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Mariano Ben Plotkin
The life of Italian-Argentine scientist and intellectual José Ingenieros (1877–1925) has been considered a clear example of the potential for upward social mobility based on talent that existed in Buenos Aires at the turn of the 20th century. Born Giuseppe Ingegnieros in Palermo, Sicily, from a working-class family, Ingenieros was able to become both one of the most internationally renowned Latin American intellectuals and scientists—his scientific and philosophical works were translated into several languages—and also a socialite of high visibility befriending some of the most prominent members of the Argentine social elite. His trajectory seems to be an example of unparalleled success. Nevertheless, a close look at recently unearthed sources, particularly his private correspondence, not only shows a different picture of Ingenieros’s life and works, but also forces us to reconsider accepted knowledge about the possibilities offered to immigrants by turn-of-the-century Argentine society. His trajectory constitutes an excellent case study for the analysis of both the potentials and the limits of social mobility in Argentina at the time, as well as the relationship between intellectuals and power during the transition from the oligarchic republic established in 1862, after the unification of the country, to the really democratic republic based on universal (male) suffrage introduced in 1912. An analysis of the context of production of his most popular work, El hombre mediocre, provides an opportunity to contrast his public image with the social insecurities he expressed to his relatives and friends.
As Mexico’s minister of public education from 1921 to 1924, José Vasconcelos played a prominent role in efforts to create a new national identity expressing the 1910 Revolution’s goals of an inclusive society and equitable nation, opportunities created through education, and shared cultural expressions. Vasconcelos has been widely praised for his educational campaigns, especially in the countryside, among indigenous communities, and for his literacy programs in the city. According to these recent interpretations, his efforts as minister of public education have been both over- and underestimated. Nevertheless, the revolutionary national identity that he helped to foster with his discussion of mestizaje in La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race; 1925) has since been ingrained into everyday life and culture.
Elissa Rashkin and Isabel Arredondo
The 1932 film Flame of Mexico (released in Mexico as Alma mexicana), written and produced by the US feminist activist Juliet Barrett Rublee (b. 1875–d. 1966), provides a window on to political and cultural aspects of US-Mexican relations during the 1920s. A melodrama whose themes include land, education, oil, and the Mexican Revolution, Flame of Mexico takes an activist stance toward international politics, critiques economic exploitation, and argues for US support of Mexican sovereignty in a time of conflict. Addressed to diplomatic circles and mass audiences alike, the message is rendered subtler by its central romantic love story and numerous action sequences drawn from the nascent Hollywood industry, as well as its finely filmed picturesque scenery and its tapestry of regional Mexican music, woven into an appealing soundtrack by leading composers and musicians of the era.
Long overlooked by film historians, Flame of Mexico is a unique artifact in film history: made in the first years of sound cinema, the film contains both intertitles and a synchronized musical score and is a transnational project. Latin American musicians living or working in Los Angeles recorded the score, while a Hollywood crew shot the film in Mexico. The film is credited with being the first feature film about Mexico shot on location in that country, and it preceded Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished Mexico project, a version of which was released in the United States almost simultaneously with Flame as Thunder over Mexico (1933). Also unique is Flame’s mix of melodrama and travelogue genres; it features a cast of Mexican actors, some of whom would go on to enjoy stable binational acting careers, with US actors playing the gringo villains as well as numerous non-actors playing themselves in ethnographic scenes designed to show, in the words of its producer, “the real Mexico.”
Although masked in the film’s publicity and press reviews, Rublee’s personal, multifaceted history as an activist is key to understanding her film as an important political and cultural undertaking, rather than the extravagant failure that some critics have portrayed, often relying on secondhand opinions without having had access to the film itself. In spite of its limited distribution and meager box-office returns—in the midst of an economic depression—the film is an act of political intervention whose colorful and romantic love story is deployed in the service of a message of peace and transnational cooperation.
