|THE MEXICO COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Mexico within the geographic region of North America
Map of Mexico
Flag Description of Mexico:The flag of Mexico was officially adopted on November 2, 1821. The basic design is taken from the French Tricolor flag and the red, white and green are the colors of the national liberation army of Mexico. The coat of arms (centered) in the white band is the badge of Mexico City, the country's capital. Its main feature is an eagle, and it is said that an Aztec legend told them to build their new city on the exact spot where they saw an eagle sitting on a cactus, eating a snake.
Official name Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States)
Form of government federal republic with two legislative houses (Senate ; Chamber of Deputies )
Head of state and government President: Enrique Peña Nieto
Capital Mexico City
Official language Spanish
Official religion none
Monetary unit Mexican peso (Mex$)
Population (2013 est.) 118,716,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 758,450
Total area (sq km) 1,964,375
- Urban: (2012) 78.4%
- Rural: (2012) 21.6%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 74.8 years
- Female: (2012) 79.6 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2008) 94.6%
- Female: (2008) 91.5%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 9,940
Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world and the second most-populous country in Latin America after Portuguese-speaking Brazil. About 76% of the people live in urban areas.
Mexico, country of southern North America and the third largest country in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina. Although there is little truth to the long-held stereotype of Mexico as a slow-paced land of subsistence farmers, Mexican society is characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty, with a limited middle class wedged between an elite cadre of landowners and investors on the one hand and masses of rural and urban poor on the other. But in spite of the challenges it faces as a developing country, Mexico is one of the chief economic and political forces in Latin America. It has a dynamic industrial base, vast mineral resources, a wide-ranging service sector, and the world’s largest population of Spanish speakers—about two and a half times that of Spain or Colombia. As its official name suggests, the Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States) incorporates 31 socially and physically diverse states and the Federal District.
More than half of the Mexican people live in the centre of the country, whereas vast areas of the arid north and the tropical south are sparsely settled. Migrants from impoverished rural areas have poured into Mexico’s cities, and more than three-fourths of Mexicans now live in urban areas. Mexico City, the capital, is one of the most populous cities and metropolitan areas in the world. Mexico has experienced a series of economic booms leading to periods of impressive social gains, followed by busts, with significant declines in living standards for the middle and lower classes. The country remains economically fragile despite the forging of stronger ties with the United States and Canada through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Mexico’s urban growing pains are in sharp counterpoint to the traditional lifestyles that prevail in more-isolated rural areas. In states such as Oaxaca or Chiapas, small communal villages remain where indigenous peasants live much as their ancestors did. The cultural remnants of great pre-Columbian civilizations, such as Teotihuacán or the Mayan pyramids at Chichén Itzá and Tulum, provide a contrast to colonial towns such as Taxco or Querétaro. In turn, these towns appear as historical relics when compared with the modern metropolis of Mexico City. Yet even the bustling capital city, which has been continually built and rebuilt on the rubble of past civilizations, reveals Mexico’s wide range of social, economic, and cultural struggles. As the renowned Mexican poet and intellectual Octavio Paz observed,
- Past epochs never vanish completely, and blood still drips
- from all their wounds, even the most ancient. Sometimes the
- most remote or hostile beliefs and feelings are found
- together in one city or one soul, or are superimposed like
- [pre-Columbian] pyramids that almost always conceal
It is this tremendous cultural and economic diversity, distributed over an enormously complex and varied physical environment, that gives Mexico its unique character.
Geography of Mexico
Sharing a common border throughout its northern extent with the United States, Mexico is bounded to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, to the east by the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and to the southeast by Guatemala and Belize. Mexico also administers such islands and archipelagoes as the Tres Marías in the Pacific and Cozumel and Mujeres off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Including these insular territories, the roughly triangular country covers an area about three times the size of Texas. While it is more than 1,850 miles (3,000 km) across from northwest to southeast, its width varies from less than 135 miles (217 km) at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to more than 1,200 miles (1,900 km) in the north....>>>Read On.<<<<.
Demography of Mexico
Specific cultural areas have evolved in Mexico because of differences in physical environment, ethnicity, and settlement histories, and few of the regions correspond exactly with the country’s physiographic regions. Mexico traditionally has been divided between the Spanish-mestizo north and the Indian-mestizo south, corresponding roughly to the pre-Columbian boundary that separated the highly developed indigenous civilizations of the Mesa Central and the south from the less agriculturally dependent groups to the north. The country can be further divided into 10 traditional cultural regions:--->>>>>Read On.<<<<
- Ethnic groups
Mexico’s population is composed of many ethnic groups, including indigenous American Indians (Amerindians), who account for more than one-fourth of the total, and Mexicans of European heritage (“whites”), who constitute between one-tenth and one-fifth of the total. Generally speaking, the mixture of indigenous and European peoples has produced the largest segment of the population today—mestizos, who account for between one-half and two-thirds of the total—via a complex blending of ethnic traditions and perceived ancestry. Although myths of “racial biology” have been discredited by social scientists, “racial identity” remains a powerful social construct in Mexico, as in the United States and elsewhere, and many Mexicans have referred to their heritage and raza (“race”) with a measure of pride—particularly on October 12, the Día de la Raza (“Race Day”)—whether they conceive of themselves as indigenous, mestizo, or European. Their identities as members of ethnic groups may be additionally complicated, given that ethnicity is a function of cultural patterns and traditions as varied as a group’s sense of linguistic, religious, and socioeconomic history.
At the time Europeans arrived in the early 1500s, what is now Mexico was inhabited by peoples who are thought to have migrated into the Americas from Asia tens of thousands of years ago by crossing a former land bridge in the Bering Strait. After their arrival in Mexico, many groups developed unique cultural traits. Highly organized civilizations occupied various parts of Mexico for at least 2,000 years before European contact.
By the early 16th century most people lived in the Mesa Central under the general rule of the Aztec empire, but many separate cultural groups also thrived in this region, among them speakers of the Tarascan, Otomí, and Nahuatl languages. Outside the Mesa Central were numerous other cultural groups, such as the Maya of the Yucatán and the Mixtec and Zapotec of Oaxaca. The splendid Aztec cities of the Mesa Central were marvels of architectural design, irrigation technology, and social organization. Spectacular Mayan ruins in the Yucatán give evidence of widespread urbanization and intensive agricultural productivity dating back more than 2,000 years. In many ways the indigenous civilizations of Mexico were more advanced than that of their Spanish conquerors.
Following the arrival of Europeans, intermarriage resulted in an increasing mestizo population that over the centuries became the dominant ethnic group in Mexico. Northern Mexico is overwhelmingly mestizo in both urban and rural areas. Mexicans of European descent, including those who immigrated during the 20th century, are largely concentrated in urban areas, especially Mexico City, and in the West. As is the case throughout Latin America, people of European descent and other lighter-skinned Mexicans dominate the wealthiest echelons of Mexican society, owing to racial discrimination and centuries of economic, political, and social policies favouring the inheritance of wealth. In contrast, mestizos occupy a wide range of social and economic positions, while indigenous Indians are predominantly poor and working-class, often industrial and service workers in cities and peasants in the countryside. Notwithstanding such generalizations, some individuals manage to improve their lot through education, political action, or entrepreneurship.
There are several areas where indigenous peoples are still the dominant population group. Maya speakers constitute the majority in the rural Yucatán and the Chiapas Highlands. In the Oaxaca Valley and in remoter parts of the Sierra Madre del Sur, indigenous (primarily Zapotec) communities abound. Despite their decreasing numbers, enclaves of American Indians also are still significant in isolated mountain areas on the eastern margin of the Mesa Central.
Spanish, which is the official national language and the language of instruction in schools, is spoken by the vast majority of the population. Fewer than one-tenth of American Indians speak an indigenous language. There are, however, more than 50 indigenous languages spoken by more than 100,000 people, including Maya in the Yucatán; Huastec in northern Veracruz; Nahua, Tarascan, Totonac, Otomí, and Mazahua mainly on the Mesa Central; Zapotec, Mixtec, and Mazatec in Oaxaca; and Tzeltal and Tzotzil in Chiapas. Many public and private schools offer instruction in English as a second language.
