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Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and the Democratization of Mexican Politics

Summary and Keywords

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas never achieved his goal of becoming the first son of a Mexican president to win the presidency. But he contributed significantly to bringing about the transition from a presidency owned by the PRI for more than seventy years to a more transparent and fair system of elections. Had it not been for his independent presidential campaign in 1988, which helped inspire reforms of the electoral system that improved competitive conditions for later candidates, democratic transition would at the very least have been delayed. Without his leadership in founding the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Mexico would have lacked a strong Left challenge in the years of greatest economic and political reform, undermining the leverage of reformers and changing the tone and direction of efforts to attract voters. Cárdenas was, in a real sense, one of the midwives of Mexico’s democratic transition.

Keywords: Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, Mexico, presidency, Partido de la Revolución Democrática, democracy, nonviolence, democratization

Early Life

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was born May 1, 1934—May Day—shortly before his father Lázaro Cárdenas assumed the Mexican presidency. His father had considered naming him after Álvaro Obregon, a hero of the Mexican Revolution. Instead, the new baby was named Cuauhtémoc, after the Aztec leader who led an insurrection against the Spanish—“for obvious reasons,” as Cárdenas remembered later.1 All his life, he would bear the burden of expectations that he would champion Mexican freedom against foreign intervention and live up to his father’s contributions as a general and founder of the modern Mexican Republic.

One of the earliest photographs of the young Cuauhtémoc shows him handing over a large toy pig to the donation drive designed to pay reparations to foreign oil companies whose property was expropriated during the nationalization of oil in 1938.2 He would have been less than four years old at the time, but he remembers the occasion.3 He spent the first years of his life in the new presidential palace, Los Pinos, which his father built.

After his father left office, Cárdenas grew up in a household that moved frequently and was often shared with unrelated children from poor families that his father had agreed to educate. He accompanied his father on tours of various parts of Mexico and especially remembers going with his father to visit political prisoners, such as those arrested after a railroad strike.4 His father’s consistent defense of progressive dissenters within the regime affected him deeply.

As a teenager of seventeen, Cárdenas witnessed the most significant opposition presidential campaign prior to his own: the 1952 campaign of General Miguel Henríquez Guzmán, a close friend of his father’s. Critical of the rightward shift of presidents after his own term in office, the family of Lázaro Cárdenas felt deep sympathy for Henríquez and his independent campaign. Because Lázaro Cárdenas remained adamant during his lifetime that he would not intervene in electoral politics, none of the Cárdenas family publicly supported the campaign.5 Nevertheless, the young Cuauhtémoc had his first taste of using internal party democratization as leverage to gain policy concessions. He would remember this experience thirty years later as he launched his own presidential bid.6

In his late twenties, Cárdenas participated in one of the most important social movements of the 1960s, the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (MLN). The MLN began as a non-electoral movement to support the new government of Fidel Castro in Cuba, under increasing pressure from the United States. Its foundation can be traced to a conference organized by Lázaro Cárdenas in March 1961 to support “national sovereignty, economic independence, and peace.” Despite its origins in a conference intended to promote the defense of national sovereignty, the MLN quickly developed broader aspirations, including agrarian reform, democratization, and autonomy for union and peasant organizations.7 Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was elected to its Executive Committee in 1961, in part as a representative of his father, though also in part as a result of personal connections forged in 1954 when Cárdenas (without the formal blessing of his father) participated in demonstrations to defend the independence of Guatemala against U.S. intervention.8 His involvement lasted only a short time. In 1965, he resigned his position, due largely to conflicts arising from the efforts of some members of the MLN to propose an independent candidate in the 1964 presidential election.9

The consequences were long lasting, however. From the MLN came a nucleus of leaders who helped direct the student movement of 1968, another turning point in the democratization of Mexico. Cárdenas himself had little direct involvement in the student movement, mostly watching from afar.10 Nevertheless, in the MLN, Cárdenas met or deepened his friendship with many of the people with whom he would collaborate years later in the formation of the democratic movement that became the PRD.

Cárdenas’s professional life also took off around this time. Trained as an engineer, he found work in the Commission of the Rio Balsas, formed to carry out hydrological studies of that important river basin. In keeping with his involvement in rural development, Cárdenas joined the technical commission of the PRI’s main peasant organization, the Confederación Nacional Campesina (CNC), working with this commission from 1966 until 1968. His collaboration with the CNC made it “implicit that if you were part of the CNC you were part of the PRI,” but Cárdenas claimed proudly never to have formally applied for membership in the party.11 Indeed, in a statement written contemporaneously with his work in the CNC, he noted, “I have never been, am not now, and probably never will be a member of the [PRI],” although he would later recognize tacit membership in the PRI as a governor of the party.12 After the work with the Rio Balsas Commission drew to a close, he moved to the steel project Las Truchas and the planning and construction of the surrounding urban area. In both of these projects he benefited from the patronage of his powerful father, who sponsored these developments. His father’s death in 1970 left him somewhat politically adrift.

It is therefore significant that one of his first independent political actions after his father’s death was an unsuccessful attempt to challenge the PRI’s traditional top-down methods of selecting gubernatorial candidates. Cárdenas relates that, taking [Echeverria] at his word when he promised “a clean game, and respect for the candidates elected in a democratic way in the party,” he launched a pre-campaign seeking the PRI nomination to the governorship of Michoacán. When the PRI designated its candidate despite this promise, Cárdenas “issued a public declaration saying that the President had not kept his word.”13 This was the first time he sought to change internal nomination procedures in the PRI, though not the last. What was particularly unusual was his decision to protest publicly rather than simply accept the fait accompli quietly, as was the usual practice.

In 1975, Cárdenas again issued a public statement calling for the democratic selection of the PRI’s presidential candidate.14 However, when López Portillo became the candidate (without a primary), Cárdenas’s political fortunes rose again. He had known López Portillo professionally, especially through his participation in Las Truchas. It was López Portillo who convinced him to accept nomination as the PRI’s candidate for the senate from Michoacán, although he held that position for only a few months before becoming subsecretary of forests and fauna in the Ministry of Agriculture.15 Toward the end of López Portillo’s term, Cárdenas was named the PRI’s candidate to become governor of Michoacán, which position he held from 1980 until 1986. Throughout his governorship, he took somewhat unorthodox political positions, enforcing restrictions on the sale of alcohol and the operation of brothels. He refused to name PRI candidates to local municipal offices, according to the common right of governors, and boasted that he had allowed three opposition municipal victories during his term.

The picture of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas as a young man is very much the image of a man driven by his father’s example. A sense of social responsibility and a desire to live up to his father’s legacy had been instilled in him from an early age. Moreover, the young Cárdenas displayed signs of the themes that would later characterize his leadership of the Democratic Current and the PRD: resistance to antidemocratic practices in the PRI and an interest in economic development. Under the mentorship of López Portillo, he finally succeeded in entering political life, but as his governorship drew to a close, few would have suspected that he was about to embark on a course of action that would change Mexico forever.