Grit Kirstin Koeltzsch
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
The cultural movement known as Hallyu (or Korean Wave) and the transnational popularity of K-pop music and dance have long been established as a relevant phenomenon in the global world, including Latin America. This form of South Korean contemporary popular culture also has a major impact in Argentina, especially among the young population. Despite the cultural and geographical distance, the young Argentine incorporate aspects of K-pop culture in their daily lives, which includes music, dance, K-drama, and food, and some of them even try to learn the Korean language. Thanks to technology, almost in real time they perceive what happens on the Asian continent and connect with fans and fandoms, not only in Korea but also in other parts of the world. This shows that globalization is not a process of homogenization, as these young Latin American people also take the Korean Wave as motivation to learn about transpacific history and cultures.
Furthermore, K-pop is quite a visual phenomenon, and dance plays an important role. The choreographies are complex, emphasize the music, and dance definitely transcends language barriers. Thus, the young Argentine explore new aspects of corporality through dance performances. In their spare time, they organize numerous dance contests and activities, and so generate spaces of their own articulation. Particularly interesting is to draw attention to the gender role performance and how the local youth react to the influence of a transgressive gender identity performed by Koreans, in the context of a strongly patriarchal and heteronormative Argentine society. It shows that body/dance articulation is not just a tool for creativity but also for disputing gender norms and stereotypical gender images in our society.
Latin American labor has a well-established historiography, in dialogue with trends outside of the region. Environmental history is a newer and more exploratory field. In basic terms, environmental history explores the relationships of humans with the natural world, sometimes referred to as “nonhuman nature.” This can include how humans have affected the natural world, how the natural world has affected human history, and histories of human ideas and belief systems about nature. Labor and environmental history grows from explorations of the connections between these two spheres. Humans interact with the natural world through their labor and from their class perspective. The natural world shapes the work that people do and the institutions and structures humans create to organize and control labor. Changing labor regimes change the ways that humans interact with, and think about, the natural world. Both labor and environmental histories are in some senses investigations of how humans relate to nature. This essay sets Latin American labor and environmental history in global historical context. After offering a chronological summary, it briefly examines connections between U.S. Latino and Latin American labor and environmental histories, and ends with a discussion of contemporary Latin American critical environmentalisms.
Natasha S. Varner
The India Bonita Pageant of 1921 marked a critical moment in Mexico’s revolutionary identity formation. This serialized pageant hosted by the Mexico City newspaper, El Universal, also played a major role in the formulation of indigenous “authenticity,” as defined by race, material culture, gender, and sexuality. The aims of the pageant were at least superficially focused on celebrating indigenous peoples, but it ultimately narrowed popular understandings of what it meant to be indigenous through its focus on select visual markers of indigeneity. It thereby discursively erased portions of the indigenous population that did not conform to these parameters. The pageant also played into broader efforts to solve the so-called Indian Problem by situating ideal indigeneity in the rural past, favoring Aztec heritage over other indigenous identities, and positioning Mestizos as the race of the future. Ultimately, this attempt at indigenous inclusion was part of broader revolutionary identity projects that sought to isolate and erase one problematic part of the population under the guise of celebrating it.
Andrés Estefane and Luis Thielemann
Marxist thought in Latin America was impacted by various transatlantic intellectual, and social influences. The changes in Latin American Marxism can be placed in a five-stage chronological framework. The first stage, from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, encompasses the arrival of European immigrants, who introduced the first references to Marxist socialism, and the local development of that repertoire among workers, journalists, and intellectuals in the urban centers of Latin America. The initial influence of the Second International and Karl Marx’s texts started to change during the second decade of the 20th century, following the debates sparked by the Russian Revolution and the emergence of communism. This context framed the beginning of the second stage, characterized by the emergence of a group of thinkers who questioned the Eurocentric tone and the mechanical assimilation of European Marxism. Taking as a point of departure the particularity of Latin American social formations, and inspired by a strong anti-imperialist discourse, these intellectuals and revolutionary leaders aimed at developing an original reading of Marxist thinking, more pertinent to the rural and indigenous character of the continental societies and the structural legacies of the colonial past. A third stage began in the 1930s, after the fall of the Spanish Republic, the ascent of fascism and Nazism in Europe, and the ideological purges that