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After the Revolution
Lázaro Cárdenas and the
Movimiento de Liberación Nacional

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 124

Edited by Kate Doyle

May 31, 2004

This new Electronic Briefing Book is based on a collaboration between Proceso magazine and the National Security Archive and launched on March 2, 2003.

The collaboration grew out of a shared desire to publish and disseminate to a wide audience newly-declassified documents about the United States and Mexico. Each month, Proceso magazine will publish an article by the Archive's Mexico Project director, Kate Doyle, examining new documentary evidence on a chosen topic. The series - called Archivos Abiertos (or, Open Archive), will draw from U.S. and Mexican declassified records on a range of issues that could include, for example: drug trafficking and counternarcotics policy, Mexican presidential elections, human rights cases, immigration, U.S. training of the Mexican military, NAFTA negotiations, the role of the press, peso devaluations, and state repression during Mexico's "dirty war." On the same day that Proceso's article appears in Mexico, the National Security Archive will post an Electronic Briefing Book on its web site, containing an English-language version of the article, a link to Proceso's web site, and all of the declassified documents used for the piece, reproduced in their entirety.

Contents
Article
Documents
Proceso Magazine
The National Security Archive's Mexico Project Homepage

After the Revolution
Lázaro Cárdenas and the
Movimiento de Liberación Nacional

by Kate Doyle

The Cuban revolution was a shock to the Mexican system. On the international stage, Mexico was forced to negotiate a position toward Cuba that allowed it to preserve some independence from the United States, which by 1960 had already declared itself the bitter enemy of Fidel Castro, while avoiding serious conflict with its powerful neighbor. [See Proceso No. 1374 and National Security Archive electronic briefing book No. 83, "Double Dealing: Mexico's Foreign Policy Toward Cuba."]

But Mexico faced an equally perplexing problem at home, where new political extremes emerged in the wake of Castro's triumph. Most notably, Cuba prompted a revitalization of the Mexican left for the first time since the sexenio of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40). And while the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) continued to speak the rhetoric of revolution after the fall of Batista, its leaders considered the resurgence of the left a serious threat to PRI hegemony.

The regime's dilemma was made all the more complicated by the fact that a leading proponent of the new activism was none other than Lázaro Cárdenas himself, champion of Mexican farmers and the force behind the country's nationalization of its oil industry. Inspired by Fidel Castro's victory, the former President broke the cardinal rule that demanded total loyalty to the PRI by founding, in 1961, the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN), a "civic organization" designed to bring together the disparate efforts of the Mexican left under one umbrella.

Faced with the increasing radicalism of one of Mexico's living heroes, President Adolfo López Mateos had to find a way to contain Cárdenas and the MLN without betraying the PRI's revolutionary roots. He did so through a calculated policy of coaxing, co-opting and brutally suppressing the left, while skillfully avoiding damage to the fragile political equilibrium on which the party depended to maintain power.

Exactly how López Mateos managed this juggling act - and how the United States perceived it - is a tale told in fascinating detail in declassified U.S. documents found in the National Archives and the presidential library of John F. Kennedy. The record describes, first and foremost, a regime fundamentally incapable of permitting legitimate attempts to reform the political system outside of the channels sanctioned by the PRI.

U.S. officials recognized the authoritarian tendencies of the ruling party. But the documents show that their fears about the spread of "Castro-communism" in the hemisphere made them unwilling to question their support for the PRI. As a result, Washington and the U.S. embassy in Mexico interpreted any effort by the MLN to promote political or social change through the distorted lens of the Cold War - so that reform became radicalism and the government's coercive response was transformed into reasonable anti-communism.

The Rise of the Left

Galvanized by events in Cuba, General Lázaro Cárdenas - who had been relatively inactive politically for almost two decades after leaving Los Pinos - became one of Fidel Castro's greatest supporters inside Mexico. Cárdenas celebrated the revolution with the Cuban leader in Havana in July 1959, and returned home to speak before enormous crowds about the promise of the revolution for Mexico. His voice was joined by those of countless other prominent Mexicans, also thrilled by the victory won by Cuba's young revolutionaries.

The United States reacted to these developments with alarm. Not only did Cárdenas and his followers appear to be veering down the path of socialism, but President López Mateos seemed unwilling to stop them. In a cable to Washington sent on August 11, 1960, the U.S. embassy blamed the president's "vacillating attitude," his "poor knowledge of international affairs and little understanding of economic matters" for his failure to quash the left's influence.

At the same time, the embassy ruefully acknowledged that Mexicans calling for a return to the principles of the revolution had a point.

"PRI leadership has for the most part lost its revolutionary fervor. Political leaders and members of the ruling oligarchy have attained economic and social position. Their outlook is that of a bourgeois who has prospered under the present system and would not like to have that system disturbed or altered in any way."

But the PRI guaranteed stability - at least, until now. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Mann was disturbed enough by what he perceived as the creeping radicalism of the López Mateos administration to suggest pressuring the President directly to reverse course.