The 1988 Presidential Election

It was not Cárdenas’s idea to form a Democratic Current within the PRI. That credit goes to Rodolfo González Guevara, a senior PRI politician then serving as ambassador in Spain. He had observed the efforts of the Corriente Crítica to influence the policies of the Partido Obrero Socialista Español (Socialist Worker’s Party of Spain) from within and thought that similar methods might serve to influence the ruling PRI. Nevertheless, Cárdenas’s participation gave the Democratic Current most of the little leverage it gained during its short lifetime and gave rise to the option of running an independent presidential campaign. No one with a lesser name than the son of one of Mexico’s most popular presidents, with the formidable network of friends of such a person and the experience gained as governor, could have threatened the PRI’s seemingly secure hold on power as Cárdenas did in 1988.

During the last year of Cárdenas’s governorship (1986), the PRI held a meeting of its national council in Mexico City. The meeting was attended by both Cárdenas (in his role as a sitting PRI governor) and Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, a former president of the PRI under López Portillo. In a chance conversation, the two men shared their impressions of the party as undergoing a dangerous drift to the right in economic and social policy over the course of the De la Madrid presidency.16 Cárdenas and Muñoz Ledo agreed to have dinner together soon afterward to discuss how to alter the direction of the PRI. Participation in the scheme expanded slowly, first to a dozen or so close connections of the two men at a dinner hosted by Ifigenia Mártinez, then to larger groups which ultimately produced the first statement of goals—the “Working Document Number One”—of what was then called the Corriente Democrática (CD), or Democratic Current. In this document, the Current laid out an ambitious agenda of democratic and economic reforms. The former was seen, from the beginning, as a means to achieve the latter: “Only through the ever more intense participation of citizens in the adoption of fundamental decisions will it be possible to strengthen national independence, attend to the legitimate demands of all sectors, satisfy the aspirations of liberty and justice of Mexicans, and channel social inconformity within the institutional order.”17

In particular, participation of the party base in the “selection of candidates to posts of popular election at all levels” was singled out as a mechanism for change, for “as long as De la Madrid chose his own successor, it seemed doubtful that the next president would move in the direction desired by the CD.”18 As Cárdenas put it, “it was clear that winning—winning political power or transforming, reorienting political decisions—was an indispensable condition for there to be a change in the orientation of economic policies.”19 According to interviews with multiple members of the Current, the idea of Cárdenas running for president first surfaced in terms of a “candidate of sacrifice,” as an internal candidate for the PRI nomination.20 Even if Cárdenas failed to shift the PRI toward a primary, members of the Democratic Current hoped that a public debate over his candidacy could propel some of the other changes they sought.

Over the next year, Cárdenas and other members of the Democratic Current traveled around the country speaking to potential allies within the ruling party, hoping to put together a coalition to support changes in the rules to select the presidential candidate. Inevitably, word of the Current’s meetings began to leak out. Public reaction by the official PRI leadership was swift and critical. By the time of the party’s Thirteenth National Assembly in March 1987, the confrontation had escalated to dangerous levels. At its close, PRI president Jorge De la Vega explicitly rejected any type of “groups” outside the sectoral structure of the party (meaning the Current), and invited those who participated in it to “assume their responsibility … [or] resign from our party and seek affiliation in other political organizations.”21 The door was open. When De la Madrid named as his successor Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the principal champion of the neoliberal reforms that the Current opposed, Cárdenas and many of his fellow Current members decided to exit rather than fall in line behind him.

There was never any doubt that if exit occurred, Cárdenas would be the candidate. Even before the final blow fell, some of the smaller parties were assiduously courting Cárdenas, encouraging him to become their party’s candidate. In the end, nearly all of them would support the broad Frente Democrático Nacional (National Democratic Front, or FDN) that backed Cárdenas for president.22 They had little else in common—not even a common slate of legislative candidates. While the FDN produced an electoral platform, it was couched in the vaguest possible terms in order to accommodate the many different political tendencies that saw in Cárdenas the best chance to increase their vote. The “parastatal parties,” which had previously supported the PRI’s presidential candidate in all presidential elections, nominated Cárdenas instead in 1987, in an electoral context marked by a prolonged economic crisis and deep popular dissatisfaction with the PRI. Not until June of 1988 would the independent left—the Partido Mexicano Socialista (Mexican Socialist Party, or PMS)—decide to drop its own candidate (Heberto Castillo) and swing its nomination to Cárdenas, in the light of massive rallies by its own supporters for a Cárdenas candidacy. In the end, only the PMS offered a home to Cárdenas after the election, changing its registry to become the new Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). The other FDN parties decided to go their own way after 1988—and suffered extinction as a result.

The presidential campaign was unprecedented in the strength of popular support for an alternative to the PRI. With a television media blackout in place, voters nevertheless turned out in large numbers to see Cárdenas. He was not known as an especially charismatic or emotional speaker; rather, his speaking style was dry but earnest. People flocked to see him both as a result of his family connection and because he seemed so unlike the usual politician. His relative novelty as a political figure actually benefited his candidacy. In the first place, he did not have a long track record of PRI activism to weigh him down (unlike most of the other founders of the Democratic Current). In the second place, because they knew little about him personally, people saw in him what they wanted to see, permitting the formation of a broad electoral coalition united behind his candidacy. Civil society organizations that had previously eschewed electoral involvement became excited about supporting Cárdenas.

At the time, few people thought that Cárdenas had a real chance of winning the election. The PRI’s domination seemed too well established—nearly sixty years by then—to brook a credible opposition challenge. Civil society organizations supported Cárdenas to register a protest against the extreme economic hardships poorer Mexicans were experiencing. The parastatals supported Cárdenas in order to increase their vote, not to win outright. And the PMS supported Cárdenas because its own base seemed likely to vote for Cárdenas in any case. The PMS faced the prospect of losing their party registry if they did not officially endorse Cárdenas. Asked what he himself expected to happen, Cárdenas repeatedly stated that he had found “much greater support than what I would have expected,” and that “we didn’t know what would be the result of the campaign.”23

What did happen was historic; it forever altered the trajectory of Mexican democracy. Officially, Cárdenas won about 31 percent of the popular vote, against just over 50 percent for PRI candidate Carlos Salinas. The actual vote was unquestionably much closer, and possibly favored Cárdenas outright. As early returns from urban areas began to come in, where Cárdenas’s advantage over the PRI was greatest, President De la Madrid prompted the official party to shut down the new computer system purchased to deliver faster results. For the three or four days in which the system “crashed,” PRI officials worked feverishly to deliver the election to Salinas, by means of massive and unusually visible electoral fraud. Whereas the PRI had typically won elections, albeit not with the generous margins usually ascribed to them, in the 1988 election it was not at all clear that Salinas had won. The official version of the FDN—and the one many Mexicans tell to this day—is that Cárdenas pulled off the most astonishing upset in Mexican history.24

Video 1. Interview with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, conducted by William Beezley and Roderic Ai Camp. 2016. Directed, filmed, and edited by Daniel Duncan, Pre-Post Productions.

