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Plutarco Elías Calles

Plutarco Elías Calles

Plutarco Elías Calles (1877-1945) was a Mexican revolutionary leader and president whose constitutional and key economic reforms provided a solid base for Mexico's later governmental stability.

Plutarco Calles was born in Guaymas, Sonora, on Sept. 25, 1877, and orphaned 4 years later. Stocky and iron-jawed, he taught school briefly and was a bartender before entering the ranks of the revolution supporting Francisco Madero against Porfirio Diaz and aiding Venustiano Carranza against Victoriano Huerta and Francisco "Pancho" Villa.

As military commander, provisional governor, and then constitutional governor of Sonora from 1915 to 1919, Calles established a record for the implementation of revolutionary ideals in terms of anticlericalism, agrarian reform, and educational progress. In 1919 he became secretary of industry, labor, and commerce in the Carranza government, resigning to participate in Álvaro Obregón's presidential campaign.

A key mover of the rebellion of Agua Prieta which overthrew Carranza, Calles served as secretary of war in the De la Barra interim government and as secretary of the interior during the presidency of Obregón (1920-1924). Obregón successfully backed Calles as his successor against the political and military challenge of Adolfo de la Huerta, who attracted conservative and dissident revolutionary support.

Calles began a decade of dominance of Mexican political life—4 years as president and 6 years as the "power behind the throne." His policy was foreshadowed by his record in Sonora. Agrarian reform was pushed, with the goal of establishing ultimately a nation of individual landholders. Labor was favored, Luis Morones and his Regional Confederation of Mexican Labor dominating the scene. The educational experimentation of the Obregón period now became national policy. Calles moved to implement and enforce constitutional provisions regarding religious matters and foreign ownership of petroleum resources.

One result was conflict between the Church and the state in the form of an economic boycott, suspension of religious services, and the armed rebellion of the Cristeros. Through the mediation of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow an arrangement with the Church was worked out and made effective in 1929. Important for Mexico's future development were the establishment by Calles of the Central Bank of Mexico and the National Bank of Agricultural Credit and the initiation of programs for the construction of roads, dams, and irrigation projects.

Calles effected a constitutional change which made possible Obregón's return to the presidency. However, after election and prior to inauguration Obregón was assassinated by a religious fanatic. Calles publicly proclaimed the end of the era of caudillos, or military strong men. While not again occupying the presidency, he did remain the jefe máximo, or most powerful chief, behind three successive executives between 1928 and 1934. These were years of transition, with rule by a wealthy clique, a slowing down of revolutionary reform, and cynicism, corruption, and depression. A major military challenge in 1929 was suppressed, the official party was established as a means of ensuring peaceful transfers of power, and the Federal Labor Code was promulgated. The need for a reaffirmation of revolutionary commitment resulted in the drafting of an official Six-Year Plan in 1934 and the election of Lázaro Cárdenas as president. When Calles criticized the new executive's handling of labor disturbances, Cárdenas forced him to leave the country. Calles was permitted to return to Mexico in 1941 and died there on Oct. 19, 1945.

Further Reading

There is a serious need for biographical studies of the Mexican leaders of the 1920s. A good chronicle of political events of that period is in John W. F. Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico: 1919-1936 (1961). Howard F. Cline, United States and Mexico (1953; rev. ed. 1963), gives an excellent analysis of the policy and importance of the Sonoran "dynasty." Harry Bernstein, Modern and Contemporary Latin America (1952), discusses economic and social changes during the period. Ernest Gruening, Mexico and Its Heritage (1928), is rich in material on regional and local politics. Harold Nicolson, Dwight Morrow (1935), discusses the diplomatic negotiations between Morrow and Calles. General surveys containing relevant material include Henry Bamford Parkes, A History of Mexico (1938; 3d ed. rev. 1960), and Lesley Byrd Simpson, Many Mexicos (1941; 4th ed. rev. 1966). □

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Calles, Plutarco Elías

Plutarco Elías Calles (plōōtär´kō ālē´äs kä´yās), 1877–1945, Mexican statesman, president (1924–28). In 1913 he left schoolteaching to fight with Álvaro Obregón and Venustiano Carranza against Victoriano Huerta. In 1920 he joined Obregón and Adolfo de la Huerta in the rebellion against Carranza. After Obregón's term as president, Calles, who had been a cabinet member, became the presidential nominee. Adolfo de la Huerta, claiming election fraud, revolted (Dec., 1923), but Obregón and Calles established their supremacy by force (1924); Calles became president.

Calles's administration was noted for its revolutionary zeal, which often precipitated violence. At the outset agrarian reform was pursued vigorously but recklessly. Many rural schools were built, although teachers were still scarce and underpaid. Material improvements were given special attention; vast road-building and irrigation projects were undertaken. The struggle between church and state reached a new level of bitterness. In 1926 the enforcement of anticlerical legislation provoked violence; in 1926–29 the Cristeros, largely peasant rebels whose slogan was "Viva Cristo Rey" [long live Christ the King] took up arms in the states of Colima, Jalisco, and Michoacán. Military chieftains reciprocated by victimizing innocent Roman Catholics, and government officials used the strife to political advantage. At the same time legislation over land and petroleum rights brought about a serious dispute with the United States; relations between the two countries improved when Dwight W. Morrow was appointed (1927) ambassador, and the oil question was temporarily settled.

Calles created and directed a powerful national army and dissolved the private militia that threatened internal peace. He unified the government and molded the National Revolutionary party into the dominant force in Mexican politics. Calles rapidly lost his radicalism when he gained power and became a landowner and financier; he moved toward dictatorship. Already in control of the labor movement, he made himself the force behind the Callistas, a circle of financiers and industrialists who dominated the country's economy and politics. Thus he became undisputed Jefe Máximo, or political chieftain, of Mexico.