There is no official religion in Mexico, as the constitution guarantees separation of church and state. However, more than nine-tenths of the population are at least nominally affiliated with Roman Catholicism. The Basilica of Guadalupe, the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, is located in Mexico City and is the site of annual pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of people, many of them peasants. Throughout Mexico are thousands of Catholic churches, convents, pilgrimage sites, and shrines.
Protestants account for a tiny but rapidly growing segment of the population, and their missionaries have been especially successful in converting the urban poor. A significant proportion of indigenous peoples practice syncretic religions—that is, they retain traditional religious beliefs and practices in addition to adhering to Roman Catholicism. This syncretism is particularly visible in many village fiestas where ancestors, mountain spirits, and other spiritual forces may be honoured alongside Catholic saints. Moreover, the identities of many saints and spirits have been blended together since the early colonial period. At times, however, belief systems still come into conflict. Among the Huichol (Wirraritari) and other Indian groups, for example, a hallucinogenic cactus fruit called peyote is employed in spiritual ceremonies; however, governmental authorities consider peyote to be an illegal narcotic.
- Settlement patterns
Before the arrival of Europeans, the indigenous population was highly concentrated in the Central, West, and Southern Highland regions. The Spanish settled in existing indigenous communities in order to exploit their labour in agriculture and mining. As a result, these areas have remained the most densely populated throughout Mexico’s history.
Away from this central core, more-isolated settlements were centred on mines, mission sites, and military outposts. Mining had the largest impact on population redistribution. Silver-mining towns such as Durango, San Luis Potosí, Aguascalientes, Pachuca, and Zacatecas were founded in the mid- and late 16th century and represented the first European settlements outside the central core. By contrast, it was not until the mid-19th century that large-scale ranching was introduced to northern Mexico. This created a clustered pattern of rural settlement, with large areas effectively devoid of population.
Internal migration has altered the distribution of the population since the mid-20th century, with massive numbers of people moving from rural areas to cities. Many have moved because they lacked land, job opportunities, and social amenities. Moreover, economic stresses associated with neoliberal trade policies (including NAFTA) appear to be increasing the rate of rural-to-urban migration.
More than three-fourths of Mexicans now live in cities, compared with about half of the population in 1960. In the 1980s there were more than 100 urban centres with at least 50,000 people. By the early 21st century well over 100 cities had populations in excess of 100,000, including some two dozen with more than 500,000 people. The major axis of urbanization stretches diagonally across central Mexico from Puebla through Mexico City to Guadalajara, forming a nearly uninterrupted urban agglomeration. Mexico’s northern border cities have grown rapidly since the 1970s—most remarkably during the 1990s—in large part because migrants from central Mexico have been attracted to the region by jobs in the nearby United States and in maquiladoras (export-oriented manufacturing plants where duty-free imported parts are assembled) on the Mexican side of the Mexico-U.S. border. Juárez (Ciudad Juárez), facing El Paso, Texas, across the international boundary, and Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, Calif., have grown spectacularly since the 1950s and now have more than one million people each. These and other sprawling border centres are ringed by self-built and ramshackle houses. The populations of the largest metropolitan areas are growing the most rapidly in absolute numbers, but the highest percentage increases have often been in small- and intermediate-sized cities.
Within the hierarchy of Mexican urban places, Mexico City remains the undisputed apex, with a population several times that of the next largest city. By the late 20th century its metropolitan area accounted for about one-sixth of the national population and was ranked among the largest urban centres in the world. Mexico City is the political, economic, social, educational, and industrial capital of the country. People are attracted there by the perception of increased chances for social and economic mobility as well as by the dynamic character of the capital.
Guadalajara, the country’s second largest urban area, is a much more traditional city in structure and appearance than is Mexico City. As the regional capital of Jalisco and much of the West, Guadalajara is a major market centre and has a powerful industrial sector. With a well-respected university and medical school, it is also a major educational and cultural centre.
Monterrey, which is located in a relatively stark portion of the Mesa del Norte, was the site of an integrated iron and steel foundry as early as 1903. It developed as the main iron and steel centre of the country by the 1930s and ’40s, benefitting from its proximity to iron ore and coal deposits in nearby Coahuila state. A number of other heavy industries are also located there. Although Monterrey has a colonial quarter, most of the modern city dates only to the beginning of the 20th century. And because much of its urban growth has been rapid and recent, Monterrey is singularly unremarkable in appearance. As the centre of the National Action Party (PAN), Monterrey is a stronghold of political conservatism.
- Demographic trends
Mexico’s population grew more than sixfold from 1910 to the early 21st century. The rate of natural increase began to rise rapidly in the 1940s because of marked improvements in health care standards and food supplies. There have been drastic declines in the death rate, and infant mortality, although still quite high in comparison with more-developed countries, has been significantly reduced. Although its growth rate slowed during the late 20th century, the Mexican population is still increasing quickly. Given the country’s rapid growth, its population is disproportionately young, with more than one-third of Mexicans under age 15. Life expectancy at birth has doubled since 1930 and is comparable to that of more-developed countries.
Mexico’s large population, which surpassed 100 million shortly after the turn of the 21st century, has severely taxed the ability of the government to provide basic social services and economic opportunities for the people. Were it not for the widespread migration of young adults of childbearing age to the United States, Mexico’s total population would arguably be much larger and its problems significantly more profound. Thus, migration has acted as a safety valve in easing the country’s social and economic pressures. And remittances of income earned abroad, overwhelmingly in the United States, have contributed significantly to Mexico’s economy. The flow of legal and illegal migrants from Mexico to the United States has increased sharply since the late 1970s. Estimates are highly inaccurate and vary greatly, but it is believed that between 8,000,000 and 13,000,000 Mexicans relocated illegally to the United States between 1970 and 2000. At the same time, Mexicans have become the largest group of legal U.S. immigrants, with more than 170,000 recorded in the year 2000 alone. While a large proportion have low educational levels and limited technical skills, an increasing number of highly qualified technicians and professionals have found their way north. Mexican governments have tended to favour and defend the interests of those citizens wishing to work in the United States, but Mexican immigration has remained a contentious issue north of the border owing to an often conflicting mixture of political, cultural, and economic motives.
Economy of Mexico
Mexico has a developing market economy that is strongly tied to that of the United States, with its major markets and sources of capital. The Mexican economy is one of the more influential in Latin America and has grown rapidly since the 1970s. However, the country’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) remains far below that of the United States. The Mexican economy depends largely on services—including trade, transportation, finance, and government—which account for about two-thirds of GDP. Manufacturing is responsible for about one-fifth of GDP. Although nearly one-fifth of Mexican workers are employed in the agricultural sector, it accounts for only a tiny part of GDP. On the other hand, remittances from Mexican workers abroad, notably in the United States, bring billions of dollars into the economy each year.
For much of the 20th century, Mexico’s economy was largely characterized by state-owned and mixed-capital enterprises combined with a highly regulated private sector. The government strictly controlled foreign investment and imports and barred private investors from ownership in many activities, including mining, forestry, insurance, and power production. Semiautonomous state corporations managed the petroleum industry, generated and distributed electricity, ran the banks, operated the railways and airlines, and controlled telecommunications. In addition, the government regulated the prices of many goods and services. However, the country began an enormous economic transformation in the 1980s. The government, following neoliberal economic theory, completely deregulated many industries, dismantled state enterprises, welcomed large amounts of foreign investment, and removed most import restrictions. It partly privatized telecommunications, the energy sector, and the transportation sector, including airlines, railways, and ports. In the mid-1990s the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created a free-trade zone between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
Mexico, like other Latin American countries, has experienced a series of boom-and-bust cycles in its economic history; however, its diversified industrial and service sectors have aided economic recovery and growth. An economic crisis in the early 1980s was largely precipitated by a global fall in petroleum prices and exacerbated by high interest rates and inflation. Despite a dynamic period of growth in the early 1990s, the Mexican peso was devalued in 1994, and the country plunged into a severe, if temporary, recession. Lower- and middle-class families were particularly strained as poverty levels and unemployment increased and foreign capital left the country. The government stabilized the economy by reducing spending, instituting an economic austerity program, and accepting a controversial U.S.-sponsored bailout. Subsequent administrations continued to guide the country according to neoliberal theories. In spite of fears that manufacturing jobs were being lost to East Asian factories, at the turn of the 21st century the economy grew steadily because of rising demand for consumer goods and petroleum in the U.S. market, combined with a spike in global oil prices.