The size of the Cárdenas vote and the clear perception of fraud in the election gave democratic reformers leverage to demand new electoral reforms. These reforms would turn out to be a significant breakthrough on the path toward free and fair elections. Ironically, the new party formed by Cárdenas would neither endorse nor benefit initially from these reforms. Rather, the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN)—historical enemy of cardenismo—would take advantage of its conjunctural opportunity to push through reforms that principally benefited its own electoral advancement. When alternation in power finally occurred, in 2000, it was the PAN and not the PRD which won the presidency.

Electoral reforms in 1990 created a new Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), charged with managing elections. The new agency was significantly more independent than the partisan boards previously in control of certifying elections, but it remained under the authority of the secretary of government (Gobernación), tasked with maintaining internal stability and subject to the direct supervision of the president. Nonetheless, nominations to the IFE now required a supermajority in the Congress—which the PRI lacked—forcing negotiation over the selection of magistrates.25 Reforms also introduced transparent polling boxes (to prevent stuffing the ballot boxes prior to voting) and required posting voting results outside each polling station, with the signatures of any opposition party poll watchers.

Without the threat posed by Cárdenas to continued PRI dominance, it is unlikely that these reforms would have occurred. The PRI sought to recover its credibility following an election that had deeply tarnished the legitimacy of the ruling party and its president. Rules making the counting of votes more transparent, however, had unforeseen consequences. It became, quite simply, more difficult to cheat. Although the reforms also tried to inhibit future multiparty coalitions behind a presidential candidacy (at least, without simultaneous negotiations of a common legislative slate), they failed in the end to stop such coalitions. Even the PRI would use them to enhance its vote; by 1997, it had begun to collaborate regularly with such parties as the Mexican Green Ecologist Party (PVEM) against coalitions formed by the PRD and other small parties, such as the Partido del Trabajo. In subsequent presidential elections, the PRD candidate would run as the standard-bearer of a coalition in 2000, 2006, and 2012; in 1994, it ran alone but with 50 percent of its legislative candidates “external” to its own membership rolls.

A second set of reforms was passed in preparation for the 1994 election, at least in part because of concerns about a renewed Cárdenas candidacy, though other factors included the emergence of a rebel guerrilla force (the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) in January 1994 and the assassination of the PRI’s presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, in March. The electoral reforms approved in 1994 went even farther to establish free and fair conditions for competition. Independent magistrates took over control of the IFE. Representatives of parties lost their vote (though not their voice) on the council. Proportional representation was introduced to the senate. The national electoral tribunal acquired new powers to certify elections independent of the rulings of the “elected” members of legislatures. Electoral fraud became a crime, with a special prosecutor’s office designated to pursue charges. Overall, the ability of parties to commit fraud with impunity was reduced.26

The 1988 election was a key turning point in the history of Mexican democratization. Without the efforts of Cárdenas, the campaign would not have had the impact or the success that it did. Moreover, the 1988 campaign would have had much less effect without the continued threat of a renewed Cárdenas candidacy, this time backed by an organized political party. The creation of a viable Left party is the second—and perhaps more important—contribution of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas to democracy in Mexico. Without the unifying person of Cárdenas, and the prospect of his return as a presidential candidate, the party might well have failed to survive its initial growing pains and the harsh repression (hundreds of activists murdered) it experienced under the government of Carlos Salinas. Repression continued during the administration of Ernesto Zedillo (1994–2000), resulting in over six hundred deaths according to party estimates.27

The Foundation of the PRD

When asked what the most important legacy of the 1988 presidential election had been, Cárdenas himself argued that, first, “this 1987–88 campaign made people conscious that by mobilizing and participating things could change,” and second, that “the movement didn’t just dissolve after the election. In previous elections, years before, when opposition was not [recognized] … the election results were finally accepted and nothing happened. No new political force appeared or was organized. And this time it was different. People continued to mobilize.”28

The decision to found a new party was implicit in the pact that Cárdenas made with the Mexican Socialist Party to secure its endorsement, in June of 1988. In contrast to the deals made with the small parastatal parties, the PMS signed a formal pact with the Cárdenas campaign centered on the principle of “a long-term political and programmatic alliance.” The pact listed twelve basic programmatic principles to which both sides agreed; in addition, it specified contingencies as to their actions after the election. If Cárdenas won, the parties agreed to collectively designate a cabinet; if he lost, they agreed to “stay in the opposition … [and] dedicate all their efforts to strengthen[ing] the great alliance of democratic forces.”29 Heberto Castillo, the PMS candidate, specifically called for the formation of a new party, though Cárdenas himself remained non-committal until after the ratification of the election. It was thus the PMS that first perceived the need for a new political party to incorporate the forces aroused by the Cárdenas campaign. Such a project fit well with the trajectory of the PMS, itself the product of the fusion of several previous leftist parties going back to the early 1980s.30

But it would have been difficult to incorporate into the new party either the cardenistas or the majority of the social and popular movements that supported the FDN unless Cárdenas himself participated. Cárdenas first called for the formation of a new party just after the ratification of the presidential election, on September 14, 1988.31 He formally called for the creation of a new party on October 21, 1988.32 The decision to participate in creating a new party was conditioned by several factors. First, Cárdenas and his closest collaborators were convinced that they had actually won the election and only been robbed by massive fraud. It therefore followed that he could win if only fraud could be prevented. A political party of his own would be necessary, both to sustain a future presidential bid and to organize a better defense of the vote. In his “Call to the Mexican People,” he argued that the lack of organization of the FDN explained in large part the failure to defend the vote against fraud: “It is thus necessary to develop capacities.”33 Although he led major demonstrations in protest against the fraud and exhausted all legal resources to prevent it, he neither undertook more radical demonstrations nor attempted to form a parallel government (as Andrés Manuel López Obrador did after the 2006 presidential election). Cárdenas saw the situation pragmatically, noting that “we never thought a parallel government would work.”34

As for the escalation of mobilization, Cárdenas remarked in an interview shortly after the election, “Let those who are determined not to use peaceful means demonstrate it by taking up arms. Personally, I would not recommend to them that they stand on a corner with a rifle to see who follows them. I think that … the very significant participation in the elections … is an expressed political will … that change should and must come precisely through peaceful and electoral means.”35 Much later, he recalled, “I don’t remember that anyone made a serious proposal [to seize the presidential palace or make use of violence] … to assault in those moments a symbolic place like the National Palace would have meant sending an unarmed multitude … to be massacred, it would have provoked a terrible bloodbath that only would have been followed by a long period of repression.”36 Taking the long view, Cárdenas feared that a more aggressive mobilization—without the ability to monitor or control the actions of the bases—would undermine the ability of his movement to establish a longer-term political organization.37

Second, by October, the smaller parties that supported Cárdenas in the presidential election had begun to break away from the FDN and return to their customary cooperation with the PRI, encouraged by government inducements offered in return for their defection. In the end, of the four registered parties that had nominated Cárdenas, only the PMS would participate in the formation of the PRD, essentially turning over its registry to the new party. Yet there remained thousands if not millions of potential cardenistas, many of them former supporters of the PRI or militants in social and popular movements, who had consistently refused to become involved in the politics of the Socialist Left. Somehow, these potential supporters had to be induced to stay active in the opposition. A new party seemed the best answer.