On July 17, 1961, Mann sent a secret cable to the State Department discussing a $400 million loan Mexico was seeking for new development initiatives. The ambassador proposed that the United States request the Mexicans launch a "quiet program of action" in exchange for U.S. assistance. In addition to reassuring the U.S. that it supported private investment and would institute certain economic programs, the Mexican government would be asked for:

A clear and consistent repudiation of communist infiltration into the political life of Mexico followed by concrete acts quietly to remove from public office known members of the Communist Party; to combat communist influence in educational institutions and organized labor; to exercise effective control over the importation of communist propaganda from the Sino-Soviet bloc and Cuba and the publication in Mexico of Sino-Soviet financed propaganda; to eliminate communist propaganda from textbooks and other reading material used by students in primary and secondary schools; and to acknowledge responsibility for participation in hemispheric defense…

"If Mexico is not receptive," wrote Mann, "we could withdraw from discussions in friendliest and most relaxed manner, expressing understanding of Mexican policy, and then simply put a 'slow man' on job of passing on Mexican requests for assistance."

The friction between López Mateos and Lázaro Cárdenas intensified when the former president organized the Latin American Conference for Political Sovereignty, Economic Independence and Peace in March 1961. The conference - which, the embassy wrote in a cable sent in June, the regime "tried to smother … under a blanket of silence" - called for social progress in the Americas, world peace, economic reforms to benefit the majority, and the defense of the Cuban revolution. As a direct result of its resolutions, Cárdenas and a group of his adherents launched the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional five months later.

Although members of the Communist Party and other well-known leftists such as Heberto Castillo, Eli de Gortari and Manuel Marcué Pardiñas joined Cárdenas in founding the MLN, the organization sought to fix the Mexican system, not overthrow it. The MLN advocated expansion of the agrarian reform, fairer distribution of wealth, control over natural resources and an independent foreign policy. It was a program, according to Olga Pellicer de Brody in her book México y la revolución cubana (Mexico: Colegio de México, 1972, p. 107), "written within the vocabulary of reformist movements."

The United States did not see it that way. In cable after cable to Washington, officials of the American embassy lambasted the MLN for its radical platform, its open support for Fidel Castro and its critique of U.S. imperialism. Both the FBI and the CIA - which routinely referred to the MLN as a "rabidly anti-United States, pro-Cuba Communist front" (for example, in its telegram of May 26, 1962) - monitored the group closely. American consulates around the country also tracked its movements, and reported back to Mexico City on its efforts to "infiltrate" local political scenes.

Most worrisome of all to the U.S. embassy was its belief that the MLN was secretly plotting with the Mexican Communist Party to influence the choice of the 1964 presidential candidate and convince López Mateos to tap an extreme leftist as his successor.

Like Father, Like Son: Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in Baja California

While Lázaro Cárdenas was a figurehead for the MLN, his son Cuauhtémoc served on its national committee, and as such was responsible for traveling the country to encourage the creation of regional offices. One of the group's early targets was the Mexicali Valley in Baja California Norte. There, thousands of poor farmers struggled to make a living in the face of a crushing scarcity of land, routine government neglect, and a problem peculiar to the region - a critical water supply from the Colorado River that was contaminated by the salt run-off of the U.S. farmers who had first access to it.

The problem was a domestic one for Mexican campesinos whose crops the salty water damaged, but it blossomed into a tricky bilateral dispute when Mexico lodged a formal protest against the United States in November 1961, calling on the U.S. government to find a way to control the water's salinity before it entered national territory.

That background explains why American officials reacted with alarm when Cuauhtémoc and the MLN arrived in Tijuana in mid-1962 and appeared to be encouraging a local agrarian leader, Alfonso Garzón - then head of the Liga Agraria Estatal, with 12,000 campesino members - to run for state Congress. Garzón, noted U.S. Consul Kennedy Crockett in a long cable about the situation on July 19, had been in the limelight earlier that year for rallying Liga members around the salinity issue on behalf of PRI governor Eligio Esquivel. When Garzón did not receive an expected nomination for a political position from the ruling party as a reward for his services, he angrily quit the PRI and announced his candidacy as an independent.

"Since Garzón cannot be elected, the question arises of why the MLN is aiding and abetting him, and why Esquivel created this Frankenstein who is causing the PRI so much trouble and embarrassment," wrote Crockett in his missive to Washington. The Consul's conclusion: that the MLN, through a complicated maneuver and with Esquivel's help, was planning to abandon its support of Garzón on condition that the PRI name Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas to head the Mexicali Valley Irrigation District in exchange. The job would not only put the younger Cárdenas in a key negotiating position with the U.S. on the salinity issue, but would give the MLN its first significant foothold outside Mexico City.

Both the United States and Mexico reacted to the perceived threat immediately. In a cable sent shortly after the Consul's warning, Ambassador Mann pointed out to the State Department that if Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was named district director, he would be in charge of a project scheduled to receive a major U.S. loan that had been promised to Mexico as part of a solution to the salinity problem. Hence, "U.S. funds in important Mexicali program would contribute to launching Cuauhtémoc and his Communist sympathizers in politics on national scene." Mann concluded, "We cannot allow Cuauhtémoc's appointment [to] this key post."

With Washington's approval, Mann sent word to President López Mateos of the situation, who immediately called Lázaro Cárdenas into his office to discuss the matter. "We have now learned," Mann wrote in a follow-up telegram on August 8, "that as a result [of] López Mateos conversation with Cárdenas it is now definitely agreed that Cuauhtémoc will withdraw his intention [to] seek Mexicali office."

The Mexican government had a further response. The problem of Alfonso Garzón's divergence from the party line was suddenly resolved when he pulled out of the congressional race at the last possible moment. According to a secret cable sent by the U.S. Consul in Tijuana on September 24, his decision was the result of unsubtle pressures exerted on him by the regime.

