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Studying for the citizenship exam or just about Mexico in general

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HISTORY

Preconquest Mexico

MEXICO’S MANY ARCHAEOLOGICAL treasures, its architectural wealth, and its diverse population provide physical clues to a past that has given rise to stories of migration, settlement, conquest, and nation-building. The cultural heritage of the Aztec, the Maya, and other advanced civilizations, seen in the ruins of their temples and in their artifacts, bears witness to the achievements of the early inhabitants of Mesoamerica (see Glossary). Following a pattern that spans the pre-Columbian era to modern times, new civilizations have been built on the ruins of the old. In this ongoing process of cultural superimposition, many elements of the past have endured, despite occasional efforts to root out traditional practices and native identities. A major change came with the Spanish conquest. The conquest caused a traumatic break in the ebb and flow of native kingdoms and led to a single, albeit stratified, society that was neither wholly native nor European, but mestizo.

The conquistadors unified the populations of the former Mesoamerican kingdoms under the rule of a militaristic and theocratic Spanish monarchy. After early attempts by the conquerors and their descendants to establish a decentralized feudal society, central aristocratic authority prevailed. Throughout the colonial period, a distinctly “Mexican” national identity was emerging among the mestizo and creole inhabitants of New Spain. By the early nineteenth century, Spain’s mercantilist trade policies and its discrimination against native-born Mexicans in colonial business and administrative affairs fostered widespread resentment and a desire for greater autonomy. The geopolitical crisis of the Napoleonic wars and the influence of Enlightenment ideas provoked a sudden break with Madrid in 1810.

In the aftermath of independence, Mexico suffered a prolonged tumultuous period of factionalism and foreign intervention. Riven by bitter disputes between conservatives and liberals and governed by a series of military strongmen, the country languished in political turmoil while it lost half of its territory to an expanding United States. Stability, when it was finally achieved at the close of the nineteenth century, was imposed by the modernizing but politically repressive regime of José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz.

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, Mexico’s population was denied opportunities for individual prosperity and fair and equal treatment before the law. In a country that remained predominantly rural until the 1950s, landlessness and rural unemployment had become endemic. The suppression of civil liberties and the excessive concentration of wealth during the Porfiriato (the name given to the years of the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship, 1876-1910) polarized Mexican society and eventually led to the bitter and destructive factional wars collectively known as the Mexican Revolution. After nearly a decade of devastating warfare, the combatants came together in the town of Querétaro in 1917 to draft a grand compromise that would incorporate the ideals of the diverse revolutionary factions.

The constitution of 1917 gave Mexicans the legal and ideological framework on which to base national development: equality before the law, national self-determination, and a state-mediated balance between private property rights and social welfare objectives. In the decades that followed, different Mexican administrations would alternatively promote redistribution or economic growth, depending on a variety of circumstances.

By the late twentieth century, the burgeoning Mexican state could no longer assure the Revolution’s promise of growth with equity. After decades of semiauthoritarian rule by the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional–PRI), corruption and excessive clientelism had overshadowed the ideal of equality before the law. Poverty, although lessened, continued to beset half of the population. The debt crisis of the early 1980s marked the end of Mexico’s protectionist, state-centered economic model and set the stage for far-reaching trade and financial liberalization and systematic privatization of key industries. By the early 1990s, Mexico’s economy was thoroughly integrated into the global market, and a renascent civil society was exercising increasing autonomy from Mexico’s corporatist political institutions. Mexico thus approached the end of the twentieth century in a state of profound transition (see fig. 1).
Preconquest Mexico

Despite Mexico’s rich pre-Columbian history, following the Spanish conquest in 1519, the country’s new rulers made a concerted attempt to erase all things related to indigenous cultures. Conquerors and missionaries felt divinely inspired to “civilize and evangelize” the native peoples of the New World. The attempts to Europeanize and Christianize Mexico led to the devaluation of much of the indigenous culture for the next 400 years.

This situation was finally reversed in the 1920s during what has become known as the cultural phase of the Revolution, when a conscious effort was undertaken to search for a national cultural identity known as mexicanidad (“Mexicanness”). The search for this new national consciousness resulted in a renewed appreciation of the advanced civilizations encountered by the Spanish in 1519. Since the 1920s, extensive scholarship has been devoted to native Mexican values and the cultural expressions of those indigenous values in contemporary society.

GEOGRAPHY

Topography and Drainage

Two prominent mountain ranges–the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental–define northern Mexico. Both are extensions of ranges found in the United States. The Sierra Madre Occidental on the west is a continuation of California’s Sierra Nevada (with a break in southeastern California and extreme northern Mexico), and the Sierra Madre Oriental on the east is a southward extension of the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and Texas. Between these two ranges lies the Mexican altiplano (high plain), a southern continuation of the Great Basin and high deserts that spread over much of the western United States.