Without the participation of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, whose presence and magnetism in the campaign had mobilized these outsiders in the first place, the new party project would likely have been stillborn. The PMS might well have changed its name (again) but previous name changes had failed to convince urban popular movements to enter into electoral politics. As for the thousands of former priistas and independent voters who had opted for the opposition for the first time during the Cárdenas campaign, no other leader would do to keep them engaged. The fact that the new party’s areas of greatest strength lay in places like Michoacán (where the independent Left was historically weak) gave profound testimony to the importance of Cárdenas in attracting new militants to build the party structure. In other cases where major state-level PRI figures broke away from the ruling party, they typically brought with them a good chunk of the PRI’s local organizational networks, providing a basis for the construction of the new PRD. Such was the case, for example, in Tabasco, where the recruitment of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the candidate of the Democratic Front for governor quickly led to the largest increase in support for the PRD over and above Cárdenas’s vote there in 1988. Cárdenas himself contributed to the effort to recruit López Obrador, proposed that he become the first president of the party, and backed his bid for the presidency of the party in 1996.38 Later, this would become a controversial strategy of party building for the PRD: offering party candidacies to disaffected PRI leaders as a way of creating a party structure and voting base in areas where there was none.

The leadership of Cárdenas was also significant during the party’s first six years as the major unifying principle bringing together the many disparate forces that joined the new party. The PRD was, in the words of one of its founders, a “salad” of political tendencies, ranging from the far left (including former guerillas) to the center left cardenista wing of the PRI. Cárdenas was the party’s first president (by acclamation), its primary spokesman, its “moral leader.” Even after his departure as party president he remained its decider-in-chief, and perhaps most importantly, its universally acknowledged future presidential candidate. Cárdenas might have lost the 1988 election, but only because of electoral fraud. If the party could mobilize to detect and prevent fraud, Cárdenas would surely win. Those who believed in this scenario were reluctant to abandon the PRD despite serious internal conflicts, hoping to profit from their association with a winning party in the next presidential election.

His status as the presumptive presidential nominee gave Cárdenas enormous influence in tipping the balance among party factions. Since all of the rules for settling internal disputes were new and subject to renegotiation, party factions had the option of appealing to Cárdenas when factions could not come to an agreement, or when one faction lost in a party committee ruling. When Cárdenas intervened to influence a party ruling, he was accused of authoritarianism. When he did not intervene—and evidence suggests that he sometimes tried to downplay his personal influence—he was accused of letting the party fall into the hands of its most unscrupulous manipulators.39 Members simply trusted Cárdenas more than activists from other leftist parties and political tendencies that they had opposed for years. The result, however, was that, “the affairs of the party are not resolved in the formal institutions of the party but in private consultations [with Cárdenas].”40 Cárdenas himself acknowledged that people frequently sought his advice and opinion, though: “I would like to think that I never … tried to impose a decision that corresponded to one of the formal leaders or institutions of the party.”41

Cárdenas’s role as spokesman also bypassed many lines of communication within the organizational structure. One reason was that prior to the 1996 electoral reforms, which dramatically increased public funding to parties, the PRD was perpetually cash strapped. During the 1994 presidential campaign, the national party was able to support only about fifty full-time employees, plus thirty or so flexible workers—an astonishingly small professional staff for a party competing in elections in a country of nearly one hundred million people at that time.42 One local committee member estimated that only 5 percent of his committee’s communications involved the state-level party organization, and virtually no communication existed with the national party. But they “listened to” the speeches of Cárdenas.43

These difficulties left the party vulnerable to the effects of caudillismo: personal leadership by a strongman. While Cárdenas must bear some responsibility for succumbing to the temptation to exercise his personal influence over and above the institutions of the party—thus weakening them—it is also worth noting that as his influence faded over time, he was replaced not by stronger party committees but by another caudillo, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who would dominate the party after Cárdenas lost the presidential election of 2000. Many factions found it more convenient to bandwagon behind a potentially powerful presidential candidate than to submit to party decisions that they might easily lose.

The PRD’s enormous difficulties in selecting party leaders played a part in setting up this pattern. The PRD made an early commitment to democratic selection of its leaders and candidates. Its first set of basic documents defined democracy as the “fundamental political principle” of the party.44 Having called for internal democracy while still part of the Democratic Current, the cardenistas found it too awkward to refuse to implement internal democracy in the new party, despite the concerns of many members that democracy might prove to be a “trap we have laid for ourselves.”45 Demonstrating their exercise of internal democracy might bolster the legitimacy of the new party, separate it from the PRI past of many of its founders, and prove the viability of democracy for the nation.

Instead, “as a fusion of many different political currents, the PRD had well-defined and well-organized factions from the moment of its birth. Instead of constructing consensus, procedures intended to foster internal democracy pitted these groups against each other and exacerbated internal divisions, with devastating consequences for party image and effectiveness.”46 The very first call for the formation of a new political party aspired to establish “the freedom of [political] tendencies and currents in its heart.”47 From the beginning, party primaries and internal elections were fraught with danger and accusations of fraud among the contending factions. The first three presidents of the PRD were selected by the national council rather than by direct vote of the members, in large part because the new party had neither the resources nor the membership list necessary to conduct such elections. In 1996, seven years after the party’s foundation, a direct election was finally held. Cárdenas’s public support for Andrés Manuel López Obrador helped secure him a comfortable victory with nearly three-fourths of the overall vote.48 The situation was quite different in 1999. With over 20 percent of the polling stations demonstrating “irregularities,” the leadership election was annulled and efforts were made to negotiate a “unity platform” combining some of the former opponents. These efforts were not entirely successful, and the new National Executive Committee (CEN) led by Amalia Garcia took office under a cloud.

