Luis Echeverría

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Luis Echeverría
Presidente Echeverria en su visita de estado a Chile (1972) (cropped).JPG
Luis Echeverría in his visit to Chile, 1972
50th President of Mexico
In office
1 December 1970 – 30 November 1976
Preceded by Gustavo Díaz Ordaz
Succeeded by José López Portillo
Personal details
Born Luis Echeverría Álvarez
(1922-01-17) 17 January 1922 (age 96)
Mexico City
Nationality Mexican
Political party Institutional Revolutionary Party
Spouse(s) María Esther Zuno Arce
(m. 1945–1999, her death)
Children 8
Alma mater National Autonomous University of Mexico
Religion Roman Catholicism

Luis Echeverría Álvarez (Spanish pronunciation: [lwis etʃeβeˈri.a ˈalβaɾes]; born 17 January 1922) served as President of Mexico from 1970 to 1976.

Early history

He was born in Mexico City to his Mexican parents Rodolfo Echeverría and Catalina Álvarez. Echeverría joined the faculty of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1947 and taught political theory. He rose in the hierarchy of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and eventually became the private secretary of the party president, General Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada. Echeverría served as Interior Secretary under President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz from 1964 to 1970. He maintained a hard line against student protesters throughout 1968. Clashes between the government and protesters culminated in the Tlatelolco massacre in October 1968, a few days before the 1968 Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City.[1][2] In a separate incident, he ordered the transfer of 15% of the Mexican military to the state of Guerrero to counter guerrilla groups operating there.

Personal life

Echeverría was married to Maria Esther Zuno, and has eight children.


Domestic Policy

President Echeverría (right) with Alfredo Ruiz del Rio.
U.S. President Richard Nixon (left) and Luis Echeverría reviewing U.S. troops (1972).

At one point during his campaign for the presidency, Echeverría called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Tlatelolco massacre, an act which enraged President Díaz Ordaz and almost prompted him to call for Echeverría's resignation. Once Echeverría became president, he embarked on a far-reaching program of populist political and economic reform, nationalizing the mining and electrical industries, redistributing private land in the states of Sinaloa and Sonora to peasants, imposing limits on foreign investment, and extending Mexico's patrimonial waters to 370 kilometres (230 mi). State spending on health, housing construction, education, and food subsidies was also significantly increased,[3] while the percentage of the population covered by the social security system was doubled.[4]

At the same time, he enraged the left because he did not bring the perpetrators of the Corpus Christi Massacre to justice, and he angered the business community with his populist rhetoric and his moves to nationalize industries and redistribute land. He was also unpopular within the rank and file of his own party.

Echeverría has been accused of irresponsible government spending, increasing inflation, and cronyism, which was symbolized by appointing his good friend and eventual successor José López Portillo as Finance Minister, as well as devaluations of the peso, from 12.50 MXP per dollar in 1954 to 20 per dollar in late 1976. During his period in office, the country's external debt soared from $6 billion in 1970 to $20 billion in 1976.[5] This caused the ruling party, at least in terms of its economic policies, to gradually lose prestige at home and abroad. At the end of Echeverría's term, Mexico was in a state of economic crisis.

On 8 October 1974, Echeverría issued a decree creating the new Mexican states of Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo.[6]

During the administration of Echeverría a new Federal Election Law was approved. Changes introduced with this law were inter alia:

  • Lowered the number of members a party needed to become officially registered from 75.000 to 65.000
  • Increased the number of Congress seats chosen according to the proportional-representation principle (plurinominals) from 20 to 25
  • Introduction of a permanent voting card
  • Established the age of candidacy at 21, respectively 30 years.[7]

Several leftist guerrilla groups began operations e.g. kidnappings and bank robberies. The government engaged in a dirty war, in which hundreds of rebel suspects were tortured, killed and/or disappeared during 1964-1982, in order to put an end to the revolutionary movements.[8]

Foreign Policy

With the so-called "tercermundismo" ("Third Worldism") a reorientation in Mexican foreign policy took place during the presidential term of Echeverría. He showed his solidarity with the developing nations and tried to establish Mexico as the defender of Third World interests. [9] The aims of Echeverría’s foreign policy were to diversify Mexico’s economic links and to fight for a more just and equal international order. [10] He visited various countries and had strong ties with the socialist governments of Cuba and Chile. Echeverría visited Cuba in 1975. [11] Moreover Mexico provided political asylum to many political refugees from South American countries who fled their country's repressive military dictatorships; among them Hortensia Bussi, the widow of former Chilean President Salvador Allende.[12]

Moreover he condemned Zionism, and allowed the Palestine Liberation Organization to open an office in the capital.[citation needed]