The Consul told Washington that "a very high ranking Mexican military officer was dispatched to Mexicali only a few days before the election to 'reason' with Garzón. Federal troops in sufficient strength to back this officer up were dispersed in the Mexicali Valley. … My source, who was present at the confrontation, states that Garzón was given a choice of: (1) either quieting down and fading into the background or (2) becoming a national figure in Mexico, along with Rubén Jaramillo [an agrarian leader murdered by the army five months earlier]. Garzón chose the first alternative, after some hesitation, being persuaded by the assurance that in his case, he would be martyrized [sic] by hanging rather than simply being shot."

U.S. Consul Kennedy Crockett concluded that the MLN's enthusiasm for operating in Baja California had been severely dampened by the government's action. "An excellent source in a position to know assured me that a program to contain the MLN in Baja California had been evolved, and orders for its execution had been directly given from Los Pinos to appropriate military authorities in this area."

The MLN in Guerrero

Not only Baja California, but Guerrero also was a state targeted for infiltration by the "communist controlled" MLN, claimed the U.S. embassy several months later. On the night of December 31, 1962, political dissidents in Iguala in northern Guerrero attacked the city hall in an effort to prevent PRI candidates from taking office after an allegedly fraudulent election. Among the attackers was Genero Vásquez Rojas, head of the state political opposition group Asociación Cívica Guerrerense (ACG). Army troops - already in position after a warning call from the Procuraduría General de la República (the federal Attorney General's office) - quashed the attack easily, killing seven and injuring more than a dozen. Two ringleaders were captured; Vásquez Rojas escaped and became the object of a state-wide search.

According to American officials, the MLN and Lázaro Cárdenas were the forces behind the subversive attack. José María Suárez Téllez, the defeated ACG gubernatorial candidate and one of leaders captured by the military, was a member of the national committee of the MLN. The embassy told the State Department in a cable describing the incident on January 3, 1963: "It seems fairly clear that the ACG is one of the local state parties or 'civic groups' being developed by the MLN to oppose the PRI at the municipal and state levels while itself continuing to claim that it is simply a 'civic organization' loyal to the PRI without any desire to become a political party."

With Suárez Téllez and another leader, defeated Iguala mayoral candidate Andrés López Velasco, captured and over 150 ACG members arrested, the Embassy considered the outcome of the incident "favorable to our interests here, as it is a clear indication that the government, using the combined strength of the Army, the Attorney General's office, and State and municipal authorities, is prepared to engage in a carefully planned operation to thwart the Cardenistas and the MLN."

Kennedy Visits Mexico

The failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 exacerbated tensions between Mexico and the United States, after the Mexican government criticized U.S. attempts to topple Fidel Castro. The two countries were still trying to puzzle out a working solution to their differences over Cuba when the idea of a trip to Mexico City by the popular American president, John F. Kennedy, was proposed in late 1961.

Although Ambassador Mann welcomed the opportunity to improve relations, he pointed out in a cable on December 6 that Mexico's decision two days before at the Organization of American States (OAS) to oppose collective action against Cuba was unhelpful to the United States. Until Mexico's position improved, Mann wrote, he recommended an indefinite postponement of the visit. In addition, the United States should delay acting on any pending loans to Mexico, and should influence international lending institutions to hold up consideration of Mexican loan applications.

The trip was postponed, and there followed a series of tortured conversations between the hard-line U.S. Ambassador and the ambivalent President of Mexico over the next several months as to what Mexico's stance on Cuba was, exactly. The United States found it difficult to pin López Mateos down to make a clear statement that the Americans could understand.

On the one hand, the President averred during one of those conversations (December 18, 1961), he could not be responsible for reversing a historical Mexican position on non-intervention. On the other hand, "López Mateos emphasized this did not mean Mexican sympathy for Castro or Communist doctrine." Mann, frustrated, told the State Department that the "Best chance of inducing change in Mexico's attitude is maintenance firm but friendly attitude until such time as light begins to dawn on Mexico that cooperation has to be a two-way street, and that Mexico needs US more than we need Mexico."

It took time, but concessions were made. The Kennedy visit was scheduled for late June 1962. Although Mexico could not and would not publicly break with Castro or support any attempts by the OAS to sanction Cuba, López Mateos had other favors to offer.

First, he showed his gratitude to the Americans by rounding up any known or suspected subversives - including members of the MLN - and jailing them for the duration of the trip so that they could not disturb the ceremonies with their posters and demonstrations. Second, the President permitted thousands of members of a new anti-communist group to line the parade route when the Kennedys arrived and provide security against any rabble-rousers his own security services might have missed.

He even found ways to be flexible on Cuba. Although the memorandum of conversation between the two Presidents on Cuba is vague on the points discussed, Assistant Secretary of State Edwin Martin, who was present, later wrote in a memoir that López Mateos agreed in the end that "if there were some precise measures that would be sure to hurt Castro… he might cooperate if they could be done quietly so they wouldn't cause him political problems." (Kennedy and Latin America, Lanham, MA: University Press of America, 1994, p. 165.)

Martin also pointed out that in the joint communiqué signed by Presidents at the end of the trip, Mexico reconfirmed its Doctrine of Non-Intervention "but in a new spirit." It not only supported national sovereignty, but also the "ideals of individual liberty," calling for opposition to "totalitarian institutions and activities which may be incompatible with the democratic principle which they maintain."

