Mexico is a country that is rich in culture, with a history that inspires movies, books, and even doomsday theories. From the ancient city of Tenochtitlan to Cortez, the deserts of Chihuahua to the crystal clear waters of the Yucután, Mexico is home to some of the most diverse landscapes, wildlife, and ancestry. In the next few paragraphs, we will learn about Mexico’s past, present, and possibly speculate on the not too distant future.
Near 1000 B.C., one of Mexico’s first ancient civilizations was born. Known as the Olmecs, this ancient civilization worshiped a jaguar deity and is credited for inspiring following cultures and civilizations such as the Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans, Zapotecs, and many others. The civilizations that followed are responsible for the ruins we see today in places like Tulum.
None of the other civilizations mentioned were nearly as powerful than the Aztecs. Sure, the Mayans predicted the end of the world and made significantly more advances in technology and science, but the Aztecs ruled Mexico. Before Cortez landed in Mexico, the Aztecs controlled the largest empire in the country. Sitting in lake Texacoco, the Aztecs built Tenochtitlan, the most elaborate city the country had seen; with floating bridges and an elaborate government that demanded taxes from its people, Tenochtitlan was the shining city of Mexico before Cortez landed and brought an end to one of the most powerful indigenous tribes in the 15th century.
After Cortez landed on the coast with only 400 men, he set his sights on the jewel of Mexico. The emperor of the Aztecs, Moctezuma, welcomed Cortez, believing he was the reincarnation of their white-faced god Quetzacuatl. Cortez then proceeded to take Moctezuma hostage and steal the Aztec’s gold. Cortez and his men fled to the coast when the Aztecs revolted and laid siege to the castle, losing half of his force during the chase. Cortez returned a year later with Indian allies and successfully toppled the Aztec empire.
Mexico was Spain’s crown jewel of colonies because of its large production of minerals and fertile plains, so naturally it was heavily taxed. Spain handed settlers plots of land and gave them Indian slaves to work it, and since the native population was not immune to European disease and had inferior firepower, they were reluctant to be enslaved but did not prove too resistant. The “necessity” of Christianity in the Indian population grew, and the ruler of Spain commanded that there be missions built throughout the country to convert those who had not been exposed to their religion.
In the 1800s, the French conquered Mexico. Napoleon placed his brother on the Spanish throne after conquering the country, and the seeds of revolt began to sprout in Mexico. Catholic priest Father Miguel de Hidalgo y Costilla led the revolt against the new French monarch in Spain in 1810. The seeds of revolt grew into rebellion trees and the fruit ripened as a war for independence rage don in the country. By 1821 the war for independence culminated with a treaty between rebel Vicente Guerrero and royalist Agustin de Iturbide signed the Treaty of Cordoba on September 27th of that year.
With freedom, Mexico was torn apart by war. Different rebels and warlords fought each other for over fifty years, and even between Mexico and the U.S. until a treaty was signed between the two countries in 1848. Mexico lost a significant portion of their land to the U.S. in the treaty, including Texas and California after the U.S. seized Mexico City.
After General Santa Ana lost the northern territories to the U.S., Benito Juarez came into power, liberalizing the constitution and instituting land-reform. This infuriated land-owners and started a conflict known as the “War of Reform” from 1858-1861. Juarez held the presidency, but the conflict left Mexico broke and unable to pay their debts to foreign powers.
Seeing Mexico in a weakened state and being a major lender, France saw this as an opportune time to invade. Napoleon III sent the archduke of Austria, Maximilian, to be the Emperor of Mexico. After a bloody conflict, Juarez managed to retake Mexico City in 1867 and Maximilian was executed.
In 1876 a man named Porfirio Diaz overthrew the Mexican government after losing the election against Juarez five years earlier. Diaz’s iron-fisted rule lasted for 40 years and was called the Porfiriato; Diaz sold most of Mexico’s industries to foreigners and quelled any objection by others by force.
Diaz was ultimately challenged by Francisco I. Madero, who retreated to the U.S. after Diaz demanded him killed. Madero later won the presidency with help from Emiliano Zapata who was leading a rebellion against Diaz in the south. Madero was killed in a coup by his military leader Victoriano Huerta with the help of the U.S. ambassador.
Huerta’s forces were opposed by an alliance led by Venustiano Carranza, General Alvaro Obregon, Emiliano Zapata, and Pancho Villa in the north. The Mexican Revolution, considered one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, had just begun.
After Huerta was defeated, Carranza assumed power. Not wanting to recognize Carranza as the new president, Villa and Zapata drove him and Obregon from the capital. Carranza and Obregon retreated and regrouped, returned to Mexico City and retook the capital. Obregon annihilated Villa’s cavalry and Carranza held power until the next elections. When Carranza realized that Obregon would win the next election, he staged a coup but failed and was hunted down and killed by Obregon.
