Mexican state policy during the Second World War

The actions of the Mexican State during the period of World War II, measures and instruments of surveillance and control that ended up taking root as part of the structuring of the authoritarian regime.

Mexican state policy during the Second World War
Mexican visual war propaganda during World War II. Text and image: AGN, Presidents Fund, Manuel Ávila Camacho Section, box 808, exp. 549.13_1.

The Mexican government's policy of surveillance and control over individuals considered a threat to the structure of the State was strengthened during the period of World War II. However, the measures that were initially applied during the State of War ended up being used during the rest of the 20th century with disastrous consequences.

In the prelude to the outbreak of World War II, Mexico maintained a state of neutrality. This position allowed the country to establish many favorable relations between the democratic powers and the then totalitarian powers, among them Germany, to which part of Mexico's oil production was exported.

After the attack by the Japanese Imperial Air Force on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Mexico had to define its world political position. Thus, on December 7, 1941, Mexico decided to break off all relations with the Axis countries, although it continued to maintain its neutral stance. This changed with the sinking of the ships Potrero del Llano and Faja de Oro, attacked by German submarines. This event led to the declaration of a State of War against Nazi Germany, the Kingdom of Italy, and the Japanese Empire.

The declaration was accompanied by several policies that strengthened the bases of the authoritarian regime. A clear example was the reform to Chapter III of Articles 145 and 145 bis of the Federal Criminal Code to establish political crimes or crimes of social dissolution. This criminalized that the foreigner or national who in written or spoken form carried out political propaganda disseminating ideas, programs, or action norms of any foreign government that affected the public peace or the sovereignty of the Mexican State committed social dissolution. The purpose was to stop the presence of fascist and Nazi ideas within the country, but later this crime would be applied to imprison the main leaders of the social and political movements that arose during the second half of the 20th century.

Another circumstance that arose was the strengthening of the elite security forces. This was the case of the Presidential General Staff, which in 1942 was formally institutionalized under that name after the military legislative reform promoted by then-President Manuel Ávila Camacho, a former member of the General Staff.

The espionage of the Mexican State was another of the practices that were strengthened during the period of World War II, with great attention to German, Italian and Japanese foreigners. From documents stored in the General Archive of the Nation in the Presidential Archives/Manuel Ávila Camacho collection, it is possible to know part of the surveillance policy implemented by the State. Part of these stories refers to the confinement of some people in certain detention camps, as pointed out by researcher Carlos Inclán Fuentes in his thesis entitled Perote and the Nazis.