What Are We Doing in Mexico
What we are doing in Mexico and for whom we are doing it
by President Plutarco Elías Calles
(From Foreign Business, New York City)
Upon commencing this article solicited by your publication, concerning the programme which we are carrying out in Mexico and the domestic and international problems with which my government is compelled to cope, I desire to quote a paragraph from a proclamation made in March last by Lord Reading, Viceroy of India, to the legislature of that country, in which he says:
“The essential basic principle of British institutions rests upon a fundamental unity of sentiment and a general desire to bring about results of capital importance, rejecting for the benefit of the common welfare the petitions for individuals or sectional advantages.”
This is nothing more or less than we are trying to do in Mexico, to “Reject the petitions for individual or sectional advantages, for the benefit of the common welfare.”
Naturally, it is not easy nor agreeable to develop with energy and success a policy of this nature in a country wherein the privileges belonging to every class, which have been regarded as rights, although frequently consisting of immoral or unjust concessions, have always been in the hands of an insignificant minority, native or foreign. At the bottom of each and every one of the problems which the revolutionary government in Mexico has in recent years sought to solve, has always been found a conflict between the common interests, the true necessities of the Mexicans as a whole, and individual interests, small in origin, utility and purpose but great when measured by the standard of dollars.
So, for example, we find the agrarian problem in Mexico, the petroleum problem, the educational problem and, finally, referring to the present, that which is today regarded as the religious problem, although this, as we shall indicate later on, is merely a conflict between the heads of the Catholic Church and the Constitutional laws of Mexico which the former are trying to ignore.
If one considers that the Mexicans possess less than a third of the total riches of the country, and that of this third, which amounts to approximately $1,500,000,000 U.S., not less than sixty percent has been and continues to be in the hands of the Catholic clergy, one may easily comprehend why, in the resolution of the problems of Mexico, which always possess a marked economic aspect, we have had difficulties and frictions with some foreign governments who have defended the interests of their nationals, which they consider attacked by our Constitutional laws; or, on the contrary, with the large landholders of Mexico.: One may also understand why we are constantly opposed by the Catholic clergy, who fear lest that at any moment they may lose their principal asset, the millions accumulated by the Church in face of the express prohibition of the fundamental law of our country.
But in spite of all this the executive power is continuing its task of solving satisfactorily the difficulties and complications of all descriptions which are faced by the government, of protecting for all time our national possessions in order that the country, now and in the future, may enjoy a firm and solid prosperity. Despite the fact that we appreciate that the present administrative labor of the government might be simplified and its complete success assured by contenting ourselves by solving merely the problems of the moment, relative to advancing our interior economy to the financial stability enjoyed by that of some other countries and by cementing the military and political power of the administration, by which the dangers of the road upon which we are traveling might be eliminated, the executive has elected, with the cooperation of the other two branches of the government, and the approval of the great popular masses, to formulate and legally perfect, which in part he has succeeded in doing, a system of progressive social reform, but of a strong nationalistic tendency; reforms which will constitute the sources of future general organic peace, of collective progress, of public wealth, and which consist in the adoption of methods and systems of advantaging ourselves of our national resources and of defending impartially the national rights. These are the same methods and systems which the most civilized nations have adopted and are following with benefit to their political and economic independence, and to their prosperity and their complete development.
All that I have said before demonstrates clearly that in its nationalistic labor, the government has not been inspired by selfish motives, by chauvinism or dislike to foreigners. The government has never refused to accept, for the better development of the country, the benefits of international collaboration. Neither does one care to say that the plans of action stipulated by the Constitutional law for the free, but prudent, exercise of its sovereignty should not reckon with foreign collaboration, restrained only in the sense of obliging it to respect our laws and to prevent this collaboration from being converted into absorption, to the great damage or ruination of our national interests.
Happily, in all of the frictions which I have mentioned, and which have been provoked by Mexico’s national policy, the chancelleries of foreign governments have conscientiously studied our laws, comprehend our ideas and our true line of conduct, with the result that they have arrived at the point where they agree with the reason, the truth, the justice of our position and have reached an understanding of it.