After trying to pull the U.S. into a conflict with Carranza, Villa ended up leaving the world of politics and became a farmer until he was assassinated in 1923. Zapata was also assassinated in 1919 by government soldiers; after the dust settled, the last man standing was Obregon, who was then president.
After all the turmoil that set up 20th century politics, Mexico was dominated by one party after the assassination of Obregon in 1928: Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI. The PRI was started in 1929 by Plutarco Elias Calles. The party’s most loved president was General Lazaro Cardenas, who was president in 1934. Cardenas instituted widespread land reform, strengthened unions, and nationalized the petroleum industry.
Mexico is a multi-party system with three major parties: the PRI, the PAN, and the PRD. The Partido Acción Nacional, or the National Action Party, is a conservative Mexican political party with close ties to the Roman Catholic Church. Drawing its support from the urban middle-class and chosen to enforce the will of the Roman Catholic Church, PAN was created in 1939 as the main opposition to the PRI.
Mexico’s Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, was born from the PRI after the son of former Mexican President and founder of the PRI, Lázaro Cárdenas, publically split with the PRI. President Cárdenas’s son, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, quickly became the leader of the PRD, and ran for President in 1988.
Mexico derives its governmental structure from the constitution adopted in 1917, which clearly delineates the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and the judiciary branches of government. Mexico’s Parliament is divided into two groups: the Senate (upper house), and the Chamber of Deputies (lower house). Senators hold six year terms, while members of the Chamber of Deputies hold three year terms.
The President of Mexico holds a fixed six year term without the possibility of reelection.
Mexico is ranked in the top 20 economies in the world, with a GDP of over $1.5 trillion. Mexico exports over $298 billion around the world, and $230 billion goes to the U.S. Mexico exports many goods, natural resource exports, agricultural exports (one of the largest producers of corn in the world), food, beverage, tobacco, etc., and other services make up the country’s exports.
Since the institution of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, Mexico’s share of US imports has increased from 7% to 12%, and its share of Canadian imports has doubled to 5%. Mexico has free trade agreements with over 50 countries, putting more than 90% of trade under free trade agreements.
As the worldwide demand for exports dropped in 2009, Mexico’s GDP fell over 6%. As the worldwide economy slowly rebounded, so did Mexico’s export economy, growing about 11% in 2 years.
Mexico has the 12th largest labor force, 47.77 million, with about 63% of that labor force focused in services (communication, tourism, etc.).
Mexico had a 5.1% unemployment rate in 2011, down from 5.4% in 2010 but over 45% of the country still remains under the poverty line (asset based, food based: 18%).
Although Mexico’s GDP is slowly on the rise, the exchange rate is still at 12.4 pesos to 1 U.S. dollar.
Mexico is the world’s 14th largest nation, consisting of over 780,000 square miles of land (about 3x the size of Texas). Mexico is the only nation along the southern border of the United States, and consists of 31 states and a federal district. Mexico spans from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, from California to Guatemala. The Sea of Cortes lies between Baja California (the largest peninsula in the world) and the mainland of Mexico.
Mexico is home to a variety of landscapes ranging from barren desert with a dry climate in the north, then the country is cut by the Tropic of Cancer where lush jungle with a hot and humid climate lies in the south. Mexico boasts over 9,000 KM of coastline, and borders the U.S., Guatemala, and Belize. Elevation gain and loss ranges from -10meters-5700m.
Mexico is ravaged by hurricanes and tsunamis from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, and is hit by volcanic activity as well. The volcanoes in the northern part of the country, in Baja, are the most dormant. Colima, which erupted in 2010, is Mexico’s most active volcano and is responsible for the evacuation of many nearby villages over the last decade. Popocatepetl proposes a threat to Mexico City based on its proximity, and other volcanos lie dormant around the country.
Although Mexico is home to lush jungle and many rivers, groundwater is often polluted and is not safe to drink straight from the source. Hazardous waste disposal is a large issue in Mexico because of improper facilities and the disposal of human waste and garbage into streams and rivers. The lack of clean water and deforestation have been deemed national security issues in Mexico.
People and Society:
Mexico is home to a wide variety of ethnicities, ranging from South American immigrants, to indigenous peoples whose lineage dates back to 1000 B.C. Considered the 11th most populous country in the world, home to 115 million people, Mexico is full of culture and diversity.
About 60% of the population is Mestizo, or American Indian-Spanish. American Indians make up 30% of the population, while whites make up about 9% and the last 1% is categorized as “other.”
Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, and is home to people of all different lineage, from French to Spanish to Mayan to Aztec.
Those who live in Mexico have a life expectancy of 76 years, and their population growth last year was just over 1%. Mexico’s obesity rate sits well below that of the United States’, at about 23%.
With such a high poverty rate, Mexico is considered to only have 2 classes: rich and poor. Manuel Lopez-Loaiza, a UM student and resident of Mexico, said, “there is no middle class in Mexico, you either have money or you don’t.”