Echeverría Álvarez, Luis (Mexico)
Representing the dominant Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party; PRI), Echeverría Álvarez was president of Mexico from 1970 to 1976. His presidency abandoned the cautious fiscal policies of his predecessor Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in favour of a free-spending populist presidency. The result was that the external debt sextupled, the value of the Mexican currency was halved and real incomes fell by half.
Echeverría was born in Mexico City in 1922. He trained as a lawyer and held a number of mid-level positions in the PRI and the government before being appointed interior minister in 1964. His career was decisively influenced by the massacre of student protesters in the Tlatelolco district of Mexico City in 1968. Although Echeverría has always denied responsibility for the massacre he was widely blamed for the deaths. Echeverría was elected president on 1 Dec. 1970, succeeding his fellow PRI colleague Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.
During his presidency, Echeverría responded to the unrest resulting from the 1968 student protests and the Tlatelolco massacre with a policy of ‘democratic opening’ designed to assimilate into the PRI regime the democratic forces unleashed by the events of 1968. He released the imprisoned leaders of the 1968 protests, increased the budget of the national university and cultivated intellectuals––notably the novelist Carlos Fuentes who was appointed as ambassador to France. Echeverría’s rhetoric was populist––he spoke constantly in favour of peasants and workers and publicly took on big business. In accordance with PRI tradition, however, Echeverría combined increased democracy with selective repression of dissident groups. While he did much to cultivate the student movement, dissident students were violently repressed, most notably in another massacre in Mexico City on Corpus Christi Thursday, 10 June 1971. In July 1976 he engineered the takeover of the outspoken newspaper, Excélsior. Echeverría adopted an equally populist economic policy designed to reduce the extreme levels of economic inequality in Mexico. He embraced the fashionable approaches of the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL), which favoured state intervention in economic affairs, high tariff barriers and a closed economy. The result was a government spending spree. When the minister of the treasury, Hugo Margáin, told the president that Mexico’s internal and external debts were at their limit and that spending had to be reined in, Echeverría forced his resignation and appointed him ambassador to Great Britain. The president replaced Margáin with his old friend José López Portillo and declared that from then on the Mexican economy would be run from his official residence, Los Pinos. The result was an economic crisis which would haunt his predecessor. The Mexican peso fell from 12.5 per US$ to 25, inflation rose from 13.7% to 27.2% and the external debt soared. Echeverría’s successor, José López Portillo took over the presidency in 1976.
After leaving office, Echeverría was appointed as Mexico’s ambassador to UNESCO and subsequently to Australia.