Lázaro Cárdenas, the first president to campaign for office, begins a series of socialist policies. The most significant is large-scale land reform through the system of ejidos, or communal farms. The PNR becomes the Party of the Mexican Revolution (PRM) and gains wider representation. Cárdenas surprises Mexicans by nominating Manuel Ávila Camacho, a military officer, as his successor.
After attempting to remain neutral, Mexico joins the Allies in declaring war on Axis powers when German submarines sink two Mexican tankers. Land reform slows, and emphasis shifts to promoting private ownership of land. Government support for labor dwindles. Officials rename the PRM the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to signal the end of the revolution's transitional phase.
PRI nominee Miguel Alemán, a lawyer by profession, ushers in a new generation of civilian, and less nationalistic, politicians. The government's growing involvement in the economy provides ample opportunity for kickbacks and sparks public outcry. Alemán's successor, Adolfo Ruíz Cortines, attempts to tackle corruption with some success, while continuing his predecessor's pro-industry policies.
López Mateos is elected president, giving voice to the PRI's agrarian, and to a lesser extent labor, constituencies. Participation in the political process increases as women get the right to vote. Foreign policy is strongly nationalistic; the government buys up foreign utility concessions and disrupts amicable relations with the United States by refusing to break diplomatic ties with Cuba.
López Mateos' successor, the controversial Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, allows business interests once again to precede those of labor in order to maintain economic growth. Antigovernment feeling runs high amid several sectors of society and culminates in a student-led uprising in 1968. The ensuing massacre of students reveals for all to see the authoritarian nature of the political system.
The ideological pendulum swings back to the left as Mexico joins other developing nations in fighting imperialism and foreign economic control. President Echeverría lowers the voting age to 18 and appoints young leftists and intellectuals to government positions. He is applauded throughout Latin America as a champion of leftist causes.
Government corruption, profligate spending, and mismanagement of oil revenue under the PRI's President López Portillo lead to widespread criticism of the one-party political system. At the same time, political reform leads to an increase in minority party representation. The stage is set for significant political opposition.
The pro-business, conservative National Action Party (PAN) registers significant gains. The PRI is fragmented. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the former president's son, resigns from the PRI and forms the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Declaring himself a presidential candidate, he wins support among the poor as a mestizo nationalist. But the political system is not yet fully open to competition.
Carlos Salinas de Gortari of the PRI wins a slim victory over Cárdenas under allegations of election fraud. In spite of that, he succeeds in winning over Mexicans by turning the economy around and cracking down on corruption. His modest political reforms set the stage for a more open political process, but not soon enough.
Zapatista rebels take arms in Chiapas against the government, citing oppression and indifference to poverty. Military response ends in a stalemate. Salinas flees Mexico amid allegations of his involvement in political assassinations and corruption. Despite its poor image, the PRI succeeds in replacing him with Ernesto Zedillo after its initial candidate, Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, is assassinated.
Political conflict continues in the South. In 1996 the government and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) reach an agreement to end fighting, but the massacre of 45 peasants the following year brings renewed tensions. New electoral legislation is signed into law to help open up the political arena.
The PRI's dominance over the political arena weakens. It loses the majority in the National Assembly and in several states. Opposition candidate Vicente Fox wins the 2000 presidential election, a first since 1910, in elections that are considered the fairest in Mexico's history.
President Fox names a diverse Cabinet and initiates negotiations with the rebels in Chiapas. He vows to emphasize education and to press constitutional reforms. The PRI remains a major force, particularly in the South. In 2002, Fox acknowledges he has not achieved as much as he hoped. Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda resigns in anger at the U.S.'s lack of focus on bilateral relations.
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