Calle Lazaro Cardenas is a relatively quiet street that runs east from the Malecon through Colonia Emiliano Zapata, past the Chilim Balem candy store and ends as a bridge over the Rio Cuale. The street itself is quiet, but the man who it is named after was a revolutionary in all senses of the word. Trump and his coterie would have hated him!
Cardenas was born in 1895 in the small town of Jiquilpan, Michoacan, a few miles south of Lake Chapala, and had a tough start in life. He was born of mixed white and Tarascan Indian ancestry and had a grade four education and he must have been as tough as nails to become President of Mexico.
In 1913, at age 18, Cárdenas joined a branch of the revolutionary army led by General Guillermo García Aragón, and within a year he had risen to the rank of captain. By 1920, at the ripe old age of twenty-five, Cárdenas was appointed general, the highest rank in the Mexican army, and continued to participate in military campaigns until 1929. In 1932 he married Amalia Solórzano and they had one son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in 1934.
When he became President in 1934 Cárdenas instituted his Six Year Plan that was based on the political ideals of the Revolution. He believed passionately in land reform and in improving the lives of the peasants so, when President, he confiscated forty-five million acres of land and distributed them to the ejidos, or peasant communities and, to get better wages for railway workers, he nationalised the railways. But he is most remembered for what he did to the Mexican oilfields.
The history behind the nationalization of the Mexican oil industry has been taught to every generation of Mexico’s school children since the 1930s and is a story of great national pride and liberation from American imperialism. As such, the action has almost as admiration in today’s Mexican national psyche as the Mexican Revolution.
Cardenas took action against American and British oil companies operating in Mexico when, in 1938, the companies defied a Mexican Supreme Court decision regarding increasing the wages of oilfield workers. The government seized the oil companies’ assets, forced them to leave the country and offered compensation that the companies considered to be totally inadequate. At that moment Mexico became the first country in the world to nationalize its oil industry.
In the USA this action resulted in an informal boycott of Mexican oil imports into the U.S., and a propaganda campaign discouraging U.S. citizens from visiting Mexico so that by 1940 the Mexican tourist industry had declined by almost a third. Meanwhile, the British government ruled the nationalization to be illegal, and Mexico formally broke relations with London in May 1938.
Ultimately, the pressure from the U.S. and British governments resulted in agreement being signed in April 1942 under which Mexico paid the ousted companies $23.9 million dollars as compensation for their seized assets. Obviously, this entire episode was not the oil and gas industry’s finest hour, and even now, a recent poll of Mexicans found found that 65 percent of them are opposed to opening up Mexico’s oil and natural gas fields to foreign investment.
After retirement, Cardenas remained a major figure in national politics. He became the symbol of the left in the government party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). He remained the major supporter of the cooperative type of agrarian reform and was the chief opponent of U.S. economic and political influence in Mexico. During the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Cardenas, not surprisingly, was a strong supporter of Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries. Takes one to know one, I guess.
He died of cancer in 1970, when he was 75.
The street, Calle Lazaro Cardenas, has a number of local landmarks including Los Muertos Brewing Company, Farmacia Guadalajara and the market, Emiliano Zapata. For cheap street-eats try the taco stands of Taqueria Mendoza, La Hormiga, Las Jorachos or El Tuito Tacos y Hortas. East of the market, I found Lighthouse Specialty Foods, which has four different sausage recipes, pickled kraut (dill, beets and horseradish flavours) and smoked fish, including marlin, dorado, sierra and sail fish. I took home a jar of artichoke and spinach dip and am glad that I did. There are all sorts of treasures on Calle Lazaro Cardenas if you take the time to just browse!
Lázaro Cárdenas del Río – President 1934-1940