The emergence of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the obvious next presidential candidate led to renewed caudillista dominance of the party’s organization, including the CEN, despite the use of internal elections. In 2005, López Obrador “actively promoted his favorites for the national presidency and the important DF branch.” Faced with the popularity of López Obrador, no serious candidate ran against him, and the winning formula of López Obrador won a strong majority of the National Executive Committee.49 By 2006, the hegemony of López Obrador within the party had become so evident that Cárdenas abandoned his intention to seek a fourth nomination for the presidency.50

In this light, the caudillismo of the PRD under Cárdenas seems only partly a product of any personal proclivities Cárdenas may have had, and more a product of the circumstances of its foundation and the political context in which it found itself. Initially, the presence of a strong leader served as the glue binding together the diverse factions that had participated in the formation of the PRD. As Cárdenas’s influence waned, and the party began to institutionalize, these organized factions chose rules (such as proportional representation and the use of quotas) that tended to maximize their own power and make it harder for anyone not belonging to an organized faction to advance in the party.51 The factions were strongest, however—and internal elections became most problematic—when there was no obvious caudillo indicating which slate members should prefer. The resignation of López Obrador from the PRD after the 2012 elections gave rise to more problems at the national level, with no faction able to impose order on the others. The president of the PRD elected in 2014 lasted only two years in office, resigning to make way for an interim president designated by the Consejo Nacional.

It is also worth noting that the moments of strongest caudillo influence were also periods of party growth: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, like Cárdenas before him, “drew millions of adherents, many from marginalized sectors, into politics for the first time.”52 Through the personal influence of these strong leaders, new cadres rose to the top of the party leadership without previously passing through apprenticeship in the currents. If caudillos also often brought complaints of authoritarian behavior (from the currents) and if occasionally personal characteristics of the caudillos brought the party into disrepute, they did at least break the logjam that the PRD’s factionalism has sometimes imposed.

Mayor of Mexico City: The 1997 Election and Its Implications

In the 1994 presidential election, Cárdenas lost some of his aura of mystery and power: he lost, came in third in fact, in a mostly non-fraudulent election. After 1994, he would never again dominate internal party politics to the same degree he had at first. The first CEN of the PRD was filled with former priistas and CD members; nearly 50 percent of the membership had such a background. Even during the presidency of Porfirio Muñoz Ledo (1993–1996), ex-CD members held about a third of the seats on the CEN. In the first truly post-1994 CEN, that of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, there were only two former CD members in a CEN of twenty-two members. The former independent Left parties secured a majority of the seats.53

However, Cárdenas was to make one more great contribution to the cause of Mexican democracy, when he ran victoriously as the first elected mayor of the Federal District. Since the 1930s, the Federal District had been governed by a series of “regents” appointed by Mexico’s president to manage the complex problems of its megalopolis. Although only about 9 million of the 22 million inhabitants of the larger metropolitan area of Mexico City actually live in the Federal District, the capital is the largest stage in the country for an aspiring politician. As part of electoral reforms after 1994, the PRI agreed to hold elections for the District’s mayor in 1997, and to grant new legislative powers to the Federal District’s Asamblea Legislativa (the equivalent of a state legislature).

In the interim between 1994 and 1997, Mexico experienced a sharp economic recession from which it had just begun to emerge when the midterm elections occurred. Moreover, electoral reforms in 1996 had opened up media access to the opposition in a very important way, and also dramatically expanded public funding to political parties. These factors contributed to the successful campaign of Cárdenas for mayor; as a contemporary headline put it, “¡Arrasó!” (he blew them away), winning not only the mayor’s office but a majority of the Asamblea.54 The Cárdenas coattails also carried the PRD to its largest legislative showing to date, making it the second-largest party in the federal Chamber of Deputies.

The participation of Cárdenas personally seems to have been critical to the PRD’s showing: the vote for Cárdenas outstripped the vote for his party in both the local and national elections. Of the campaign, Tejera Gaona wrote, “It is important to highlight the difference between support for this party from the sympathy awakened in the citizens for the candidate for Jefe de Gobierno [mayor]. In many cases we might consider that said sympathy permits [us to] classify the population more as … ‘cuautemista’ than ‘perredista.’”55

His victory began a period of experimentation in the local government. Some new institutions for participation were established, as well as departments of culture, health, and sport. Cárdenas also set out to “change some practices that were not acceptable … corruption in many areas, and this was an important part of the work.”56 The results of his efforts were mixed. After only a little over two years, he resigned to campaign a third and final time for president of Mexico. He made no splashy new investments, hamstrung in part by the need for federal approval of the Federal District’s borrowing. His innovations in the area of participatory politics had only limited success.57 His efforts to root out corruption also failed to correct the problem, since he mostly replaced corrupt officials with PRD loyalists who turned out to be subject as well to the temptations of public office.58

Nevertheless, his term as mayor established that an opposition party could successfully govern Mexico’s largest and most important city. Combined with the successful governorships won by the PAN and PRD, these experiences helped reduce public fear of what would happen if the PRI lost the presidency. When an opposition candidate finally won the presidency in 2000, it was not Cárdenas. Yet Cárdenas played a key role in making that victory possible.

The Cárdenas government also established the roots of what would become PRD hegemonic rule in Mexico City. After 1997, the PRD won three successive elections to govern the city. Like his PRI predecessors before him (and later PRD governments), Cárdenas continued the practice of rewarding loyal PRD followers with positions in the city government, from whence he (and they) could dispense patronage and public benefits to those who supported the PRD. PRD governments have succeeded in part because they have governed from a social perspective that many District residents genuinely appreciate, but they have achieved dominance because they built a formidable political machine. Meanwhile, PRI-affiliated unions have become weaker and more divided by the withdrawal of public support for organizational activities and by the refusal of Cárdenas and his successors to solve their leadership problems by indicating who should win internal elections.59

With his third loss in the 2000 presidential election, the influence of Cárdenas further waned within the party. The rise of Andrés Manuel López Obrador had eclipsed the leadership of Cárdenas. By 2006, the distance between the two had become significant. During the 2006 campaign, the absence of Cárdenas from many of López Obrador’s campaign events became notorious and was publicly criticized by intellectuals like Elena Poniatowska as having contributed to López Obrador’s defeat. Cárdenas denies that his absence contributed to the PRD’s loss, but acknowledges, “I was neither sought, nor did I seek” to be more involved, citing ideological differences with the campaign.60

Separation from the PRD

Nevertheless, it came as a shock when in November 2014, Cárdenas resigned from the party he had helped create twenty-five years earlier. In his public letter of resignation, he expressed concern that the party leadership had done little to redeem the credibility of the party, tarnished by the involvement of PRD elected officials in the disappearance of forty-three students from a teachers’ college in Guerrero, and his strong opinion that the party should do more to “change the mechanisms of decision-making in the party.” Primarily, he blamed a “system of quotas and relative weights [of power] in decision-making” for the party’s failure to become the kind of “real political option of national character and reach” that the country needed.61 He criticized the party for not becoming more actively involved in protests over the disappearance of the students, apparently ordered by a local PRD mayor in Iguala, Guerrero, who feared that their protest might disrupt a speech by his wife. The PRD governor was also forced to resign amid suspicions of complicity in the subsequent attempted cover-up.

