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Father of A Mexican President: Luis Calderón Vega


By Donald. J. Mabry

© 2006 Donald J. Mabry

Luis Calderón Vega (1911-89) will always be best known as the father of Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) stalwart who was elected President of Mexico in 2006.1 News stories about the election of Felipe Calderón commonly refer to Luis as a founder of PAN along with  Manuel Gómez Morín and Efraín González Luna (1952 PAN presidential candidate) and, occasionally, others but he was not a principal founder.  He was among those who created the party in 1939 but not a prime mover. The two principal founders, Gómez Morín and González Luna were also the chief ideologues of the party; Calderón Vega was not. His role was important because he was a student activist, gentleman, a novelist, a historian,  a political crusader, and a devout Christian. He sacrificed and fought for his political beliefs. He  stayed in opposition politics in the hope that Mexico would one day become democratic and that his five children would not have to suffer the vicissitudes of opposing an authoritarian government.  
    Calderón Vega was an author of articles and books, mostly concerning politics. Early works were La cuestión social (1934) and Don Nadie  (1935), both concerned with religion. In 1938, his student novel, La Reacción, was published. He was very active in Catholic politics in those days both in Mexico and Latin America. He was president of the Confederación Iberoamericana de Estudiantes Católicos in 1941, an organization in which other Partido Acción Nacional (formed 1939) members were active. His book Cuba 88: Memorias de la UNEC (1959) tells the story of the Unión Nacional de Estudiantes Católicos and other Catholic groups which fought the anticlericalism of the Mexican State.  In; such were  later years, he continued to write polemics in favor of freedom of conscience and religious liberty and as a testament to his religious convictions; such were El 96.47% de los mexicanos : ensayos de sociología religiosa (1964) and Política y espíritu : compromisos y fugas del cristiano (1965). He also wrote Retorno a la tierra  (1956).
    His most important work, the one that made his reputation was  Los Siete Sabios de Mexico (1950) about the Generation of 1915, the Sociedad de Conferencias y Conciertos. The Seven Wise Men of Mexico were Manuel Gómez Morín, creator of national financial institutions in the 1920s and founder of PAN; Vicente Lombardo Toledano,  labor leader, political  gadfly, Marxist, and founder of the People's Socialist Party in 1948; Alberto Vázquez del Mercado, who served on the Mexican Supreme Court; Teófilo Olea y Leyva, also a Supreme Court Justice; Antonio Castro Leal, distinguished educator and writer who served as rector of the national university; Alfonso Caso, famous archeologist, law professor, and rector of the national university; and Jesús Moreno Baca, who died young. They led cultural advancement in Mexico and attracted similarly very bright men such as the great historian Daniel Cosío Villegas.
    Calderón Vega was PAN's official historian when I met him in 1969. He wisely had me read Los 7 Sabios de Mexico, Cuba 88: Memorias de la UNEC, and  Memorias del PAN, I (1967) which he gave me. Luis understood what good historical research needed and made sure that young Ph.D. student from Syracuse University would get the data necessary to write a dissertation. He eased the way at the party's national headquarters in 1969-70, and, in Morelia in 1971. He, in tandem with other party officials, granted me access to the party's library and many documents. He spent time to answer many questions that arose in the course and my research. Because he was talking to me, other panistas, especially those who held different views,  talked to me as well. At the time, only the first volume of  his history of PAN was written; Memorias del PAN II (1946-1950), Memorias del PAN, III (1950-1952), and Memorias del PAN (1939-1946) (1992) were written years after I had written Mexico's Acción Nacional: A Catholic Alternative to Revolution (1973). 
    As I did the research, I had to figure out why people would spend so much time and effort in a futile cause. Was it a civic crusade by ideologues? Was the party a stalking horse for powerful interests? Was it paid by the government to be an official opposition; there was reason to believe that others parties were. Did PAN actually win more victories than the government acknowledged? Was the government and PRI recognizing only enough PAN electoral victories to give the lie to "Mexican Democracy," or, as one U.S. political scientist called it, "a democracy in transition?" Or were the PAN claims of victories false or partly false? Winning and then trying to force the government to recognize those wins might be worth the effort.  Those were tough questions that required me approaching my sources (documentary and oral; PAN  and non-PAN) with a great deal of skepticism. There were many reasons for people to mislead or to lie. 
    There was ample proof that being in the active opposition meant harassment, loss of employment, beatings, and, in some instances, death. There was independent verification of those events.2 Many panistas3 believed, rightly so, that the Mexican government and its political party, the Partido Institutional Revolucionario, as well as Mexican and foreign intellectuals, misrepresented PAN when they asserted that it was reactionary and wanted to undo the Mexican Revolution. I had to figure out why so many panistas were political missionaries crusading for democracy. Some of it was wanting to overturn the anticlericalism of the Constitution so that Mexicans could enjoy as much freedom as did citizens of Western Europe, Canada, and the United  States but the reasons had to be more than that.
    While I have never been one to assert that people's minds can be read, that human motivation is transparent, Luis gave me insight into why he and so many others persevered.  He ran for federal deputy seven times, knowing he would not win. He only got there through the proportional representation system. As his son Felipe put it, " Mi padre nos decía que probablemente nunca veríamos un gobernador panista, pero había que hacer las cosas por deber, independientemente del resultado” and " Lo que hacemos es por el deber de hacer el bien más difícil de todos, el bien común, el de todos los demás .” In other words, they had a civic duty regardless of whether they ever won, that they had to fight for the common good.  
