Abelardo L. Rodríguez

Last updated
Abelardo L. Rodríguez
43rd President of Mexico
In office
September 4, 1932 November 30, 1934
Preceded by Pascual Ortiz
Succeeded by Lázaro Cárdenas
Governor of Sonora
In office
September 13, 1943 April 15, 1948
Preceded byAnselmo Macías Valenzuela
Succeeded byHoracio Sobarzo
Secretary of Defense
In office
August 2, 1932 September 4, 1932
Preceded by Plutarco Elías Calles
Succeeded byPablo Quiroga
Secretary of Economy
In office
January 20, 1932 August 2, 1932
Preceded by Aarón Sáenz Garza
Succeeded byPrimo Villa Michel
Governor of the North District of the Federal Territory of Baja California
In office
Preceded byJosé Inocente Lugo
Succeeded byJosé María Tapia
Military Commander of Northern Baja California
In office
Personal details
Abelardo Rodríguez Luján

(1889-05-12)12 May 1889
Guaymas, Sonora
Died13 February 1967(1967-02-13) (aged 77)
La Jolla, California, U.S.
Political party National Revolutionary
Spouse(s)Aída Sullivan (1904-1975)
Military service
AllegianceFlag of Mexico.svg  Mexico
Branch/serviceFlag of the Mexican Army.svg  Mexican Army
UnitMilitary Commander of the Baja California
Battles/wars Mexican Revolution

Abelardo Rodríguez Luján, commonly known as Abelardo L. Rodríguez (Spanish pronunciation:  [aβeˈlaɾðo ˈele roˈðɾiɣes] ; May 12, 1889 – February 13, 1967) was the substitute president of Mexico from 1932 to 1934. He completed the term of Pascual Ortiz Rubio after his resignation, during the period known as the Maximato. Former President Plutarco Elías Calles (el jefe Máximo) then held considerable de facto political power, without being president himself. However, Rodríguez was more successful than his predecessor Ortiz Rubio in asserting presidential power against Calles's influence.


Early life and military

Born in San José de Guaymas, Sonora, to a poor family, he worked early in his life in a hardware store, in a copper mine, and as a professional baseball player. He did not finish his primary studies in Nogales, Sonora, only having finished the 4th grade. He joined the Mexican Revolution in 1913 and began moving up the ranks soon afterward. He was a veteran of the campaign against the Yaqui. He became a Colonel in 1916, and at that rank signed the Plan de Agua Prieta, [1] promulgated by Sonoran revolutionary generals Adolfo de la Huerta, Alvaro Obregón and Plutarco Elías Calles. The three generals rebelled against President Venustiano Carranza's government in 1920. In Baja California, the caudillo Esteban Cantú refused to recognize the interim administration of De la Huerta, so De la Huerta and Calles dispatched Rodríguez to oust Cantú, who went into exile. Rodríguez became Military Commander of northern Baja California in 1921, discharging Cantú's troops.He is also great great grandpa to Alex Rodriguez. [2] During that period he closed most casinos and bars in the border town of Tijuana, which flourished under Cantú as a destination for vice tourism. [3]

Early political positions

In 1923, he became Governor of the North Territory of Baja California and continued as both Military Commander and Governor until 1929. He was invited to join the proposed uprising of General José Gonzalo Escobar in 1929. The Escobar Rebellion failed and Rodríguez demonstrated he was firmly in the camp of Plutarco Elias Calles. [4] He continued one more year as Governor of northern Baja California. In 1932, he held two different cabinet positions, Minister of Industry and Commerce and Minister of War and Marine affairs under president Ortiz Rubio.

Presidency 1932-34

Becoming President, 1932

Since President Ortiz Rubio was determined to resign due to conflicts with Calles, the question of a replacement was in the key matter.  The President signed his resignation on September 2, 1932 and it was conveyed to Congress the following day.  Despite the resignation, the presidential cabinet met, significantly at the home of Calles in Cuernavaca.  The President of the PNR General Manuel Pérez Treviño would convey names of those Calles had made known would be acceptable: Alberto J. Pani, Finance Minister; General Joaquín Amaro; and General Abelardo L. Rodriguez.  Pani bowed out and suggested that Calles choose Rodríguez.  However, four candidates were presented to Congress, with the name of General Juan José Ríos, Secretary of the Interior, added to the previous three.  A groundswell of support gave the presidency to Rodríguez. Rodríguez was named by congress as President of Mexico on 4 September 1932. [5]


His cabinet included Emilio Portes Gil, who had served as interim president before the 1929 general election. Unlike the cabinet of his predecessor Ortiz Rubio, with multiple changes of personnel, Rodríguez's cabinet was a stable group on the whole.

