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Padilla, Ezequiel

by Dan Takacs

In 1971, one of the great Mexican statesmen andeducation leaders of Mexico died, Ezequiel Padilla. He was born December 31, 1890 in Coyuca de Catalán, Guerrero, Mexico. Coyuca de Catalán is located in the southwestern part of Mexico about one hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean. Padilla was born to Maríano Padilla, an impoverished lawyer, and Evarista Peñalosa who was a school teacher.

Padilla was a very educated man. He attended secondary school at the Normal School, one of Mexico’s public schools, in nearby Chilpancingo, Guerrero. He received his teaching certificate there also. From the Normal school he went to preparatory school at the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, Mexico’s largest city. Padilla followed in his father's footsteps and went to law school at the National School of Law. And then finally in 1912, at the age of 22, Ezequiel received his law degree on a government scholarship from the National University of Mexico. He then went to Paris, France to study at the Sorbonne one of the oldest universities in the world dating back to 1253. He was able to attend here from 1913-14 on a scholarship from the Secretariat of Education. Ezequiel received governmental scholarships for all of his professional education. He attended Columbia University in 1916 in New York for his advanced studies.

About the time when Padilla finished with his education Porfirio Díaz’s regime was dying and the Mexican Revolution had begun. The people of Mexico were tired of the Díaz regimes power and the economic situation was bad for the average person. One percent of the nation’s families owned 85% of the nation’s wealth and industrial wages averaged 12 cents a day. Also, the distribution of land was unequal. Emiliano Zapata took control of parts of Guerrero, Morelos and the surrounding areas. Ezequiel signed up as a common soldier underneath him. Zapata was the radical leader of the revolution who wrote the Plan de Ayala. Padilla served as secretary to many generals under Francisco Villa , but fled Mexico in 1916 after Villa’s defeat. He was then self exiled in Cuba until 1922.

Ezequiel Padilla returned to his native land of Guerrero in 1922 and started work almost immediately. He became the Federal Deputy from the State of Guerrero District 8 from 1922-24, and District 4 from 1924-26. He was also the Federal Deputy from Guerrero District 1 from 1932-34. 1928 seemed to be Padilla’s busiest year. He was the Attorney General of Mexico, Secretary of Public Education, and the Professor of Constitutional Law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. During this time at UNAM Padilla was involved in the first of the many UNAM student strikes. In 1929 “the prep school director, Antonio Caso, announced that the degree program would henceforth take three instead of two years.” Padilla, the Secretary of Public Education agreed with Caso and the students took over the Prep school building. In 1925 the law school adopted a written exam policy forcing students to go to class and making exams much tougher. This time the students took a more violent approach their protests. On May 4th a group of students said they would “physically attack any student who tried to take exams under the new system.” President Emilio Portes Gil and Secretary Padilla could not ignore the student’s protests any longer. The President gave the school autonomy and made it the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Also in 1925 Padilla answered President Plutarco Elias Calles' state of the union address.

Ezequiel Padilla finished his duties as Secretary of Public Education in 1930. He then took a post as Minister to Hungary and Italy. He was Minister for two years until 1932. After that he became a Senator from the Federal District from 1934-40

Ezequiel married María G. Gouttolena and they had a son Ezequiel Padilla, Jr., whobecame Director General of Banca Confia in 1982. Padilla’s family was accused of owning illegal amounts of land in Guerrero by the Secretary General of the State National Peasant Federation in Aug 1972. Ezequiel was a founding member of a group of students who formed Escuela Libre de Derecho. He knew Francisco Gaxiola and Ernesto Enriquez Coyro in prep school and the Escuela Libre de Derecho.

In 1940-45 Ezequiel Padilla held what might have been his most important post, Secretary of Foreign relations.

“German submarine attacks on Mexican tankers in 1942 allowed President Avila Camacho and Foreign Minister Ezequiel Padilla to declare war on the Axis Powers on May 22, 1942. This move allowed the Mexican government to confiscate the production sites and patents of the German chemical industry in Mexico, which enjoyed a monopoly in dyes, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizers. Thus the Mexican government added another critical industrial sector to its petroleum industry without resorting to expropriation.”(Werner) This move allowed Mexico to claim allegiance with the Allied Powers. He was one of the signers of a U.N. charter at San Francisco. He also urged anti-communist, pro-United States policy after the war.

In 1945 Padilla was a pre-candidate for the PRI nomination for President. Miguel Alemán Valdés won the Presidency in 1945. And from 1964-70 Ezequiel Padilla ended his career in politics as a Senator from the State of Guerrero. It would be just one short year of retirement until Padilla’s death at the age of 81. He died on Sept. 6, 1971

Sources: 1. Camp, Roderic A. Mexican Political Biographies 1884-1934 1991. University of Texas Press. Austin, Texas

2. Werner, Michael S. Ed. Concise Encyclopedia of Mexico 2001. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. London. Chicago