    If his family suffered from his political activism, they never complained in public. The family was not rich. They drove old cars. They enjoyed a modest living  in a modest house. He had a small room which he used as a library. When guests came for comida, as I did in July, 1971, María del Carmen Hinojosa González, served delicious meals. The social interlude with don Luis proved to be very revealing. Many people never invite strangers, especially foreigners, into their homes but he did. One hesitates to say it because it sounds so "corny" but the house was filled with love and respect for the father. As the married father of two sons, I was greatly impressed. The five children, even the youngest Felipe, were well behaved even with a young gringo guest whose Spanish wasn't the best. I tried to be properly attentive to Señora Calderón Vega and friendly to the children but my attention was focused on the father. After all, I was there to learn as much about PAN so I could fill in holes in my dissertation and then write my first book. Luis also included me in a family wedding and reception.
    We did not agree on religion or politics but we enjoyed each other's company because Luis was an understanding and sensitive person. When I spent weeks in Morelia during research on PAN, he must have sensed how lonely I would be and that staying in a cheap hotel and pinching pennies so my family would have more money made my life harder. He had suggested the hotel because it was clean and cheap. When he came to town from Mexico City (he was working out of the very modest PAN national headquarters at Serapio Rendón #8), he contacted me and invited me to comida. He was living the ascetic life in Mexico City so he could empathize with this young researcher who was away from his family. He realized that I would be terribly lonely as a stranger in a strange city.
    In our discussions and interviews over time, it became clear that he was a passionate activist who believed deeply, but not uncritically in his religious faith, his country, and democracy. He really believed in the dignity of humans and that we are responsible to and for each other. When Acción Nacional needed him as a candidate for federal deputy back in the days when the party was small and struggling, he ran even though it often meant leaving his job and then finding another after the campaign. Unlike so many people who espouse concern for their fellow humans as long as doing so does not inconvenience them, Luis practiced what he preached. 
    His children were raised in an intensely political environment. His wife, María del Carmen Hinojosa González, and their children campaigned for Luis and for other panistas. Eventually PAN rewarded his children when it began winning many elections. Four of the five children served in government themselves. Luisa María de Guadalupe Calderón Hinojosa, born in 1965 in Mexico City, served in the Michoacán legislature in the 1980s, then served in the Chamber of Deputies, and, in 2000, as a national proportional representation Senator. Her brother, Juan Luis Calderón Hinojosa, also served as a federal deputy, followed his brother Felipe into the executive branch. Their sister,  Carmen de Fátima Calderón Hinojosa worked in the federal bureaucracy as well. Felipe, the youngest (born August 18,1962 in Morelia) has been the most successful.
    Felipe was educated by local Marist brothers through a scholarship to their school. He received a bachelor's degree in law from the private Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico City,  a master's degree in economics from the private  Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) and a master's degree in public administration from the private Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  His education did not encourage him to be a man of the people, an instinctive democrat, as his father was. 
    At age 26 in 1988, he served as a representative on the Federal District city council, then served as a Federal Deputy from 1991-94. He ran for governor of his home state in 1995. From 1993-96, he was the Secretary-General of PAN and became party president for 1996-99. He also became a vice president of the international Christian Democratic organization. When PAN's Vicente Fox won the national presidency, the young Felipe was rewarded by being appointed director of the Banco Nacional de Obras y Servicios Públicos, a government development bank. Then he became Secretary of Energy until May, 1904, resigning to seek the PAN nomination for President of Mexico, a position he won in 2005. He and his wife of 12 years, Margarita Zavala Gómez del Campo, daughter of a prominent panista and herself a federal deputy, began the arduous tasks of winning the nomination over Santiago Creel, and then the presidency itself. During the 2006 campaign Felipe published a book, The Disobedient Son  (El Hijo Desobediente). The first chapter appears to be an apology to his father.
    This is important because the father and Felipe differed in their political views. Luis was a "Christian socialist," a man who believed that his God demanded social justice, that the better off in society should share the wealth with the less fortunate. He was rooted in the Catholic social reform movement which had gained currency with the encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) of Leo XIII and Quadragesimo Anno (1931) of Pius XI and Mexican Catholic Action. He believed the Christian doctrine that "he who is least among you shall be first." He rejected both Marxism in its various forms as well as Protestant-inspired capitalism or neoliberal capitalism with its emphasis on the solitary individual to the exclusion of human groups and the protection of all humanity. To people like Calderón Vega, each human existed within a larger social contest, never in isolation. Luis Calderón Vega left his beloved PAN in 1981 because he believed that it had lost its principles and become a right-wing party serving only the interests of the rich.  His children stayed, being much more conservative than their father. They seem imbued with the ethics of US Protestantism which emphasizes individualism and the idea that succeeding materialistically is the best way to serve God and is a sign of God's favor. Felipe believed that the best public policy was to take care of the rich because wealth trickles down and the government should enforce conservative and reactionary Catholicism.
    If he becomes President, Felipe will have to compromise for neither he nor his party are in the majority. He only won 35.89% of the vote and his chief rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, won 35.31%. PAN will only have 206 seats in the 500-person Chamber of Deputies and 52 Senate seats out of 128. He will have to mitigate his views in order to create a coalition government. He will have to be more moderate as his father was.    
    Luis died in 1989 so he never knew that battle had been won. Mexico amended its constitution to allow the religious liberty for which he fought for so many years. PAN victories were recognized more and more. Even before PAN broke the PRI seventy-one year stranglehold on the Mexican presidency when Vicente Fox won, PAN had become a force in Mexican politics. Victories meant it was able to reward its leaders, so essential keep people involved.  Mexico became a democratic country in part because people such as Calderón Vega shamed politicians by invoking the moral argument. Even though his son won only a minority of the vote, the father had to be proud.