Much of the country is too arid or too mountainous for crops or grazing, and it is estimated that no more than one-fifth of the land is potentially arable. Moreover, Mexico’s rapidly growing population has made the country a net importer of grains. In the early 21st century agriculture accounted for a small and diminishing part of GDP, but, while the rural workforce was significant, it too was shrinking rapidly. Chief crops include corn (maize), sugarcane, sorghum, wheat, tomatoes, bananas, chilies, green peppers, oranges, lemons and limes, mangoes, and other tropical fruits, along with beans, barley, avocados, blue agave, and coffee.--->Read On.<<<<
Minerals have been an important part of the economy throughout Mexico’s history. Mexico is the world’s leading producer of silver, which has long been the most valuable metal extracted there. The major mining area during the colonial period was the so-called Silver Belt, a region that extended from Guanajuato and Zacatecas in the Mesa Central to Chihuahua in the Mesa del Norte, with outposts such as San Luis Potosí farther east.--->Read On.<<<<
Mexico is one of the more-industrialized countries in Latin America, and its membership in NAFTA has further expanded its industrial base, especially for export. Manufacturing accounts for about one-fifth of GDP and provides jobs for about one-sixth of the workforce. Chief manufactures include motor vehicles and parts; processed foods and beverages; paints, soaps, and pharmaceuticals; bricks, cement, and ceramics; iron and steel; metal products; paper and paper products; chemicals; electronics and other consumer products; and refined petroleum.
Historically, a disproportionate share of manufacturing was located in and around the Mexico City metropolitan area, largely because of its huge market and superior infrastructure. The capital’s metropolitan area still dominates manufacturing, and an impressive array of products are manufactured there and in neighbouring cities, including automobiles, electronics, iron and steel, foods, and a wide variety of consumer goods. The government’s efforts to disperse factories to sites away from the Mexico City megalopolis have been aided substantially by the increasing number of maquiladoras producing such goods as motor vehicles and automobile parts, electronics, clothing, and furniture. The overwhelming majority of maquiladora plants are foreign-owned and situated in Mexico to take advantage of low labour costs and less-stringent environmental regulations. Following the advent of NAFTA, there was an explosion of foreign investment in cities around the country, but primarily in the Central and North regions. As a result, industrial employment has become more dispersed than at any time in Mexican history.
Automobile assembly plants produce vehicles for export to the United States and Canada as well as for the domestic market, in such sites as Puebla and Toluca in the Central region, Guadalajara in the West, and Hermosillo in the Northwest. Textile production, traditionally more dispersed than other industries, has its older centres in Puebla and Guadalajara and newer ones in Torreón and Juárez. A growing number of electronics assembly plants, including television and computer components, have been concentrated in Tijuana.
Finance is a cornerstone of Mexico’s service sector and includes savings and loan associations, insurance, the stock market, and commercial banks. Altogether, finance accounts for roughly one-eighth of GDP but a much smaller percentage of the labour force. Mexico formerly had a dual banking structure consisting of governmental financial institutions and private banks that were owned by commercial and industrial groups. In 1982 the private banking sector was nationalized in an effort to reduce the perceived manipulation and exploitation of the financial markets by private capital. Mexico’s financial system was then again privatized in the late 1980s as part of the country’s embrace of neoliberal economic theories.
The Bank of Mexico issues the national currency, the peso, which is divided into units of 100 centavos. The country’s stock exchange plays only a minor role in providing capital. Most funds are secured through government bonds or bank securities.
The United States is Mexico’s most important trading partner, and U.S.-based companies account for more than half of Mexico’s foreign investment. The United States is also the source of about three-fifths of Mexican imports and the destination for more than four-fifths of the country’s exports. In contrast, trade with Mexico represents only about one-tenth of total U.S. trade. Thus, Mexico is far more dependent on the economy of its northern neighbour than the United States is on the Mexican economy. Although both countries are members of NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO), both of which are founded on pledges of free and open trade, Mexico has protested the deleterious effects of subsidized agricultural exports from the United States, including corn, high-fructose corn syrup, and apples. There is mounting concern that these and other U.S. exports, under NAFTA protection, are forcing millions of Mexican smallholders off their farms and into service-based or industrial jobs in maquiladoras or in the United States. Meanwhile, many U.S. workers are concerned about the loss of their jobs to maquiladoras.
Among Mexico’s major exports are machinery and transport equipment, steel, electrical equipment, chemicals, food products, and petroleum and petroleum products. About four-fifths of Mexico’s petroleum is exported to the United States, which relies heavily on Mexico as one of its principal sources of oil. Mexico’s major imports include machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, and consumer goods.
The quantity and value of Mexican exports (especially nonpetroleum exports) grew rapidly in the 1990s, largely in response to the government’s neoliberal economic policies and to the creation of NAFTA. Since then, vast amounts of duty-free imports and exports have flowed between the United States and Mexico within a narrow border zone, especially on roads linking Tijuana, Mexicali, Juárez, Hermosillo, Monterrey, and other major cities with the border.
When banking and finance are figured in, the service sector—including commercial activities, tourism and other entertainment, business services, and the various levels of government—accounts for about two-thirds of GDP. Commerce alone accounts for about one-fifth of GDP and government for roughly one-sixth.
Tourism is a major contributor to the economy. Because of its cultural diversity, tropical settings, relatively low prices, and easy accessibility, Mexico exerts a strong attraction on U.S. tourists, who constitute the majority of visitors to the country. Tourists once traveled mainly to Mexico City and the surrounding colonial towns of the Mesa Central, as well as to the monumental ruins of Teotihuacán, just northeast of Mexico City. Although Mexico City is still a major destination for visitors, its reputation has been sullied by social and environmental problems, notably high levels of air pollution and crime. Tourists also still flock to the beaches of the world-famous resorts of Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mazatlán, and Puerto Escondido. But Cancún and Cozumel (along the eastern shore of the Yucatán Peninsula) and Cabo San Lucas (of southern Baja California Sur) have become even more attractive to international travelers since the 1960s as a result of the construction of new hotels, airports, and other facilities. Cancún now attracts more international visitors per year than Mexico City. Among the more-visited Mayan ruins are Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Uxmal, and the area of ruins and coral reefs called the “Riviera Maya,” to the south of Cancún.
- Labour and taxation
About two-thirds of the Mexican labour force is employed in the service sector and about one-sixth in manufacturing. The agricultural sector, which employs less than one-fifth of Mexican workers, is made up largely of subsistence farmers and labourers. About two-fifths of Mexican adults participate in the labour market. Women greatly increased their presence in the workforce from the 1970s to the early 21st century, owing in part to the demand for young women on maquiladora assembly lines as well as the need for supplemental income in many families. However, women’s wages generally lag behind those of men. The average workweek in the manufacturing sector is about 45 hours. The right to engage in strikes (labour stoppages) is guaranteed by law, and a large percentage of Mexican workers are unionized. The largest and most powerful union is the Confederation of Mexican Workers, which has historically had ties with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Minimum-wage laws have been in effect since 1934, but they are difficult, if not impossible, to enforce for workers in the informal (shadow) economy, including many street vendors and day labourers. Official minimum wages are determined by the type of work and the cost of living in specific regions. Urban job classifications pay higher minimum wages than rural categories, and the highest minimum wages are paid in Mexico City and the border cities of Tijuana, Mexicali, and Juárez.
The government collects several forms of revenue, including individual income taxes, corporate income taxes, and sales taxes. Value-added taxes, excise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, production taxes on mining, and local levies on real estate are also important. Earnings from petroleum exports, via the state-owned company Pemex, have been considerable in times of elevated oil prices.
- Transportation and telecommunications
Mexico has had difficulty creating an integrated transportation network because of the country’s diverse landscape and developing economy. As a result, several parts of Mexico lack good rail and road connections, especially from east to west across the northern part of the country. Although Mexico was one of the first countries in Latin America to promote railway development, the extensive formerly state-owned railway system remains inefficient; however, significant improvements were initiated after the government privatized the system. Major rail routes extend outward from Mexico City northwestward along the Pacific coast to Mexicali, northward through the Central Plateau to El Paso and Laredo, Texas, eastward via the Gulf Coastal Plain to the Yucatán Peninsula, and southeastward to Oaxaca.
