Luis Echeverría Álvarez: 1922—: Lawyer, Politician
Struggled To Stabilize Economy, Maintain Control
Once in office Echeverría radiated confidence. He attempted to restore the public's faith in politics and labored to stimulate the economy. In order to pacify the student activists, Echeverría released the remaining prisoners of the 1968 riots but the move did little to gain that faction's trust. Because he was a talkative, opinionated president who felt the need to speak directly to the public on a regular basis, the press dubbed him el Predicador ("the Preacher").
To help meet his campaign promises of helping the poor, and to shake off the notion that the party didn't care about the country's rural peasants, Echeverría pumped vast amounts of money into social and economic programs. During his administration the number of government employees doubled. However, because of his inept handling of monetary affairs, the economy came to a near halt and inflation set in. To make ends meet, Echeverría's government borrowed money from outside its borders. Foreign debt rose from 4.2 billion U.S. dollars in 1970 to 19.6 billion U.S. dollars in 1976.
Again in 1971 there were student massacres in Mexico City. This time on June 10, 1971, a mysterious paramilitary group called Los Halcones ("The Falcons") beat student demonstrators with sticks. Echeverría forced the mayor and the police chief of Mexico City to resign, and promised a full investigation that never materialized. Once again, Echeverría distanced himself from the crime, claiming he had nothing to do with it. In response, pockets of guerrilla groups formed across the nation, at one point kidnapping Echeverría's father-in-law, as well as a U.S. diplomat.
The country's economic situation forced Echeverría to devalue the peso at end of his term in the fall of 1976. It threw the nation into a panic. The peso lost half its value, going from 12.5 to 24.5 against the U.S. dollar.
Just as Echeverría's presidency was coming to an end, he surprised the nation with one last authoritarian act by ordering 243,000 acres of lush farmland turned over to peasants, and charging wealthy landlords with fraud. The business community responded by shutting down factories in protest. In the end Echeverría reneged, turning over only 32,000 acres and declaring that the next president would have to flush out the details of any remaining land exchanges.
When he left the presidency, Echeverría became a representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and served as an ambassador to Australia. He also formed an Institute of Third World Studies. Echeverría dwindled from the spotlight until 2002, when the Mexican government ordered an investigation into the student massacres of 1968 and 1971. Maintaining he had nothing to hide, Echeverría, nonetheless refused to testify, leaving the families of victims once again clamoring for answers.
Krauze, Enrique, Mexico: Biography of Power, Harp-erCollins Publishers, 1997.
Levy, Daniel and Gabriel Székely, Mexico: Paradoxes of Stability and Change, Westview Press, 1983.
Meyer, Michael C. and William H. Beezley, eds., The Oxford History of Mexico, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Padgett, L. Vincent, The Mexican Political System, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976.
Schmidt, Samuel, The Deterioration of the Mexican Presidency: The Years of Luis Echeverría, University of Arizona Press, 1991.
Newsweek, July 13, 1970, pp. 44-45.
New York Times, July 1, 2002, p. A1.
Time, July 13, 1970, p. 27; December 6, 1976, pp. 28-31.
- Luis Echeverría Álvarez: 1922—: Lawyer, Politician - Became Presidential Nominee
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