(From Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia)


Mexico is the northernmost country of Latin America, which includes the mainly Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere. It is located in North America, between the United States on the north and Guatemala and Belize on the south. To its West is the Pacific Ocean and to its east, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

A land of sharp contrasts, Mexico has snowcapped mountains, broad plateaus, lush tropical rain forests, and parched deserts. It is almost three times larger than the U.S. state of Texas. With over 100 million people, is the third most populous country in the hemisphere, after the United States and Brazil.

Mexico is rich in natural resources, such as oil. And its attractions lure some 20 million visitors each year. But its real wealth lies in its people. Their achievements span thousands of years--from building monumental cities before the birth of Christ, to creating a trillion-dollar economy in the 21st century.

Home to some of the most advanced ancient civilizations in Latin America, Mexico became a colony of Spain in the early 1500's. It remained so until achieving independence in 1810.

Violent political struggles dominated the country in the 1800's. But they subsided not long after the Mexican Revolution (1910-17). For most of the 1900's, from 1929 until 2000, one political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), ruled Mexico. In 2000, Mexicans demanded a greater say in their government and other reforms. So they ended 71 years of PRI presidential rule by choosing a president from the opposition National Action Party (PAN).


Most Mexicans (60 percent) are mestizos--that is, of mixed Indian and European (mainly Spanish) ancestry. Thirty percent are of Indian ancestry. People of largely European ancestry make up the remainder.


 Spanish is the official language. In fact, Mexico is home to the largest number of Spanish-speaking people in the world. Some 8 percent of Mexicans also speak native Indian languages--chiefly Nahuatl, Mayan, Mixteco, and Zapoteco.


 Freedom of worship is guaranteed under Mexico's constitution. Some 89 percent of Mexicans are Roman Catholics; another 6 percent are Protestant.


 The federal government determines what is taught in schools. The law requires six years of primary education for all children, followed by three years of secondary school. Qualified students may attend upper secondary schools to prepare to enter a university or to be trained for technical or commercial jobs.

Education at state-run schools is free from primary grades through the university level. There are also private and parochial schools in large cities. Over 92 percent of Mexicans age 15 and older can read and write.

Mexico has hundreds of institutions of higher learning. The largest is the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM as it is popularly known. It is located in Mexico City and has about 270,000 students. Founded in 1551, UNAM is the oldest university in North America.


 Mexico's museums testify to the country's rich cultural and artistic heritage. Mexico City is home to some of Mexico's best-known museums. They include the Papalote Museo del Niño, a museum designed for children, and the world-class National Anthropology Museum, which displays thousands of archaeological pieces from Mexico's past. In the city of Monterrey, artifacts ranging from ancient to modern times are housed in the beautifully designed Museum of Mexican History.

Food and Drink.

 Mexico's cuisine is very diverse. Different regions serve their own specialties. Mole poblano de pollo, chicken with a chocolate and almond sauce, is popular in the state of Puebla. In the Yucatán, chicken wrapped in banana leaves, or pollo pibil, is a favorite. Also popular are roast goat, sun-dried beef, fish stews, shrimp, and mussels. Staples include tortillas, which are flat, thin corn or wheat cakes; rice; beans; chili peppers; and tomatoes.

Cactus and maguey plants provide both food and drink. One variety of cacti produces tender shoots for salads. Another type provides the prickly pear used in desserts and preserves. The maguey is a source of two kinds of alcoholic drink. They are the fiery tequila and the milder, milk-colored pulque.

National Holidays.

 Each year, on the Day of the Dead, November 2, Mexicans remember and pay respect to their dead. They visit cemeteries and pray, sing, and eat foods favored by loved ones who have died. On December 12, pilgrims make their way to Mexico City's shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is the country's patron saint.

The Christmas season extends from December 16 through January 6. Each day through December 24, Christmas Eve, families re-enact Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem with special prayers and songs. Children play a game to receive their holiday treats. A piñata, a brightly colored toy, is suspended over the head of a blindfolded child, who tries to break it with a stick. Once the piñata breaks, the children share the candies, fruits, and coins that pour out of it. December 25, Christmas Day, is a national holiday. On January 6, children receive their Christmas presents from the Three Kings. This refers back to the legend of the Three Wise Men who gave gifts to the baby Jesus.