"All pointed," wrote Martin, "at the new enemy, world communism and its new Latin American standard-bearer, Cuba. … It was a warning by Mexico to Cuba and its friends to desist from their attempts to promote a revolution in or threaten militarily any Latin American country."(p. 168)

By 1963, Mexico had settled more concrete steps to take, including tightening controls on the movements of suspected subversives between Mexico and Cuba, increasing its surveillance of Cuban diplomats inside the country, and, later, channeling intelligence about the internal affairs of Cuba to the United States through its diplomats stationed in Havana.

The Dedo Descends

Yet despite López Mateos's success in repressing dissent and his concessions on Cuba, Washington was frankly suspicious of the President throughout most of his sexenio. His equivocal stance on Castro, his ambivalence toward private investment, and his frequent tolerance for the radicalism of Lázaro Cárdenas and company confounded U.S. officials. It was only when he chose as his successor his conservative Interior Secretary, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz - a man whom the Americans considered a staunch ally and strong anti-communist - did the U.S. embassy seem to grasp the complex political game that López Mateos had played to maintain the power of the regime.

As the time to name a candidate for the election approached and it appeared more and more likely that a conservative would be tapped, the U.S. embassy conceded in a telegram to Washington on July 30, 1963, that López Mateos had skillfully balanced the pressures from the extreme right and the extreme left throughout his administration.

"His deft manipulation of politics has apparently succeeded so far, and there are many observers who believe that López Mateos now has sufficient power to select his successor almost at will."

When Díaz Ordaz was finally named, Ambassador Mann reported on "a certain amount of euphoria in Mexico City today especially among Americans. I think this is principally a sign of their relief that a pro-Communist candidate was not selected by the PRI." (November 5, 1963)

The ambassador warned that the United States should be prepared for some of the same nationalist posturing from Díaz Ordaz they had grown to expect from López Mateos. But he also told the State Department, "We in the embassy share this feeling of relief. …"


Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
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Documents

Document 1
August 11, 1960
Pressure of the Mexican Left on the Administration
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential despatch

In this lengthy analysis of the current political situation, the Embassy notes the growing strength of the Mexican left, which has managed to successfully bear the mantle of the revolution while the PRI has slowly distanced itself from the revolution's original radicalism. Former president Lázaro Cárdenas has provided symbolic leadership to this rising momentum of the left: he has spoken openly in favor of the Cuban revolution and there are rumors that he may intend to form a "socialist" party. Attempting to co-opt this leftist pressure, the government has provided visiting Cuban president Osvaldo Dorticós with a fawning welcome and has openly declared itself a government of the "extreme left." Yet the Embassy fears that the government's actions may be counterproductive: they have tended to embolden rather than mollify the left, and the government's evident need to placate the left has indirectly revealed the left's strength.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1508, Folder 712.00/4-160

Document 2
June 22, 1961
Membership of Cárdenas in PRI
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, official use only despatch

The controversy provoked by Cárdenas' recent declaration that he belongs to "no political party" led the State Department to request clarification of the comment. In response, the Embassy outlines Cárdenas' current political positions, which are often to the left of the PRI, concluding that Cárdenas is "more of the stripe of the Partido Popular Socialista (PPS) than of the PRI" and is "becoming increasing[ly] independent from the present PRI leadership." Nevertheless, the PRI has not taken the step of formally expulsing Cárdenas, perhaps fearing the powerful national hero might subsequently create his own party and thereby challenge PRI dominance. The PRI has thus preferred "to maintain a semblance of party unity by ignoring Cardenas' deviations from national policy than to create an open break with one of its most outstanding members."

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1509, Folder 712.00/5-361

Document 3
June 29, 1961
[Mexican government concerned over possible growth of communist activities]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

Ambassador Thomas Mann urges Washington to reconsider plans to send a high-level envoy to Mexico and Central America now, due to the "unsettled condition" that exists. Recent events indicate that political polarization is heating up as the Mexican government becomes more concerned about the possibility of "Communist activities." The regime has permitted large anti-communist rallies to continue, has catered to former president Abelardo Rodríguez, a militant anti-communist, and has apparently given the green light for the formation of an anti-communist organization "intended serve as counter-force to communist activities including organized street mobs." Mann suggests that a visit by President Kennedy might be arranged instead, but carefully timed to reward rather than precede tough anti-communist measures.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 1/61-5/62, Box 141

Document 4
July 17, 1961
[Proposal to tie loans to anti-communist measures]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

Concerned with the leftward drift of Mexican domestic and foreign policy, Ambassador Mann envisions a "quiet program of action" to contain the Mexican left: Taking advantage of the fact that Mexico needs to request a $400 million loan from the United States, Mann suggests that economic assistance could be conditioned on anti-communist measures such as quietly purging "known members of the Communist Party" from government posts and clamping down on communist advances in organized labor. If Mexico is unreceptive to this approach, Mann suggests "we could withdraw from discussions in friendliest and most relaxed manner…and then simply put a 'slow man' on job of passing on Mexican requests for assistance."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 1/61-5/62, Box 141

Document 5
August 31, 1961
Political Polarization of Left and Right in Mexico
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential despatch


