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José López Portillo y Pachecho

President of Mexico

Jose Lopez Portillo

José López Portillo was born in Mexico City, on June 16, 1920, into a family that traced its ancestry back to early Spanish settlers. He received his law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1946, and taught college courses in law, political science, and public administration from 1947 to 1959.

López Portillo began his political career in 1959, when he joined the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party--PRI) and became an adviser in the Ministry of National Patrimony. He subsequently worked his way up the political ladder, becoming Undersecretary of National Patrimony in 1970, director of the Federal Electricity Commission in 1972, and Secretary of Finance and Public Credit in 1973. In the latter position, he reformed the national tax structure, which greatly increased government revenues.

President of Mexico

In 1976, President Luis Echeverría Álvarez chose López Portillo as his successor, and he was subsequently elected with virtually no opposition.

When López Portillo came into office he inherited the administration of a nation with an inflation rate of 35 percent, a rapidly increasing trade deficit, and deteriorating social conditions. It was only natural, therefore, for him to support economic programs to encourage investment in private business. He also favored closer relations with the United States.

Not long before his election, major oil deposits had been discovered offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, and López Portillo vowed to use those deposits to improve the lives of his countrymen. Soon Mexico was the fourth-richest oil nation in the world, at a time when OPEC had a stranglehold on the world's oil supply. Rather than joining OPEC, López Portillo allowed the oil to be sold only under long-term contracts of a year or more, with more than half of it being sold to the United States. For a while it seemed like Mexico was on the verge of real prosperity.

President Lopez Portillo inspects a new oil refinery at Cadereyta in October 1979
President Lopez Portillo

Unfortunately, Mexico's prosperity proved very short lived. Almost as quickly as the boom had come, so too did the bust. World stockpiles of crude oil were at an all time high, and the bottom literally fell out of the market. To make matters worse, López Portillo had relied heavily on foreign loans to build up the nation's oil industry, and the lenders were anxious for repayment. Mexico suddently found itself the Third World's largest debtor nation after Brazil, with a debt that skyrocketed from $20 to $82 billion in six years. In an effort to stabilize the situation, López Portillo devalued the Peso three times, but only managed to make matters worse. His last effort to correct the problem was to nationalize the banks, for which he blamed the crisis. By the time López Portillo's term ended in 1980 his popularity was so low that people often heckled him on the streets.

Later Years

José López Portillo suffered a stroke in 1996, but survived and partially recovered. In 2001, he underwent emergency double bypass heart surgery to repair damage caused by a blockage in his arteries. He died of complications from pneumonia in a Mexico City hospital on February 17, 2004.

López Portillo was the author of two novels--Quetzalcoatl and Don Q--both of which were published in English in 1976.


World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979

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This page was last updated on 02/10/2019.