The Constructive Phase, 1920-40

The Constructive Phase, 1920-40

The four years of Obregón's presidency (1920-24) were dedicated to beginning to realize the objectives of the constitution of 1917. The military phase of the Revolution was over, and the new administration began to build the bases for the next stage of the revolutionary process of reconstruction.

Obregón's choice for secretary of education was José Vasconcelos, a distinguished lawyer and professor who had rejected the elitist positivism of the científicos . Vasconcelos adapted the curricula of rural schools to Mexican reality by teaching students basic skills in reading, writing, mathematics, history, and geography. Seeking to integrate indigenous peoples into Mexican society through education, Vasconcelos dispatched hundreds of teachers to remote villages. Between 1920 and 1924, more than 1,000 rural schools and more than 2,000 public libraries were established. Vasconcelos also believed in instructing through images, and for that purpose he commissioned works by Mexican muralists--foremost among them Diego Rivera--to decorate public buildings while depicting important events in Mexican history and the ideals of the Revolution.

Obregón's agrarian policies proved more traditional. He believed that the Mexican economy could not afford to forego productivity for the sake of radical agrarian reform. Consequently, redistribution of land proceeded slowly. During his administration, Obregón redistributed 1.2 million hectares to landless peasants, a fraction of the eligible land. Obregón was careful in handling Article 27 of the constitution, which restricted land ownership by foreigners, because of fear of intervention by the United States. Despite Obregón's moderation, United States oil companies launched a campaign against the Mexican government, fearing possible implementation of Article 27. A joint Mexican-United States commission agreed to meet on Bucarelli Street in Mexico City in 1923. Under the terms of the commission agreements, known as the Bucarelli Agreements, Mexico upheld the principle of "positive acts." Mexico agreed that if a foreign enterprise improved the land (in the case of oil, by installing oil drilling equipment), the company's holdings would not be nationalized. The United States fulfilled its part of the agreement by recognizing the Mexican government.

When the time came for the next presidential nomination, Obregón's choice was his secretary of interior, Plutarco Elías Calles. The nomination met with strong opposition from landowners, who feared Calles's radical reputation. Obregón succeeded in imposing his candidate because Calles had the support of labor unions and Mexican nationalists. Overall, Obregón's government disappointed the more radical revolutionary factions, as well as conservative interests, such as the military, wealthy landowners, and the Roman Catholic Church, but it brought Mexico a welcome degree of political stability.

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