El Fomentador

Alive and well in Mexico…

“Vamos a Santa Maria” Lazaro Cardenas Has Come to Help Us

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A couple of blocks from my “hacienda” a guy sells used books in the entrance to a small downtown hotel. There’s the usual selection of sets of 30 year-old encyclopedias, outdated textbooks, travel guides and magazines. He usually has a nice collection of books on history, art, politics and music. They are almost all in Spanish. But he keeps one low bookcase just for books in English. The variety can be surprising, for example, he has a copy of a guide to American university graduate school programs from 1984 (I told him I had already read it). There’s always a few Danielle Steel romances, some books by Steven King, you know, popular American authors from the last century.

I stopped in last week and noticed that he had added several new books to the English “corner”. Well, I say new books but this group were mostly 40 to 60 years old. Nice hard-cover copies in really good condition. He said they had come from the same collection, he had bought them all at the same time. I saw at least two that I wanted to buy, but I decided on just one: Timeless Mexico by Hudson Strode, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1944. I’ve been reading it ever since and, in fact, have started rereading it already.

I suppose this blog should really go under the book nook heading, but Timeless Mexico is really a political history of Mexico up to the time of World War II, and it gives some very interesting insights into the ideals of nationalism and how they have been formed in Mexico through the last five hundred years. With the bi-centennial coming up in 2010, the material covering the last two hundred years is particularly interesting. I’m still reading it so I’m not going to bore you with a review, but suffice to say it is a very good book.

The name of Lazaro Cardenas, president of Mexico from 1934 to 1940 has been a popular search tag on WordPress. He is also one of the most popular presidents in Mexican history. He was a man for the people, but complex and he could be a skillful political strategist. I just have one story about Cardenas to tell from the book, but it’s a good one.

“Eight days after his inauguration he announced that the national telegraph company would transmit free of charge, every day between noon and one, messages from the public explaining to him their urgent needs.”

A wit conceived a joke, which circulated widely, revealing where Cardenas put the emphasis in  administration. The president was concentrating on work at his official desk one morning when his private secretary presented him with memoranda of urgent business. “Crisis with the railway workers.” “Pass it on to the minister of communications,” said the president. “Sisal production in Yucatan under par.” “Tell the minister of agriculture.” “Important message from the United States State Department.” “Tell the minister of foreign affairs.” “Big bank scandal imminent.” “Inform finance.” The procedure was interrupted by one of the free telegrams from a remote village, Santa Maria del Tule. It was signed by Juan Diego. “My corn perished with drought, my burro lay down and died, I have malaria, and my wife is having a baby.” Brushing documents aside, Cardenas rose with alacrity. “Order the presidential train. We go to Santa Maria!”

I just think that is a good joke but it also hints at the story behind the man. In the book it says that he never traveled with a revolver and refused to have a body guard. He would visit towns and villages unannounced, walk the streets and sit and talk with people on park benches. He had four main objectives: (1) To give land to all peasants who needed it; (2) to raise the living standards of workers; (3) to give everyone a chance at an education; (4) to improve the health of the country. Where Calles, the previous president had said, “The Revolution has gone far enough,” Cardenas said, “It has just got started.”

Written by El Fomentador

July 11, 2009 at 5:34 am

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