The Embassy describes the official formation of the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN) under the moral leadership of Cárdenas. The Embassy sees both Cárdenas' political rejuvenation and the creation of the MLN as part of a broader resurgence of the Mexican left in the aftermath of the Cuban revolution, which "offered the pretext for the stepping up of leftist agitation and propaganda." Pressure from the left has also brought about a corresponding backlash from the right: an anti-communist campaign bolstered by the church and conservative politicians has gained strength in recent months.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1509, Folder 712.00/7-761

Document 6
December 6, 1961
[Proposed responses to Mexico's vote in OAS]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

Following Mexico's December 4 decision to oppose the call for collective action against Cuba made in the Organization of American States (OAS), the U.S. ambassador reveals his frustration with Mexico's "independent" position in the Cold War. Although Mexican officials "privately hope Castro regime will fall of its own weight," the tradition of non-intervention and the need to acknowledge the domestic left are strong factors in determining Mexico's refusal to openly denounce Cuba. As a subtle retaliation, Ambassador Mann suggests postponing President Kennedy's visit, originally scheduled for late January, since a trip so soon after the OAS meeting "would be interpreted by many as U.S. approval of Mexican policy of 'independence' of both blocs with its appearance of softness on Castro-communism" and would "strengthen those elements leading López Mateos to the left."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 1/61-5/62, Box 141

Document 7
December 7, 1961
National Liberation Movement Meeting Held in Tijuana
U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, confidential despatch

This document reveals U.S. government officials' conceptualization of the MLN as one communist front among many, permitting the leftist penetration of the country through the organization of "cells." Describing an MLN meeting held in Tijuana, the Consul claims that "members of the Communist Party themselves have been given instructions to push the MLN as a social organization" and mentions in passing that the San Diego FBI has been monitoring the MLN.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1511, Folder 712.00/7-761

Document 8
December 18, 1961
[Memo of conversation with President López Mateos]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

A lengthy description of a conversation between President Adolfo López Mateos and Ambassador Mann captures the complexity of the two countries' negotiations over Cuba. Mann upbraids López Mateos for refusing to vote to sanction Cuba in the upcoming Punta del Este meeting of the OAS. López Mateos, in turn, assures Mann that the OAS vote should not be taken as "sympathy for Castro or Communist doctrine," but is nevertheless unmoved by Mann's anxious predictions that communism will spread from Cuba throughout the hemisphere. Although U.S. officials will continue to lobby for their position, Mann predicts that the simple fact of the two countries' unequal relations will eventually tip the scales as "light [will] begin to dawn on Mexico…that Mexico needs U.S. more than we need Mexico."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 1/61-5/62, Box 141

Document 9
December 26, 1961
Conservative and Communist Forces in Mexico Prepare for the Next Presidential Elections
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential despatch

Ambassador Mann provides an extensive analysis of how Mexico's current political polarization may affect the presidential elections of 1964. Although the PRI has traditionally had both "left" and "right" wings, the recent rise of organizations outside of the official PRI ranks have put additional pressure on the party from both political extremes. Now the question is whether these groups - the MLN on the left and the Frente Cívico, directed by former presidents Miguel Alemán and Abelardo Rodriguez, on the right - will try to influence the PRI's choice of candidate in the 1964 elections, or challenge the PRI directly by forming their own parties. The next elections will therefore be a fundamental test of the PRI's power to contain challenges.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1509, Folder 712.00/11-161

Document 10
May 10, 1962
Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Unable to Lecture at University of Pennsylvania
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential airgram

This brief note reveals that the Department of State had considered asking the University of Pennsylvania to retract its speaking invitation to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, presumably because of his affiliation with a "communist front" group such as the MLN.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1510, Folder 712.00/4-262

Document 11
May 26, 1962
Communist Plan to Protest the [Mexico City visit of] President Kennedy
Central Intelligence Agency, secret telegram

Describing the various leftist organizations that will attempt to protest Kennedy's June state visit to Mexico, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) characterizes the MLN as a "rabidly anti-United States, pro-Cuba Communist front" (a delineation that appears almost verbatim in subsequent documents) and describes Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas as the group's "secret head."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Trips and Conferences: President's Trip to Mexico 6/62, 5/11/62-5/31/62, Box 237

Document 12
May 31, 1962
Communist Activity Related to Forthcoming Visit by President Kennedy
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential telegram

As Kennedy's state visit approaches, the Embassy begins more intensive reporting on the "trouble-makers and Communist agitators" who may disrupt the visit with protests, particularly the MLN. Here the Embassy ascribes the creation of a widely circulated leftist leaflet to a prominent member of the MLN and notes that the Mexican police have been instructed to "follow closely the movements of MLN members."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Trips and Conferences: President's Trip to Mexico 6/62, 5/11/62-5/31/62, Box 237

Document 13
June 20, 1962
[Leftist general designated as Kennedy's escort during visit]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

In this odd window onto diplomatic intrigue, the Embassy warns the Secretary of State that two men apparently of leftist pedigree have been assigned to escort and translate for Kennedy during his visit. The Embassy hypothesizes that this may constitute an indirect nod to Cárdenas and the Mexican left, by permitting details of the conversations between the two heads of state "to leak to Cárdenas and leftists."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Trips and Conferences: President's Trip to Mexico 6/62, 6/13/62-6/20/62, Box 237

Document 14
Circa June 25, 1962
Briefing Book: The President's Trip to Mexico, June 29-July 1, 1962
White House, confidential papers

The following documents are excerpts from the briefing book prepared for President Kennedy shortly before his June 29-July 1 state visit to Mexico City.

