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Reviewed by:
  • Los hombres del poder en Michoacán, 1924-1962
  • Christopher Boyer
Los hombres del poder en Michoacán, 1924-1962. By Verónica Oikión Solano. Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 2004. Pp. 588. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index.

At the time of this review, the governor of Michoacán is Lázaro Cárdenas. He is not, of course, the same Lázaro Cárdenas who held that office from 1928 until 1932 [End Page 691] and later became one of Mexico's greatest presidents. It is instead his grandson, Lázaro Cárdenas Batel, who is the third relative of don Lázaro to hold power in Michoacán since the revolution. Verónica Oikión Solano's impressive history of a provincial political class in the mid-twentieth century helps to explain how regional networks of power such as the Cárdenas family emerge and reproduce themselves. The book approaches this topic through the medium of political history. It details the historical sociology of Michoacán's governors and the key power brokers who surrounded them during the period of post-revolutionary political consolidation from the 1920s to 1960s. The book's remarkably detailed descriptions of the networks of power at work in each successive administration include not only the personal and political backgrounds of each governor and his key allies, but also analyses of which social groups, party leaders, and unions of workers or campesinos supported them. The book gives eloquent testimony to Oikión Solano's painstaking program of archival research, and its uncommon breadth is of immense help to scholars interested in how provincial politics got done in the pivotal mid-decades of the twentieth century.

The history of gubernatorial power in Michoacán is also the history of Cardenismo as a regional force. Oikión Solano addresses Cardenismo both as an ideological current and as a series of political and/or patronage linkages between office holders and local notables such as union leaders, agraristas, mayors (presidentes municipales), and members of idiosyncratic local organizations such as the Junta Liberal "Benito Juárez" of Zitácuaro. Only one governor, Benigno Serrato (1932-34), seriously attempted to break this political network. He forcibly removed pro-Cárdenas agrarian caciques, attempted to undermine the Cardenista political machine, and filled his cabinet with prominent opponents of the former governor. Serrato's death in a small plane accident before he could complete even half his term set the stage for two decades in which one governor after another renewed and deepened the Cardenista network. As Oikión Solano shows, Cárdenas's return to his native state after his presidential term ended (he served as the head of the Commission on the Tepalcatepec for many years) helped to solidify his group's ascendancy and gave him a strategic position from which to deepen his ties of patronage and political friendship in Northwestern Michoacán. Indeed, Oikión Solano shows that the Cardenista success in sustaining such political networks was a key ingredient in their bid to maintain political autonomy from Mexico City.

Such a study is particularly welcome because it contributes to two developing fields of Mexican historiography. In the first place, Oikión Solano adds to the small but growing literature on the creation and reproduction of statewide political networks in post-revolutionary Mexico (studies by Arturo Alvarado Mendoza, Marta Eugenia García Ugarte, and Mark Wasserman come to mind as other examples). As she shows, the establishment of these networks gave new social actors such as schoolteachers, rancheros, and others the opportunity to move into positions of political authority for the first time and to establish ties with the popular classes. In the second place, Los hombres del poder helps to make the middle decades of the twentieth century seem a little less like the unexplored country of Mexican historiography. [End Page 692] The majority of twentieth century histories either end around 1940 or begin around 1968, despite the fact that the dominant party consolidated its power during these same years of caesura.

To be sure, Oikión Solano has produced a political history of a fairly traditional sort. Each of the nine...


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