Most passengers and freight are transported via Mexico’s highway system, notably by interstate buses and cross-country trucking, respectively. Trucks also carry most of the exports from Mexico’s maquiladoras to U.S. markets. As with the railroad, all major highways lead to Mexico City. Several link northern border cities to the capital, and others connect the Yucatán Peninsula and the Guatemalan border with the Mesa Central. The Pan-American Highway runs from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, on the border with Guatemala, to Nuevo Laredo, on the border with the United States, passing through Mexico City. Although many highways have been improved, Mexico’s roads are barely adequate to serve national needs. In addition to traffic hazards such as potholes and a shortage of guardrails on mountain roads, many roads have a dangerous traffic mix of overladen trucks, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, buses, and, in some areas, grazing animals. Traffic mortality rates are also affected by drunk driving, mechanical problems (notably poor brakes and nonfunctioning headlights), and a disregard for pedestrian safety.
The proliferation of trade and tourism between Mexico and the United States is reflected in the high volume of border crossings. Indeed, at the turn of the 21st century, more than one million people crossed the U.S.-Mexican frontier legally every day, in both directions. Moreover, each year tens of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans make illegal attempts to enter the United States, largely in search of jobs and better opportunities.
Air travel has become a major mode of transportation for upper- and middle-class Mexicans. Domestic and international airports have been built throughout the country, largely to serve the growing tourist trade. In the 1990s the government began to privatize the airline industry. By the early 21st century the former national airlines, Aeroméxico and Mexicana, had been sold to private investors, and a number of new companies and increased competition resulted. Air service now reaches all tourist locations and most of the country’s small- and medium-sized urban centres.
The vast majority of Mexican households own one or more radios, and about three-fourths own a TV set. Cellular phone use increased rapidly since the mid-1990s. Personal computers and Internet use also rose in popularity and affordability, although not as rapidly as in the wealthier United States. Internet cafes are now found in nearly all major towns and cities.
Government and Society of Mexico
Mexico is a federal republic composed of 31 states and the Federal District. Governmental powers are divided constitutionally between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but, when Mexico was under one-party rule in the 20th century, the president had strong control over the entire system. The constitution of 1917, which has been amended several times, guarantees personal freedoms and civil liberties and also establishes economic and political principles for the country.
The legislative branch is divided into an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. Senators serve six-year terms and deputies three-year terms; members of the legislature cannot be reelected for the immediately succeeding term. Three-fifths of the deputies are elected directly by popular vote, while the remainder are selected in proportion to the votes received by political parties in each of five large electoral regions.
Popularly elected and limited to one six-year term, the president is empowered to select a cabinet, the attorney general, diplomats, high-ranking military officers, and Supreme Court justices (who serve life terms). The president also has the right to issue reglamentos (executive decrees) that have the effect of law. Because there is no vice president, in the event of the death or incapacity of the president, the legislature designates a provisional successor. The executive branch has historically dominated the other two branches of government, although the Congress has gained a larger share of power since the late 20th century.
The federal constitution relegates several powers to the 31 states and the Federal District (Mexico City), including the ability to raise local taxes. Moreover, state constitutions follow the model of the federal constitution in providing for three independent branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial. Most states have a unicameral legislature called the Chamber of Deputies, whose members serve three-year terms. Governors are popularly elected to six-year terms and may not be reelected. Because of Mexico’s tradition of highly centralized government, state and local budgets are largely dependent on federally allocated funds. Under PRI rule, Mexican presidents influenced or decided many state and local matters, including elections. Although such centralized control is no longer generally accepted, Mexico’s principal political parties maintain locally dominant power bases in various states and cities.
At its most basic level, local government is administered by more than 2,000 units called municipios (“municipalities”), which may be entirely urban or consist of a town or central village as well as its hinterland. Members of municipio governments are typically elected for three-year terms.
The judicial system consists of several courts, including the Supreme Court of Justice , whose 11 members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Congress; the Electoral Tribunal, which is sworn to oversee elections; the Federal Judicial Council; and numerous circuit and district courts. Although Mexico has both federal and state courts, most serious cases are heard in federal courts by judges without the assistance of juries.
According to law, defendants have several rights to assure fair trials and humane treatment; in practice, however, the system is overburdened and riddled with problems. In spite of determined efforts by some authorities to fight theft, fraud, and violent crime, few Mexicans have strong confidence in the police or the judicial system, and therefore a large percentage of crimes go unreported. On the other hand, poor and indigenous defendants suffer an inordinate share of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and many are held for long periods prior to trials or sentencing. Mexico’s prisons, like most of those in Latin America, are generally overcrowded and notorious for unhealthful conditions, corruption, and abuses of various kinds. The vast majority of Mexican prisoners are held in hundreds of state and local facilities, although smaller numbers are in federal prisons.
Mexico’s political system revolves around a limited number of large political parties, while on its fringes are a group of smaller parties. The most powerful political party in the 20th century was the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional; PRI), which ran Mexico as an effective one-party state from 1929 until the late 20th century. During this period the PRI never lost a presidential election—though often there were allegations of vote rigging—and the vast majority of its gubernatorial candidates were similarly successful. Typically, the sitting president, as leader of the party, selected its next presidential candidate—thus effectively choosing a successor. Ernesto Zedillo, the president from 1994 to 2000, broke from that tradition in 1999, prompting the PRI to hold a primary election to choose a candidate; Zedillo also instituted other electoral reforms. As a result, in 2000 the PRI’s presidential candidate was defeated by Vicente Fox Quesada of the conservative National Action Party (Partido de Acción Popular; PAN), who led an opposition coalition, the “Alliance for Change,” to victory, marking the end of 71 years of continuous rule by the PRI. (The party had already lost control of the Chamber of Deputies in 1997.) The election, which was monitored by tens of thousands of Mexican and international observers, was considered to be the fairest and most democratic in Mexico’s troubled electoral history.
In subsequent elections PAN, the PRI, and the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática; PRD), which had also emerged as a major political party in the 1990s, continued to win a large number of congressional seats and to vie for control of the Federal District, several states, and the national government. Among the lesser parties are the Mexican Ecological Green Party (Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano; PVEM), the leftist Labour Party (Partido del Trabajo; PT), and the Democratic Convergence Party (PCD). Mexico also has several small communist parties.
A woman suffrage movement began in Mexico in the 1880s and gained momentum during the Mexican Revolution (1910–20). Women were first allowed to vote in the Yucatán in 1917. Elsewhere in Mexico, however, women could not vote in local elections or hold local office until 1947. A constitutional amendment in 1953 extended those rights to national elections and offices. By the early 21st century women occupied about one-fifth of the seats in the Senate and more than one-fourth in the Chamber of Deputies, as well as a small number of ministerial and Supreme Court positions. Many states require that no more than 70 to 80 percent of candidates be of one gender. Although all Mexican citizens age 18 and older are required by law to vote, enforcement is lax. Mexicans living outside the country, including millions in the United States, are now allowed to vote by absentee ballot.
Several types of police operate within Mexico at federal, state, and local levels. However, there is a general perception that police and political corruption is endemic at all levels, with the mordida (“bite”), which can alternatively be seen as a bribe or as unofficial, informal payment for official service, remaining a mainstay.
Mexico’s armed forces include an air force, a navy with about one-fifth of the military’s total personnel, and an army constituting nearly three-fourths of the total. Military service is mandatory at age 18 for a period of one year. The military has not openly interfered with elections or governance since the 1920s, in marked contrast with civil-military relations elsewhere in Latin America.
Sometimes the military takes part in law enforcement, particularly in counternarcotics operations, and it has often focused its efforts on perceived threats to internal security, including groups suspected of insurgency or terrorism. For example, many military and police units were deployed in southern Mexico in the late 20th century to combat the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN; also called the Zapatistas), which launched an open rebellion in 1994 in Chiapas (and remained active more than a decade later). Although the government respects the human rights of most citizens, serious abuses of power have been reported as part of the security operations in southern Mexico and in the policing of indigenous communities and poor urban neighbourhoods.