Asserting power as president

During Rodríguez's presidency, Calles was not as focused on political issues as before. Calles's health, which was never particularly good, declined. To compound Calles's personal woes was that his young second wife, Leonor Llorente de Calles, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in spring 1932, dying months later after surgery failed. "Calles's health and state of mind constituted the Achilles heel of this powerful leader." [6]

Rodríguez still had to contend with the perception that although he held the title of President of the Republic, he was not the man in charge. That was seen to be Calles, the so-called Jefe Máximo de la Revolución.  Not only was Calles touted in the press in the U.S. as the “Strong Man of Mexico,” but in March 1934 U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote Calles a letter, “congratulating him on the ‘peace and  the growing prosperity of Mexico, ’” which was to be delivered at a luncheon the ex-president was hosting for Josephus Daniels, the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico. President Rodríguez learned of the luncheon at Calles’s Cuernavaca home to which many Mexican and foreign dignitaries had already been invited by José Manuel Puig Casauranc.  Rodríguez was adamant that the lunch be cancelled since Calles was "simply a private citizen."  It was not the prerogative of an ex-president to host such an event.  Guests were dis-invited on the pretext that Calles had taken ill. "The President maintained that if any such luncheon were to be given it should be given by him and that if a message should come from President Roosevelt it should come to the President of Mexico.” [7]   The Roosevelt letter to Calles was delivered, but Calles wrote in reply that he was not a part of the President’s government, but greatly esteemed him.  The U.S. ambassador months later made another misstep, calling Calles “the strong man of Mexico” in an interview with the Mexican newspaper El Nacional.  The ambassador was called out by President Rodríguez for that, and Daniels subsequently claimed he was misquoted. [8]   Ambassador Daniels wrote in his memoirs that he himself, Calles, and Puig Casauranc “knew that the man in Chapultepec Castle [the official presidential residence] was the President of Mexico.” [9]

Calles still had considerable sway over Rodríguez's ministers, who often consulted with the ex-President when trying affect policy. Finance Minister Alberto J. Pani attempted to temper Rodríguez's adoption of deficit spending, and also objected to the government's anticlerical tendencies. Pani had long been an importance presence in politics, but Rodríguez forced his resignation from the cabinet. As a sop to Calles, who objected to ousting Pani, Rodríguez appointed Calles as Finance Minister. [10]


Rodríguez's government organized the Council of Primary Education in the Federal District and created cultural missions in rural areas. He also established agricultural schools and regional farm schools, as well as schools for teacher education. He also established the Technical Council of Rural Education.

Narciso Bassols was Minister of Education and pursued a policy that took control of education out of the hands of Mexican states and put it under federal control.  At issue was the continued influence of the Catholic Church on students.  Under Bassols, the proposition that the education should be explicitly advocate socialism was to be official policy. He moved to embed that in the Mexican Constitution. Many parents objected to sex education in the schools, and there was considerable resistance from the Church. Bassols increased teachers’ salaries and sought to undermine the influence of teacher groups.  The President shifted Bassols from Education to the high-level  post as Minister of the Interior, a position  he then resigned.  In Rodriguez’s view strong moves against the Catholic Church had the potential for causing problems for his successor as president. [11]

Relations with the Catholic Church

Under Interim President Emilio Portes Gil, the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico and the Mexican government had come to an agreement that would end the Cristero War in 1929.  The Catholic Church was displeased that there were continued anti-Catholic moves in parts of the country, especially Jalisco and Chiapas.  Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical that objected to Mexican legislation detrimental to Catholic clergy.  President Rodríguez strongly objected to the encyclical as full of falsehoods and “would incite the clergy to disobey the Mexican rulings.”  The Vatican’s representative in Mexico, the Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Leopoldo Ruiz y Flóres, tried to say that the Mexican government had misunderstood the pope’s message. Congress demanded his expulsion and he was put on a plane. Ruiz y Flores then called on Mexican Catholics not to be members of the PNR, since it was socialistic and atheistic. He called for action by the Catholic faithful. “Each Catholic should be converted into a school of Christian doctrine – into a real apostle—and we shall see that the persecution is converted into blessings from Heaven.” [12]   The strongly anticlerical Calles, whose policies while president had provoked the Cristero War, called for the expulsion of the papal representative as well as the archbishop of Mexico.  The papal representative was already outside the country and would be arrested should he return.  The President authorized Portes Gil, then Minister of the Interior, to draw up a recommendation, which he could discuss with Calles.  Steps were taken against the high clerics, but there was no uprising of Catholics against the government, despite clerical calls for one. [13]

Agriculture, labor, and industry

The government issued the Agrarian Code, which brought together scattered legislation on agrarian matters.  Rodríguez renewed efforts to distribute landed estates into the hands of peasants, which had slowed under the Calles administration. He promoted the activities of the National Agricultural Credit Bank. For labor, he enacted a minimum wage that was tied to the cost of living in each state.  He created the Department of Labor and promoted the trade union movement and protected the workers against management. He established regulations of the Federal Board of Conciliation and Arbitration were issued and created the Federal Office of Labor Defense, of Agencies of Placements, of Dangerous and Unhealthy Work, of Labor Hygiene, of the Federal Labor Inspection and of Preventive Measures of Accidents. He was a supporter of cooperativism, considering it as a means for the national wealth to be distributed more evenly, pressing congress to issue the Cooperatives Act. Important for future actions about Mexico’s petroleum industry was Rodríguez’s creation of a private company, Petromex, tied to the government which guarded supply for domestic use and could compete with foreign investors in the industry. [14]


1933 map of the Mexican portion of the Pan-American Highway. Inter-American Highway map October 1933.jpg
1933 map of the Mexican portion of the Pan-American Highway.

