|Plutarco Elías Calles|
40th President of Mexico
December 1, 1924 – November 30, 1928
|Preceded by||Álvaro Obregón|
|Succeeded by||Emilio Portes Gil|
September 25, 1877|
|Died||October 19, 1945
|Resting place||Monument to the Revolution|
|Political party||Laborist Party (PL), after 1929 National Revolutionary Party (PNR)|
|Spouse(s)||Natalia Chacón (1879-1927)|
|Years of service||1914-1920|
Plutarco Elías Calles (Spanish pronunciation: [pluˈtarko eˈli.as ˈkaʎes]; September 25, 1877 – October 19, 1945) was a Mexican general and politician. He was the powerful interior minister under President Álvaro Obregón, who chose Calles as his successor. The 1924 Calles presidential campaign was the first populist presidential campaign in the nation's history, as he called for land redistribution and promised equal justice, more education, additional labor rights, and democratic governance. Calles indeed tried to fulfill his promises during his populist phase (1924–26), but entered an anti-clerical phase (1926–28).
After leaving office he continued to be the dominant leader from 1928–1935, a period known as the maximato. Calles is most noted for a fierce backlash against Catholics, which led to the Cristero War, a civil war between Catholic rebels and government forces, and for founding the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (National Revolutionary Party, or PNR), which became the Partido de la Revolución Mexicana (Party of the Mexican Revolution, or PRM), which eventually became the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), that governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000 under these three different names.
Early life and career
Francisco Plutarco Elías Campuzano grew up in poverty and deprivation, one of two natural children of his alcoholic bureaucrat father, Plutarco Elías Lucero, and his mother María Jesús Campuzano Noriega. He adopted the Calles surname from his mother's sister's husband, Juan Bautista Calles, who with his wife María Josefa Campuzano raised him after the death of his mother. His uncle was from a family of school teachers, but himself was a small-scale dealer in groceries and alcoholic beverages. Plutarco's uncle was an atheist, and he instilled in his nephew a strong commitment to secular education and an attitude of disdain toward the Roman Catholic Church. This was later reflected in his social agenda, which included expansion of public education and the removal of church influence from education, politics and unions.
Plutarco's father's family was descended from a prominent family in the Provincias Internas, most often recorded as Elías González. The first of this line to settle in Mexico was Francisco Elías González (1707–1790), who immigrated from La Rioja, Spain, to Zacatecas, Mexico, in 1729. Eventually, he moved north to Chihuahua, where, as commander of the presidio of Terrenate, he played a role in the wars against the Yaqui and Apache. Plutarco Elías Calles's father, Plutarco Elías Lucero, lost his father in 1865, José Juan Elías Pérez, to battle wounds in the resistance to the French Intervention, leaving his widow with eight children, of which Plutarco was the oldest. The family's fortunes declined precipitously and lost or sold much of its land, some of it to the Cananea Copper Company, whose labor practices resulted in a major strike at the turn of the twentieth century.
Calles became a committed anticlerical, which some scholars[who?] attribute to his social status as a natural or "illegitimate" child. "To society at large, Plutarco Elías Calles was illegitimate because his parents never married, but he was even more so in the eyes of religion. Denying the authority of religion would at least in part be an attempt to negate his own illegitimacy."
Participation in the Mexican Revolution
Calles was a supporter of Francisco I. Madero, under whom he became a police commissioner, and his ability to align himself with the political winners of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) allowed him to move up the ranks quickly; he attained the rank of general in 1915. He led the Constitutional Army in his home state of Sonora and managed to repel the conventionalists of José María Maytorena and Pancho Villa in the Battle of Agua Prieta in 1915.
In 1915, Calles became governor of Sonora, known as one of the most reformist politicians of his generation. His radical rhetoric tended to conceal the pragmatic essence of his policy, which was to promote the rapid growth of the Mexican national economy, whose infrastructure he helped to establish. In particular, he attempted to make Sonora a dry state, promoted legislation giving social security and collective bargaining to workers, and expelled all Catholic priests. In 1919, Venustiano Carranza promoted Calles to Secretary of Commerce, Industry and Labor. In 1920, he aligned himself with Álvaro Obregón to overthrow Carranza, and Obregón named him head of the interior ministry. Calles used his ability to draw in labor class votes to come to power with Obregón. He aligned himself with the Laborist Party and was in 1924 elected president, defeating the agrarianist candidate Ángel Flores and the eccentric perennial candidate Nicolás Zúñiga y Miranda.