Our desire has been to organize, once [and] for all, the statutes proceeding from our Constitutional laws, to vitalize them justly and strictly, in order to render possible the development of our national riches and to prevent perpetual incomprehensions and erroneous interpretations of our legislation, in order that foreign capital may know to a scientific certainty what it may expect from Mexico. The Revolution has no belligerent intentions so far as international relations go, but its desire is to avert trouble by adopting for the benefit of foreigners in Mexico nonambiguous legislation and to compel foreign capitalists to conform to Mexican laws. The internal policy of the government may be condensed into one phrase: We believe and we shall continue to believe that worthwhile reforms in Mexico can be brought about only by exercising a tremendous effort in favor of the popular classes.
To insure the success of this it was necessary and essential, in the first place, to establish a strict, energetic and honest administration in all of the administrative departments, in order that the initial problem might be solved: the balancing of the budget. This was also necessary to enable us to take care of our foreign and domestic debt. It was necessary to provide a proper impetus to education, to agriculture and to industry and to resolve the difficult question of monetary circulation in Mexico, which latter has been accomplished by the founding of the national bank of issue, on a gold basis. The success of our administrative reorganization and of our financial rehabilitation has been so surprising that at the end of the first year of the Presidential term the government had saved 70,000,000 pesos, with which capital it established the Bank of Mexico and later the Agricultural Credit Bank. In step with the financial reorganization the government proceeded to establish the bases of a wise, just and secure agricultural prosperity for the country, with especial attention to the question of irrigation and the construction of a system of automobile and cart roads, by this means facilitating the intensification of agricultural production. At the same time it was necessary to consolidate the situation created by the restitution of lands, in the form of commons, and by the division of the great, and hitherto comparatively unproductive, estates. To the end that the production of these lands under their new owners might be encouraged and to develop in the latter a sense of responsibility, the Mexican Congress approved the proposal of the executive to divide these commons among the individuals to whom they belonged, and to make the responsibility for cultivating these lands individual instead of collective.
Agricultural enterprise can only lead to disastrous results when it is carried on in an irregular and a disorganized manner and without a scientific basis, without the benefits of irrigation, when it is needed, and adequate means of communication with markets or shipping points. It frequently occurs that when a certain region produces abundant crops there are not means to realize on them profitably, through lack of transportation, capital or credit. In other regions, where the crops have failed, it is necessary to import foodstuffs from the interior, all communities and an exaggerated disorder of the country’s economic planes. In the future in Mexico the Bank of Mexico and the Agricultural Credit Bank, through their numerous branches, will contribute to the definite betterment of these conditions.
In the matter of public education, Mexico is proceeding according to the recommendation of the United States Bureau of Education and intensifying education among the farming classes, thereby notably improving the rural problem. Eventually, we are assured, not less than eighty percent of what the country produces will remain in Mexico and be used by the people.
In conclusion I would say that in reality Mexico has no religious problem. It is not true that the government is persecuting any religious body, or that it is opposed to the dogmas or practices of any religion. What is happening is that the Constitution of Mexico contains articles which the Catholic hierarchy considers to be incompatible with their constant and illegal intervention in politics and questions of state and in the economic powers of the state, exerted through their spiritual influence, which is the prime and most important factor of their domination in temporal matters. Until the clergy, by legal and Constitutional methods, obtains from the Congress and succeeds in having ratified by the state legislatures, a law repealing or amending the laws which are designed to break the political power of the clergy by transferring their huge properties to the nation, the government will comply with its elemental duty of preventing the church from imposing itself upon the immense liberal majority of the people of my country. The Church cannot succeed in its aspirations so long as it forgets its high functions and continues to utilize the methods which it systematically has employed to the present to obtain advantages of a material and political nature, which are incompatible with its purely religious functions. I firmly believe, however, that the articles of the Constitution to which the clergy objects will not be abolished or amended in many years.
Calles, Plutarco E. Mexico Before the World. Trans. Robert H. Murray. New York: The Academy Press, 1927. 142-148. Download the PDF (401 kb)