Mexico also has a number of civic holidays. The most important is September 16, when Mexicans celebrate their country's independence from Spain. On the night of the 15th, the Mexican president comes out on the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City. He rings a bell that is symbolic of Mexico's independence and shouts "¡Mexicanos, que Viva México!" ("Mexicans, long live Mexico!"). Thousands of Mexicans gathered in the Zócalo, or Main Square, answer "¡Viva!" The ceremony is followed by fireworks and music and is re-enacted in cities all over Mexico.

Another holiday is Cinco de Mayo (the fifth of May). It honors the Mexican victory over the French army in the city of Puebla de los Angeles in 1862. Once a regional holiday, Cinco de Mayo is now a popular celebration along the U.S.-Mexican border. It is also celebrated in areas of the United States where Mexicans live. On Revolution Day, November 20, Mexicans observe the anniversary of their 1910 Revolution.

Sports and Recreation.

 Soccer is very popular in Mexico, as is baseball. Fans also go to see bullfighting, which is considered more of a spectacle and art than a sport. Mexicans also enjoy jai alai, a kind of fast handball that originated in Spain.


The north of Mexico consists mainly of flatlands and hills. In the south are sierras, canyons, and ravines. The east has mountains and volcanoes, and the west, plains, hills and sierras. In the central area, hills surround plains and valleys.

The Mexican Plateau.

 The Mexican Plateau (also known as the Central Plateau) is Mexico's most extensive geographical feature. It contains most of Mexico's population and many of its important cities. It also accounts for the largest share of the country's agricultural output, industry, and mineral wealth.

The northern part of the plateau is dry, requiring irrigation for farming. Much of it is sparsely populated. The plateau rises as one moves southward, toward central Mexico. This is the heartland of the country. It is well watered, has fertile soil, and is densely populated.

Mountain Ranges.

 High, rugged mountain ranges border the Mexican Plateau. On the west is the Sierra Madre Occidental. It has a number of spectacular volcanoes. A second range, the Sierra Madre Oriental, lies along the eastern edge of the plateau. It joins with the Sierra Madre Occidental near Mexico City. At their juncture stands the country's highest peak. It is the snowcapped volcano of Orizaba (or Citlaltépetl), which rises 18,700 feet (5,700 meters).

South of Mexico City is the Sierra Madre del Sur, whose mountains lie along the Pacific Ocean. Other Pacific highland regions are the Southern Uplands and the Chiapas Highlands, which extend to Guatemala.

Coastal Plains and Lowlands.

 The Pacific Coastal Plain extends from the U.S. border to Cape Corrientes, about halfway down the western coast of Mexico. It includes the long, narrow peninsula of Baja California (Lower California). The Gulf Coastal Plain, bordering the Gulf of Mexico, and the Yucatán Peninsula in the southeast are the most extensive lowland areas. The Yucatán is especially notable for its ancient Maya temples.

Rivers, Lakes, and Coastal Waters.

 On its north, Mexico shares a 1,900-mile (3,100-kilometer) border with the United States. Along part of this border runs Mexico's most famous river, the Río Bravo del Norte. (It is called the Río Grande in the United States). Other major rivers include the Río Balsas, which flows into the Pacific; the Río Grijalva and Río Usumacinta, which flow into the Bay of Campeche; and the Río Pánuco, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Lake Chapala in Jalisco and Michoacán states is the largest lake in Mexico. Mexico is known for its beaches, with major tourist resorts located on its east and west coasts.


 Mexico's climate generally varies from tropical and wet to temperate and dry, depending on region and elevation. The coastal plains are hot and humid, with heavy rainfall. The north is dry, with extremes of temperature. The region around Mexico City has a pleasant, temperate climate. Temperatures usually fall as elevation increases. Most of Mexico receives inadequate rainfall, except for the coastal areas and parts of the central region.