Calles' presidency was supported by labor and peasant unions. The Laborist Party which supported his government in reality functioned as the political-electoral branch of the powerful Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers (CROM), led by Luis Napoleón Morones.
Shortly before his inauguration, he had traveled to Europe to study social democracy and the labor movement, and he tried to implement the things he had learned there in Mexico. Calles supported land reforms and promoted the ejido as a way to emancipate campesinos, but no large tracts of land were redistributed under his presidency nonetheless.
Calles founded several banks in support of campesinos, but more importantly the Banco de México, Mexico's national bank. Calles's finance secretary Alberto J. Pani managed to achieve debt relief of a part of Mexico's foreign debt, but after a conflict with Calles, Pani resigned in 1927.
Calles changed Mexico's civil code to give illegitimate children the same rights as legitimate, partly as a reaction against the problems he himself often had encountered being a child of unmarried parents. According to false rumors, his parents had been Syrians or Turks, giving him the nickname El Turco (The Turk). His detractors drew comparisons between Calles and the "Grand Turk", the anti-Christian leaders from the era of the Crusades. In order not to draw too much attention to his unhappy childhood, Calles chose to ignore those rumours rather than to fight them.
U.S.-Mexico Relations During Calles's Presidency
One of the major points of contention with the U.S. was oil. Calles quickly rejected the Bucareli Agreements of 1923 between the U.S. and Mexico, when Álvaro Obregón was president, and began drafting a new oil law that would strictly enforce article 27 of the Mexican constitution. The oil problem stemmed from article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, which re-stated a law from Spanish origin that made everything under the soil property of the state. The language of article 27 threatened the oil possession of U.S. and European oil companies, especially if the article was applied retroactively. A Mexican Supreme Court decision had ruled that foreign-owned fields could not be seized as long as they were already in operation before the constitution went into effect. The Bucareli Agreements stated that Mexico would agree to respect the Mexican Supreme Court decision in exchange for official recognition from Washington of the presidency of Álvaro Obregón.
The reaction of the U.S. government to Calles's intention to enforce article 27 was swift. The American ambassador to Mexico branded Calles a communist, and Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg issued a threat against Mexico on 12 June 1925. Calles himself never considered himself a communist, but considered revolution a way of governing rather than an ideological position. Public opinion in the United States turned particularly anti-Mexican when the first embassy of the Soviet Union in any country was opened in Mexico, on which occasion the Soviet ambassador remarked that "no other two countries show more similarities than the Soviet Union and Mexico." After this, some in the United States government, considering Calles's regime Bolshevik, started to refer to Mexico as "Soviet Mexico".
The debate on the new oil law occurred in 1925, with U.S. interests opposing all initiatives. By 1926, the new law was enacted. In January 1927 the Mexican government canceled the permits of oil companies that would not comply with the law. Talks of war circulated by the U.S. president and in the editorial pages of the New York Times. Mexico managed to avoid war through a series of diplomatic maneuvers. Soon after, a direct telephone link was established between Calles and President Calvin Coolidge, and the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, James R. Sheffield, was replaced with Dwight Morrow. Morrow won the Calles government over to the United States position and helped negotiate an agreement between the government and the oil companies.
Another source of conflict with the United States was Mexico's support for the liberals in the civil war in Nicaragua, as the United States supported the conservatives. This conflict ended when both countries signed a treaty in which they allowed each other to support the side they considered to be the most democratic.
Violent church-state conflict
Calles was a staunch anticlerical and during his term as president, he moved to enforce the anticlerical articles of the Constitution of 1917, which led to a violent and lengthy conflict known as the Cristero Rebellion or the Cristero War, which was characterized by reprisals and counter-reprisals. The Mexican government violently persecuted the clergy, massacring suspected Cristeros and their supporters. In May 1926, Calles was awarded a medal of merit from the head of Mexico's Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in recognition of his actions against the Catholic Church.