Beginning approximately fifty kilometers from the United States border, the Sierra Madre Occidental extends 1,250 kilometers south to the Río Santiago, where it merges with the Cordillera Neovolcánica range that runs east-west across central Mexico. The Sierra Madre Occidental lies approximately 300 kilometers inland from the west coast of Mexico at its northern end but approaches to within fifty kilometers of the coast near the Cordillera Neovolcánica. The northwest coastal plain is the name given the lowland area between the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Gulf of California. The Sierra Madre Occidental averages 2,250 meters in elevation, with peaks reaching 3,000 meters.

The Sierra Madre Oriental starts at the Big Bend region of the Texas-Mexico border and continues 1,350 kilometers until reaching Cofre de Perote, one of the major peaks of the Cordi-llera Neovolcánica. As is the case with the Sierra Madre Occidental, the Sierra Madre Oriental comes progressively closer to the coastline as it approaches its southern terminus, reaching to within seventy-five kilometers of the Gulf of Mexico. The northeast coastal plain extends from the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental to the Gulf of Mexico. The median elevation of the Sierra Madre Oriental is 2,200 meters, with some peaks at 3,000 meters.

The Mexican altiplano, stretching from the United States border to the Cordillera Neovolcánica, occupies the vast expanse of land between the eastern and western sierra madres. A low east-west range divides the altiplano into northern and southern sections. These two sections, previously called the Mesa del Norte and Mesa Central, are now regarded by geographers as sections of one altiplano. The northern altiplano averages 1,100 meters in elevation and continues south from the Río Bravo del Norte through the states of Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí. Various narrow, isolated ridges cross the plateaus of the northern altiplano. Numerous depressions dot the region. The southern altiplano is higher than its northern counterpart, averaging 2,000 meters in elevation. The southern altiplano contains numerous valleys originally formed by ancient lakes. Several of Mexico’s most prominent cities, including Mexico City and Guadalajara, are located in the valleys of the southern altiplano.

One other significant mountain range, the California system, cuts across the landscape of the northern half of Mexico. A southern extension of the California coastal ranges that parallel California’s coast, the Mexican portion of the California system extends from the United States border to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, a distance of 1,430 kilometers. Peaks in the California system range in altitude from 2,200 meters in the north to only 250 meters near La Paz in the south. Narrow lowlands are found on the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California sides of the mountains.

The Cordillera Neovolcánica is a belt 900 kilometers long and 130 kilometers wide, extending from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The Cordillera Neovolcánica begins at the Río Grande de Santiago and continues south to Colima, where it turns east along the nineteenth parallel to the central portion of the state of Veracruz. The region is distinguished by considerable seismic activity and contains Mexico’s highest volcanic peaks. This range contains three peaks exceeding 5,000 meters: Pico de Orizaba (Citlaltépetl)–the third highest mountain in North America–and Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl near Mexico City. The Cordillera Neovolcánica is regarded as the geological dividing line between North America and Central America.

Several important mountain ranges dominate the landscape of southern and southeastern Mexico. The Sierra Madre del Sur extends 1,200 kilometers along Mexico’s southern coast from the southwestern part of the Cordillera Neovolcánica to the nearly flat isthmus of Tehuantepec. Mountains in this range average 2,000 meters in elevation. The range averages 100 kilometers in width, but widens to 150 kilometers in the state of Oaxaca. The narrow southwest coastal plain extends from the Sierra Madre del Sur to the Pacific Ocean. The Sierra Madre de Oaxaca begins at Pico de Orizaba and extends in a southeasterly direction for 300 kilometers until reaching the isthmus of Tehuantepec. Peaks in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca average 2,500 meters in elevation, with some peaks exceeding 3,000 meters. South of the isthmus of Tehuantepec, the Sierra Madre de Chiapas runs 280 kilometers along the Pacific Coast from the Oaxaca-Chiapas border to Mexico’s border with Guatemala. Although average elevation is only 1,500 meters, one peak–Volcán de Tacuma–exceeds 4,000 meters in elevation. Finally, the Meseta Central de Chiapas extends 250 kilometers through the central part of Chiapas to Guatemala. The average height of peaks of the Meseta Central de Chiapas is 2,000 meters. The Chiapas central valley separates the Meseta Central de Chiapas and the Sierra Madre de Chiapas.

