The 16th century exploits of Christopher Columbus and his men did not only bring about social, cultural and political clashes that created the United States, it also led to the process that resulted in the emergence of the state of Mexico. Mexico is an enigma of a country to the south of the United States border whose recent political, economic and social transformations have been overshadowed by its complex relations with the more prosperous United States. This country profile seeks to examine the history and current state of Mexico. It also explores and analyzes political culture, geography, demography, political system, foreign relations , economic policies and alliances. The paper is divided into sections that focus on distinct and particular facets of Mexican political and social life.
The 16th century Spanish voyages of Christopher Columbus took him to Mesoamerica, a territory of diverse groups of people. The real history of Mexico pre-dates the 1519 arrival of Spaniards. The Spaniards helped document the complex history of disparate groups that were part of Mexico. The modern capital of Mexico was historically the capital of the Aztec empire. When the Spaniards conquered the Aztec empire, they made it a colony of Spain. The new Spanish colony was called New Spain. It grew to be a diverse world with a critical mix of European and Spanish, and, natives of Mesoamerica.
In considering the history of Mexico, especially early history, the origins of the name of the country is important. Beezley and Meyer observes that “the very name of the country is taken from the original Aztec tribal designation (mexica), ands its quintessential symbol, the national flag, depicts an eagle perched on a nopal cactus devouring a serpent, reproducing the Aztec legend of the founding of their capital of Tenochtitlan” (7). This shows that the history of Mexico is tied to both the Spanish and native cultures. Mexico remained a part of Spain for more than three centuries. During this time Mexico struggled to establish its identity as a European colony with a high number of natives who tried to maintain their culture. According to Beezley and Meyer, “Mexico is the product of a collision between, and ultimately a fusion of two vastly different world” (1). It was the creation of fragile group alliances.
In the early history of Mexico, Spaniards were baffled by the new civilizations they encountered and so were also the natives who rightly observed that the new visitors intended on staying and taking whatever they could by force. The conflict ragged on until a decade war of 1810-1821 led to the independence of Mexico from Spain. In 1824, Mexico became an independent constitutional republic and it managed to remove racial divisions from its legal entities (Beezley and Meyer 3). Mexico would then go through protracted struggles against the United States for the land of Texas and the French in the period between 1824 and the revolution of 1910 which established Mexico as it is known today.
Political System and Culture
Mexico’s history shapes its political culture. It is a democratic republic with three branches of government; the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. The existence of the three branches of government is to maintain a system of checks and balances. This is a system that can also be observed in the United States government. Beer argues that Mexico had the most stable political system in Latin America during the 21st century when most countries were experiencing constant instability and revolutions (1). Stability came as a result of learning from past experiences as well as its neighbors especially the United States.
Mexico elects its president to a six-year term. The legislature consists of the chamber of deputies which has 500 members (IDEA 1). There members are elected for a three year term. The election of the members of the Chamber of deputies is done in two ways. The first 300 are put into office through simple majority elections in single districts. The remaining 200 get into office through proportional representation (IDEA 1). Another core part of the legislature is the Senate which has 128 members. Senators are elected for six year terms.
Mexico is a federal republic with 31 states. The separated states elect their own governments. They have governors, legislators and local government authorities. States have their own constitution and unicameral legislature. Though the legislature and judiciary wields a lot of power, Mexico is a relatively centralized state with the executive holding more power.
One feature of Mexico’s political history is the one party authoritarianism that began in 1929 with the creation of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Lazaro Cardenas became president in 1934 and strengthened the one party state. He was behind the process known as Mexicanization (Beer 4). This was an effort to create a new culture and politics that was wholly Mexican and different from the European models of economics and governance. It can be noted that though, authoritarian, the one party state led successful economic growth efforts. This one party system did end in the late 1960s (Crespo 4). The process of democratization did not complete until the year 200 when Vicente Fox became the first opposition president. This was following the opposition taking control of the Chamber of Deputies in 1997 and winning gubernatorial elections in the 1990s.
Even though, Mexico went through a long stretch of one party authoritarianism, the country held regular elections. With the end of authoritarian rule, opposition politics began to dominate Mexican politics leading to changes in government in 2000 and a new democratic Mexico emerged.