The following month on 14 June 1926, President Calles enacted anticlerical legislation known formally as The Law Reforming the Penal Code and unofficially as the Calles Law. His anti-Catholic actions included outlawing religious orders, depriving the Church of property rights and depriving the clergy of civil liberties, including their right to trial by jury (in cases involving anti-clerical laws) and the right to vote. Catholic antipathy towards Calles was enhanced because of his vociferous anti-Catholicism.
Due to Calles's strict and sometimes violent enforcement of anti-clerical laws, people in strongly Catholic areas, especially the states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Colima and Michoacán, began to oppose him, and on 1 January 1927, a war cry went up from the faithful Catholics, "¡Viva Cristo Rey!"
Aftermath of the Cristero War and toll on the Church
Almost 100,000 people on both sides died in the war. A truce was negotiated with the assistance of U.S. Ambassador Dwight Morrow in which the Cristeros agreed to lay down their arms. However, Calles reneged on the terms of the truce within a few months; he had approximately five hundred Cristero leaders and 5,000 other Cristeros shot, frequently in their homes in front of their wives and children. Particularly offensive to Catholics after the truce was Calles's insistence on a complete state monopoly on education, suppressing all Catholic education and introducing "socialist" education in its place, saying: "We must enter and take possession of the mind of childhood, the mind of youth." The persecution continued as Calles maintained control under his Maximato and did not relent until 1940, when President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a practicing Catholic, took office.
The effects of Calles's policy on the Church were profound. Between 1926 and 1934, at least 4,000 priests were killed or expelled; one of the most famous was the Jesuit Miguel Pro. Where there were 4,500 priests in Mexico prior to the rebellion, in 1934 there were only 334 priests licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people, the rest having been eliminated by emigration, expulsion, execution and assassination. By 1935, seventeen states had no priests at all.
Maximato and Exile
Under Calles's rule in 1926, a constitutional change was passed that allowed for a non-consecutive re-election, and in 1928 Obregón was elected as Calles's successor; this amendment was later repealed in 1934. In addition, Mexico passed an amendment to the constitution in 1927 that allowed a President to serve a six-year term. However, Obregón was murdered by José de León Toral, a Catholic militant, before he could assume power. To avoid a political vacuum, Calles named himself Jefe Máximo, the political chieftain of Mexico and Emilio Portes Gil was appointed temporary president, although in reality he was little more than a puppet of Calles. The following year, Calles founded the PNR, or Partido Nacional Revolucionario, the predecessor of today's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).
The period which Obregón had been elected to serve, between 1928 and 1934, in which Calles was Jefe Máximo, is known as the Maximato in Mexican history (1928-1934), with many regarding Emilio Portes Gil, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, and Abelardo Rodríguez as his puppets. Officially, after 1929, he served as minister of war, as he continued to suppress the rebellion of the Cristero War, but a few months later, after intervention of the United States ambassador Dwight Morrow, the Mexican government and the Cristeros signed a peace treaty. During the Maximato, Calles became increasingly authoritarian and would also serve as Minister of Industry and Commerce. In the early 1930s, he appears to have flirted with the idea of implementing aspects of fascism in the government, and the ideology clearly had an influence on him.
After a large demonstration in 1930, the Mexican Communist Party was banned, Mexico stopped its support for the rebels of César Sandino in Nicaragua, strikes were no longer tolerated, and the government ceased re-distributing lands amongst poorer peasants. Calles had once been the candidate of the workers and at one point had used Communist unions in his campaign against competing labor organizers, but later, having acquired wealth and engaging in finance, suppressed Communism.
By the summer of 1933, two of old wartime subordinates of Calles had risen to the top of the party: Manuel Pérez Treviño and Lázaro Cárdenas. Calles sought to have Treviño be the party's nominee at the time, seeing that he would be the most likely to continue his policies, but soon yielded to pressure from party officials and agreed to support the former revolutionary general, governor of Michoacán, and popular land reformer Cárdenas as the PNR's presidential candidate in the 1934 Mexican Presidential election.