Natural Resources.

 Because of its generally dry climate, Mexico has only limited land suitable for farming. It has a wealth of mineral resources, however. It ranks fifth in the world in oil production. And it is the world's leading exporter of silver. It also has large deposits of copper, manganese, zinc, and lead.

Forests cover nearly one-quarter of the land. The government has established reserves. But Mexico's forests remain threatened by overlogging and the clearing of land for farming.

There is a wide variety of animal life. Wolves, bears, coyotes, foxes, and deer are found in the cooler north and mountainous areas. Tropical Mexico is home to jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, monkeys, and colorful parrots, macaws, and other birds. The burro (a small donkey) is sometimes used as a pack animal in rural areas. The waters of the Pacific coast and the Gulf of Mexico abound in fish and shellfish.


Before 1940, Mexico was much as it had been for generations. There were few roads that could be used year-round, and most of its people worked in agriculture. They no longer do so. Today, most Mexicans work in service industries, such as tourism, or in manufacturing. The land is now farmed largely by big agricultural companies. Modern transportation and communication systems make the country an attractive place for investors from other countries.

The oil and gas industry is an important source of income. The industry is owned by the government. But some foreign investment is allowed, and more may be permitted in the future to raise the production and export of oil. The added income could provide Mexico with the funds it needs to pay for education, health, and other services for its people.

Mexico is relatively wealthy and industrialized compared with many other developing countries. However, its wealth is very unevenly distributed among its people. The richest 10 percent of Mexicans receive 60 percent of the country's income. In contrast, the poorest 30 percent receive a little over 4 percent of it. At present, over 40 percent of Mexico's people are poor. That means they do not have enough money to pay for the food, health services, education, and other goods and services they need. Poverty is worse in the countryside, where some 30 percent of Mexican families do not have enough to eat. This compares to close to 10 percent in the cities.

Many Mexicans leave their country, at least temporarily, to work--often illegally--in the United States. The money these workers send to their families in Mexico is an important source of income for the country. Negotiations to make these migrations legal are a major element of Mexican-U.S. relations.


 Tourism and other service industries dominate Mexico's economy. Services employ nearly 60 percent of Mexico's workers and contribute nearly 70 percent to the domestic economy. Tourism is Mexico's largest source of income from other countries. Over 20 million tourists visited Mexico in 2004.

Manufacturing and Mining.

 Manufacturing and mining employ just over one-quarter of Mexico's workers and contribute about one-quarter to the domestic economy. Major industries include those producing food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, textiles, clothing, and motor vehicles. Mexico's mines produce silver, copper, manganese, zinc, lead, and other minerals.

Agriculture, Fishing, and Forestry.

 Some 18 percent of Mexico's workers are employed in agriculture. But the sector contributes less than 4 percent to the domestic economy. In central and southern Mexico, farmers grow food crops of corn and beans on small plots of land. In contrast, in the north, large, modern irrigated farms produce specialty fruits and vegetables. Prime examples include strawberries, melons, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Cotton and coffee are also major commercial crops.

Mexico's fishing industry centers on shrimp and other shellfish, sardines, tuna, and pompano. The forestry industry produces lumber cut from mahogany and other tropical hardwoods, pine, and oak.


 Hydroelectric power accounts for nearly one-quarter of Mexico's energy capacity. Steam plants burning fuel oil and natural gas make up the remainder. Mexico is a major producer and exporter of oil. The state-owned oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, known as PEMEX, provides the government with billions of dollars in tax revenue and export income each year.


 Mexico's main trading partner is the United States, which buys about 90 percent of its exports each year. Mexico's main exports to the United States are oil (over 1.5 million barrels a day), manufactured goods, and fruits and vegetables. Mexico has trade agreements with many countries. The most important is the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. NAFTA encourages trade among Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Since NAFTA went into force in 1994, Mexico has increased its trade with the United States and Canada. Mexico has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since the group was created in 1995. (The WTO is an international organization used by countries to facilitate and regulate their trade.)