Mexico has nearly 150 rivers, two-thirds of which empty into the Pacific Ocean and the remainder of which flow into the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea. Despite this apparent abundance of water, water volume is unevenly distributed throughout the country. Indeed, five rivers–the Usumacinta, Grijalva, Papaloapán, Coatzacoalcos, and Pánuco–account for 52 percent of Mexico’s average annual volume of surface water. All five rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico; only the Río Pánuco is outside southeastern Mexico, which contains approximately 15 percent of national territory and 12 percent of the national population. In contrast, northern and central Mexico, with 47 percent of the national area and almost 60 percent of Mexico’s population, have less than 10 percent of the country’s water resources.

SOCIETY

The Population

The eleventh annual census, conducted in 1990, reported a total Mexican population of 81,250,000. This figure represented a 2.3 percent per annum growth rate from the 1980 census and indicated successful government efforts at slowing down the level of population increase. The government reported that the population stood at 91,158,000 at the end of 1995, a 1.8 percent increase over the previous year. Assuming that this most recent level of growth were maintained through the rest of the 1990s, Mexico’s population would stand at approximately 100 million persons in the year 2000. A return to the higher 1980 to 1990 growth rate, however, would result in a population total of approximately 102 million persons by the year 2000.

The pace of migration to the United States increased markedly during the 1980s. One analyst, Rodolfo Corona Vázquez, estimated that 4.4 million Mexicans resided outside the country (almost all in the United States) in 1990, roughly double the estimated number in 1980. Corona Vázquez also noted a changing pattern of emigration since the 1960s. Seven contiguous states in north central Mexico–Jalisco, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Durango, San Luis Potosí, and Aguasca-lientes–accounted for approximately 70 percent of all emigrants in 1960, but only 42 percent in 1990. New important sources of emigration included Chihuahua in the northeast, the Federal District (the administrative unit that includes Mexico City), and the southernmost state of Oaxaca.

Notable variations exist in the country’s population density. Four states, three of them in the arid northwest, had fewer than ten persons per square kilometer in 1990, and another thirteen states, mostly in the north, had density levels between ten and fifty persons per square kilometer. By contrast, two states clustered near the capital had densities in excess of 200 persons per square kilometer. The rate in Mexico City itself was approximately 5,500 persons per square kilometer (see table 2, Appendix).

The state of Mexico and the Federal District accounted for over 22 percent of the national population in 1990. The state of Mexico’s spectacular population growth (the state alone accounted for more than 12 percent of national totals) reflected the expansion of the Mexico City metropolitan area. Almost 69 percent of the state of Mexico’s population resided in the twenty-seven municipalities that, together with the Federal District, comprise the Mexico City metropolitan area. More than 40 percent of state residents lived in four working-class municipalities–Nezahualcóyotl, Ecatepec, Naucalpán, and Tlalnepantla–that serve as bedroom communities for Mexico City.

During the course of its history, Mexico has experienced dramatic shifts in population. Demographers estimate that the country’s population at the time of the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s was approximately 20 million. By 1600, however, barely 1 million remained–the result of deadly European diseases and brutal treatment of the indigenous inhabitants by the Spanish colonizers. At the onset of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, Mexico’s population stood at approximately 15 million persons. Not until 1940 did Mexico reach the population level it had in 1519.

Although the population growth between 1910 and 1940 appeared relatively modest in absolute numbers, the seeds were sown for a spectacular increase over the next thirty years. Because of advances in preventive medicine and the gradual control of diseases such as yellow fever, the crude death rate declined from 33.2 per 1,000 inhabitants in the period 1905 to 1910 to 23.4 in 1940 (see table 3, Appendix). As sanitation conditions improved in post-World War II Mexico, the crude death rate dropped sharply to 10.1 by 1970. At the same time, however, fertility rates (the number of children the average woman would bear from fifteen to forty-nine years of age) remained relatively stable. Because of the stable fertility rate and declining death rate, the population increased by 2.7 percent per annum between 1940 and 1950, by 3.1 percent per annum between 1950 and 1960, and by 3.4 percent per annum between 1960 and 1970. By 1970 Mexico’s population stood at approximately 48.2 million persons, almost two and one-half times its pre-World War II number. Demographers in 1970 ominously forecast that the population would reach 125 million persons by the year 2000.

Shortly after assuming the presidency in 1976, José López Portillo y Pacheco (1976-82) adopted an aggressive national family planning program. This effort paid immediate dividends by reducing Mexico’s fertility rate from 5.4 in 1976 to 4.6 in 1979. The family planning initiative produced a fundamental change in attitudes that continued and accelerated into the 1990s. Indeed, the government reported that the fertility rate had declined to 2.9 in 1993. This lower fertility rate produced a slightly older average population in 1990, compared with two decades earlier. In 1970, 46.2 percent of all Mexicans were younger than fifteen years of age, and 56.7 percent were under twenty years of age. By 1990, these numbers had dropped to 38.3 and 50.6 percent, respectively.