Health and welfare
There are pronounced differences in health conditions from region to region within Mexico. In general, rural areas have much higher mortality and morbidity levels than do urban areas. Regions with large indigenous populations, such as Chiapas, Oaxaca, and portions of Guerrero, as well as isolated mountainous sections of the Mesa Central, have especially low health standards and high death rates. There also are great differences in health conditions among social classes in cities. Poor and indigenous Mexicans tend to suffer from an inordinate share of illness associated with unsafe water supplies, infections, and respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, as well as with physical violence. Generally speaking, the leading causes of death in Mexico are diseases of the circulatory system, diabetes mellitus, cancers, accidents and violence, and diseases of the digestive and respiratory systems.
Federally subsidized medical and hospital care is available to all Mexican citizens. Several government institutions, including the Mexican Social Security Institute and the Security and Social Services Institute for Government Workers, operate hospitals. Public medicine, like public education, is considered inferior to private care, however, and those who can afford it avail themselves of private physicians and hospitals.
Clinics, though sometimes attended only by a nurse, are found throughout the country. Anything more than the most basic medical needs, however, must be handled in the cities. The quality of medical service varies throughout the country, with Mexico City by far the principal centre for specialized treatment. The overall quality of medical care in Mexico lags behind that available in the United States and Europe, and many Mexicans travel outside the country for more-sophisticated surgical procedures or treatments.
In spite of government efforts to extend health care to disadvantaged citizens, in rural areas and among poorer families, modern medicine is often considered too expensive or difficult to obtain, or it is not trusted. In many cases curanderos (traditional healers) or shamans are sought for their knowledge of curative herbs and other folk remedies. Hot springs and saunalike sweat baths are used in some indigenous communities.
A lack of adequate housing is one of Mexico’s most serious problems. Within the cities the federal government has built multiunit housing projects, but urban populations have increased more rapidly than new units can be constructed, and economic difficulties have reduced the funds available for new construction. Although substandard housing is more visible in urban areas, living conditions are also unhealthful in some rural areas. In virtually all urban areas, peripheral squatter settlements are a major feature of the landscape. Rural migrants, as well as members of the urban underclass, build makeshift housing, often of used or discarded materials, on unoccupied lands at the edges of cities. These colonias initially lack the most basic urban services (water, electricity, sewerage), but most evolve over time into very modest but livable communities.
Mexico has made significant efforts to improve educational opportunities for its people. School attendance is required for children ages 6 to 18, and since 2004 preschool has been mandatory as well. In addition to increasing the number of schools for children, adult literacy programs have been promoted vigorously since the 1970s. By the turn of the 21st century it was estimated that about nine-tenths of Mexicans were literate, up nearly 20 percent since 1970.
Public schools in Mexico are funded by the federal government. Although nearly three-fourths of all primary public schools are located in rural areas, such schools are the poorest in the country and often do not cover the primary cycle. Many internal migrants move to cities because of the availability of better schools for their children and the social opportunities that derive from an education. In rural areas as well as in many low-income urban areas, teachers need only a secondary education to be certified to teach. Despite increases in the numbers of schoolrooms, teachers, and educational supplies, about one-seventh of all school-age children do not attend school, and almost one-third of adults have not completed primary school.
Nevertheless, nearly half of the Mexican population has completed a secondary (high school) degree, though secondary schools are virtually nonexistent in rural areas. As with primary education, private secondary schools are considered vastly superior to public ones, and families who can afford it send their children to private schools. This contributes to the socioeconomic imbalance that greatly favours the middle and upper classes.
Universities are found only in the largest cities. Moreover, of the more than 50 universities in the country, one-fifth are located in Mexico City, and a high proportion of all university students study there. The National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; UNAM), the College of Mexico, and the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education are among the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country. Although two million university students are enrolled in courses every year, less than one-eighth of the population has a tertiary degree.
Culture Life of Mexico
Mexican culture is the result of a historical process of violent and peaceful exchange of ideas, the assimilation of various outside cultural elements and the reinterpretations of the native cultural elements. As was the case in most Latin American countries, when Mexico became an independent nation, it had to slowly create a national identity, being an ethnically diverse country in which, for the most part, the only connecting element among the newly independent inhabitants was Catholicism.
The Porfirian era (el Porfiriato), in the second quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, was marked by economic progress and peace which finally allowed, after four decades of civil unrest and wars with foreign nations, for the development of the arts and philosophy, which was promoted by President Díaz. Since that time, though accentuated during the Mexican Revolution, cultural identity had its foundation in the mestizaje, of which the indigenous (Amerindian) element was the core. In light of the various ethnicities that formed the Mexican people, José Vasconcelos in his publication La Raza Cósmica (1925) defined Mexico to be the melting pot of all races (thus extending the definition of the mestizo) not only biologically but culturally as well. This exalting of mestizaje was a revolutionary idea that sharply contrasted with the idea of a superior pure race prevalent in Europe at the time.
Mostly known internationally for its tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and enchiladas, Mexican cuisine is extremely diverse. Regional dishes include mole poblano, chiles en nogada, and chalupas from Puebla; cabrito and machaca from Monterrey, cochinita pibil from Yucatán, Tlayudas from Oaxaca, as well as barbacoa, chilaquiles, milanesas, and many other dishes. Avocados, tomatoes, and maize (corn) were domesticated here thousands of years ago. Surrounded by two oceans, seafood, such as camarones and langostinos, plays an important part in the cuisine, often grilled a la parilla.
Most of today's Mexican food is based on pre-Hispanic traditions, including the Aztecs and Maya, combined with culinary trends introduced by Spanish colonists. Quesadillas, for example, are a flour or corn tortilla with cheese (often a Mexican-style soft farmer's cheese such as Queso Fresco), beef, chicken, pork, and so on. The indigenous part of this and many other traditional foods is the chile pepper. Foods like these tend to be very colorful because of the rich variety of vegetables (among them are the chili peppers, green peppers, chilies, broccoli, cauliflower, and radishes) and meats in Mexican food. There is also a sprinkling of Caribbean influence in Mexican cuisine, particularly in some regional dishes from the states of Veracruz and Yucatán.
- The Fine Arts
Post-revolutionary art in Mexico had its expression in the works of renowned artists such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Rufino Tamayo and David Alfaro Siqueiros, among others. Rivera is the most well-known figure of Mexican muralist, who painted the Man at the Crossroads in Rockefeller Center. Some of his murals are also displayed at the Mexican National Palace and the Palace of Fine Arts.
Academic music composers of Mexico include Manuel M. Ponce, Mario Lavista, Silvestre Revueltas, Arturo Marquez, and Juventino Rosas, many of whom incorporated traditional elements into their music. Finally, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Rulfo, Elena Poniatowska José Emilio Pacheco, and the Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz, are some of the greatest exponents of the Mexican literature.
- Broadcast media
Two of the major television networks based in Mexico are Televisa and TV Azteca. Televisa is also the largest producer of Spanish-language content in the world and also the world's largest Spanish-language media network. Grupo Multimedios is another media conglomerate with Spanish-language broadcasting in Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Soap operas (telenovelas) are translated to many languages and seen all over the world with renowned names like Verónica Castro, Lucía Méndez, Lucero, and Thalía.
Some of their TV shows are modeled after American counterparts like Family Feud (100 Mexicanos Dijeron or "A hundred Mexicans said" in English) and Que Dice la Gente, Big Brother, American Idol, Saturday Night Live, and others. Nationwide news shows like Las Noticias por Adela on Televisa resemble a hybrid between Donahue and Nightline. Local news shows are modeled after American counterparts like the Eyewitness News and Action News formats. Border cities receive American television and radio stations, while satellite and cable subscription is common for the upper-classes in major cities, who often watch American movies and TV shows.
- Popular music
The vast array of popular music genre in Mexico shows the great diversity of its culture. Endogenous music includes mariachi, banda, duranguense, norteño (grupero), ranchera and corridos. Contemporary music includes Mexican rock (or Rock nacional, represented, among many other, by Maná, El Tri, Molotov and Jaguares), heavy metal, rap, pop (like the group RBD), punk, reggaeton, and alternative music.