Because Cárdenas had long been associated with Calles since he joined his army in Sonora in 1915, he was trusted by the callistas and Calles was under the false assumption he could control Cárdenas as he had controlled his predecessors. Soon after his inauguration, however, conflicts between Calles and Cárdenas started to arise. Calles opposed Cárdenas's support for labor unions, especially his tolerance and support for strikes, while Cárdenas opposed Calles's violent methods and his closeness to fascist organizations, most notably the Gold Shirts of general Nicolás Rodríguez Carrasco, which harassed Communists, Jews and Chinese.
Cárdenas started to isolate Calles politically, removing the callistas from political posts and exiling his most powerful allies: Tomás Garrido Canabal, Fausto Topete, Emilio Portes Gil, Saturnino Cedillo, Aarón Sáenz and finally Calles himself. Calles and head of the labor organization CROM, Luis Napoleón Morones, one of the last remaining influential callistas and one-time Minister of Agriculture, were charged with conspiring to blow up a railroad and placed under arrest under the order of President Cárdenas. Calles was deported to the United States on April 9, 1936 along with the three last highly-influential callistas in Mexico—Morones, Luis León (leader of the Radical Civic Union in Mexico), and General Rafael Melchor Ortega (one-time Governor of Guanajuato) -- plus his secretary and his son Alfredo. At the time of his arrest, Calles was reportedly reading a Spanish translation of Mein Kampf and there is a political cartoon of the era showing that.
In exile in the United States, Calles was in contact with various U.S. fascists, although he rejected their anti-Semitic and anti-Mexican sentiments, and also befriended José Vasconcelos, a Mexican philosopher who had previously been a political enemy.
Return from exile and final years
With the Institutional Revolutionary Party now firmly in control and in the spirit of national unity, President Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940–46) allowed Calles to return to Mexico under the reconciliation policy of Cárdenas's successor in 1941. He spent his last years quietly in Mexico City and Cuernavaca.
Back in Mexico, Calles's political position became more moderate; in 1942, he supported Mexico's declaration of war upon the Axis powers. In his last years, he reportedly became interested in Spiritualism. A few months before his death in October 1945, aged 68, Calles allegedly stated that he "most certainly believed" in a higher power.
Calles' main legacy was the pacification of Mexico ending the violent era of the Mexican Revolution through the creation of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (PNR), which became Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which governed Mexico until 2000 and returned to power in the elections of 2012.
Calles's legacy remains controversial today. He is honored with statues in Sonoyta, Hermosillo, and his hometown of Guaymas. The official name of the municipality of Sonoyta is called Plutarco Elías Calles Municipality in his honor. His founding of the PRN is criticized by many as the beginning of a long undemocratic period in Mexico.
He was denounced by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Iniquis afflictisque (On the Persecution of the Church in Mexico) as being "unjust", for a "hateful" attitude and for the "ferocity" of the war which he waged against the Church.
- Named 'The General' and played by Ernest Borgnine in the 1971 film Rain for a Dusty Summer.
- Calles is portrayed by the actor Rubén Blades in the 2012 film For Greater Glory, originally called Cristiada, an epic historical drama also starring Andy García, Peter O'Toole, Eva Longoria, Alma Martinez, and Eduardo Verástegui.
- Calles appears as a character in The Friends of Pancho Villa (1996), a novel by James Carlos Blake.
- Buchenau, Jürgen. Plutarco Elias Calles and the Mexican Revolution (2007), p. 103.
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. New York: HarperCollins 1997, pp. 404-405.
- Krauze, Mexico, p. 405.
- Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, p. 203-204, UNM Press, 2002.
- Krauze, Mexico, p. 404.
- Krauze, Mexico: Biography of Power, p. 406, citing Macías Richard, Gerardo. Vida y temperamento de Plutarco Elías Calles 1877-1920. Mexico 1995, pp. 71-72.
- Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940. University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, 2002. Page 203.