followed the Stalinization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The increasing influence of the Comintern (the Communist International) deactivated the creative impetus of the early 20th century, though it did not prevent the emergence of intellectuals and local organizations—led by Trotskyism and Left Opposition groups—who strongly criticized Stalinism and the bureaucratization of Soviet Communism. The triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 marked the beginning of a fourth stage in the history of Latin American Marxism. That event inverted the traditional direction of the transatlantic influence, since Latin America became a landmark case for Western Marxism. In the midst of a complex and productive intercontinental dialogue with Europe, Latin American Marxism developed crucial debates on such topics as the colonial legacy of the continental capitalist development, the relationship between racial hierarchies and class struggle, and over the political “routes” to building socialist orders. These dialogues and debates came to an abrupt end after the wave of coup d’états that shook the continent between the 1960s and the 1980s. The political defeats of the attempts to construct socialist systems provoked a Marxist diaspora that brought many European intellectuals back to their own continent and sent many militants and thinkers into exile in Latin America and elsewhere. Interestingly, the evaluation of the defeat was the basis for an ample renovation of the Marxist thought, which marked the beginning of the fifth and current stage, characterized by the emergence of the Latin America’s progressive governments of the 21st century and the gradual withdrawal from the old bases of historical materialism. Although this periodization recognizes the diverse transatlantic contexts that influenced Latin American Marxism, it also seeks to highlight that the production of Marxist thinking on the continent has mainly been connected with the experience of active militants and intellectuals proscribed or marginalized in academia. By extension, the development of Latin American Marxism appears to be intimately linked to the political struggle of the continental Left, which does not negate that Latin American thinkers have also produced theoretical works on Marx.
Since the early 19th century, a number of Latin American countries have had active interests in the Antarctic continent. These interests began to accelerate in the early 20th century, and during the 1930s and 1940s, Argentina and Chile formalized sovereignty claims to the Antarctic Peninsula region. These claims overlapped not only with each other, but also with Great Britain’s claim to the “Falkland Islands Dependencies.” The two Latin American claims tended to be framed in the language of anti-imperialism, and for a while at least the idea of a “South American Antarctica” emerged to suggest a common front against the British Empire. Rivalry between Argentina and Chile, however, remained strong, and the alliance against imperialism never developed into a lasting agreement. In 1959, Argentina and Chile joined with ten other nations—including Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union—in signing the Antarctic Treaty. This Treaty suspended sovereignty claims and created a “continent dedicated to peace and science.” Following the ratification of the Treaty in 1961, Argentina and Chile lessened their hostility to the imperial strategy of using scientific research as a justification for political claims, and came to be enthusiastic members of what some outsiders labeled an “exclusive club.” During the 1980s and early 1990s, four other Latin American nations—Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, and Ecuador—became full members of the Antarctic Treaty, attracted, in part, by the prospect of sharing in a potential minerals bonanza in the southern continent. This expected economic boom never came, however, and instead the Antarctic continent became one of the most protected environments anywhere on the planet by the terms of the 1991 Madrid Environmental Protocol.
Fabián Herrera León
At the moment of its founding in 1920, the League of Nations enjoyed the solid support of Latin American countries, whose early and extensive participation helped legitimize the new international system and facilitate the functioning of its institutional representation. While this support was tremendously valuable for the Geneva-based League, it continuously suffered temporary, though significant, lapses on the part of nations that were particularly representative of the region, such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Despite the characteristically pacifist rhetoric enunciated by this group of states, Latin American support cannot be called disinterested or sincere. Indeed, their collaboration with the multilateral and universalistic pretensions of the League was notoriously reserved, to such an extent that in the 1920s the organization’s General Secretariat granted them special treatment and prerogatives, while simultaneously ensuring that the League would continue to exert its influence in the Western Hemisphere. This reality was confirmed, sadly, in the context of two conflicts, the Chaco and Leticia wars, during which Latin American loyalty to the League became seriously questioned. With few exceptions in the decade that followed—one characterized by complicated crises that would lead to a new worldwide conflagration—the general tendency with respect to the system of collective security described in the Society’s Charter was scarred by dissatisfaction, incompliance, and increasing disillusionment that undoubtedly contributed to the weakening and eventual collapse of this organization so emblematic of the interwar period.