When Obregón was assassinated (1928) after his reelection to the presidency, Calles appointed Emilio Portes Gil. In 1930 he declared the agrarian reform program a failure. In the same year he engineered the election of Pascual Ortiz Rubio. Two years later he removed him to appoint Gen. Abelardo Luján Rodríguez. The mighty labor union, CROM (see Lombardo Toledano, Vicente), was smashed. The conflict with the church, temporarily subdued (1929) by Morrow, was resumed; priests were openly persecuted. Communist unions, previously used by Calles in his campaign against the CROM, were ruthlessly suppressed, and a Callista-backed fascist organization, the Gold Shirts, harassed minority groups. As the new champion of conservatism, Calles in 1935 openly opposed the policies of his former protégé, Lázaro Cárdenas, but was defeated in the contest; in 1936 he was exiled. He was allowed to return under an amnesty in 1941.

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Calles, Plutarco Elías

CALLES, PLUTARCO ELÍAS

Mexican revolutionary leader and persecutor of the Catholic Church; b. Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, Jan. 27, 1877; d. Mexico City, Oct. 19, 1945. Calles, a descendant of Sephardic Jews from Almazón, Soria, Spain, was a natural son of Plutarco Elías Lucero and María de Jesús Campuzano. When he was four, his father died and his mother married J. B. Calles, whose last name young Plutarco took. On completing his primary education, he worked as an assistant elementary teacher. Finding this incompatible with his impulsive and authoritarian personality, he worked next in the municipal treasury of Guaymas until a small embezzlement left him jobless. After administering a hotel owned by his brother, he finally went into business for himself. The revolution of Francisco I. Madero did not affect him. However, as a commissioner of Agua Prietaa position that he held for the benefit of his businessCalles, together with Alvaro Obregón, joined the revolution headed by Venustiano Carranza, Governor of Coahuila, when the president was assassinated. Obregón had previously fought Pascual Orozco when Orozco betrayed Madero. Calles, a captain, undertook his first attack against Naco; it was so unsuccessful Calles fled when the first shots rang out. Later he was more fortunate, and in a short time he rose to the rank of general. The revolution removed Victoriano Huerta from office and degenerated into anarchy. Since the ambitions of the caudillos did not bring peace to the republic, the principal revolutionary chiefs convoked a convention to find remedy. The convention, held in Aguascalientes in mid-1915, disowned Carranza and Carranza disowned the convention. Pancho Villa, in open rebellion against the commander-in-chief, was defeated by General Obregón, while Calles obtained power and influence. In August 1915 Venustiano Carranza appointed Calles governor and military commander of Sonora. There he remained nine months, during which time he first indicated his propensity toward the destruction of the Catholic Church. In Querétaro, on Feb. 5, 1917, the Constitutional Congress promulgated the new constitution in which there were included antireligious articles that served as a legal base for Calles' unleashing, as president of the republic, the most cruel religious persecution.

Carranza appointed Calles secretary of industry and commerce, a position that he left early in 1920 to follow Obregón in a new revolutionary adventure. Adolfo de la Huerta, also from Sonora, initiated the Plan of Agua Prieta, disavowing Carranza. He was seconded by a large part of the army, and the president was assassinated in a hut in Tlaxcalaltongo. Huerta became provisional president while the elections were held. Álvaro Obregón won; he took office Dec. 1, 1920, and appointed Calles secretary of war. In 1922 Calles became secretary of the interior. When Obregón's term came to an end, his secretary of the treasury, Adolfo de la Huerta, was prevented from becoming president and provoked a bloody rebellion. He was defeated and Calles became president on Dec. 1, 1924.

The first two years of his government revealed his socializing tendencies; among other things he constructed highways and irrigation projects, reorganized the army, and founded the Bank of Mexico. A man of strong passions, he first tried to divide the Catholic Church by promoting the establishment of a Mexican national church. That failing, he enforced Article 130 of the constitution and promulgated the Decree of Reforms on Transgressions of the Common Order. This meant limitation of the number of priests, prohibition of religious teaching in the schools, state control over the clergy, and suppression of religious orders. The bishops protested through the legal means at their disposal but with no effect; they were forced to suspend the public worship in churches after Aug. 1, 1926. In some states, uprisings broke out, and for three anguished years, the Mexican Catholics gave their blood to the cry of "Long live Christ

the King!" At the end of his presidential term, two early revolutionaries, friends of Calles and Obregón, became candidates, but both were cut down by bullets. Obregón, without an opponent, was then elected, but José de León Toral assassinated him.

Calles remained chief of the revolution. Portes Gil, the provisional president, bent to his will. He imposed Ortíz Rubio as president against the wishes of the people who were in favor of José Vasconcelos. He withdrew Ortíz Rubio and replaced him with Gen. Abelardo Rodríguez. He raised also Lázaro Cárdenas to the presidency, using the official political party created by him to guarantee the continuation of the revolutionary group in power. Calles, objecting to Cárdenas's policies, tried to intervene once more, but this time his protegé turned on him and exiled him to the United States. When in 1941, during the presidency of Manuel Ávila Camacho, he returned to Mexico, Calles remained apart from all political activity.

Bibliography: f. medina ruiz, Calles: Un destino melancólico (Mexico City 1960). a. rius facius, Méjico cristero: Historia de la ACJM, 1925 a 1931 (Mexico City 1960).

[a. rius facius]

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