 For transporting people and goods, Mexico offers extensive bus, rail, and highway systems. It also has deepwater ports and over 200 airports with paved runways.


 Telephone service is adequate for business and government. However, most Mexicans tend to use mobile telephones rather than landlines. There are also an estimated 10 million Internet users.

Major Cities

Most Mexicans lived in rural areas until the 1950's, when many moved to the cities. By 2003, about 75 percent lived in cities. Nine Mexican cities have more than 1 million people. In descending order by population, they are Mexico City, Guadalajara, Ecatepec de Morelos, Puebla, Nezahualcóyotl, Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, Monterrey, and León.

Mexico City is Mexico's capital and largest city. Over 8 million people live in Mexico City proper and more than 17 million in its metropolitan area. To the northwest of Mexico City is Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city and the capital of Jalisco state. It is a major industrial and commercial city and a popular tourist center.

A large portion of Mexico's manufacturing is concentrated in the central region of the country in the state of Mexico. Many industrial workers in the state of Mexico live in Nezahualcóyotl. The state is also home to the commercial city of Ecatepec de Morelos. To the north of Mexico City is the industrial city of León, the center of the country's shoe production. To Mexico City's south is Puebla, the capital of Puebla state. Once known primarily for its textiles and pottery, Puebla now also produces automobiles.

In the northern state of Nuevo León lies the city of Monterrey, the state's capital and another important center of industry. Also in the north is Ciudad Juárez, which lies on the Río Grande, and Tijuana, in northern Baja California. Both are commercial cities with large tourist industries. Acapulco, a famous resort city, lies on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico. Veracruz is Mexico's chief port on the Gulf of Mexico.

Cultural Heritage

Art and Music.

 Mexico is internationally recognized for its contribution to the arts. Many of its famous painters and architects have been inspired by the country's past. Among them are painters Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Both painted murals in public places so that all Mexicans could see them. Other artists include painters David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, and Frida Kahlo, and architects Juan O'Gorman and Luís Barragán. The composer Carlos Chávez frequently utilized Mexican folk elements in his work.


 Mexican writers include the critic, poet, and scholar Alfonso Reyes and the writer and scholar Carlos Fuentes. Mexican poet Octavio Paz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1990.


 Mexico has a large motion-picture industry. Its most famous directors include the Spanish-born Luis Buñuel, Emilio Fernández, and Alfonso Arau Incháustegui, whose film Like Water for Chocolate (1992) was popular in Mexico as well as outside the country.


Mexico is a federal republic composed of 31 states and the Federal District of Mexico City. The government is based on the Constitution of 1917. The head of state and government is the president, who is elected for a single 6-year term. The legislative body is the Congress, made up of the Senate, whose members are elected for six years, and the Chamber of Deputies, which is elected for three years. The third branch of government is the judiciary, or court system. The federal judiciary is headed by the Supreme Court. Each Supreme Court justice is appointed by the Senate from among three names presented by the president.

Each state government has its own elected governor and legislature. The state governments have authority over local matters.


Mexico is an ancient land that had seen the rise and fall of great Indian empires long before the arrival of the Europeans. The Olmec were the first, followed by the Maya, Toltec, Zapotec, and Mixtec. The Indian civilizations made important breakthroughs in agriculture and science. They built great cities and created remarkable works of art. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the most powerful Indian empire was that of the Aztecs.

The Spanish Conquest.

 The first Spaniards to reach Mexico landed on the coast of Yucatán in 1517. But they were soon expelled. In 1518 a second expedition explored part of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This time Indians and Spaniards exchanged gifts. A third expedition, led by Hernando Cortés, landed on the Gulf coast in 1519 and founded the city of Veracruz. From this point, within less than three years, Cortés conquered the country.

Several factors helped Cortés. His army had fewer than 600 men. But it was disciplined and equipped with some horses and a few cannons. The Indians had never seen either horses or cannons. Cortés also had military support from Indians who opposed the Aztecs. In addition, many Aztecs were killed by an epidemic of smallpox, a disease new to them, brought by the Spaniards. There is also a legend that the Aztec emperor Montezuma II welcomed Cortés because he believed he was the Indian god Quetzalcóatl. In 1521, the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán (the site of present-day Mexico City) fell to the Spaniards. The rest of Mexico followed soon after.

