Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1890-1973) was president of Mexico from 1952 to 1958. Not a flamboyant politician, he did lead Mexico on a steady course, the hallmarks of which were moderation and integrity. He believed in a "balanced revolution" in which private enterprise and the state would cooperate in the modernization process.
Adolfo Ruiz Cortines was born to a relatively poor family in the Gulf state of Veracruz on December 30, 1890. His father, a low ranking customs official in the port city, died when he was only a few months old. Although he did complete his primary education in his home state, he dropped out of school at the age of 16 to help support his family. Working for a short time as a book-keeper's assistant and later in a textile mill, he did not abandon the idea of returning to school, but the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in November of 1910 disrupted his plans for obtaining a university degree.
Ruiz Cortines played no major role in the early revolution. He did join the revolutionary army and served briefly in Venustiano Carranza's secret service in the fight against President Victoriano Huerta. When that movement succeeded in overthrowing Huerta, Ruiz Cortines became the personal aide to the newly named governor of the Federal District, Alfredo Robles Domínguez. For the next 20 years, 1920-1940, he served in various minor government positions, both civilian and military, and garnered a well-earned reputation for honesty and administrative efficiency.
Many Mexican political observers believed that Ruiz Cortines' inconspicuous career had culminated when, at the age of 54, he became governor of Veracruz, but during his governorship he cultivated a close personal relationship with Miguel Alemán, a rising political star, also from the state of Veracruz. Shortly after Alemán won the Mexican presidency in 1946 he decided to bring Ruiz Cortines into the cabinet as secretary of gobernación (government). He resigned his governorship to accept the cabinet post. It was a good decision, as he now had a strong patron and a national political base. Not at all characteristic of Mexican politicians in the post World War II period, as a cabinet minister Ruiz Cortines continued to live an austere life. He refused the government's offer of a chauffer and limosine and drove himself to work in his own car from his modest house. In 1952, with Alemán's backing, he won the presidential nomination of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional and in December of that year, at the age of 62, was inaugurated as president of Mexico.
Ruiz Cortines entered the Mexican presidency at a time when it was necessary to rekindle confidence in the country's political system. He proved to be most suited for this task as his personal honesty was above reproach. His predecessor and close friend, Miguel Alemán, had presided over an administration notorious for its widespread graft and corruption. Ruiz Cortines announced in his inaugural address that he would demand strict honesty from all public officials; high level government employees for the first time were required to publicly disclose their assets when they entered and left office. His own assets, public records disclosed, amounted to only $30,000. Hoping to instill a sense of professionalism in public servants, he authorized substantial increases in salary and benefits for government employees. Nevertheless, during his first three years in office he found it necessary to fire a number of bureaucrats found guilty of peculation. In another major political reform, in 1953 President Ruiz Cortines prodded his congress to pass legislation enfranchising the Mexican women in all elections. This long overdue political reform culminated years of active campaigning by women's organizations throughout the country.
Ruiz Cortines presided over a healthy Mexican economy. At a time when inflation was beginning to cripple other Latin American economies, he was able to keep it in check. He tightened monetary and fiscal policies and the Mexican gross national product responded by recording impressive gains during each year of his administration. The country weathered the world recession of 1952 with but few ill effects. Foreign capital and stepped up government financing encouraged rapid industrial growth. The exploitation of newly discovered oil fields provided a reliable source of government revenue, as did the exploitation of natural gas reserves. With the solid economic foundation in place and with improvements recorded in tax collection procedures the president was able to step up some important social services. Most significant was the expansion of the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social, Mexico's social security agency. Concerned that rural Mexico was not receiving its fair share of the benefits of a productive Mexican society, Ruiz Cortines extended social security coverage to the rural areas for the first time in the country's history. Throughout his administration relations with the United States were excellent.
Ruiz Cortines is not remembered for having initiated many new grandiose public works projects. Rather, he sought to consolidate the series of programs begun by his predecessors. Initial fears that he would be dominated by Miguel Alemán proved groundless. Not a man motivated by ideology, he set a good example with his own integrity and firmness. His years in the presidency were successful ones. In his own quiet way he restored confidence in the Mexican political system and brought an enviable measure of unity to his country. History remembers his presidency most kindly.
Further Reading on Adolfo Ruiz Cortines
No adequate biography of Ruiz Cortines exists either in English or in Spanish. Political aspects of the presidential administration, however, can be traced in Frank Brandenburg, The Making of Modern Mexico (1964); Howard F. Cline, Mexico: Revolution to Evolution, 1940-1960 (1964); and Robert E. Scott, Mexican Government in Transition (1959). Economic policies are treated in Raymond Vernon, The Dilemma of Mexico's Development: The Role of the Private and Public Sectors (1963).