Calles had initiated an ambitious program of road building, which continued in the 1930s under Rodríguez. Roads were a way to link important centers within Mexico as well as with the United States in the north and Guatemala in the south, as well as make connections between remote areas of Mexico and the larger nation. Road building was a form of state building. [15] Construction on the Pan-American Highway saw progress, with a map issued in 1933 showing the route.


During his presidency, he improved the organization and operation of common justice, issuing the Organic Law of the District and Territorial Courts. The federal codes were reviewed and the Federal Law on Criminal Procedures was issued. He organized the Office of the Attorney General, determining the functions of the Federal Public Ministry, which carried out the study of the Law of Protection and issued the Personal Identification, Nationality and Naturalization, Foreign Service and General Mercantile Companies. He also implemented laws related to private charity and monopolies. He issued the Limited Liability and Public Interest Corporation Law. He enacted the Code of Military Justice.

Economy and Finance

He established the National Economic Council and created the National Financial bank. He founded the Bank of the Pacific, the Mexican Bank of the West and the Central Mexican Credit. He reformed the Law of Secretaries of State, transforming the Department of Commerce, Commerce and Labor, into the Secretariat of the National Economy, which was responsible for establishing the bases of state interventionism and directed economy.

Post presidency

After his term ended on November 30, 1934, Rodríguez returned to private life. When Lázaro Cárdenas became president of Mexico in 1934, initially as a protegé of Calles, then as his political enemy, Rodríguez was aligned with Calles. Cárdenas closed casinos in northern Mexico, depriving Rodríguez and Calles of a significant source of income. [16] In 1943, he was elected Governor of Sonora. While governor he taxed Chinese casinos and "recreation centers," a euphemism for opium dens. The income allowed the government to not tax "productive enterprises." [17] [18] Rodríguez himself became a wealthy man from casino income. [19]

He promoted university education, establishing Sonora's state university. He resigned from his governorship in April 1948, citing health reasons. He returned to his work in business; he started more than 80 companies and participated in approximately 126 other companies. He died in La Jolla, California, on February 13, 1967.


Playas de Rosarito, Baja California

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  1. Dulles, John F.W. Yesterday in Mexico: A Chronicle of the Mexican Revolution, Austin: University of Texas Press 1961, p. 33
  2. Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico, p. 76.
  3. Buchenau, Jürgen. Plutarco Elías Calles and the Mexican Revolution. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield 2007, pp. 92, 97
  4. Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico, p. 424-25
  5. Dulles, John W. F., Yesterday in Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press 1961, , pp. 540-542, drawing on the description in La jornada instituticional del día cuatro de septiembre de 1932. Juan José Ríos, P. Ortiz Rubio, A.L. Rodríguez, L.L. Leon, A. Sáenz. Mexico City 1932
  6. Buchenau, Plutarco Elías Calles, p. 162.
  7. Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico. pp. 557-58
  8. Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico, p. 559.
  9. Daniels, Josephus.  Shirt-Sleeve Diplomat. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1947, p. 51.
  10. Buchenau, Plutarco Elías Calles, pp. 164-65
  11. Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico, pp.  559-61.
  12. quoted in Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico p. 563
  13. Dulles, Yesterday in Mexico. Pp. 563-65
  14. Buchenau, Plutarco Elías Calles, p. 164.
  15. Waters, Wendy. "Remapping Identities: Road Construction and Nation Building in Postrevolutionary Mexico" in The Eagle and the Virgin: Nation and Cultural Revolution in Mexico, 1920-1940. Mary Kay Vaughan and Stephen E. Lewis, eds. Durham: Duke University Press 2006
  16. Schantz, Eric M. "Behind the Noir Border: Tourism, the Vice Racket, and Power Relations in Baja California's Border Zone, 1938-65" in Holiday in Mexico: Critical Reflections on Tourism and Tourist Encounters, Berger, Dina and Andrew Grant Wood, ed. Durham: Duke University Press 2010, pp. 131-32
  17. Schantz, "Behind the Noir Border," p.141
  18. Samaniego Lopez, Marco Antonio, "El desarrollo económico durante el gobierno de Abelardo L. Rodríguez" p. 24.
  19. Gómez Estrada, José Alfredo. Gobierno y casinos: El origen de la riqueza de Abelardo L. Rodríguez. Mexicali: Universidad Autónoma de Baja California 2002.

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Pascual Ortiz
President of Mexico
Succeeded by
Lázaro Cárdenas