Many Mexican singers are famous in all of Latin America and Spain. Mexico is often referred to as the "capital of Spanish-speaking entertainment," due to the fact that any Latin or Spanish singer wanting to become an international success in the region must seek to first enter the Mexican music industry.
Mexico City hosted the XIX Olympic Games in 1968, making it the only Latin American city to do so. The country has also hosted the FIFA World Cup twice, in 1970 and 1986.
The national sport of Mexico is Charreria, a festive event that incorporates equestrian competitions and demonstrations, specific costumes and horse trappings, music, and food.. Bullfighting is also a popular sport in the country. Almost all large cities have bullrings. La Monumental in Mexico City, is the largest bullring in the world, which seats 55,000 people.
The most popular sport in Mexico, however, is football (soccer), which was introduced to Mexico by Cornish miners in the nineteenth century. Baseball is also popular, especially in the Gulf of Mexico and the northern states. The Mexican professional league is named the Liga Mexicana de Beisbol. But the most important baseball league in Mexico is the Liga Mexicana del Pacífico. The States of Sinaloa, Sonora and Baja California have this league, with the highest professional level. The players of this league play in the MLB in The USA, Japan and Korea. This league participates in the "Mini World Series" with teams from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic in the "Caribbean Series."
The most important professional basketball league is the Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional and covers the whole Mexican territory. In 2007 three Mexican teams competed in the American Basketball Association. In the northwestern states is the CIBACOPA Competition, with professional basketball players from Mexico and the American Universities and some teams from the American NBA.
American football is played at the major universities like ITESM (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey), UANL (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León), UDLA (University of the Americas), and UNAM. The college league in Mexico is called ONEFA. There is also a strong following of the NFL in Mexico with the Steelers, Cowboys, Dolphins and Raiders being the most popular teams. Rugby is played at the amateur level throughout the country with the majority of clubs in Mexico City and others in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Celaya, Guanajuato and Oaxaca.
Professional wrestling (or Lucha libre in Spanish) is a major crowd draw with national promotions such as AAA, LLL, CMLL and others.
Sport fishing is popular in Baja California and the big Pacific coast resorts, while freshwater bass fishing is growing in popularity too. The gentler arts of diving and snorkeling are big around the Caribbean, with famous dive sites at Cozumel and on the reefs further south. The Pacific coast is becoming something of a center for surfing, with few facilities as yet; all these sports attract tourists to Mexico.
Mexican films from the Golden Era in the 1940s and 1950s are the greatest examples of Latin American cinema, with a huge industry comparable to the Hollywood of those years. Mexican films were exported and exhibited in all of Latin America and Europe. Maria Candelaria (1944) by Emilio Fernández, was the one first films to be awarded Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946, the first time the event was held after World War II. Famous actors and actress from this period include María Félix, Pedro Infante, Dolores del Río, Jorge Negrete and comedian Cantinflas.
More recently, films such as Como agua para chocolate (1992), Cronos (1993), Amores Perros (2000), Y tu mamá también (2001), Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and Babel (2006) have been successful in creating universal stories about contemporary subjects, and were internationally recognized, as in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Mexican directors Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel), Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are some of the most known present-day filmmakers.
Mexico has made improvements in education in the last two decades. In 2004, the literacy rate was at 92.2 percent, and the youth literacy rate (ages 15–24) was 96 percent. Primary and secondary education (9 years) is free and mandatory. Even though different bilingual education programs have existed since the 1960s for the indigenous communities, after a constitutional reform in the late 1990s, these programs have had a new thrust, and free text books are produced in more than a dozen indigenous languages.
In the 1970s, Mexico established a system of "distance-learning" through satellite communications to reach otherwise inaccessible small rural and indigenous communities. Schools that use this system are known as telesecundarias in Mexico. The Mexican distance learning secondary education is also transmitted to some Central American countries and to Colombia, and it is used in some southern regions of the United States as a method of bilingual education. There are approximately 30,000 telesecundarias and approximately a million telesecundaria students in the country.
The largest and most prestigious public university in Mexico, with over 269,000 students in 2007, is the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) founded in 1551. Three Nobel laureates and most of Mexico's modern-day presidents are among its former students. UNAM conducts 50% of Mexico's scientific research and has a presence all across the country with satellite campuses and research centers. The UNAM ranks 74th place in the Top 200 World University Ranking published by The Times Higher Education Supplement in 2006, making it the highest ranked Spanish-speaking university in the world as well as the first Latin American university.
The most prestigious private university is Monterrey's Technological and Higher Education Institute (EGADE), which is ranked by the Wall Street Journal as the seventh top International Business School worldwide and was ranked 74th in the world's top arts and humanities universities ranking of The Times Higher Education Supplement published in 2005; it has 32 secondary campuses, apart from the Monterrey Campus. Other important private universities include Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute (ITAM), Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP), the Ibero-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana).
- Science and Technology
Notable Mexican technologists include Luis E. Miramontes, the co-inventor of the contraceptive pill, and Guillermo González Camarena, who invented the "Chromoscopic adapter for television equipment," the first color television transmission system. Rodolfo Neri Vela, an UNAM graduate, was the first Mexican in space (as part of the STS-61-B mission in 1985), and Mario J. Molina, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In recent years, the biggest scientific project being developed in Mexico was the construction of the Gran Telescopio Milimétrico (GMT) or Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT), the world's largest and most sensitive single-aperture telescope. It was designed to observe regions of the space obscured by stellar dust.
Nonetheless, the government currently spends only 0.31 percent of GDP in science and technology, a low percentage in comparison with other countries. Mexico has the lowest number of researchers of the OECD countries, with only 4.8 researchers per 10,000 inhabitants. Mexico trains only three Ph.D.s per million habitants. Moreover, there is a regional disparity in the allocation of scientific resources; 75 percent of all doctorate degrees are awarded from institutions in Mexico City area.
History of Mexico
To the Early Nineteenth Century
A number of great civilizations flourished in Mexico long before the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in the early 16th cent. The Olmec civilization was the earliest of these, reaching its high point between 800 and 400 B.C. The Maya civilization flourished between about A.D. 300 and 900, followed by the Toltec (900–1200) and the Aztec (1200–1519). Other notable civilizations of pre-Columbian Mexico are the Mixtec and the Zapotec.
The first Europeans to visit Mexico were Francisco Fernández de Córdoba in 1517 and Juan de Grijalva in 1518. The conquest was begun from Cuba in 1519 by Hernán Cortés, who with lieutenants such as Pedro de Alvarado managed to conquer the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán; to capture Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, and to bring down his empire; and to ward off Spanish rivals like Pánfilo de Narváez. In 1528 the first audiencia (royal court) was set up under Nuño de Guzmán, who later carried the conquest north to Nueva Galicia. The territory was constituted the viceroyalty of New Spain under Antonio de Mendoza in 1535.
Despite efforts by such men as Juan de Zumárraga to induce the indigenous population to accept European religious and social practices, the Spanish had difficulty establishing control, as is evidenced by such events as the Mixtón War (1541). Nonetheless, the small minority of Spanish succeeded in holding power over the rest of the population, and the society slowly developed three different status groupings—Spanish, native peoples, and mestizos (mixed Spanish and indigenous).
Although certain viceroys, including Luis de Velasco (both father and son), attempted to improve the material conditions of the indigenous peoples, there remained an unbridgeable gap in status between the wealthy, almost exclusively Spanish landowning class and the depressed laboring class on the land, in the mines, and in the small factories (chiefly the textile mills, called obrajes ). The growth of an underprivileged mestizo class and the antagonism between those Spanish born in Spain ( gachupines ) and those born in America ( criollos, or creoles) added to the stress.
The mercantilist system, under which manufacturing was largely forbidden in New Spain, drained the wealth of the country to Spain. Lesser officials often were corrupt and ignored the country's problems. At the same time, the Spanish succeeded in conquering new territory. Most of present-day Mexico and the former Spanish holdings in the present-day United States were occupied early. In the 16th cent. California was explored, but it was not until the middle and late 18th cent. that NE Mexico and Texas were occupied by Europeans in any large degree. Many of the administrative evils were ended by the reforms (especially that of 1786) of José de Gálvez, but discontentment with Spanish rule continued to grow among the creoles.