1. Scope Paper (June 22, 1962)

This briefing paper describes the political polarization that has occurred in Mexico following the Cuban revolution. As the MLN (here again described as a communist front group) attempts to pressure the government by uniting the various factions of the left, the PRI has also been faced with growing opposition on the right. In particular, the Frente Cívico and the Catholic Church have led an intensifying anti-communist campaign.

2. Background Paper: Communism in Mexico (June 19, 1962)

In an assessment of communist strength, this briefing argues that "Mexico has a significant communist problem," and that communists have penetrated many sectors, including organized labor, the university, and the government itself. Listing those groups that "openly avow communist affiliation," the authors include the MLN alongside the PCM, the Socialist Party (PPS), and the Peasant-Workers' Party (POCM), and report that the PCM is "making a determined effort to gain full control of the MLN"

3. Biographic sketch of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (June 1962)

This brief description of Cárdenas was one of many biographies of leading Mexicans provided to Kennedy before his state visit, and indicates that the CIA kept an active intelligence file on the former president. According to the bio, Cárdenas, "one of Mexico's most controversial personalities," has drifted to the left of the PRI fold, yet retains relations - albeit occasionally strained - with President López Mateos.

Although the document is over forty years old, the CIA continues to withhold a substantial portion as classified. The National Security Archive has appealed the denial.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Trips and Conferences: President's Trip to Mexico 6/62, Briefing Book, Box 237

Document 15
June 23, 1962
[Communists plan to disrupt presidential visit]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

The Embassy now claims that the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) has received explicit instructions from the Soviet Union to disrupt Kennedy's visit by using "students and other pawns" to create disturbances. In this telegram Ambassador Mann warns that if such protests manage to convince the U.S. press that Kennedy's visit was unwelcome, this will be a coup for the Soviets. On the other hand, he notes with confidence that the Mexican police have already begun rounding up dissidents and that the Mexican press, "which is largely controlled by government," can be reliably expected to downplay any unrest.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Trips and Conferences: President's Trip to Mexico 6/62, 6/13/62-6/20/62, Box 237

Document 16
June 29, 1962
Communism in Latin America
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret memorandum

These notes of a meeting between Kennedy and López Mateos reveal the fundamental differences between how the two presidents view the roots of the Cold War. López Mateos sees severe economic deprivation pushing countries to the left, while Kennedy views political infiltration and military action by Cuba and the USSR as the main catalysts for the spread of communism. Thus during the meeting Kennedy "returned again and again" to the question of how to deal with the danger of expanding communist influence in Latin America and "López Mateos each time repeated his view that rapid economic and social progress was the answer."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Trips and Conferences: President's Trip to Mexico 6/62, 6/29/62-8/9/62, Box 237

Document 17
July 5, 1962
Progress, Operation Mongoose
Secretary of Defense, top secret memorandum

Despite the cool reception given by López Mateos to Kennedy's insistent warnings about Cuba, General Edward Lansdale - head of Operation Mongoose (a covert action program created under Kennedy to overthrow Castro) - assesses the recent presidential visit in glowing terms. Lansdale argues that the trip "fulfilled U.S. plans to impress upon Castro that Mexico, upon whom the Castro regime counts as an ally, is solidly with the United States and the West." The document again makes clear that US-Mexico relations were deliberately utilized by the United States as leverage against the Cuban leader.

National Security Archive, Cuban Missile Crisis [Microfiche Set]
Item No. CC00238

Document 18
July 19, 1962
Has the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional chosen Baja California as a Beachhead for its Campaign against the Partido Revolucionario Institucional?
U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, confidential airgram


The consul general of Tijuana tells a long, complex story of political machinations in Baja California as elections near. According to the consul, the MLN has "created" a third-party contender in local elections by purposefully isolating a well-known campesino leader, Alfonso Garzón, from the PRI. After a series of complex maneuvers, the MLN has the PRI backed into a corner in which, according to the consul, it may now be forced to cut a deal under the table with the MLN: In exchange for the MLN convincing Garzón to abandon plans to run for office, the PRI will reportedly appoint Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas to a local political post in the state government of Baja California.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1510, Folder 712.00/1-162

Document 19
July 30, 1962
[Rumors Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas may be appointed to head Mexicali Valley Irrigation District]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

In response to the news that Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas may be named director of the Mexicali Valley Irrigation District, Ambassador Mann requests permission from the State Department to communicate to President López Mateos that the U.S. government disapproves of this choice. Aside from simply raising the profile of the MLN, such a move would mean that U.S. funds would indirectly finance "launching Cuauhtémoc and his communist sympathizers in politics on national scene."

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1510, Folder 712.00/7-262

Document 20
August 2, 1962
[Possible appointment of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas to lead Salinity Commission]
Department of State, secret telegram

In response to Mann's request, the State Department gives the Embassy permission to tell López Mateos "indirectly and informally" that it disapproves of this choice given Cuauhtémoc's involvement with the MLN.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1510, Folder 712.00/7-262

Document 21
August 8, 1962
[Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas will not seek Mexicali appointment]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

The Embassy sent word to President López Mateos on August 3 that it disapproved of Cuauhtémoc's appointment for the Mexicali Valley post. Ambassador Mann now reports that the President, who professed surprise at the developments, arranged to speak to Lázaro Cárdenas several days later and "as result López Mateos conversation with Cárdenas it is now definitely agreed that Cuauhtémoc will withdraw his intention seek Mexicali office."