Friedrich E. Schuler
The English-speaking world awaits its first detailed study examining Latin America during World War I. Many historical events of the era remain little-known, as does much of the region’s military history during this period. While key chronologies, personalities, groups, and historical avenues remain unidentified, researchers must draw knowledge from existing texts. The authors cited in this article for further study cover only a small fraction of the myriad topics presented by the war.
World War I set in motion a unique power readjustment in Latin America, the likes of which had not been experienced in the region since the 1820s. Most significantly, the temporary suspension of economic ties with Europe disrupted everyday processes that elites and commoners had previously taken for granted. Changes in economy and finance triggered a struggle between indigenous Americans, peasants, workers, elites, and immigrants, setting the stage for the social and political changes of the 1920s. Amidst the upheaval of World War I, non-elite Latin American groups successfully focused national politics on regional and ethnic issues, while elite Latin Americans weighed the potential advantages of ties with Spanish and Italian authoritarianism. World War I ended European financial dominance over the region, and the destruction of Europe reduced export markets to a point where Latin America’s economic relations with the United States gained new significance. U.S. military advisors took their places alongside European trainers, and many different “U.S.” actors emerged on Latin American soil, acting out rivaling understandings of appropriate U.S. activity in Latin America. The war heralded the end of Belgian influence and of significant French power in the region, British acceptance of U.S. financial preeminence, and questions as to how Prussian military expertise could be leveraged to Latin America’s benefit in the future. The creation of the League of Nations, a development alien to Latin American political culture, caught the region off guard. And yet it laid the foundation for global Latin American diplomacy in the 1930s and after World War II. In the end, the search for a new understanding of a Latin American nation’s place on the changing world stage led to the elevation of the institution of the national army as a social and political arbiter. The myth of the army as embodiment of national essence would last until the 1980s.
Christopher R. Boyer
Human interaction with nature has shaped Latin American ecology and society ever since the first people arrived in the Americas more than fifteen millennia ago. Ancient Native Americans made use of the region’s immense biological diversity and likely contributed to a massive extinction of large animals at the end of the last ice age. Over the ensuing centuries, their descendants took cautious steps to shape the landscape to suit their needs. Colonialism ruptured this process of ecological and social co-evolution, as Europeans conquered the Americas, bringing with them new plants, animals, and diseases as well as a profit motive that gave rise to two economies that further reshaped the environment: the sugar plantation complex and silver mining/hacienda complex. These socio-environmental structures foretold the dynamic of resource extraction and reliance on a single major export destined to more developed countries that characterized most Latin American economies and ecologies after independence. Although most nations sought to break away from this neo-colonial syndrome during the 20th century, they typically did so by increased reliance on agro-industry and the extraction of minerals and petroleum, all of which came at a predictably high ecological cost. At the same time, calls for conservation of resources and biodiversity began to be heard. By the turn of the 21st century, scientists, urbanites, and rural people had become increasingly concerned about the costs of economic “development” and alternative ways of coexisting with nature.
One of the leading figures who pioneered and promoted changes toward modernity in Mexico City was Laura Méndez de Cuenca. Laura dared to transgress the traditional Catholic norms of her time. She was a teacher, a leader of a feminist movement, and an avant-garde writer. Above all, she dared to live a modern life. But, what was a modern life? Méndez chose an audacious path in order to live a modern life, a life of hard work, determination, and freedom––a freedom for which she paid a high price.
Lázaro Cárdenas served as Mexico’s president from 1934–1940. His presidency marked the end of the “Maximato,” the period in which the former president Plutarco Elías Calles exercised control. It bridged the gap between the rocky postwar years of the 1920s and the authoritarian dominance of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that characterized the rest of the 20th century. Cárdenas is Mexico’s most studied and best remembered president. To the extent that the Mexican Revolution ever was truly radical or popular, it was during the Cárdenas presidency. Cardenismo is an amorphous term that refers both to Cárdenas’s administration and his reform agenda. Cardenistas were a diverse coalition of supporters, some who advocated his agenda and others who merely allied themselves with his administration for non-ideological reasons. Cárdenas set out to realize what he saw as the promises of the revolution: justice for workers and peasants. He distributed about twice as much land as his predecessors combined, and he promoted unionization and strikes. He famously expropriated and nationalized the petroleum industry in dramatic defense of the Mexican worker. These actions earned him enduring affection, although he did not receive universal support even among the disenfranchised while in office. Many opposed his policies, especially those tied with the project of cultural transformation whose origin came earlier, but whose objectives Cárdenas sought to support, especially secularization. Cárdenas’s “Socialist Education” project faced particularly fierce opposition, and he was forced to abandon it along with most of the anticlerical agenda after 1938. That same year, he reorganized the ruling party along corporatist lines and rebaptized it the “Party of the Mexican Revolution,” or PRM. That restructuring is largely credited with having created the conditions under which future administrations would be able to exercise authoritarian control, although this was not Cárdenas’s intention. His presidency is more noted for what it failed to accomplish than for its successes. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on, most visibly in countryside and in the political career of his son Cuahtémoc, who has for decades struggled to fulfill his father’s vision.
