Camp

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