Echeverría's candidacy rode a wave of anger by citizens in northwestern Mexico against the United States for its use (and perceived misappropriation) of water from the Colorado River, which drains much of the U.S. southwest before crossing into Mexico. The established treaty between the U.S. and Mexico called for the U.S. to allow a specified volume of water, 1.85 cubic kilometres (0.44 cu mi), to pass the U.S.-Mexican border, but it did not establish any quality levels. Throughout the 20th century, the United States, through its water policy managed by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, had developed wide-ranging irrigation along the river which had led to progressively higher levels of salinity in the water as it moved downstream. By the late 1960s, the high salinity of the water crossing into Mexico had resulted in the ruin of large tracts of the irrigated land along the lower Colorado. The sudden increase in oil prices in 1973, coupled with the possibility of new Mexican oil deposits in the Bay of Campeche, gave Echeverría a strong bargaining position against the Nixon Administration in the United States. Echeverría threatened to bring the issue to the World Court, prompting the Nixon Administration to renegotiate the treaty to include a salinity-control agreement. The implementation of salinity control at the border (specified to be at U.S. expense) has been ongoing and slow, however, and the lower Colorado remains largely a desolate shadow of what it once was.[citation needed]

Continued influence

Echeverría has been suspected of wielding power behind the throne long after his presidential term ended, mostly through his alleged influence over the "old guard" wing of the PRI and the myriad special police forces in Mexico, as well as the drug cartels.

Echeverría’s brother-in-law, Rubén Zuno Arce, was convicted by a California court in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison for his role as leader of the Guadalajara drug cartel and the murder of a U.S. federal agent seven years earlier.[13] Echeverría repeatedly requested President Carlos Salinas to pressure Washington for the release of Zuno Arce, but to no avail.

After leaving office, Salinas (who was president from 1988 to 1994) publicly accused Echeverría of inspiring the murder of their party’s presidential candidate in March 1994 and of leading a conspiracy against Salinas's reformist allies inside the PRI, which had led to a systemic political and economic crisis.[14] Salinas claimed that Echeverría pressed him to replace the murdered candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, with an old-guard figure. Echeverría brushed off the accusations as absurd.

After the defeat of the PRI in the general elections of July 2000, it emerged that Vicente Fox (president from 2000 to 2006) had met privately with Echeverría at the latter’s home in Mexico City numerous times during Fox's presidential campaign in 1999 and 2000.[15] Fox did appoint several Echeverría loyalists to top positions in his government, including Adolfo Aguilar (who headed Echeverría’s "Third World University" in the 1970s) as national security advisor and Juan José Bremer (Echeverría’s personal secretary) as ambassador to Washington. The most controversial was Alejandro Gertz Manero, who had been accused by the Mexican press of bearing responsibility for the suicide of a museum owner in 1972, as Gertz, then working for Echeverría’s attorney general, attempted to confiscate his private collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts (Echeverría has a collection of such artefacts).[16] Fox appointed Gertz as chief of the Federal Police. Shortly thereafter, a major drug boss, Joaquín Guzmán ("El Chapo"), escaped from a maximum-security penitentiary. He had been with the Sinaloa Cartel, but had worked for Zuno Arce in the Guadalajara drug cartel in the 1980s.

Later years

On 23 July 2006 a special prosecutor indicted Echeverría and requested his arrest for allegedly ordering the attack that killed and wounded many student demonstrators during a protest in Mexico City over education funding on 10 June 1971; the incident became known as the Corpus Christi Massacre for the feast day on which it took place, but also as the Halconazo – "Falcon Strike" – since the special unit involved was called Los Halcones ("The Falcons"). The evidence against Echeverría appeared to be based on documents that allegedly show that he ordered the formation of special army units that committed the killings and that he received regular updates about the episode and its aftermath from his chief of secret police. At the time, the government argued police forces and civilian demonstrators were attacked (and people on both sides killed) by armed civilians, who were convicted and later freed because of a general amnesty.

After the political transition of 2000, Echeverría was charged with genocide by the special prosecutor (an untested charge in the Mexican legal system), partly because the statute of limitations for charges of homicide had expired (charges of genocide under Mexican law have no statute of limitations from 2002). On 24 July 2004, a judge refused to issue an arrest warrant for Echeverría because of statute of limitations problems with the indictment, apparently rejecting the special prosecutor's assertion of genocide-based special circumstances. The special prosecutor said that he would appeal the judge's decision. Echeverría has steadfastly denied any complicity in the killings.