This purpose of this essay is to reveal the diversity of writers responsible for creating the texts of lawsuits in the Spanish empire. It peeks behind the curtain of pages in civil complaints in an attempt to figure out how legal papers actually made it into the court record and who was doing their writing. While historians have recently thrown a spotlight on various official writers, from notaries to native procurators, in fact unidentified, unofficial writers penned quite a few petitions in civil suits. Knowing who wrote the filings in civil cases has a bearing on our understanding of Spanish imperial subjects, their interactions with the law, and ultimately how much of a hand they had in making their own historical record.
The role that liberals and liberalism played from the beginning of the crisis hispánica of 1808 until the death of Simón Bolívar in 1830 can be separated for analytical purposes in two different strands: the Peninsular and the Spanish American. This is a distinction that should be adopted with care, because in the end it can be considered that we are dealing with a single liberalism, the liberalismo hispánico. However, different historical, political, and social realities on each side of the Atlantic gave this liberalism different connotations. At first, Peninsulars and Spanish Americans worked in the same direction and with the same objective (the rejection of the French king that Napoleon imposed in the throne of Spain), but soon they parted ways in a practical, though not necessarily in a theoretical sense, at least concerning liberalism. In any case, contrary to what Western historiography has repeated for a long time, liberalism was a major player in the mundo hispánico during the Age of Revolutions. In fact, the term “liberal” used to define a political group made its first appearance in the Cortes (parliament or congress) that gathered in the Spanish port of Cádiz from 1810 to 1814. Nevertheless, the revolutionary contents of liberalism had to confront sociopolitical histories and realities that forced it to adapt itself to the prevailing social circumstances and to make concessions to other currents of thought and practices that do not coincide with the “liberal model” that still has ascendancy in Western historiography. This model tends to ignore the historical liberalisms that have existed in Europe, America, and other parts of the world since the “liberals” made their appearance in Spain more than two hundred years ago and in the Hispanic case in particular fails to address its radical character when considered against the Spanish Ancien régime. The result in the case of the mundo hispánico was an original and revolutionary doctrine that during the second and third decades of the 19th century transformed Hispanic politics on both sides of the Atlantic. The fact that these transformations were not consolidated or in the Peninsular case did not last for long does not diminish their importance for political and intellectual history.
Benito Pablo Juárez Garcia (b. San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca, March 21, 1806; d. Mexico City, July 18, 1872) was one of the greatest (and most controversial) statesmen in Mexican history. Born a humble Zapotec Indian, he was orphaned before the age of four, obtained an improbable education, became a lawyer and politician, was a revolutionary reformer, served twice as governor of Oaxaca, and succeeded to the presidency in a time of crisis. His unlikely rise to political prominence in a country with a racial caste system was remarkable. As president he led Liberal Republicans to victory in the War of Reform (1858–1861) as well as in the War of the French Intervention (1862–1867). Juarez and his generals defeated reactionary Conservatives and recalcitrant Catholic bishops in 1858–1861 and defended the republican Constitution of 1857. His defense of the Republic against foreign invasion and the imposition of an Austrian archduke as Emperor of Mexico, from 1862 to 1867, gave Juárez his heroic, even cultic, stature during his lifetime.
