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Luis Echeverría Álvarez: 1922—: Lawyer, Politician

Worked Way Up Through Ruling Party

Echeverría was born January 17, 1922, in Mexico City, Mexico, to Catalina Álvarez and Rodolfo Echeverría, a cashier. After receiving an education in Mexico City's public schools, Echeverría earned a bachelor's degree in social science from a branch of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1940, and then pursued a law degree there. While studying international law, Echeverría became interested in politics and published Mexico and the University, a magazine that took an in-depth look at the problems facing the nation. He earned his law degree in 1945, and in 1947 joined the faculty at the University of Mexico to teach political theory.

On January 2, 1945, Echeverría married Maria Esther Zuno, the daughter of an influential political boss from Jalisco. It was no coincidence that around this same time, Echeverría became active in politics, joining the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI) in 1946. In no time at all, he penetrated the ruling party's inner circle and was appointed private secretary to PRI president General Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada. Echeverría moved quickly up through the ranks of the party, becoming its press secretary, and by 1952 he had joined Sánchez Taboada in the Ministry of the Navy. Clearly, Echeverría, a quiet, loyal, hard-working agent of the party, was being groomed for greater things. "I dedicated myself to working with enthusiasm in all tasks that the party and my bosses gave to me, with loyalty, with a spirit of discipline, with dedication, and promotions came one after another," Echeverría acknowledged, according to Samuel Schmidt's book The Deterioration of the Mexican Presidency: The Years of Luis Echeverría.

At a Glance . . .

Born Luis Echeverría Álvarez on January 17, 1922, in Mexico City, Mexico; married Maria Esther Zuno, 1945; eight children. Education: National Autonomous University of Mexico, BA, social science, 1940; law degree, 1945. Politics: Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).

Career: Became private secretary for the PRI's president, 1946; taught political theory at the University of Mexico, 1947; served in the Ministry of the Navy, 1952; named secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, 1964; elected president of Mexico, 1970-76.

In 1954 Echeverría took over as head of the Ministry of Public Education, where he earned a reputation as a great negotiator. Three years later he rejoined the party's central executive committee staff and launched the campaign of PRI presidential candidate Adolfo López Mateos. Echeverría soon joined the Ministry of the Interior, working under Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. When Díaz Ordaz resigned to become president in 1964, Echeverría took over the department. As interior secretary, he held one of the nation's most powerful positions, charged with overseeing Mexico's police forces and shoring up national security.

It was in this position that Echeverría first gained infamy in the late 1960s. During this time Mexico stood in crisis, on the cusp of a revolution, because the lower classes believed the government was indifferent to their suffering. Students, demanding government reforms, began rioting on July 26, 1968, as the country geared up to host the Olympics that October. The uprising concluded in the infamous "Tlatelolco massacre." On October 2, federal troops shot at student demonstrators at the Plaza de Tlatelolco in Mexico City. Reports varied, but the troops allegedly killed and wounded hundreds of people, although official numbers were never issued. Police arrested scores of protesters and threw them in prison. As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Echeverría was blamed for the incident. Echeverría, however, maintained his innocence and insisted he had only sent in troops to preserve the rights of the students to hold a peaceful demonstration. He maintained a stony silence regarding rumors that he had ordered the drastic measures. The incident stained his image, and he spent the rest of his political career deflecting criticism. Over and over again, Echeverría defended the jailings, saying the prisoners were true criminals, not simply enemies of the state. "Not one was arrested for writing a novel or a poem or for his way of thinking," Echeverría told Time magazine.

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