Because of the long tradition of government involvement in decision making for citizens, Mexico had a strong corporatist system. This is a system that it is trying to change but is still existent. Beer notes that the Mexican corporatist system can be compared to the United States system of pluralism. With pluralism, people form and are free to join interest groups and they use these groups to forward their interests in relation to the government. According to Beer, “under corporatism, there is no pretense that the government is an unbiased arbiter of social conflict” (20). Government often gives privileges to chosen groups. The democratic process did break the corporatist hold on government but did not not mean an about turn to a completely pluralistic system.
Geographically, Mexico covers a land area of 742, 485 square miles. It is estimated to be a fifth the size of the United States (Simpson 10). In terms of landmass, Mexico is the 13 largest country in the World. It shares borders with Belize, Guatemala and the United States. The border with the United States measures 1, 947 miles, the one with Guatemala is 596 miles long while the Belize border is only 250 miles long (Simpson 7). Mexico is one of the largest countries in North America. The Pacific, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico are the three coastlines adjacent to Mexico.
The large part of North Mexico is covered in deserts. These are the Chihuahua and the Sonora desert. These deserts are separated by the mountain range of the Sierra Madre Occidental. In terms of climate, Mexico’s northern lands are hot and dry during the summer but get to freezing temperatures during the winter. The eastern part experiences more rainfall with the Chiapas registering the most rainfall in a calendar year.
Simpson observed that the geography of Mexico influenced its settlement pattern. The greater part of Mexico is covered in Mountains and deserts. These places are barely habitable. This leaves people in the central plateau. The plateau has mild climate and the land can be cultivated well for agricultural purposes (Simpson 12). People who live on the plateau make their livelihood through mining, farming and cattle ranching.
Mexico is an inherently diverse society. In terms of demographics, it is home to more than 119 million people. It is composed of disparate groups whose history in the state goes all the way to the pre-Spaniard invasion period. These diverse groups however have two thing that brings them together - catholicism and Spanish. There are a few nascent Protestant groups in Mexico but the shadow of the Roman Catholic church looms of the society. About 84% of the Mexican population is Catholic. This means the church is very influential in political and social affairs. Mexico has the most Spanish speaking people in the world. They speak the language with variations of accents and dialects.
Ethnic differences can be noticed between the “mestizos and indigenous people”. The indian population which makes up about 10 percent of the population is concentrated in rural and poor places of Mexico. This is however not a very big difference. The emergence of the Zapatistas as a political force has altered ethnic relations. Zapatistas groups want Mexico to respect indigenous cultures and to have indigenous people in places of authority in government. Another important group is that of Mexicans of European descent. The majority of these Mexicans are descendants of Spanish people who colonized the Americas. The other group comprises of Europeans who immigrated to Mexico during the 19th and the 20th century.
In addition to ethnic differences, Mexico is also heavily divided along class lines. The corporatist system of the first half of the 21st century created a system that awarded a few as compared to many. These system allocated economic favors based on loyalty to the government and the ruling party. This led to income inequality and the emergence of dangerous criminal undergrounds. The illegal drug criminal world of Mexico emerged out of government’s failure to address poverty issues in places that did not benefit the government politically.
Before the discovery of oil in the 1970s, Mexico’s foreign policy was in sharp contrast to that of the United States. It is predominantly leftist and nationalistic and pro-revolutionary movements across the globe. Mexico even supported Cuba in its international tussle with the United States as a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The discovery of oil changed Mexico’s foreign policy approach since the United states became the largest importer of Mexican oil. The late 1970s saw Mexico change its foreign policy to ally with its biggest oil trader, the United States. Mexico became more active and interventionist in international affairs.
An exploration of Mexico’s foreign policy is not complete without looking at its relations with the United States. Mexico lost more than half of its land in the 1800s to the United States. This altered relations for years. Despite the animosity both countries see positive in having working relations. Mexico understands that it shares the border with the United States which is concerned with security. Mexico works with the United States in trying to stop the trafficking of drugs from central and South America. Mexico has for received aid from the United States geared towards destroying the illegal drug industry.
In modern Mexico, no issue is more pressing and contentious as the immigration of Mexicans to the United States. This issue took center stage in the United States’ party presidential election primaries. In the event that an individual like Donald Trump is voted the President of the United States, the issue of immigration will become central to Mexico’s foreign policy in relation to the US. Immigration is both an economic and foreign policy issue. Beer argued that the consequences of the immigration of Mexicans are are mixed. The creation of the NAFTA in 1993 changed Mexico’s foreign policy. NAFTA was designed to remove trade barriers between Canada, the United States and Mexico. It became the world’s biggest trading regional bloc.
Mexico’s economy is diverse and is dominated by the oil, mining, agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and ranching industries. According to the Heritage Foundation, Mexico has a $2.1 trillion gdp economy that is driven by free market policies. It has witnessed a modest 2.1% in economic growth. Efforts to modernize and make the economy efficient have been undermined by a corrupt political system. The judiciary is vulnerable to abuse through political interference. This interferes with property rights.
During Mexico’s one party authoritarian rule period of the 1940s and 1970s, the country experience high levels of economic growth reaching six percent growth in GDP. The country also had inflation in single digits and did not suffer from heavy indebtedness. In the late 1970s, Mexico began to see inflation increase and government spending increased while revenues remained low. This problem was exacerbated by the global financial crises of the 1980s. Mexico had just discovered oil and the global oil prices fell leading to economic stagnation. Moreno-Brid and Jos argue that “the economic history of independent Mexico appears as a succession of periods of stagnation or decline followed by periods of economic prosperity and transformation” (3). The economic stagnation of the 1980s was dealt with by the establishing of a strong stable political state.
According to Moreno-Brid and Jos, three ingredients contributed to economic stability of the state of Mexico. The first ingredient was the development of consensus on economic policy. The second ingredient was the consensus on Porfiriato which was “a synthesis of the market reforms and the institutionalized modernization supported by the liberals and the focus on industrialization emphasized by the conservatives” (Moreno-Brid and Jos 8). The third ingredient was the developmentalist consensus that existed between the end of World War II and the 1970s discovery of oil.
At the core of economic development and activity of Mexico is North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since the implementation of NAFTA, Mexico has benefited remarkably from the agreement. The Council on Foreign Relations observe that per capita income in Mexico rose by 1.2% since the creation of NAFTA. This is relatively lower as compared to other Latin American countries like Brazil, Chile and Peru who are not part of NAFTA. Another aspect of NAFTA was that it was supposed to stop the brain-drain and emigration of Mexicans to the United States. This however has not been achieved because Mexicans still emigrate to the United States in high numbers. NAFTA was supposed to bring positives to the Mexican economy which it did in helping reduce prices of goods and services, it also however exposed the Mexican farming industry to intense competition from the United States. Economists argue that in general NAFTA benefited Mexico more than it benefited the United States. Manufacturing industries moved from the United States to Mexico benefiting Mexican workers and the economy at large. With NAFTA, the Mexican government abandoned disastrous protectionist policies and allowed the benefits of free trade.
Mexico’s economic policymaking had been complicated by the earlier explored topic of mass emigration to the United States. The benefits of remittances and the movement of frustrated young people away from active politics does leave another vacuum because it is individuals who are highly educated and motivated who leave Mexico for the United States. This means that Mexico exports the best human capital it has rather than keep it for the future development of the country. In terms of economic planning, Mexico needs a strategy to make sure it removes the incentive to move north. This is only achieved by doing away with corruption and improving national industries. Corruption in Mexico manifests itself in all facets of life. The illegal drug trade industry is sustained by corruption. The rooting away of corruption creates opportunities and deals with violence which is one of the reason young people leave, they want to escape the brutality of drug cartels.
The economy is tied to social welfare in Mexico. Beer notes that Mexico has high levels of income inequality. Mexicans with better livelihood means live in major cities and have access to more than basic healthcare and education. Poor people can be found in the rural areas and crowded neighborhoods. The adopting of Neoliberal reforms led Mexico intro creating anti-poverty programs such as PROGRESA. This program is designed to incentivise poor families to keep their children in school by offering money that goes towards the child’s upkeep.
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Sergie, Mahommed. NAFTA’s Economic Impact. Council on Foreign Relations. Feb 14, 2014.
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Simpson, Kathleen. Geography of Mexico. China: Benchmark Education, 2010.
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