Although he faced fierce critics and enemies during his lifetime and after his death, Liberal partisans—politicians, journalists, workers, and Juárez himself—created the hero cult and the myth of Juárez. He was hailed as the incorruptible champion of the law, the constitutional republic, and the Mexican nation against powerful Mexican and foreign enemies in life and, even more, in death. General Porfirio Díaz served the Juárez government in war, opposed it in peace, and in 1876–1877, four years after the death of Juárez, became president by means of rebellion and then election. The new president was also from Oaxaca and embraced the Juárez myth to unite the nation and, in time, to create his own myth as the culminating hero in the making of the modern Mexican nation. The apotheosis of Juárez was consecrated in significant commemorative monuments of marble and bronze during the Porfiriato (the age of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911).
By the first decade of the 20th century, the Juárez myth was more divisive than uniting. The scientific liberals (científicos) supporting the Díaz regime presented Juárista politics as the template for the Díaz dictatorship. A new generation of liberals believed Díaz had abandoned the constitutionalism of Juárez. The Mexican Revolution, led by these liberals, overthrew Díaz in 1911. Revolutionary governments continued the cult of Juárez. Public schools were given Juárez busts, and liberal textbooks introduced the Juárez myth to a new generation. Juárez, Mexico’s greatest symbol of the defense of national sovereignty was popularly and officially celebrated when US troops evacuated Veracruz (after several months of intervention) in November 1914. The same took place upon the expropriation of the foreign oil companies by the Mexican government in 1938. During the 20th century, and at the beginning of the 21st century, the cult of Juárez (the devoted attachment to Juarez) has remained steady. Professional historians and the popular cynicism of official history have undermined, to some extent, the official myth of Juárez (the idealization of Juárez by the state).
Agrarian transformations in Andean Peru, subject to larger sociopolitical and economic processes, entailed major material, environmental, and biological changes. The long history of sheep introduction in Andean environments, its specific impact on the central highlands, and the making of an Andean breed of sheep—the oveja Junín—illustrate how such transformations shaped rural Peru as a societal space. Following larger environmental patters in Latin America, sheep became the dominant animal of the upper Andean regions, populating depleted landscapes and refashioning otherwise hostile environments as areas of agrarian productivity. Many of the transformations that occurred during colonial times, particularly the consolidation of the hacienda system and the rise of sheepherding as a form of peonage, served manifold purposes in the transition to the national period. While the 19th-century liberal obliteration of corporate identities and property obscured the legacy of indigenous communities, sheep continued to thrive and set the conditions for the incorporation of the Peruvian countryside into the global world economy. In the 20th century, with the parallel arrival of state and capital governance, transforming sheep and sheepherding from vernacular expressions of livelihood into advanced forms of modern agrarian industrialism merged together scientific and veterinarian knowledge with local understandings, producing the oveja Junín as the ultimate result. As sheepherding modernized based on efficient husbandry, sheep modernity efficiently nurtured rural developmentalism, bringing together communal and capitalist interests in unprecedented ways. The state-sponsored project of granjas comunales devoted to capital-intensive grazing economies reveals how husbandry and modern grazing activities both reinforced and transformed societal organization within indigenous communities, sanctioning existing differences while providing a vocabulary of capital for recasting their internal social relations of production. When the state envisioned the centralization of otherwise profitable communal grazing economies, through the allegedly empowering language of agrarian reform, the cooperativization of land, labor, and animals led to communal, family, and individual disenfranchisement. Indigenous community members, turned into campesinos, sought new battlegrounds for resisting state intromission. Eventually, the very biology of the oveja Junín as an exclusive domain of state and capital became the target of campesino sabotage. As the agrarian reform collapsed and revolution engulfed the countryside, rural livelihoods—sheep included—faced their ultimate demise, often with severe degrees of violence. In this entire trajectory, sheep—and the oveja Junín—ruled the upper regions of the Andes like no political power ever did.
Vicente Lombardo Toledano was born into a prosperous family in 1894 in Teziutlán, Puebla, and died in Mexico City in 1968. His life is a window into the history of the 20th century: the rise and fall of the old regime; the Mexican Revolution and the transformations that the revolution made in society; the intellectual and social reconstruction of the country under new parameters that included the rise of the labor movement to political prominence as well as the intervention of the trade unions in the construction and consolidation of the state; the dispute over the course of the nation in the tumultuous 1930s; and the configuration of the political and ideological left in Mexico. Lombardo Toledano’s life and work illustrate Mexico’s connections with the world during the Second World War and the Cold War.