THE ECONOMY

Early Years

The Mexican wars of independence (1810-21) left a legacy of economic stagnation that persisted until the 1870s. Political instability and foreign invasion deterred foreign investment, risk-taking, and innovation. Most available capital left with its Spanish owners following independence. Instead of investing in productive enterprises and thereby spurring economic growth, many wealthy Mexicans converted their assets into tangible, secure, and often unproductive property.

The seeds of economic modernization were laid under the restored Republic (1867-76) (see The Restoration, 1867-76, ch. 1). President Benito Juárez (1855-72) sought to attract foreign capital to finance Mexico’s economic modernization. His government revised the tax and tariff structure to revitalize the mining industry, and it improved the transportation and communications infrastructure to allow fuller exploitation of the country’s natural resources. The government let contracts for construction of a new rail line northward to the United States, and it completed the commercially vital Mexico City-Veracruz railroad, begun in 1837. Protected by high tariffs, Mexico’s textile industry doubled its production of processed items between 1854 and 1877. But overall, manufacturing grew only modestly, and economic stagnation continued.

During the Porfiriato (1876-1910), however, Mexico underwent rapid and sustained growth, and laid the foundations for a modern economy. Taking “order and progress” as his watchwords, President José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz established the rule of law, political stability, and social peace, which brought the increased capital investment that would finance national development and modernization. Rural banditry was suppressed, communications and transportation facilities were modernized, and local customs duties that had hindered domestic trade were abolished.

THE CONSTITUTION

Nineteenth Century Constitutions

The roots of the Mexican republic can be traced to two documents drafted during the early independence struggle against Spain: Los sentimientos de la nación (1813), by José María Morelos y Pavón, and the Constitution of Apatzingón (1814). These tracts introduced the ideal of a republic based on liberal political institutions and respect for individual rights. Mexico’s independence was attained, however, by an alliance of liberal and ultraconservative forces under the leadership of Agustín de Iturbide (see Wars of Independence, 1810-21, ch. 1). Iturbide’s Plan of Iguala proposed an indigenous constitutional monarchy, rather than a republic, as the alternative to Spanish rule. By assuming imperial powers following the victory over Spanish colonial forces in 1821, Iturbide continued the Iberian practice of plenipotentiary rule by the chief executive.

Mexico’s first republican constitution was the Acta Constitutiva de la Federación Mexicana (Constituent Act of the Mexican Federation), which was promulgated in 1824, following the forced resignation of Iturbide and the breakup of the short-lived Mexican Empire (see The Abortive Empire, 1821-23, ch. 1). A liberal document modeled largely on the United States constitution, the constitution of 1824 established a federal republic with a divided central government. To avoid the abuses of executive authority experienced under Iturbide, the constitution required the president to share power and responsibility with a bicameral congress and the federal judiciary. Breaking with the Spanish colonial legacy of centralism, the constitution instituted a strong federal system, wherein presidents were to be indirectly elected every four years by a simple majority vote of the republic’s nineteen state legislatures.

A document of dubious relevance, the constitution of 1824 was never fully observed by the politico-military leadership of the early Mexican republic. The survival of two of its most important principles, federalism and congressional authority, was more a reflection of the de facto decentralization of power in early nineteenth-century Mexico than of a generalized observance of the rule of law. Many provisions of the constitution of 1824 and subsequent nineteenth-century constitutions were simply ignored by the combative regional caudillos (strongmen) who dominated national politics. The most commonly breached constitutional principle was that of an orderly, electoral process of presidential succession. The violent overthrow of governments and the perpetuation in office of powerful presidents were problems that would plague Mexico throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the revolutionary period. Between 1824 and 1857, only one president, Guadalupe Victoria, completed his term and handed over power to an elected successor (see Centralism and the Caudillo State, 1836-55, ch. 1).

In 1833 the conservative president and military caudillo, Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón, suspended the 1824 constitution and imposed a new national charter known as the Siete Leyes (Seven Laws). The Siete Leyes was a reactionary document that strengthened the powers of the presidency, militarized the federal government, and raised property qualifications for voting.

After three decades of political instability stemming from unrestrained power struggles between liberal and conservative elites, a new reformist constitution was promulgated in 1857 by the liberals, who had gained the upper hand. The 1857 constitution was reminiscent of the 1824 charter but was noteworthy for its introduction of major reform laws restricting military and clerical fueros (privileges) and clerical property rights. The new constitution also introduced a bill of rights, abolished slavery, and reestablished a strong national congress as a unicameral body. The clerical reform laws, moderate in comparison to the strongly anticlerical constitution of 1917, nevertheless galvanized the conservative opposition and led to a three-year civil war. Although the liberal forces under President Benito Juárez eventually prevailed, the conflict left Mexico divided and deeply in debt.

