Dawn never found him asleep. He was simple and serious, he did not like neither the game nor the night life. He preferred chess – in which he was a respectable competitor – country life and outdoor sports. He was a disciplined swimmer and preferred walking or horseback riding to driving or cycling. Perhaps because he was born five years before the turn of the 20th century, in what many described as “a sleepy little town” in Michoacán.

It would take a few years for his story and his name, Lázaro Cárdenas, to become well known and become a milestone and a myth. His birth town was Jiquilpan, his father Dámaso Cárdenas Pineda, his mother, Felícitas del Río Amezcua. His sisters, three and his brothers, four. Lázaro, the third son and the first oldest male. In 1911 his father died and he lived an adolescence dedicated to work, reading the few books that were in his town and meeting almost always with older people to whom he listened attentively and from whom he learned everything he needed to know about the importance of the land and its land.

Very soon he would change his field, intention and thought. Convinced that “misery, ignorance, disease and vice” enslaved the people, as he wrote many times in his private notes, at age 18, in 1913, Lázaro Cárdenas joined the Revolution. And so he began a vertiginous military career and an ideological path never traveled before in our history: ten years later he was already a brigadier general and in 1928 he was elected governor of Michoacán. His worth echoed throughout the country and in Michoacán he was recognized for having created numerous schools, promoted the distribution of land, union associations and democratized the university.

Once his governorship was over, Joven Lázaro returned to the military and in 1933 he was appointed Secretary of War in the cabinet of Abelardo R. Rodríguez. That same year he was nominated by the PNR as a presidential candidate, he began his campaign that focused on the creation of the Six-Year Plan and the following year, in 1934, he became president.

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And so, other small revolutions began. The first, as his wife Amalia Solórzano recalled, was to look for a house to live in that was not Chapultepec Castle, because at some point during the government of Pascual Ortiz Rubio, Lázaro had lived in the lower part of such an illustrious building and he had realized that if he hadn’t had any privacy there, much less was he going to have it there as President of the Republic. At first they offered him La Casa del Lago, which he liked very much, but it turned out to be very small. Later they showed him the house of “La Hormiga” that functioned as a stable and a residence for gentlemen and although it was very abandoned and battered, it seemed to both of them that adaptations could be made to live there. And they do it like that. Not without first changing the name of the house to Los Pinos, in romantic memory of the place where the couple had sworn their love in Tacámbaro, Michoacán. Afterward, he shut down the casinos, suspended jai alai games, and banned cockfighting.

However, nothing was as significant as when in 1938 he announced the expropriation of the British and American oil companies and decided to nationalize it. Such a measure, which is commemorated just on a day like today, March 18, at first scandalized fellow citizens and strangers.

About that memorable day: Salvador Novo wrote:

“When the patient radio listeners of the city quietly and patiently reveled in listening to their favorite songs, some stretched out on their own institutionalized beds, others perhaps in slippers, and still others perhaps in inconvenient postures, on the memorable 18th of March, they were surprised by the announcement of that in a few moments all the broadcasting stations of the Republic would be chained in order to listen to the message of the President of the Republic. About 40 minutes later, General Cárdenas’ voice of command was heard -and to tell the truth, if instead of reading his messages he recited them, it would produce extraordinary effects, with the same expectation that he left the radiopatients in suspense. The same must have been felt in the grounds of the National Palace where cabinet members and the most conspicuous representatives of the labor movement gathered to hear the tactic of faits accomplis that fall definitively like meteorites and that was observed by President Cárdenas.

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First the unshakable resolution, then the explanations. Except for the president of the block of the Chamber of Senators, no other person from those gathered in the Green Room of the National Palace had opportune phrases, at a time when all of Mexico was waiting for the adequate, necessary, essential and historic response that should have been given to the president on behalf of the million workers that millions of times it has been said he represents. Nothing was heard other than the aesthetics of hertzian waves”.

The stupor and surprise soon turned into joy. A few days later, in the press and on the streets, everyone celebrated that energetic decision. They shouted that President Cárdenas was great because he had taught them that greatness was in the hands of the Mexicans.



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