The Colonial Period.

 For 300 years, Mexico, then known as New Spain, was ruled as a Spanish colony. The colony's wealth lay in its silver mines and agriculture. The Indians taught the Spanish how to cultivate corn, tomatoes, and cacao (from which chocolate is made), crops that were unknown in Europe. In turn, the Spanish introduced sugarcane, wheat and rice, and large-scale cattle and sheep raising.

But only a relative few enjoyed the colony's prosperity. The ruling minority consisted of colonists born in Spain. They owned the large estates, controlled all important government posts, and dominated business. The criollos, or Spaniards born in the colony, were next in importance. Although often wealthy, they were allowed only minor government offices. Next came the mestizos, who often worked as supervisors or storekeepers or served as soldiers or priests. Indians were at the bottom of the social scale. They labored in the mines or on the large estates under conditions of virtual slavery.

Wars of Independence.

 In 1808, the French emperor Napoleon I invaded Spain and placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The resulting conflict sparked the Mexican independence movement, whose first leader was a priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.

On September 16, 1810, Hidalgo summoned his parishioners to revolt. His army, composed mainly of mestizos and Indians, grew rapidly and won several victories. But it was defeated by troops loyal to Spain in 1811. Hidalgo was captured and executed.

Another priest, José María Morelos y Pavón, Hidalgo's former student, kept the struggle alive. After two years of fighting and several victories, in 1813, Morelos called together a congress. The congress declared Mexico's independence and drafted a constitution.

But Morelos was defeated in battle soon after. In 1815 he, too, was executed, and leadership of the movement passed to Vicente Guerrero. The final victory was achieved after an officer loyal to Spain, Colonel Agustín de Iturbide, switched sides. Eventually, Spain was forced to sign the Treaty of Córdoba in 1821, acknowledging Mexico's independence.

The Struggle to Build a Nation.

 Although independent, Mexico as yet had no real government. Iturbide seized power in 1822, declaring himself emperor. Once again Guerrero rose to fight him, along with Antonio López de Santa Anna, an army officer. Their successful revolt overthrew Iturbide, and in 1824 Mexico became a republic. For a short period, the country enjoyed constitutional rule under Guadalupe Victoria, its first president, and Guerrero, its second.

Mexico's progress to nationhood, however, was slow and difficult. Conflicts between conservatives and liberals weakened and divided the country. The conservatives supported a strong national government and sought to maintain their traditional privileges. The liberals wanted decentralized rule, much less church influence, and broad social reforms.

The Era of Santa Anna.

 Elected president in 1832, Santa Anna dominated Mexico for more than 20 years. It was a time of political turmoil, with a succession of governments. Foreign wars also sapped the country's strength. A dispute with France over Mexican debts brought French troops to Veracruz in 1838. The French were repulsed. But in a war with the United States (1846-48), Mexico lost nearly half its territory.

War of the Reform: Juárez.

 The liberals forced Santa Anna to flee Mexico in 1855. They then began the work of leading the country out of chaos. Among their leaders was Benito Juárez, a Zapotec Indian. Juárez became one of Mexico's greatest statesmen. He played a leading role in framing the Constitution of 1857, which limited the power of the army and the church, recognized civil marriage, and called for freedom of religion, press, and assembly.

Conservatives violently opposed the constitution, and Mexico was plunged into a civil war known as the War of the Reform (1857-61). With a liberal victory in 1861, Juárez became provisional president. But the conflict had bankrupted the country. When Juárez suspended payment on debts owed to France, Spain, and Britain, troops of the three countries occupied Veracruz.

The French Monarchy.

 The British and Spanish soon departed. But France's emperor Napoleon III, urged on by the conservatives, seized the opportunity to establish a monarchy in Mexico. French troops invaded in 1862 and captured Mexico City the following year. Juárez' government was forced to flee the capital. It began a campaign of guerrilla warfare. Meanwhile, Napoleon III and the conservatives had chosen Ferdinand Maximilian, archduke of Austria, as emperor of Mexico. Maximilian arrived in 1864 with his wife, the empress Carlota, to assume the throne.