The issue of the missing students, however, was only the last straw. At the party’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration the previous May, Cárdenas was vocal about his disappointment in the party he found before him when compared with his aspirations for it twenty-five years earlier, that it would become “a party where ideas circulate, receptive to criticism, an organization where there are no structures or apparatuses beyond those foreseen in the statutes … [a party] conducted internally with transparent democracy.” Assuming some responsibility for the party’s failures, Cárdenas nevertheless concluded that “we find ourselves more distant than close to what we proposed and committed ourselves to build 25 years ago.”62 He sought a party based on territorial principles and individual membership, at the local level.63


Despite his own disappointment in the achievements of the PRD, the party was one of Cárdenas’s great contributions to the cause of Mexican democracy. Whether the PRD or another party eventually emerges to achieve what Cárdenas still believes possible, the PRD functioned for many years as the only real alternative on the Left, materially shifting the strategies and programs of the PRI and the PAN in a more progressive direction than would have been possible in a Mexico without the PRD. The implementation of co-participation public works projects (such as the Solidarity Program) and the early adoption of conditional cash transfers programs by essentially conservative governments are but two examples of these effects.64 For this, Cárdenas and his fellow collaborators in the PRD deserve much credit.

Cárdenas himself argues that the greatest contributors to Mexican democracy have been its people. Of the creation of the PRD, the victory in Mexico City, and the 1988 campaign, Cárdenas sees the 1988 campaign as having made the greatest difference to the trajectory of democracy, because “people became aware that even with fraud … mobilization and the vote can be instruments of change … despite the frauds even after ’88 … the people kept turning out and it seems to me that this consistency, this insistence, were very important for the changes that later took place.”65

Asked what he wanted his own legacy to be, Cárdenas responded simply, “My legacy?” Well, I don’t see what that could be. I just, I’ve been ‘congruente,’ I don’t know how you say it.”66 To be “congruente” means to be consistent over time to one’s own standard of behavior and principles. If being “congruent” implies fighting implacably to express his own views, Cárdenas certainly achieved it, albeit not always to the benefit of the PRD.

In the process, he made major contributions to the cause of Mexican democracy, and to the representation of those most marginalized by the system. He was instrumental in creating what became for over twenty years the first Left party in Mexico that could credibly compete for important elected offices, an organization that has endured into the 2010s. Moreover, without the threat posed by Cárdenas as a once and future presidential candidate, electoral reforms that had been successfully postponed for years might well have been put off still longer, delaying the transition. And without his victory in the 1997 mayoral election, the PRD’s consolidation would have taken a different form, less rooted in the boroughs of the Federal District.

In 2010, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was awarded the Notre Dame Prize for Distinguished Public Service in Latin America. The citation for his award notes that as “an unwavering advocate for democracy and justice, he was instrumental in opening up the political process in Mexico, dominated for almost 60 years by the one-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.”67 The award was well earned. While Cárdenas rightly observes that “it would be hard to say that this guy or that guy did it, because it was a general push from the population that has succeeded in opening up spaces for democratization in Mexico,” democratization without Cárdenas would have had distinctly different timing and tone. His personal involvement played a key role in cleaning up Mexican elections and constructing a viable political option on the Left.

Discussion of the Literature

Because the life of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas has been so bound up with the PRD, much of the analysis of his impact can be found in discussions of the PRD, its origins, and its evolution. Much of the work on the PRD is highly partisan in its leanings, either pro- or anti-PRD, and views of Cárdenas are similarly tinted. However, substantive scholarly evaluations of Cárdenas as a leader of the PRD are available.68 Most highlight both his critical role in holding the party together during its early years and his tendency to serve as the informal arbiter of the party, to the detriment of the party’s institutional development. It is also important to look at direct testimonies of Cárdenas’s thought in his various books, and in collections of his speeches (available through the PRD).

Primary Sources

The best resource for primary sources on the PRD is the Centro Documental del PRD. Many of the center’s books, as well as copies of all of the basic documents of the party going back to its origins and records of the resolutions of every one of its congresses, are available online through the PRD website, which links to the Centro Documental. Additional information about the party can be accessed under “transparencia” from the main PRD portal, and under “sitios de web.” There are also documents and correspondence from the early period of the CD/FDN/PRD in the archives of Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, one of the key party founders, located at the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in Mexico City.

Further Reading

Alcocer, Jorge. “PRD: La hora del Congreso.” Nexos 13.156 (November 1990): 53–58.Find this resource:

    Álvarez Enríquez, Lucía. “La participación ciudadana en los gobiernos perredistas del D.F.” In El PRD: orígenes, itinerario, retos. Edited by Jorge Cadena-Roa and Miguel Armando López Leyva, 319–339. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 2013.Find this resource:

      “Arrasó.” La Jornada. Mexico City. July 7, 1997.Find this resource:

        Bolívar Meza, Rosendo. “El PRD y sus problemas organizativas.” In El PRD: orígenes, itinerario, retos. Edited by Jorge Cadena-Roa and Miguel Armando López Leyva, 259–309. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 2013.Find this resource:

          Bruhn, Kathleen. “Social Spending and Political Support: The ‘Lessons’ of the National Solidarity Program in Mexico.” Comparative Politics 28.2 (January 1996): 151–177.Find this resource:

            Bruhn, Kathleen. Taking on Goliath: The Emergence of a New Left Party and the Struggle for Democracy in Mexico. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.Find this resource:

              Bruhn, Kathleen. “The Evolution of the Mexican Left.” In Leftovers: Tales of the Latin American Left. Edited by Jorge G. Castañeda and Marco A. Morales, 213–227. New York: Routledge Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                Bruhn, Kathleen. Urban Politics in Mexico and Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                  Cano, Arturo. “Poco se dijeron hoy Cárdenas y Navarrete.” La Jornada. Mexico City. November, 26, 2014.Find this resource:

                    Cárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc. Nuestra lucha apenas comienza. Mexico City: Editorial Nuestro Tiempo, 1988.Find this resource:

                      Cárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc. Llamamiento al Pueblo de México. Mexico City: PRD, 1988.Find this resource:

                        Cárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc. Sobre Mis Pasos. Mexico City: Santillana Ediciones Generales, 2010.Find this resource:

                          Cárdenas Solorzano, Cuauhtémoc. “El PRD: Pasado, presente y future del partido que nació el 6 de julio.” In El PRD: orígenes, itinerario, retos. Edited by Jorge Cadena-Roa and Miguel Armando López Leyva, 540–576. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 2013.Find this resource:

                            Del Castillo, Eduardo. 20 Años de busqueda: Testimonios desde la izquierda. Mexico City: Ediciones Cultura Popular, 1991.Find this resource:

