- Associated Press - Sunday, April 1, 2012

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, who led Mexico from 1982 to 1988 during economic crisis and a devasting earthquake, died Sunday at age 77, President FelipeCalderon announced on his Twitter account.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Calderon’s office speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to be quoted by the press confirmed Sunday that the message was posted by Mr. Calderon.

Mr. Calderon said he is “profoundly sorry for the death of ex-President De la Madrid.”

The cause of death was not immediately announced, but the former president had been hospitalized for respiratory problems since late last year.

Several false rumors about Mr. de la Madrid’s death surfaced in December, and Mr. Calderon even sent an incorrect tweet on his official Twitter account at that time offering condolences to the former president’s family. He corrected that earlier false report minutes later.

During his presidency, Mr. de la Madrid pulled Mexico back from economic collapse but left it with a political crisis.

His term from 1982 to 1988 was a grim time for most Mexicans, a six-year hangover after spending binge by the previous government that was convinced that soaring oil prices would never fall. When they did, the buying power of Mexican salaries was slashed in half as inflation chewed up paychecks.

A magnitude-8.1 earthquake killed an estimated 9,000 people and flattened parts of the capital. A fiery explosion at a government gas facility killed more than 500 people on the outskirts of Mexico City. The government’s handling of the election to replace Mr. de la Madrid caused a political scandal that later helped topple the political system that had dominated Mexico for most of the 20th century.

But the initial economic panic was so deep that many thought Mr. de la Madrid did well just by not making things worse.

As he put it just before leaving office, “I took a country with great problems and leave it with problems.”

Mr. de la Madrid also launched a historic free-market transformation of Mexico’s economy. He sold off about 750 of the 1,155 companies the government had owned when he took office and signed international free-trade treaties that paved the way for the North American Free Trade Agreement and helped Mexico develop into a global industrial power, although one overwhelmingly dependent on the United States.

Born on Dec. 12, 1934, to a prominent family in the western city of Colima, Mr. de la Madrid earned a degree from the National Autonomous University’s law school, a spawning ground of Mexican politicians, and later earned a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University.

He began a rapid but unflashy climb through government agencies, serving in a series of finance-related posts before joining the Cabinet of President Jose Lopez Portillo as secretary of planning and programming in 1979.

Like all presidents to that time, Lopez Portillo was unchallenged master of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, and the country as a whole. He chose Mr. de la Madrid, a 47-year-old bureaucrat who had never held elective office, as his successor and forced party activists who favored a more savvy politician to accept it.

In the pro-forma vote that followed, Mr. de la Madrid won more than 75 percent of the vote. It was the last time that the result of a Mexican presidential election could be seen as inevitable.

Story Continues →