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1510, Folder 712.00/7-262

Document 22
September 8, 1962
[Mexico fears becoming isolated on Cuba issue]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

The U.S. ambassador has heard through an informant that the Mexican government has begun negotiations with Brazil on whether both countries should break relations with Cuba. This consideration does not reflect any rethinking of the reasons behind Mexico's support of Cuba, but rather a pragmatic fear that Mexico "may be caught in isolated position of apparent friendship for Cuba if there should be a showdown between United States and Cuba in future." Mann recommends that the U.S. exploit this fear by giving the impression that some military action against Cuba is possible, regardless of what the U.S. government's current plans are.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Country: Mexico, General, 6/62-9/62, Box 141

Document 23
September 13, 1962
Implications of President Kennedy's Visit to Mexico
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential airgram

In this analysis of the presidential visit, the Embassy notes that the Mexican government employed new repressive techniques in order to prevent the leftist opposition from effectively mounting demonstrations. These included utilizing the anti-communist group Frente Cívico, which "supplied thousands of its members and sympathizers to be deputized as special security agents along the march route." The Embassy notes that the inability to disrupt Kennedy's visit has demoralized the left, giving an "impression of disunity and political impotence" on the part of the Mexican communists, and leaving a lingering fear of more effective state repression during future protests.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Trips and Conferences, President's Trip to Mexico 6/62, 9/62-10/62, Box 236

Document 24
September 18, 1962
[Memo of conversation between Mexican Ambassador to the United States and U.S. Secretary of State]
Department of State, secret telegram

In a meeting with the Mexican Ambassador Antonio Carrillo Flores just one month before the Cuban missile crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk urges Mexico to "review its position on Cuba." Claiming that other Latin American countries are perturbed by travel to Cuba via Mexico, the Secretary delicately suggests Mexico might take certain covert steps - such as increasing its surveillance of travel to and from the island - as well as publicly convey the impression it is "deeply concerned" with the problem. The Mexican ambassador replies that Mexico is "limited by own political situation and upcoming Presidential election. [President Lopez Mateos] seeking avoid open fight between extreme left and right. Steps by Mexico on Castro regime therefore would have serious political consequence."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
Country: Mexico, General, 6/62-9/62, Box 141

Document 25
September 24, 1962
Economic Nationalism and Current Lopez Mateos Maneuvers to the Left
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret airgram

Surveying what seem to be many major concessions to the left in recent weeks (as well as occasional nods to the right), the Embassy surmises that this in fact normal procedure for Mexican politics, which "require of a politician that he adopt a 'zig-zag' course in order to prevent irreparable schisms from occurring in the one-party structure," particularly in the period leading up to presidential elections. Still, the Embassy claims that, on balance, the PRI is drifting to the left. This trend is visible in the "harassment" of the private sector, the expansion of the public sector, and the continued support of Cuba, despite "knowledge in high quarters, and in the hands of López Mateos himself, of Cuban subversive activities within Mexico."

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1510, Folder 712.00/9-162

Document 26
September 24, 1962
Recent Developments - Garzón and the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional
U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, secret airgram

The challenge to PRI rule in Baja California has been dissipated with strong-arm tactics, as the U.S. Consul in Tijuana reports in this frank recognition of the government's willingness to resort to force. Local peasant leader Alfonso Garzón has backed out of elections after a military officer gave him two choices: "(1) either quieting down and fading into the background or (2) becoming a national figure in Mexico, along with Rubén Jaramillo [a peasant leader killed by government troops in March]. Garzón chose the first alternative, after some hesitation, being persuaded by the assurance that in his case, he would be martyrized [sic] by hanging rather than simply being shot."

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1510, Folder 712.00/9-162

Document 27
January 3, 1963
Communist Inspired Attack on Local Authority in Iguala, Guerrero
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential airgram

In a foreshadowing of the armed insurgency that would soon overtake the southern state of Guerrero, the Embassy reports on a clash between the army and members of the local group Asociación Cívica Guerrerense (ACG) after contested elections in which the ACG ran candidates against the PRI. The Embassy reads this skirmish as evidence that the MLN has infiltrated local-level politics: "It seems fairly clear that the ACG is one of the local state parties or 'civic groups' being developed by the MLN to oppose the PRI at the municipal and state levels while itself continuing to claim that it is simply a 'civic organization' loyal to the PRI without any desire to become a political party." Génaro Vásquez Rojas, one of the ACG leaders, escaped capture in Iguala and went on to create one of the most important guerrilla groups in Guerrero.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1511, Folder 712.00/12-362

Document 28
January 7, 1963
[Central Campesina Independiente holds first meeting]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential telegram

Reporting on the first meeting of the MLN-backed campesino organization, the Central Campesina Independiente (CCI), the Embassy suspects the MLN has launched this organization as a front for a "new Communist-controlled political party," since the government reportedly prevented the MLN in 1962 from creating a party. The leaders of the CCI include two veterans of the Baja California struggle: Alfonso Garzón and former Baja Governor Braulio Maldonado.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1512, Folder 712.00/1-262

Document 29
Circa January 8, 1963 [incorrectly dated January 1, 1963]
[The formation of Central Campesina Independiente challenges PRI]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential telegram