Maximilian was a weak ruler. Because he accepted liberal reforms that cost the church much of its land, he lost the support of church and conservative political leaders. Napoleon III, under pressure from the United States, withdrew the French troops in 1866. That left Maximilian isolated in the nation he supposedly ruled. In 1867, he was captured by Benito Juárez' troops and executed.

The Republic Restored.

 Once again free to govern as president, Juárez laid the foundation for Mexico's industry and its transportation and communications systems. Most important, he introduced free public education to the great mass of Indians and mestizos who could neither read nor write. He died in office in 1872.

The Long Rule of Porfirio Díaz.

 General Porfirio Díaz seized power in 1876 and served several terms as president. Known as Don Porfirio, he ruled Mexico with an iron hand for nearly 35 years. He brought stability to the country, built railroads, improved harbors, and promoted agriculture. He also established the country's oil industry, promoted good relations with other countries, and encouraged foreign investment in Mexico.

At the same time, under Díaz, conservative groups--the church, the aristocracy, and the army--regained many of their old privileges. The Indians had less land than ever. City and rural workers were impoverished, and political opposition was suppressed.

The Revolution of 1910.

 Díaz' dictatorial rule brought about a revolution in 1910. Pancho Villa, a former bandit and guerrilla fighter, led the uprising in the north. In the south, Emiliano Zapata, a tough peasant leader, took up the cause of the landless Indians. Díaz was forced to resign. Francisco I. Madero, the liberal son of a wealthy landowner and a champion of political reform, was elected president in 1911.

In the years that followed, Mexico was torn by almost continuous violence in the struggle among rival revolutionary leaders. Victoriano Huerta was a general supported by the conservatives. He had Madero assassinated in 1913 and seized power. Villa and Zapata rebelled against Huerta, as did Venustiano Carranza, the governor of Coahuila state. Huerta was deposed and Carranza became president in 1914.

By 1915, however, Carranza was at war with both Villa and Zapata, who opposed the slow pace of land reform. U.S. president Woodrow Wilson twice intervened on behalf of Carranza. He had ordered U.S. troops to invade Veracruz in 1914. In 1915 he dispatched a cavalry force against Villa, who had raided a U.S. border town. In 1916 the victorious Carranza called for a convention to draft a new constitution.

The Constitution of 1917.

 The 1917 Constitution revived Juárez' ideal of free public education and government control of church property and wealth. It regulated hours and wages for workers and upheld their right to unionize and strike. It also affirmed the government's right to reclaim ownership of all land, as well as the resources beneath the surface, in the name of the nation. Although socially progressive, many provisions of the new constitution were not carried out because of a lack of funds and political will.

The Post-Constitutional Era.

 Carranza was himself deposed in 1920 (and later killed), when he tried to prevent Alvaro Obregón from becoming president. Obregón was a cautious man who was elected in 1920. He achieved some results in land distribution, education, and labor reform. His successor, in 1924, was Plutarco Elías Calles. Calles expanded the distribution of land. He also enforced the constitutional provisions against the church. That led to the bloody but unsuccessful Cristero revolt (1926-27) by militant Catholics.

Under Calles' successors, however, reform slowed. He was succeeded in the presidency by Emilio Portes Gil (1928-30), Pascual Ortiz Rubio (1930-32), and Abelardo Rodríguez (1932-34).

A New Political Party.

 Calles retired as president in 1928. But he remained for some six years thereafter the most powerful figure in Mexican political life. In 1929, to stabilize the country's fragmented political system, he created a new party, the National Revolutionary Party, to include the various revolutionary factions. It was the predecessor of the PRI. The PRI remained Mexico's dominant party until losing the presidency to the opposition PAN party in 2000.

Lázaro Cárdenas, elected president in 1934, restored the revolutionary fervor of an earlier time. He recast the party, making it national and bringing it under presidential control. And he undertook bold economic and social changes. He nationalized the oil industry (much of which was foreign owned) and the railroads. He distributed more land to the poor than any previous president. And he greatly increased the number of schools.

A New Direction.

 The presidents after Cárdenas stressed Mexico's industrial development, placing less emphasis on social and economic reforms. This policy began during the administration of Manuel Ávila Camacho (1940-46). Camacho also made peace with the church and took Mexico into World War II on the side of the Allies. It continued under his successors--Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946-52), Adolfo Ruiz Cortines (1952-58), and Adolfo López Mateos (1958-64). In 1953, women won the right to vote in national elections and to run for office.

Mexico's industrialization emphasized producing for the Mexican market. It was accompanied by migration both within Mexico to its cities and to the United States under the joint U.S./Mexico Bracero program. High population growth, urbanization, and unemployment became major concerns. Criticism of the government intensified during the presidencies of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-70) and Luis Echeverría Álvarez (1970-76). It was under Echeverría that a national family-planning program was launched to slow high population growth.

From Prosperity to Crisis.

 The discovery of new oil resources ushered in a period of prosperity during the presidency of José López Portillo (1976-82). But his free-spending policies and falling oil prices led to an economic crisis in 1982. His successor, Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado (1982-88), sought to bring the country's enormous foreign debt under control. He also linked Mexico economically to the international community through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Efforts to improve the economy continued under Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94). He returned the government-controlled banking system to private ownership and sold off state-owned steel mills, copper mines, and airlines. Even more important was his negotiation of NAFTA with the United States and Canada. But during the Salinas years there was an increase in drug trafficking and official corruption (particularly within the country's police forces). And there was a revolt in poverty-stricken Chiapas state by the Zapatista National Liberation Army, a guerrilla group.

The 1994 presidential election was marred by the assassination of the PRI candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio. He was replaced by PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León. Soon after winning the election, Zedillo had to steer Mexico through a severe economic crisis. To prevent a default on Mexican government bonds, the United States loaned Mexico $12.5 billion in 1995. Additional funds were provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

To restore the reputation of the PRI, which had come under increasing attack because of its single-party rule and entrenched corruption, Zedillo introduced political reforms. The reforms were intended to make Mexico a true multiparty democracy. He promised fair and honest elections, consultations with the opposition on key issues, a strengthened judiciary, and political democratization. He also negotiated with the Zapatista rebels, although violence in Chiapas continued. Zedillo's reforms contributed in 1997 to the PRI's loss of control of the lower house of the legislature for the first time in the party's history.

Recent Events.

 In early 1998, opposition candidates won six gubernatorial races. But by the end of the year the PRI appeared to be regaining strength. Nevertheless, in 2000 PAN opposition candidate, Vicente Fox Quesada, was elected president. He received over 42 percent of the vote versus 36 percent for the PRI and 17 percent for the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Fox was the first president in 71 years who was not a member of the governing political party.

Fox's platform emphasized economic policies and programs to benefit the poor, both by transferring income to them and by investing in their education and health. He also promised to reduce corruption and make the country more democratic. But Fox's PAN party did not have a majority in Congress, and this limited his ability to get his programs adopted.

Relations between Mexico and the United States made little progress after the September 11, 2001 attacks, which focused U.S. attention on terrorism. Relations revived after the November 2004 re-election of U.S. President George W. Bush. Several issues came up for negotiation. The most important was a program to regulate emigration from Mexico to the United States.

On July 2, 2006, voters went to the polls to elect a new president. (Fox had served the maximum 6-year term allotted.) The liberal candidate was Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City. His opponent was PAN's conservative candidate, Felipe Calderón. The official results indicated that Calderón had won by a narrow margin of 0.6 percent. López Obrador and his supporters charged the government with fraud and vote tampering. They held mass demonstrations to demand a recount. But in September, Calderón was declared the winner.

George W. Grayson
Author, The United States and Mexico: Patterns of Influence

Laura Randall
Professor Emerita
Hunter College of the City University of New York
Author, The Changing Structure of Mexico