The Calderon Vega Family
Felipe is the boy on the upper right.


200px-Felipe_Calderon_H (7K)
Felipe Calderón Hinojosa


1.    Felipe Calderón won by a very narrow margin over chief rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Neither enjoyed a majority of votes, however. Who represents the majority depends upon which of the frontrunners, Calderón Hinojosa or López Obrador, would have gotten the votes of the PRI candidate, Roberto Madrazo. In all probability, the PRI votes would have split between the two but we cannot know. Under the system Mexico uses, Calderón Hinojosa won.
2. An example of Mexican government tactics was an incident that happened to Kenneth F. Johnson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri—St. Louis, author of Mexican Democracy: A Critical View (1971, 1984) among other books. During an August, 1972 research trip, he  had borrowed a car from another US political scientist, Robert Bezdek, and gone with Calderón Vega to Morelia, Michoacán. When Johnson did not return with the car on the expected day, Bezdek assumed the two had stayed an extra day in Morelia. But called the Hotel Gillow in Mexico City the following day and was told that Johnson had checked out. Bezdek realized that Johnson would not have left with his wife and daughter without contacting him, that something was wrong. He then called  Calderón Vega and learned that Johnson had dropped Luis off the day before. Calderón Vega, through whatever means, discovered that Johnson and family had been arrested because Johnson had criticized the Mexican government in a Mexican periodical. The government was having its own problems with insurgents and nervous government agents overreacted, even threatening to kill his four-month-old daughter by dropping her from a window in a multi-story building. Johnson was not involved in anything nefarious, however, other than pointing out the the Mexican government was a dictatorship. He was fortunate because Bezdek got the US Embassy involved and the Johnsons were released. They were expelled from the country. President Luis Echeverría later sent his apologies. Bezdek is writing an article about this incident and the late Ken Johnson.
3. PAN members are known as panistas.