- Gonzales, Michael J., The Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, p. 268, UNM Press, 2002
- Shirk, David A. Mexico's New Politics: The PAN and Democratic Change p. 58 (L. Rienner Publishers 2005)
- Stacy, Lee. Mexico and the United States. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Tarrytown, New York, 2002. Page 124.
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. A History of Modern Mexico, 1810–1996. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 1997. Page 412.
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. A History of Modern Mexico, 1810–1996. Zeta. Mexico City, 2006. Page 413.
- Medina-Navascues, Tere. Plutarco Elías Campuzano, mal conocido como presidente Calles. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 1997. Pages 9–11.
- Kirkwood, Burton. The history of Mexico. Greenwood Press, Westport, 2000. Pages 157–158.
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. A History of Modern Mexico, 1810–1996. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 1997. Page 417.
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: biography of power : a history of modern Mexico, 1810–1996, p. 418, Harper Collins 1998.
- Richards, Michael D. Revolutions in World History, p. 30 (2004 Routledge), ISBN 0-415-22497-7.
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. A History of Modern Mexico, 1810–1996. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 1997. Pages 417–419.
- Joes, Anthony James. Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency, p. 70 (2006 University Press of Kentucky), ISBN 0-8131-9170-X.
- Tuck, Jim. "THE CRISTERO REBELLION – PART 1", Mexico Connect, 1996.
- Shirk, David A. (2005). Mexico's New Politics. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 1-58826-270-7.
- Young, Julia G. (July 2013). "The Calles Government and Catholic Dissidents: Mexico's Transnational Projects of Repression, 1926-1929". The Americas. The Academy of American Franciscan History. 70: 69 in pages 63–91. doi:10.1353/tam.2013.0058.
- Van Hove, Brian (1994). "Blood-Drenched Altars". Faith & Reason. Eternal Word Television Network.
- Scheina, Robert L. (2003). Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791–1899. Brassey's. p. 33. ISBN 1-57488-452-2.
- Ruiz, Ramón Eduardo (1993). Triumphs and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 393. ISBN 0-393-31066-3.
- Mexico: an encyclopedia of contemporary culture and history, Don M. Coerver, Suzanne B. Pasztor, pg. 55.
- "MEXICO: Solution Without Blood". Time. 20 April 1936.
- Payne, Stanley (1996). A History of Fascism. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-595-6. p. 342.
- Blamires, Cyprian and Jackson, Paul, World fascism: a historical encyclopedia, Volume 1, p. 148, ABC CLIO 2006.
- Calles, Plutarco Elias, Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001–05
- Meyer, Michael C. and Sherman, William L. The Course of Mexican History (5th E. Oxford Univ. Press 1995).
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power. A History of Modern Mexico, 1810–1996. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 1997. Page 436.
- Larralde, Carlos. "Roberto Galvan: A Latino Leader of the 1940s". The Journal of San Diego History 52.3/4 (Summer/Fall 2006) p. 160.
- Krauze, Mexico, p. 436.
- Larralde, Carlos. Roberto Galvan: A Latino Leader of the 1940s.
- Krauze, Enrique. Mexico: Biography of Power, p. 436.
- Iniquis afflictisque, 12, 15, 19–20.
- Cristiada (2011), IMDB, Accessed Oct. 8, 2010.
Further reading, viewing
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Plutarco Elías Calles.|
- Buchenau, Jurgen. Plutarco Elias Calles and the Mexican Revolution (Denver: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).
- Mexico Before the World by Plutarco Elías Calles at archive.org
- El General, film on P.O.V. on PBS (US) co-presented by Latino Public Broadcasting; July 20, 2010. Filmmaker Natalia Almada works from audio recordings made by her grandmother about Calles, Almada's great-grandfather, relating history to present in Mexico.
- Lucas, Jeffrey Kent. The Rightward Drift of Mexico's Former Revolutionaries: The Case of Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.
|President of Mexico
Emilio Portes Gil
|Awards and achievements|
Chauncey M. Depew
|Cover of Time Magazine
8 December 1924
Dwight F. Davis