Lombardo Toledano belonged to the intellectual elite of men and women who considered themselves progressives, Marxists, and socialists; they believed in a bright future for humanity. He viewed himself as the conscious reflection of the unconscious movement of the masses. With unbridled energy and ideological fervor, he founded unions, parties, and newspapers. During the course of his life, he adhered to various beliefs, from Christianity to Marxism, raising dialectical materialism to the level of a theory of knowledge of absolute proportions in the same fashion that he previously did with idealism. In life, he aroused feelings of love and hate; he was the object of royal welcomes and the target of several attacks; national and international espionage agencies did not let him out of their sight. He was detained in and expelled from several countries and prevented from visiting others. Those who knew him still evoke his incendiary oratorical style, which others remember as soporific. His admirers praise him as the helmsman of Mexican and Latin American workers; others scorn the means he used to achieve his goals as opportunist.
Lombardo Toledano believed that the Soviet Union had achieved a future that Mexico could not aspire to imitate. Mexico was a semifeudal and semicolonial country, hindered by imperialism in its economic development and the creation of a national bourgeoisie, without which it could not pass on to the next stage in the evolution of mankind and without which the working class and peasantry were doomed to underdevelopment. In his interpretation of history, the autonomy of the subordinate classes did not enter into the picture; rather it was the intellectual elites allied with the state who had the task of instilling class consciousness in them. No matter how prominent a personality he was in his time, today few remember the maestro Vicente Lombardo Toledano, despite the many streets and schools named after him. However, the story of his life reveals the vivid and contradictory history of the 20th century, with traces that remain in contemporary Mexico.
Alejandro García Magos
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (b. 1953) is the current president of Mexico (for the period 2018–2024). He has been at the forefront of Mexican politics since 2000, having served as mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005, and making three runs for the presidency in 2006, 2012, and 2018 in which he finally emerged victorious. While his detractors consider him a radical leftist in the mold of Venezuela’s late Hugo Chávez, his supporters praise him as a man of the people who fights to bridge the gap between rich and poor. Political preferences aside, the ascent of López Obrador to the presidency of Mexico needs to be understood first and foremost in the context of the country’s democratic transition. This was a protracted process that started in 1977 and concluded at some point between 1997 and 2000, right about when López arrived on the national political stage. The transition leveled the electoral arena and opened up opportunities for electoral competition that López has been able to capitalize on. Ironically, to this day he refuses to acknowledge the democratic improvements that Mexico experienced during its transition, and which allowed his political ascent in the first place.
When Mexico became independent in 1821, the first choice for a political system for the new country was a monarchy. In fact, the Plan of Iguala, which prompted the separation from Spain, called for Ferdinand VII or any member of his family to come rule over the novel nation. While such efforts did not prosper then and in fact precipitated a failed attempt for a national empire, the monarchist option remained alive for several decades, until a French intervention sponsored the enactment of Habsburg archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as emperor of Mexico. When that attempt was defeated in 1867 it marked the end of monarchism there.
One of the main promoters of such a political system was Lucas Alamán. A member of a miner’s family from Guanajuato, he became an important and influential statesman of independent Mexico. From 1821, when he first participated in the Spanish congress, until his death in 1853, Alamán, like other thinkers who lived through a transitional period, held paradoxical views; while he promoted industrialization and economic development, he maintained more-traditional views on politics and rather ancestral conceptions regarding the treatment of Indian communities. Either as minister of foreign relations, congressman, or advisor to various governments, he defended his ideas, and more than once they aimed for a monarchist option. His career illustrates the quandaries and dilemmas that the officials of Hispanic America and Old Spain as well confronted in modernizing their societies. As he got involved in public office, he also became the administrator of the Duke of Terranova and Monteleone’s state in Mexico; such a position provided him—through the British agents of the Neapolitan-Sicilian nobleman—with a regular source of information on the European scene. Thus, Alamán was one of the most learned public officials of his time. He also wrote historical works that granted him recognition in academic institutions, such as the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia.