Mexico—in full referred to as the United Mexican States—is a federal government found in North America. In the Western Hemisphere, it is the fifth largest covering a total area of approximately 2 million square miles. The country is rich in natural resources such as petroleum and natural gas making it the fifteenth economy in the world in terms of performance. However, efforts to modernise and develop its economy have been hit by the country’s rugged terrain, limited farm land, series of economic crises, and rapid populations. The nation’s capital, Mexico City, is one of the largest cities in the world in terms of population and geographic size.
The Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire in the 16th century led to widespread intermarriages that resulted to mestizos people who currently make up 60% of the population (Grabman, 2008). Furthermore, the conquest resulted into shaping of the political system into a liberal democratic one with a culture that is unique and felt globally. USA and Mexico are each other’s largest trading partners hence the reason for agreements between the two countries such as NAFTA. However, the journey of achieving a milestone in economic and political development in Mexico started long ago in the 19th century after independence from Spain. The developments are divided into two eras, between 1824 and 1910, and developments since 1910.
Developments between 1824 and 1910
At independence in 1810, Mexico’s economy was wealthy and flourishing with estimates that it’s per capita GDP being higher than that of USA. Over the coming decade there was a decline in the economy accompanied by political strife in the era of Augustine de Iturbine. On 4th October, 1824, after the overthrow of Iturbine’s empire, the Federal Mexican Constitution was enacted with the republic taking the name United Mexican States and Catholicism being the unique and official language. However, despite promulgation of the constitution, political violence persisted resulting in economic devastations. The army of the day did not allow civilians demonstrate their democracy but instead they were more focused on increasing their share of the government through being used as instruments by corrupt politicians (Grabman, 2008).
In the next fifty years the country was not united but divided between factions such as: republicans and monarchists; federalists and centralists; anticlerical and sympathisers of clerical privileges; and liberals and conservatives (Grabman, 2008). The fifty years which were between 1824 and 1876 resulted in an era of violence, absence of property rights, and even numerous administrations as a result of coups. Furthermore, in 1848 after a two year War with USA, Mexico was forced to give away almost half of its territory to USA. This annexation of land by USA also included the Gold mines in California that was used to fund US industrialization. Matters were even complicated by struggles with the Roman Catholic Church to control civil society, credit, land and property in the years between 1857 and 1867.
In 1876, the country returned to order in terms of achieving progress during the reign of Dictator Porfirio Diaz. He applied the slogan “bread or stick” which managed to end the chaos that had engulfed the country in the last half a century. His strategies also halted the perpetual sliding of the economy into a depression which had specifically coincided with destruction of the country’s mines. In granting the country its first credit, commercial codes, and even investment, Diaz established the foundation of economic recovery. He also built a coast to coast railway to transport raw materials so as to capitalise on the disadvantages of a poor geographic position and to compete with USA then advanced economy. Absence of a coast to coast railway had made the country vulnerable to competition especially when the world needed agricultural and industrial goods from US more than Mexico’s mining output which had also lost out to US production.
The last ten years of Diaz leadership that span from 1900 to 1910 was a crisis as a result of the side effects of his long term economic plans. The country had a shortage of cash that was needed by the banking system to finance and refinance mortgages held by an increasing numbers of influential landlords. At the same time, the rural middle class and Indian peasants felt the decline of the economy with 25% of the country’s lands being transferred into landholdings focused on export agriculture and ranching. Majority of rural people experienced less food supply with the middle class having reduced wages. Given the mixed social and economic situation all sectors of the economy had to support the call of Francisco Madero for political change in the 1910 elections. Even though Madero was jailed by Diaz to prevent participation in elections, there was a call for a revolution against the old dictator—Diaz—that led to him leaving the office.
Developments Since 1910
The early century was marked by a Mexican political revolution that was triggered by the fifth re-election campaign of Diaz. Madero was elected by his reign was short lived as two years later on he was overthrown and murdered in an operation that was led by Victoria Huerta a conservative general. The episode triggered civil for four years with leaders such as Francisco Villa, Emillion Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, and Alavaro Obregon forming their own armed forces (Grabman, 2008). The next ten years up to 1920 was marked by the four forces forming coalitions to see who would win the civil strife. The violence era was ended when Carranza backed by Obregon won the war. Consequently, Obregon introduced radical amendments to the 1857 constitution that were not implemented by Carranza into what was commonly called the 1917 constitution. The amendments provided for one term for presidents, workers rights, secular education, and land reforms.
Assassination of Carranza in 1920 and succession by Obregon marked an era of reconstruction. Obregon was a revolution leader introducing land reforms without the backing of US. His support for peasant leagues further enabled him to stay in presidency for long especially in 1923 when some of the generals tried to oust him. Peasant leagues signalled the beginning of the critical role peasants would play in future elections. In1929, Plutarco Elias Cales founded the PNR (National Revolutionary Party) that later on turned to PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) (Grabman, 2008). As president Cales established the administrative structure, increased land reforms, and founded the Banco de Mexico. The era of Cales was called the maximato era which eventually ended with the election of Lazaro Cardenas.
Cardenas spearheaded numerous social and economic reforms that significantly included confiscation of the oil industry into Pemex in 1938 which ignited a diplomatic crisis with countries whose citizens had lost businesses as a result of the measure. In the next era of forty years that began in 1940 there was a radical expansion of the country’s economy which historians like to call the Mexican Miracle (Grabman, 2008). Although there was economical growth, social inequality became a thorny issue together with the authoritarian and oppressive rule of PRI. Electoral reforms and high oil prices signified Luis Escheverria administration coupled with mismanagement of public funds that ultimately resulted in the 1982 crisis. The crisis resulted in plunging of oil prices, soaring of interest rates, and defaulting debts by the government. Inflation was even accelerated in President Miguel de la Madrid’s administration that resorted to currency devaluations.
In the late eighties the era of restructured revolution, Carlos Salinas de Gortari was elected president amid protests in 1988. He implemented neoliberal programs resulted into fixing the exchange rate, controlling inflation, and signing of the NAFTA treaty that came into effect in January, 1994 (Grabman, 2008). In the same year in December, a month after Salinas had been succeeded by Ernesto Zedillo, the Mexican economy collapsed. A rapid rescue package authorised by USA’s Clinton and macroeconomic reforms by Zedillo, resulted in a rapid recovery of the economy with a peak growth of 7% at the end of 1999.
In 2000, after seventy-one years the monopoly of PRI was broken with PAN (National Action Party) led by Vicente Fox winning the election. This marked the evidence of liberal democracy in the country with six years later a new president Felipe Calderon winning the election with a very slim margin. The loser Adres Manuel Lopez Obrador of PRD (Party of Democratic Revolution) threatened to form an alternative government. This evidently showed competition in democracy in the country.
As a result of the economic, political, and social reforms in Mexico the future and current outlook of the country is promising. The economy is a free market in the class of trillions of dollars that is largely controlled by the private sector. Recent governments have expanded sectors in airports, telecommunications, electricity generation, railroads, seaports, and natural gas distribution. Since implementation of NAFTA in 1994, the country’s share of US imports improved from 7% to 12% and Canadian imports doubled to 5%. The Calderon administration was also able to pass pension and fiscal reforms. In 2009, the GDP plunged to 6.5% as global demand for exports dropped but in 2010, there was a positive growth of 5% with exports particularly to USA leading the way. Still, the Calderon administration faces economic challenges that include: improving public education system, infrastructure upgrades, modernizing labour laws, and facilitating investment in energy sector.
Politically, the country has a stable liberal democracy that is very competitive. Elections are held every six years with the president being the head of state and government, and commander in chief of the armed forces. There are also more than five major political parties and leaders marking a paradigm shift from the era of a large IRP party. There is increased competition and economic advancement probably from the fact that presidents are only allowed to serve for a single term.
Grabman, R. (2008). Gods, Gachupines, and Gringos: a people’s history of Mexico. Mexico City: Editorial Mazatlan. Pp. 111-441