mk´skboth: m´hk, Span. México or Méjico
Most of Mexico is highland or mountainous and less than 15% of the land is arable; about 25% of the country is forested. Most of the Yucatán peninsula and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the southeast is lowland, and there are low-lying strips of land along the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of California (which separates the Baja, or Lower, California peninsula from the rest of the country).
The heart of Mexico is made up of the Mexican Plateau (c.700 mi/1,130 km long and c.4,000–8,000 ft/1,220–2,440 m high), which is broken by mountain ranges and segmented by deep rifts. The plateau is fringed by two mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre Oriental (in the east) and the Sierra Madre Occidental (in the west), which converge just south of the plateau. Within the plateau are drainage basins, which have no outlet to the sea and which contain some of the country's major cities. The Laguna District, one of the drainage basins, was (1936) the scene of a major experiment in land reapportionment. In the north the plateau is arid except for irrigated areas and is used principally for raising livestock.
In the south the deserts yield to the broad, shallow lakes of a region, comprising the Valley of Mexico, known as the Anáhuac and famous for its rich cultural heritage. South of the Anáhuac, which includes Mexico City, is a chain of extinct volcanoes, including Citlaltépetl, or Orizaba (18,700 ft/5,700 m, the highest point in Mexico), Popocatépetl, and Iztaccihuatl. To the south are jumbled masses of mountains and the Sierra Madre del Sur.
Among Mexico's few large rivers are the Rio Bravo del Norte, which forms the boundary with Texas, and its tributaries the Río Conchos and the Río Sabinas; the Río Yaqui, Río Fuerte, Río Mezquital, Río Grande de Santiago, and Río Balsas, which flow into the Pacific; and the Río Grijalva and Río Usumacinta, which flow into the Bay of Campeche. The climate of the country varies with the altitude, so that there are hot, temperate, and cool regions— tierra caliente (up to c.3,000 ft/1,220 m), tierra templada (c.3,000–c.6,000 ft/1,220–1,830 m), and tierra friá (above c.6,000 ft/1,830 m).
Mexico's 31 states are Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro de Arteaga, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Yucatán, and Zacatecas.
About 60% of the population are of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent, while about 30% are of purely indigenous ancestry, and 10% are of European descent. Spanish is the official language and various Mayan dialects, Nahuatl, and other indigenous languages are also spoken. Since 1920 the population of Mexico has had a very high rate of growth, almost entirely the result of natural increase; from 1940 to 2005 the population grew from less than 20 million to more than 100 million. However, declining fertility rates (from 7 children per woman in 1965 to slightly under 3 in 1998) are slowing population growth. Nearly 90% of the people are nominally Roman Catholic and 6% are Protestant. The country has numerous universities, notably in Mexico City, Saltillo, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Puebla. Since precolonial times Mexican architects, painters, writers, and musicians have produced a rich cultural heritage (see Spanish colonial art and architecture, Mexican art and architecture, and Spanish American literature).
From the mid-1940s through the 1970s, Mexico generally enjoyed considerable economic growth, especially in industry. However, in the 1980s the economy, heavily dependent on sales of petroleum, incurred large international debts as petroleum prices fell. In the early 1990s, debt relief, diversification and privatization of the economy, and foreign investment showed positive effects, and the growth rate returned to historic levels. A new crisis arose with the collapse of the peso in the mid-1990s, forcing the adoption of austerity measures. A strong export sector helped the country to recover in the late 1990s, but the economy again went into recession in 2001, in large part because of the economic downturn in the United States. The Mexican government plays a major role in planning the economy and owns and operates some basic industries (including petroleum), but the number of state-owned enterprises has fallen substantially since the 1980s.
About 20% of the country's workers (including those largely outside the money economy) are engaged in farming, which is slowly becoming modernized. Because rainfall is inadequate outside the coastal regions, agriculture depends largely on extensive irrigation. Mexico produces a wide variety of agricultural products, including corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, cotton, coffee, fruit, sugar, and tomatoes. Agave species (see amaryllis) are widely grown, and are processed into the alcoholic beverages pulque, mescal, and tequila. Livestock raising, dairy farming, and fishing are also significant economic activities.
Mexico is among the world's leading producers of many minerals, including silver, copper, gold, lead, zinc, and natural gas, and its petroleum reserves are one of its most valuable assets. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, petroleum constituted about three quarters of Mexico's exports. That figure fell drastically in the mid-1980s. While the petroleum industry has recovered substantially, diversification of industry is helping to keep Mexico's trade economy from becoming dependent once more on a single export.
Next to oil, the most important source of exports are the industrial assembly plants known as maquiladoras. Since the early 1980s there has been considerable foreign investment in the maquiladoras, which take advantage of a large, low-cost labor force to produce finished goods for export to the United States. These plants have increased Mexico's export production considerably. The economic importance of the maquiladoras, however, is exceeded by tourism. Favorite tourist centers include Acapulco, Cancún, Cozumel, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, Cabo San Lucas, and Tijuana, as well as Mexico City itself and such highland centers as Guadalajara and Puebla. Remittances from Mexicans working, both legally and illegally, in the United States are also extremely important to the economy.
The principal industrial centers in Mexico are Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Juárez, Tijuana, Veracruz, Durango, León, Querétaro, Tampico, Mérida, and Puebla. Leading products include food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, refined petroleum and petrochemicals, textiles and clothing, motor vehicles, and consumer goods. The country is also known for its handicrafts, especially pottery, woven goods, and silverwork. Mexico's chief ports are Veracruz, Tampico, Coatzacoalcos, Mazatlán, and Ensenada.
The leading imports are machinery, steel mill products, electrical and electronic equipment, motor vehicle parts for assembly and repair, aircraft, and manufactured consumer goods. The main exports are manufactured goods, crude oil, petroleum products, silver, fruits, vegetables, coffee, and cotton. Until recently, the annual value of Mexico's imports was considerably higher than the value of its exports. The United States is by far the largest trade partner, followed by China, Japan, Canada, and the European Union nations.
Under the constitution of 1917 as amended, Mexico is a federal republic whose chief executive and head of state is the president, directly elected to a nonrenewable six-year term and assisted by a cabinet. The bicameral legislature is made up of the Senate, with 128 members serving six-year terms, and the Chamber of Deputies, with 500 members serving three-year terms. Ninety-six of the senators and 300 of the deputies are directly elected, while 32 of the senators and 200 of the deputies are chosen by a system of proportional representation.
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 BC The Maya civilization flourished between about AD 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.
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.
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. 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 Lopéz 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 Lopéz 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 Lopéz Obrador, the Democratic Revolutionary party (PRD) candidate, winning by less than 0.6% of the vote; the PRI candidate placed third. Lopéz 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. Lopéz 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.