Using the excuse of collecting compensation for damage incurred during the civil war, the French landed troops in Veracruz. The French government, hoping to reestablish a French empire in the Americas, allied itself with conservative and church forces in Mexico and sent French troops to take Mexico City (see Civil War and the French Intervention, ch. 1). French troops entered the capital in 1863, and an empire under the Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph von Habsburg was declared. Republican forces retreated to the far north, and for four years Mexico had two governments.

Bowing to pressure from the United States and responding to the increased belligerency of Prussia, Napoleon III of France decided to withdraw French troops at the end of 1866. The conservative forces in Mexico, disillusioned by Maximilian, threw their support to Juárez. Before the last French troops had boarded their ships in Veracruz, Maximilian had surrendered, and the republican forces again controlled the entire country.

Although the constitution of 1857 was restored, its democratic principles were increasingly violated in the decades to follow. Juárez was reelected twice amidst charges that his administrations were becoming increasingly dictatorial. After Juárez’s death in 1872, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada assumed the presidency. Under Lerdo, a bicameral congress was reinstated. When Lerdo announced he would run for reelection in 1876, José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz took control as dictator. For more than a third of a century, either directly of indirectly, Díaz ruled Mexico (see The Porfiriato, ch. 1).

The revolutionary years from 1910 to 1917 were a period of governmental chaos (see The Revolution, 1910-20, ch. 1). Various groups espousing populist and revolutionary ideals roamed the country. By 1917 forces under Venustiano Carranza gradually had consolidated their control of the nation. Carranza then called a constitutional convention and presented a draft constitution, similar to the constitution of 1857, to the delegates. Carranza’s moderate faction was outnumbered by the radicals, however, and numerous anticlerical and social reform articles were added.

FULL LIST OF ARTICLE

History
Preconquest Mexico
Ancient Mexico
The Aztec
The Spanish Conquest
New Spain
Encomiendas
Colonial Administration
Socioeconomic Structures
The Road to Independence
The Bourbon Reforms
Criollos and Clergy
Wars of Independence, 1810-21
Hidalgo and Morelos
Iturbide and the Plan of Iguala
Empire and Early Republic, 1821-55
The Abortive Empire, 1821-23
The Federalist Republic, 1824-36
Centralism and the Caudillo State, 1836-55
The Constitution of 1836
The Loss of Texas
The Mexican-American War
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Reform and French Intervention, 1855-67
The Revolution of Ayutla and the Reform Laws
Civil War and the French Intervention
The Restoration, 1867-76
The Porfiriato, 1876-1910
Porfirian Modernization
Society under the Porfiriato
The Revolution, 1910-20
The Early Phase
Madero’s Government
The Huerta Dictatorship
The Constitution of 1917
Carranza
The Constructive Phase, 1920-40
The Obregón Presidency, 1920-24
The Calles Presidency, 1924-28
The Maximato
Cardenismo and the Revolution Rekindled, 1934-40
From Revolution to Governance, 1940-82
Ávila Camacho’s Wartime Presidency, 1940-46
The Alemán Sexenio, 1946-52
The Ruiz Cortines Sexenio, 1952-58
López Mateos
Authoritarianism Unveiled, 1964-70
Reconciliation and Redistribution, 1970-76
Recovery and Relapse, 1976-82
“The Crisis”, 1982
To the Brink and Back, 1982-88
The de la Madrid Sexenio, 1982-88
The United States and the Crisis in Mexico
Economic Hardship
Carlos Salinas de Gortari
The Passing of the Torch, 1987-88
President Salinas

Geography
Topography and Drainage
Earthquakes
Climate
Environmental Conditions

The Society
Population
Ethnicity and Language
Social Indicators
Social Spending
Urban Society
Rural Society
Interpersonal Relations
Role of Women
Religion
Education
Health Care and Social Security

The Economy
Growth and Structure of the Economy
Macroeconomic Management
Labor
Financial System
Agriculture
Land Tenure
Government Agricultural Policy
Grain Production
Fruits and Vegetables
Other Crops
Livestock
Fishing
Industry
Oil
Tourism

Government
The Constitution
Government Structure
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
National Action Party
Democratic Revolutionary Party
Organized Labor
Business Organizations
The Church
The Media
The Electoral Process and Political Dynamics
Foreign Relations
Relations with the United States

Bibliography

Link to articles here

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