Independence The establishment of the United States and the ideas of the French Revolution had considerable influence on Mexicans. The occupation (1808) of Spain by Napoleon I, who placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the Spanish throne, opened the way for a revolt in Mexico. The priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla began the rebellion by issuing (Sept. 16, 1810) the Grito de Dolores [cry of Dolores], a revolutionary tract calling for racial equality and the redistribution of land. Armies, made up mostly of mestizos and natives and shunned by the creoles, sprang up under the command of Ignacio Allende, José María Morelos y Pavón, Vicente Guerrero, and Mariano Matamoros.
Hidalgo was at first successful, but lost (1811) the decisive battle of Calderón Bridge. By 1815, Morelos and Matamoros had been defeated, and Guerrero had been driven into the wilds. When the liberals came to power in Spain in 1820, the more conservative elements in Mexico (primarily the higher clergy and the creoles) sought independence as a means of maintaining the status quo. The royalist general Augustín de Iturbide negotiated with Guerrero, and they arrived (Feb., 1821) at the Plan of Iguala (see under Iguala), which called for an independent monarchy, equality for gachupines and creoles, and the maintenance of the privileged position of the church. Spain accepted Mexican independence in Sept., 1821, and a short-lived empire with Iturbide at its head was established (1822).
In 1823, the republican leaders Santa Anna and Guadalupe Victoria drove out Iturbide and a republic was set up with Guadalupe Victoria as its first president. Politics were dominated by groups formed around individuals (mostly army officers), each seeking his personal ends. There was a frequent turnover of governments, and the national budget usually ran a deficit. Guerrero, with the support of Santa Anna, became president in 1829, but was ousted in 1830 by Anastasio Bustamante. In 1832, the ambitious Santa Anna, who had a great influence over Mexican politics until 1855, toppled Bustamante and became president. Santa Anna fell from power after being captured during the Texas revolution (1836), but he served again as president from 1841 to 1844. Waste, corruption, and inefficiency were widespread at the time, as inequities in the social order went unchallenged.
The war with Texas led to an all-out war with the United States, the Mexican War (1846–48), which was ended by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, by which Mexico lost a large block of territory. After the war, Santa Anna returned to power as "perpetual dictator," but he was overthrown (1855) by a revolution started (1854) at Ayutla. A group of reform-minded men came to the fore—Juan Álvarez, Ignacio Comonfort, Miguel and Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, and, especially, Benito Juárez—and drafted the liberal constitution of 1857, which secularized church property and reduced the privileges of the army.
Conservative opposition was bitter, and civil war ensued; Juárez led the liberals to victory in the War of Reform (1858–61). The conservatives then sought foreign aid and received it from Napoleon III of France, who had colonial ambitions. French intervention followed and led to a brief and ill-starred interlude of empire (1864–67) under Maximilian, a Hapsburg prince. With the end of French aid the empire collapsed and Juárez again ruled Mexico, but political disturbances prevented the accomplishment of his reform program. Porfirio Díaz led a successful armed revolt in 1876 and, except for the period from 1880 to 1884, firmly held the reins of power as president until 1911. It was a period of considerable economic growth, but social inequality was increased by the favoritism shown the great landowners and foreign investors; the indigenous population sank deeper into peonage. The democratic institutions remained only as a veneer for oligarchic rule.
- The Revolution
In Nov., 1910, an idealistic liberal leader, Francisco I. Madero, began an armed revolt against Díaz, who had gone back on his word not to seek reelection in 1910. Madero was quickly successful, and in May, 1911, Díaz resigned and went into exile. Madero was elected president in Nov., 1911. Well-meaning but ineffectual, he was attacked by conservatives and revolutionaries alike and was harassed by U.S. ambassador Henry Lane Wilson. In Feb., 1913, Madero was overthrown by his general, Victoriano Huerta, and was murdered. President Huerta's regime was dictatorial and repressive, and revolts soon broke out under the leadership of Venustiano Carranza, Francisco "Pancho"Villa, and Emiliano Zapata.
In 1914, Huerta resigned, partly because of U.S. military intervention ordered by President Woodrow Wilson, and Carranza became president. Civil war broke out again in late 1914, but by the end of 1915 Carranza had established control over the country, although Villa and Zapata maintained opposition bands for a number of years. In 1916, Villa led a raid into the United States, which resulted in an unsuccessful U.S. expedition into Mexico. Carranza sponsored the constitution of 1917, which was similar to the 1857 constitution, but which in addition provided for the nationalization of mineral resources, for the restoration of communal lands to native peoples, for the separation of church and state, and for educational, agrarian, and labor reforms. However, most provisions of the constitution were not implemented, and in 1920 Carranza was deposed by General Álvaro Obregón, his former military chief, who was subsequently elected president.
Under the Obregón regime (1920–24) some land was redistributed and, under the leadership of José Vasconcelos, numerous schools were built. Obregón was succeeded by Plutarco Elías Calles, who continued the agrarian and educational programs, but who became embroiled in serious controversies with the United States over rights to petroleum and with the church over the separation of church and state. In some regions militant Catholic peasants, called Cristeros because of their rallying cry— Viva Cristo Rey! [long live Christ the King]—were in open revolt, and in the country as a whole from 1926 to 1929 church schools were closed and no church services were held. Both controversies subsided, partly because of the intervention of the U.S. ambassador, Dwight Morrow. Reelected in 1928, Obregón was assassinated before taking office.
Calles remained the most powerful person in Mexico during the administrations of Portes Gil (1928–30), Ortiz Rubio (1930–32), and Abelardo Rodríguez (1932–34). In 1929 he organized the National Revolutionary party (in 1938 renamed the Mexican Revolutionary party and in 1946 the Institutional Revolutionary party), the chief political party of 20th-century Mexico. Calles's hegemony ended, however, with the inauguration (1934) of Lázaro Cárdenas. Vigorous and idealistic, Cárdenas instituted reforms to improve the lot of the underprivileged. He redistributed much land under the ejido system and supported the Mexican labor movement, which had suffered a setback under Calles (see Lombardo Toledano, Vicente for more detail).
Railroads were nationalized, and foreign holdings, particularly in petroleum fields, were expropriated with compensation. Educational opportunities were increased and illiteracy reduced, medical facilities were extended, transport and communications were improved, and plans were drawn up for land reclamation and for hydroelectric and industrial projects. A settlement with the church was reached. The pace of reform slowed under Manuel Ávila Camacho, who became president in 1940. Relations with the United States improved. In World War II, Mexico declared war (1942) on the Axis powers; it made substantial contributions to the Allied cause and also received considerable U.S. economic aid.
- Developments since 1945
Since World War II, Mexico has enjoyed considerable economic development, but most of the benefits have accrued to the middle and upper classes; the relative welfare of poorer persons (small farmers and laborers) has remained the same or deteriorated. Under President Miguel Alemán (1946–52) vast irrigation projects and hydroelectric plants were constructed, and industrialization advanced rapidly. The improvements made in Mexico's rail network during World War II and the opening of the Inter-American Highway after the war encouraged more U.S. tourists to visit Mexico and thus increased the commercial value of one of the country's greatest assets, the beauty of its land.
Under the moderate presidents Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1952–58), Adolfo López Mateos (1958–64), and Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964–70), the government continued to play a dominant role in national affairs, and attempts were made to improve the conditions of the lower classes. The tax structure was reformed somewhat, some large estates were confiscated and the land redistributed, and educational opportunities in rural areas were increased. In foreign affairs, Mexico maintained friendly relations with the United States, ratifying treaties settling long-standing border disputes in the El Paso, Tex., region (1964, 1967) and calling (1965) for the United States to maintain the freshwater content of the Colorado River, whose waters are used for irrigation in Mexico. Unlike most other American nations, Mexico maintained continuous diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba, but it supported the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).
In 1970, Luis Echeverría Álvarez became president. He took steps toward reforming the government, but the first years of his term were marked by clashes between the left and right and attacks by guerrilas. He was succeeded by José López Portillo in 1976. In the 1970s, Mexico continued to expand its economy, borrowing significantly on the strength of its petroleum reserves. When oil prices fell sharply in the early 1980s, the country's ability to meet its international debt obligations was severely strained. Unemployment and inflation soared, private and foreign investment dropped sharply, and the population began migrating from rural areas into the cities and to the United States. The government of Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, who was elected president in 1982, responded with economic austerity policies, a renegotiation of Mexico's international debt, and a loosening of direct foreign investment regulations.