On 24 February 2005 the Supreme Court of Justice decided, four votes against one, that the statute of limitations (30 years) had expired by the time the prosecution began, and that Mexico's ratification by Congress in 2002 of the United Nations convention against war crimes on 26 November 1968, signed by the President on 3 July 1969 but ratified by Congress on 10 December 2001 and coming into effect 90 days later, which states that genocide has no statute of limitations, could not be applied retroactively to Echeverría's case, since only Congress can make those agreements part of the legal system.

Charges of genocide (which would have been difficult to sustain if accepted) were about the last hope for Echeverría's prosecution. While the case is still technically open in court, it will be difficult to obtain a conviction. The prosecution argued before the Supreme Court that (a) political conditions prevented an earlier prosecution, (b) the president was constitutionally protected against charges for his full term so the statute of limitations should be extended because of that and (c) the UN convention accepted by Mexico covered past events of genocide. The Supreme Court said that the law did not take into account political conditions and presidential immunity when calculating the statute of limitations, that the prosecution failed to prove earlier charges against the defendants (producing only photocopies with no legal value of supposed legal proceedings from the late 1970s and early 1980s) and that article 14 of the Mexican constitution establishes the principle of non-retroactivity.

On 20 September 2005 the special prosecutor for crimes of the past filed genocide charges against Echeverría for his responsibility, as interior minister at the time, in the 2 October 1968 Tlatelolco massacre. Again, the assigned criminal judge dismissed the filing, holding, first, that the statute of limitations had expired and, second, that the massacre did not constitute genocide. An arrest warrant for Echeverría was issued by a Mexican court on 30 June 2006, but he was found not guilty of charges on 8 July 2006. Echeverría is now suing the PRD for untrue allegations. On 29 November 2006, he was charged with the massacres and ordered under house arrest by a Mexican judge.[17]

Finally, on 26 March 2009 a federal court ordered the absolute freedom of the former president as well as exemptions from the charge of genocide for the events of Tlatelolco.

Post-presidential events

In 2002, he was the first political official called to testify before the Mexican justice system for the massacre of students in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco in 1968.

In February 2006, at age 84, he was hospitalized for a problem of blood supply to the brain.

On 4 April 2006, a total of 14 sites in Cozumel were seized for 30 years' accumulated municipal tax debt. These debts amounted to nearly 2 million pesos.

Honours and awards


  1. Yoram Shapira. 1977. Mexico: The Impact of the 1968 Student Protest on Echeverria's Reformism. Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs , Vol. 19, No. 4 (Nov., 1977), pp. 557-580 [1]
  2. Merilee S. Grindle. 1977. Policy Change in an Authoritarian Regime: Mexico under Echeverria Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs , Vol. 19, No. 4 (Nov., 1977), pp. 523-555
  3. The Penguin History of Latin America by Edwin Williamson
  4. Gendered struggles against globalisation in Mexico by Teresa Healy
  5. Delgado de Cantú, Gloria M. (2003). Historia de México Vol. II. Pearson Educación. pp. 387–388.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Fallece Félix Agramont Cota, primer gobernador de BCS". La Crónica de Hoy. 2013-05-12. Retrieved 2013-06-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Delgado de Cantú, Gloria M. (2003). Historia de México Vol. II. Pearson Educación. p. 349.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Mexico 'dirty war' crimes alleged". BBC. Retrieved 25 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Coerver, Don M. (2004). Mexico: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and History. ABC-CLIO. p. 153.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Delgado de Cantú, Gloria M. (2003). Historia de México Vol. II. Pearson Educación. p. 373.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Delgado de Cantú, Gloria M. (2003). Historia de México Vol. II. Pearson Educación. p. 371.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Hortensia Bussi, Wife of Salvador Allende of Chile, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. See$file/9856770.pdf?openelement
  14. See Julia Preston, "Salinas Denies New Charges by Mexico," New York Times, 5 December 1995.
  15. See Martin Walker, "Walker’s World: Why President Fox Failed," United Press International, 26 December 2006.
  16. See "Dejó Fox en manos de Luis Echeverría los mandos de las policías federales," El Heraldo de Chihuahua, 6 April 2006.
  17. "Warrant for Mexico ex-president". BBC News. 30 June 2006. Retrieved 11 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "ECHEVERRIA ALVAREZ S.E. Luis decorato di Gran Cordone" (in Italian). Retrieved 14 October 2012. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 397. Retrieved 14 October 2012. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Werner, Michael. (Ed.) (1997). Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society, and Culture. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.
  • Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner (regarding lower Colorado water issues)
  • Schmidt, Samuel. (1972). El deterioro del presidencialismo mexicano. Mexico D.F.: EDAMEX
Political offices
Preceded by
Gustavo Díaz Ordaz
President of Mexico
Succeeded by
José López Portillo