Analyzing the formation of the CCI, the Embassy sees the group as the "most dangerous threat [of] recent years to PRI structure," given the widespread discontent in the countryside and the possibility that rural restlessness might be channeled into support for the radical left. Nevertheless, the strong identification of Cárdenas with the CCI may prevent President López Mateos from the fiercer attack he might have launched on lesser-known organizers.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 10/62-2/63, Box 141

Document 30
January 11, 1963
[Government will deal quietly with CCI]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential telegram

The Mexican government has apparently decided not to use open force against the CCI. Instead, the administration, congress, and the press rail against Cárdenas publicly while the PRI applies other forms of pressure privately. A CCI official who recently resigned, for example, was "perhaps first of [a] series to be bought off or coerced."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 10/62-2/63, Box 141

Document 31
January 23, 1963
[Cárdenas speaks in support of CCI]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential telegram

Cárdenas publicly defends the CCI, perhaps heartened by the apparent PRI decision to not immediately repress the organization. In this telegram, Ambassador Mann acknowledges the long-standing problem of rural poverty in Mexico, and criticizes the PRI for adopting only short-term palliatives when prodded by the leftist opposition. This response "does nothing to immobilize leading Communist agitators who can wait in the wings, if CCI does disappear, for new opportunity to exploit unresolved long-term problems posed by rising population, mounting unemployment and growing hunger and discontent in agrarian sector."

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1512, Folder 712.00/1-262

Document 32
January 29, 1963
New Peasant and Farmer Organization (CCI) Culminates National Liberation Movement's Efforts at Political Action
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential airgram

In an overview of the MLN's various activities since its formation, an Embassy analyst notes that the MLN has been more successful in promoting local, often agrarian-based challenges to the PRI than in directly confronting the PRI at the national political level. Claiming that the Mexican Communist Party was behind the MLN's decision to form the CCI, the analyst describes the various actions taken by the López Mateos administration to weaken the CCI, yet notes that the widespread problem of agrarian poverty will be more difficult to eradicate.

National Archives, RG 59, 1960-63
Box 1511, Folder 712.00 (W)/7-761

Document 33
March 4, 1963
[Memo of conversation with President López Mateos about Cuba]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, confidential telegram

In a visit to López Mateos' home during a trip to Mexico, White House spokesman Pierre Salinger expresses President Kennedy's gratitude for Mexico's support during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the conversation López Mateos notes that Cuba may be headed for financial trouble and predicts Central America will be the next Cold War battleground.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 3/63-6/63, Box 141

Document 34
April 3, 1963
[Mexico begins greater surveillance of travel to Cuba]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

Mexico has begun to implement tighter controls on travel to Cuba. These measures include placing special stamps on passports of those traveling to Havana, requiring non-Mexican nationals to obtain a special authorization to enter Mexico from Cuba, and photographing those passing from Cuba through Mexico to a third country.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 3/63-6/63, Box 141

Document 35
July 30, 1963
Progress Report on Presidential Race
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret airgram

As reports of various potential presidential contenders surface, the Embassy surmises that a conservative will probably be named as the next PRI candidate, indicating that the MLN and other groups on the left have not accrued enough power to affect the choice of presidential front-runners. Instead, López Mateos seems to have successfully played off both left and right and "there are many observers who believe that Lopez Mateos now has sufficient power to select his successor almost at will."

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 7/63-11/63, Box 141

Document 36
November 5, 1963
[Díaz Ordaz will be PRI presidential candidate]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

The nomination of conservative Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, current Interior Secretary, as the PRI's presidential candidate is now almost certain and has produced "a certain amount of euphoria in Mexico City…especially among Americans," and a sense of relief at the Embassy. Despite a few remaining loose ends, such as the vocal opposition of some segments of the left, Díaz Ordaz's victory seems virtually guaranteed.

John F. Kennedy Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, General 7/63-11/63, Box 141

Document 37
Circa February 18, 1964
Meeting of Presidents Johnson and López Mateos in California, February 20-22, 1964
White House, secret papers

The following documents are excerpts from a briefing paper prepared for President Lyndon B. Johnson in anticipation of a meeting with outgoing President López Mateos.

1. Background Paper: Politico-Economic Situation (February 12, 1964)

This overview of Mexico's political and economic situation predicts smooth sailing for the last year of López Mateos sexenio, and praises the choice of Díaz Ordaz as the next presidential candidate, a decision that has "engendered confidence in the continued stability of Mexico's unique political system." The major foreign policy issue of the day continues to be Cuba, where government leaders are caught between a general antagonism toward U.S. intervention on the one hand, and the country's overwhelming economic dependence on the U.S. on the other.

2. Background paper: Communism in Mexico (February 12, 1964)

Analyzing the communist threat in Mexico, this briefing paper notes that the "most serious effort which the Mexican Communists have made in recent years to obtain mass support was the formation in 1961 of a pro-Castro front group," the MLN. Yet the MLN has "failed to materialize as a serious threat," and the presidential nominee Díaz Ordaz is a tough anti-communist who harshly repressed communist-led strikes and protests and ensured communist leaders long prison sentences while serving as Interior Secretary (Gobernación). Now that the PRI has proved resistant to a frontal, electoral attack on its power, the analysts pinpoint lower-level organizations such as peasant associations and trade unions as the most critical areas of communist "infiltration."

Lyndon B. Johnson Library, National Security Files
CO-Mexico, Briefing Book - Mateos Visit, 2/20-2/22/64, Box 61

 

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