The economic crisis, the austerity measures imposed in response, and the added economic blow of a major earthquake in Mexico City in 1985 all contributed to popular discontent with the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI). Although the party's candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari won the presidency in 1988, his margin of victory was extremely narrow and was marred by charges of fraud, which much later (2004) were acknowledged by de la Madrid Hurtado to be true. Salinas continued the economic reform begun in the early 1980s, encouraging foreign investment, privatizing many national industries, investigating corruption in public offices, and working toward increased trade with the United States. The illegal flow of immigrants and drugs across the border, however, remained a problem in Mexico's relations with the United States.
In 1992, Mexico, the United States, and Canada negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which erased many trade barriers and created a trading bloc of 370 million people. However, in 1994 a Mayan-based uprising in the southern state of Chiapas provided a reminder of the poverty in which many Mexicans still lived. After protracted negotiations, accords providing limited autonomy for the Indians of the region were agreed to in early 1996, but the accords were not acted on by the government until 2001, when a version that contained watered-down clauses on Indian autonomy and control of natural resources were enacted as constitutional reforms. Also in 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, the PRI's presidential candidate, was assassinated for reasons that still remain unclear.
In Aug., 1994, in an election that was closely watched by international monitors to prevent fraud, the PRI's new candidate, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, won the presidency by a narrow but mainly unquestioned margin. Shortly after his inauguration in December, the government allowed the peso to float against the dollar; the peso plunged rapidly, investors backed out of Mexican markets, and the country was propelled into an economic crisis. In Feb., 1995, Mexico reached agreement with the United States on a $12.5 billion rescue plan, which provided U.S. funds to shore up Mexican banks while requiring Mexico to adopt stringent austerity measures and giving the United States a significant say in Mexican economic policies. Mexico was subsequently able to refinance the debt privately at a lower rate, and much of the loan was paid back in 1996, more than three years ahead of schedule. Ex-president Salinas was blamed for contributing to Mexico's economic crisis and was alleged to have been involved in misdeeds ranging from corruption to political assassinations.
In 1996 the PRI and the three main opposition parties signed an agreement designed to democratize the electoral process and further reduce the influence of the PRI. Although the PRI won the largest number of seats in the July, 1997, congressional elections, it did not have a majority and a four-party opposition coalition took control of the Chamber of Deputies. The two leading coalition partners were the conservative National Action party (PAN) and the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Early in 1998, Mexico and Norway joined with members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to set production limits on petroleum and thus bolster sagging world oil prices, which were having a devastating impact on Mexico's economy.
In the 2000 national elections, the PRI candidate, Francisco Labastida Ochoa, lost to the PAN candidate, Vicente Fox Quesada, a historic opposition victory that ended more than 70 years of PRI rule. The PRI and PAN each won two fifths of the seats in the lower house of the congress, but the PRI won nearly half the seats in the senate. Fox moved quickly to demilitarize the ongoing conflict in Chiapas and made concessions in order to win resumption of the negotiations, but he was unable to win passage of constitutional reforms in the form agreed to. Fox has had difficult relations with the congress, which has become more of an independent power within the government, and has been unable to rely on the support of members from his own party. The 2003 elections for the lower house, in which PAN lost more than 50 seats, did not improve this situation, and PAN suffered further losses in state elections in 2004 and 2005.
President Fox's hopes for close relations with the Bush administration (he had been friendly with Bush when the latter was governor of Texas) went unfulfilled after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when the U.S. government refocused its attention on Al Qaeda and other foreign threats (see 9/11). As a result, Fox's desire to reach an agreement that would establish a less restrictive immigration policy that would benefit the many Mexicans working illegally in the United States seemed likely to be unrealized. Mexico also was adversely affected by the economic slowdown in the United States in 2001–2; some 240,000 jobs in the maquiladoras were lost as result.
In Apr., 2004, Mexico City's mayor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was arrested on charges of disobeying court orders in a land dispute, a move that was seen by many as a political attempt to bar the popular mayor from running in the 2006 presidential election. The arrest led to a protest march in the capital by perhaps as many as a million people. President Fox subsequently fired the federal attorney general, whose office had prosecuted López Obrador, and the charges were dropped in May, but the incident further damaged Fox's standing.
Illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States became a source of tension in Mexican-American relations in 2005. In the American Southwest governors publicly complained of the problem, and private American anti-immigration groups organized their own patrols along the border. U.S. President Bush failed to win passage of his proposed immigration overhaul bill, but in December the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure calling for building a new border fence with security cameras and for criminalizing illegal immigration. The House's move especially angered many Mexicans, and it was vigorously denounced by President Fox, but legislation calling for 700 mi (1,100 km) of additional fencing along the border was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Bush in Oct., 2006.
In the July, 2006, elections, the PAN candidate, Felipe Calderón, narrowly edged López Obrador, the Democratic Revolutionary party (PRD) candidate, winning by less than 0.6% of the vote; the PRI candidate placed third. López Obrador accused Calderón of winning by fraud, and sought to have the election court order a ballot-by-ballot recount. There was no clear evidence of fraud, however, and European Union monitors certified the election as free of irregularities. PAN also won the largest number of legislative seats, with the PRD placing second. A partial recount was ultimately ordered, but the resulting changes in the vote had no effect on the outcome. López Obrador's supporters mounted significant demonstrations beginning in July, but after the vote was finalized in September the protests petered out, despite the candidate's refusal to recognize Calderón's victory.
Calderón, who took office in December, moved forcefully in his first months in office against organized crime and drug cartels, using federal forces in operations involving seven states in an effort to combat crime and drug-related violence. Despite these moves, drug violence continued to be a increasingly significant problem in parts of Mexico, and the drug cartels expanded into other lucrative criminal areas including illegal mining, oil theft, and product piracy. Greater numbers of troops (some 45,000) were deployed by 2009 in an effort to quell the violence, most notably in Juárez, along the U.S. border, where some 8,000 troops and federal police sought to control drug gang warfare. Raids in the state of Michoacán in May, 2009, led to drug-related charges against 7 mayors and 20 other officials (though the mayors were related released). Despite the government's measures, drug-related violence—concentrated mainly in the Mexican states bordering the United States—worsened in 2009–11, leading to some 60,000 drug-violence-related deaths by the end of 2012. Although the problem has diminished in Juárez, drug-related has continued to plague the country; in 2013–14 there were clashes in Michoacán between drug traffickers and vigilante groups opposed to them.
There was severe flooding in Tabasco and parts of neighboring Chiapas in Sept.–Oct., 2007; more than 1 million people were affected. In Sept., 2007, the president won a significant legislative victory when the Mexican congress passed a tax reform bill, and an electoral reform package was passed in conjunction with the bill. An overhaul of the criminal justice system was enacted in Mar., 2008, but a proposed restructuring of the state-owned oil company, Pemex, was denounced by leftist legislators as creeping privatization, and they camped out in the chambers of Congress in protest. A modified version of the bill passed, however, in Oct., 2008.
In Apr., 2009, a new influenza strain, popularly known as swine flu, was first identified in Mexico, and Mexico and Mexico City closed schools and others facilities later in the month in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, which initially seemed unusually virulent in adults. The measures, which were ended completely only by late May, ultimately succeeded, though the virus, which nonetheless spread worldwide, turned out to be no more deadly than normal strains. Congressional elections in July, 2010, were a victory for the PRI, which benefited from an economic downturn and secured a plurality in the lower house. A year later the PRI also scored some successes in state elections, though it lost control of several governorships it had long controlled; a leading gubernatorial candidate in Tamaulipas was assassinated by drug-gang hitmen a week before the vote.
In the July, 2012, elections the PRI presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, the former governor of Mexico state, won with 38% of the vote; López Obrador again placed second. López Obrador again challenged the result and called for a recount, and a recount of the ballots from more than half of the polling places was ordered. The PRI also led in the congressional results, but failed to win a majority. The new president subsequently moved to pass (2013) a number of reforms, including opening the oil industry to foreign investment, with the support of the PRI and one or both of the other main parties.
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