In this brief overview of the presidency of Miguel Alemán (1946-52), Tzvi Medin offers a superficial recounting of Mexico’s first postrevolutionary civilian president’s primary objectives and accomplishments. Citing a handful of personal interviews, newspapers, published documents, a few memoirs, and a thin collection of secondary works, Medin concludes that Alemán succeeded in establishing the omnipotence of the presidency in the modern Mexican political system.
Alemán came to power, according to Medin, with a well-defined program to which he firmly, and at times forcefully, adhered throughout his term. The new president’s program included liberal capitalist economic development based on import-substitution industrialization and increased agricultural production; a close but dependent economic relationship with the United States; and an omnipotent presidency, established by bringing under its control the military, the newly formed PRI, the political opposition, the unions, and the national bourgeoisie. In six terse chapters Medin demonstrates how Alemán succeeded in putting his program into operation. One wonders, however, at Alemán’s transition from labor lawyer arguing for workers’ rights to president using Machiavellian tactics to rid the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) of leftists, promoting charrismo in the CTM leadership, and unleashing the military on petroleum workers who dared to strike against the state. Medin reveals no clues to how Alemán’s mind worked. In fact, most of the personalities he discusses are flat and one-dimensional.
Likewise, one can only guess at Medin’s purpose in writing this book. Little is revealed here that is not readily available elsewhere. At times, information is omitted that would enable the reader to draw intelligent conclusions. For example, Medin provides a litany of Alemán’s accomplishments in education: building the ciudad universitária, dramatically increasing construction of new primary and secondary schools, and so on. But he fails to mention that teachers’ salaries were held so low that it was impossible to staff the schools with qualified professionals; that the university’s operating budget was so limited that its beautiful library contained almost no books; and that while 3.3 million school-age children (one reliable source claims only 2.25 million) attended classes regularly, another 3 million were excluded for lack of resources. Numerous omissions such as these lessen the value of Medin’s work.