                              Dresser, Denise. Neopopulist Solutions to Neoliberal Problems: Mexico’s National Solidarity Program. Current Issue Brief 3. La Jolla, CA: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1991.Find this resource:

                                Garrido, Luís Javier. La ruptura: La Corriente Democrática del PRI. Mexico, DF: Grijalbo, 1993.Find this resource:

                                  González Graf, Jaime, ed. Las elecciones de 1988 y la crisis del sistema politico. Mexico City: Editorial Diana, 1989.Find this resource:

                                    González Sandoval, Juan Pablo. “La emergencia del neocardenismo.” In Las elecciones de 1988 y la crisis del sistema politico. Edited by Jaime González Graf. Mexico City: Editorial Diana, 1989.Find this resource:

                                      Heredia, Claudia, and Georgina Saldierna. 2014. “Crisis del PRD no se resuelve con cambio de dirigentes: Pablo Gómez.” La Jornada. Mexico City. November 19, 2014.Find this resource:

                                        Klesner, Joseph. “Electoral Reform in Mexico’s Hegemonic Party System: Perpetuation of Privilege or Democratic Advance?” Paper presented at the American Political Science Association. Washington, DC. August 28–31, 1997.Find this resource:

                                          Laso de la Vega, Jorge. La Corriente Democrática: Hablan los protagonistas. 2d ed. Mexico City: Editorial Posada, 1987.Find this resource:

                                            López, Maria Xelhuantzi. “Una vida nutrida de Mexico: Exclusiva con Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.” Estudios Políticos 7 (September 1988): 24–26.Find this resource:

                                              Mossige, Dag. Mexico’s Left: The Paradox of the PRD. Boulder, CO: FirstForumPress, 2013.Find this resource:

                                                Muñoz, Alma, and Georgina Saldierna. “Cárdenas deja el PRD, partido que fundó hace 25 años.” La Jornada. November 25, 2014. Mexico City.Find this resource:

                                                  Partido de la Revolución Democrática. Documentos Básicos. Mexico City: PRD, 1990.Find this resource:

                                                    Partido de la Revolución Democrática. En defensa de los derechos humanos: Un sexenio de violencia política. Mexico City: Grupo Parlamentario del PRD, 1994.Find this resource:

                                                      Reveles Vázquez, Francisco. “Fundación e institucionalización del PRD: liderazgos, fracciones y confrontaciones.” In Partido de la Revolución Democrática: Los signos de la institucionalización. Edited by Francisco Reveles Vázquez, 11–71. Mexico City: Ediciones Gernika, 2004.Find this resource:

                                                        Taibo, Paco Ignacio II. Cárdenas de cerca. Mexico, DF: Editorial Planeta Porrúa, 1994.Find this resource:

                                                          Tejera Gaona, Hector. 2003. ‘No se olvide de nosotros cuando esté allá arriba’: Cultura, ciudadanos y campañas políticas en la ciudad de México. Mexico City: UAM, Miguel Angel Porrua.Find this resource:


                                                            (1.) Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Cárdenas de cerca (Mexico, DF: Editorial Planeta Porrúa, 1994), 8.

                                                            (2.) Taibo II, Cárdenas de cerca, 8.

                                                            (3.) Author interview with Cárdenas, Mexico City, August 25, 2016.

                                                            (4.) Taibo, Cárdenas de cerca, 33.

                                                            (5.) Taibo, Cárdenas de cerca, 33; and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solorzano, Sobre Mis Pasos (Mexico City: Santillana Ediciones Generales, 2010).

                                                            (6.) Kathleen Bruhn, Taking on Goliath: The Emergence of a New Left Party and the Struggle for Democracy in Mexico (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 47.

                                                            (7.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath: The Emergence of a New Left Party and the Struggle for Democracy in Mexico, 50.

                                                            (8.) Taibo, Cárdenas de cerca, 27, 38; and Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 33.

                                                            (9.) Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 62–63.

                                                            (10.) He had in 1968 long been graduated from the university and was in Europe during the initial outbreak of the student movement (see Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 81–91, regarding his involvement in the 1968 student movement).

                                                            (11.) Taibo, Cárdenas de cerca, 51–52.

                                                            (12.) Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 74.

                                                            (13.) Taibo, Cárdenas de cerca, 51; and Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 128.

                                                            (14.) Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 134.

                                                            (15.) According to Cárdenas, he never wanted to run for the senate, but sought a position in the administration. However, when López Portillo asked him to run in order to “help his own election,” Cárdenas agreed. Interview with Cárdenas by William Beezley and Roderic Ai Camp, available at See also Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 134–139.

                                                            (16.) For a more complete discussion of this process, see Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 77–79.

                                                            (17.) For the complete text of the document, see Jorge Laso de la Vega, ed., La Corriente Democrática: Hablan los protagonistas, 2d ed. (Mexico City: Editorial Posada, 1987), 257–260.

                                                            (18.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 81.

                                                            (19.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 82.

                                                            (20.) Taibo, Cárdenas de cerca, 62; Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 81; and Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 190.

                                                            (21.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 96.

                                                            (22.) The Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores (PRT) ran its own candidate, Rosario Ibarra.

                                                            (23.) Interview with Cárdenas by William Beezley and Roderic Ai Camp,

                                                            (24.) This continues to be the version supported by Cárdenas and the PRD. According to official statistics released by the PMS, Cárdenas won 38.85 percent of the vote, to 32.74 percent for Salinas and 25.23 percent for the PAN candidate Manuel Clouthier. Cárdenas claims that figures based on 54 percent of the vote showed 21.4 percent for the PAN, 35.8 percent for the PRI, and 39.4 percent for Cárdenas (See Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solorzano, “El PRD: Pasado, presente y future del partido que nació el 6 de julio,” in El PRD: orígenes, itinerario, retos, eds. Jorge Cadena-Roa and Miguel Armando López Leyva (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 2013), 559; Dag Mossige, Mexico’s Left: The Paradox of the PRD (Boulder, CO: FirstForumPress, 2013), 76; and Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 249. Forty-five percent of the results from individual polling places were never released, and the ballots from these areas were later burned by a PRI-dominated Congress. Voting results from the officially released areas are starkly different from the percentages for each candidate in the un-released polling places. However, it is possible that polling places in areas not watched by the FDN did indeed have fewer Cárdenas supporters. As Cárdenas himself notes, “the truth will never be known.” See Cárdenas, “El PRD,” 561.

                                                            (25.) Joseph Klesner, “Electoral Reform in Mexico’s Hegemonic Party System: Perpetuation of Privilege or Democratic Advance?,” Paper presented at the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, August 28–31, 1997.

                                                            (27.) Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 284; Francisco Reveles Vázquez, “Fundación e institucionalización del PRD: liderazgos, fracciones y confrontaciones,” in Partido de la Revolución Democrática: Los signos de la institucionalización, ed. Francisco Reveles Vázquez (Mexico City: Ediciones Gernika, 2004), 431.

                                                            (28.) Interview with Cárdenas by William Beezley and Roderic Ai Camp,

                                                            (29.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 161. For a copy of this pact, see Jaime González Graf, ed., Las elecciones de 1988 y la crisis del sistema politico (Mexico City: Editorial Diana, 1989), 269–274.

                                                            (30.) For a discussion of the parties and movements that made up the PMS, see Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, esp. 162 and 324.

                                                            (31.) Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 274–277.

                                                            (32.) Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solorzano, Llamamiento al Pueblo de México (Mexico City: PRD, 1988), 9.

                                                            (33.) Cárdenas, Llamamiento al Pueblo de México, 5.

                                                            (34.) Taibo, Cárdenas de cerca, 124.

                                                            (35.) Maria Xelhuantzi López, “Una vida nutrida de Mexico: Exclusiva con Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas,” Estudios Políticos 7 (September 1988): 25.

                                                            (36.) Despite Cárdenas’s disclaimers, there is considerable evidence of support for an armed (or at least more aggressive) protest response at the base level, and Cárdenas was criticized by some for “lacking the balls” to defend the vote. See Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 154–155. To the extent that the 1988 fraud did not result in violence, Cárdenas deserves some credit for refusing to take that path, as he would have found at least some supporters. See Cárdenas, “El PRD,” 562–563. See also Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 255–257.

                                                            (37.) Cárdenas also notes that he had not “the least indication that any group of the Armed Forces would be ready to re-establish the legality [of the election] by calling for or supporting an insurrection … without sufficient cohesion in the political organizations, with little efficiency in transmitting indications to the base organizations … any attempt to use an unconstitutional method was doomed to failure, with very high costs in life and immeasurable social, political, and economic costs.” Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 257.

                                                            (38.) Cárdenas did not know López Obrador before 1988, and López Obrador did not participate in the Corriente Democrática or the Frente Democrático Nacional. The initial approach to López Obrador was made by Graco Ramírez, another PRD founder and acquaintance of Cárdenas, and seconded by Rafael Aguilar Talamantes, at that time president of the Partido del Frente Cardenista de Reconstrucción Nacional (PFCRN), one of the FDN parties. These two introduced Cárdenas to López Obrador. Cárdenas saw in the younger man a person of distinct “organizational gifts,” and therefore promoted his rise in the party (author interview with Cárdenas, August 25, 2016).

                                                            (39.) An instance of the position he often found himself in is related by Cárdenas in his 2010 book (p. 306). The episode relates to the possible recruitment of a PRI leader, Ignacio Morales Lechuga, to be the candidate of the PRD for governor of Veracruz. Cárdenas notes that in a meeting with leaders of the party, “at the express request for my opinion, I said that I was giving my opinion because they asked for it, but that the decision belonged to the party and that whatever they decided I would agree, and that about my opinion regarding Morales Lechuga as a candidate of the party, what I could say, from my personal experience, is that he should not be a candidate of the PRD.” Morales Lechuga was not chosen as the PRD candidate.

                                                            (40.) Jorge Alcocer, “PRD: La hora del Congreso,” Nexos 13.156 (November 1990): 56.

                                                            (41.) Author interview with Cárdenas, August 25, 2016.

                                                            (42.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 189;

                                                            (43.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 188.

                                                            (44.) Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Documentos Básicos (Mexico City: PRD, 1990), 23.

                                                            (45.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 172.

                                                            (46.) Bruhn, Taking on Goliath, 172; see also Reveles Vázquez, “Fundación e institucionalización del PRD.”

                                                            (47.) Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 280.

                                                            (48.) It also helped that the votes of the candidates from former leftist parties were split between Amalia Garcia (of the former Communist Party) and Heberto Castillo (originally from the PMT). Mossige, Mexico’s Left, 112.

                                                            (49.) Mossige, Mexico’s Left, 141; and Rosendo Bolívar Meza, “El PRD y sus problemas organizativas,” in El PRD: orígenes, itinerario, retos, eds. Jorge Cadena-Roa and Miguel Armando López Leyva (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 2013).

                                                            (50.) Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 557.

                                                            (51.) For a thorough discussion of leadership succession in the PRD, see Bolívar Meza, “El PRD y sus problemas organizativas.”

                                                            (52.) Mossige, Mexico’s Left, 303.

                                                            (53.) For analysis of the composition and backgrounds of CEN members through 2000, see Reveles Vázquez, “Fundación e institucionalización del PRD,” 491–506.

                                                            (54.) “Arrasó,” La Jornada, Mexico City, July 7, 1997.

                                                            (55.) Hector Tejera Gaona, ‘No se olvide de nosotros cuando esté allá arriba’: Cultura, ciudadanos y campañas políticas en la ciudad de México, (Mexico City: UAM, Miguel Angel Porrúa, 2003), 233.

                                                            (57.) Lucía Álvarez Enríquez, “La participación ciudadana en los gobiernos perredistas del D.F.,” in El PRD: orígenes, itinerario, retos, eds. Jorge Cadena-Roa and Miguel Armando López Leyva (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 2013).

                                                            (58.) His successor as mayor, for example, was subsequently implicated in a major corruption scandal involving kickbacks and illegal campaign contributions in her bid for the PRD presidency from her married lover, Carlos Ahumada, a wealthy construction baron. Rosario Robles was subsequently drummed out of the party in 2004, after these activities were uncovered. Other officials in the López Obrador government at the time were also implicated.

                                                            (59.) See Kathleen Bruhn, Urban Politics in Mexico and Brazil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), chapter 5.

                                                            (60.) Author interview with Cárdenas, August 25, 2016; see also the text of a public letter responding to Poniatowska, in Cárdenas, Sobre Mis Pasos, 561–567.

                                                            (61.) Alma Muñoz and Georgina Saldierna, “Cárdenas deja el PRD, partido que fundó hace 25 años,” La Jornada, November 25, 2014, Mexico City.

                                                            (62.) Arturo Cano, “Poco se dijeron hoy Cárdenas y Navarrete,” La Jornada, November 26, 2014, Mexico City.

                                                            (63.) Cárdenas, “El PRD,” 573.

                                                            (64.) See, for example, Denise Dresser, Neopopulist Solutions to Neoliberal Problems: Mexico’s National Solidarity Program, Current Issue Brief 3 (La Jolla, CA: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1991); and Kathleen Bruhn, “Social Spending and Political Support: The ‘Lessons’ of the National Solidarity Program in Mexico,” Comparative Politics 28.2 (January 1996): 151–177.

                                                            (65.) Author interview with Cárdenas, August 25, 2016.

                                                            (68.) See, for instance, Bolívar Meza, “El PRD y sus problemas organizativas”; Bruhn, 2008a; and Mossige, Mexico’s Left; and Reveles Vázquez, “Fundación e institucionalización del PRD.”