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Mexico was the site of some of the earliest and most advanced

civilizations in the western

hemisphere. The Mayan culture, according to archaeological research,

attained its greatest

development about the 6th century AD. Another group, the Toltec,

established an empire in

the Valley of Mexico and developed a great civilization still evidenced

by the ruins of

magnificent buildings and monuments. The leading tribe, the Aztec,

built great cities and

developed an intricate social, political, and religious organization.

Their civilization

was highly developed, both intellectually and artistically. The first

European explorer to

visit Mexican territory was Francisco Fern ndez de C rdoba, who in 1517

discovered traces of

the Maya in Yucat n. In 1535, some years after the fall of the Aztec

capital, the basic

form of colonial government in Mexico was instituted with the

appointment of the first

Spanish viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza. A distinguishing characteristic

of colonial Mexico was

the exploitation of the Native Americans. Although thousands of them

were killed during the

Spanish conquest, they continued to be the great majority of

inhabitants of what was

referred to as New Spain, speaking their own languages and retaining

much of their native

culture. Inevitably they became the laboring class. Their plight was

the result of the

‘encomienda’ system, by which Spanish nobles, priests, and soldiers

were granted not only

large tracts of land but also jurisdiction over all Native American

residents. A second

characteristic of colonial Mexico was the position and power of the

Roman Catholic church.

Franciscan, Augustinian, Dominican, and Jesuit missionaries entered the

country with the

conquistadores. The Mexican church became enormously wealthy through

gifts and bequests that

could be held in perpetuity. Before 1859, when church holdings were

nationalized, the

church owned one-third of all property and land. A third characteristic

was the existence of

rigid social classes: the Native Americans, the mestizos, mixed Spanish

and Native American

(an increasingly large group during the colonial era), black slaves

which were brought from

Africa and the Caribbean, freed blacks and white Mexicans. The white

Mexicans were

themselves divided. Highest of all classes was that of the

peninsulares, those born in

Spain, as opposed to the criollos, or Creoles people of pure European

descent who had been

born and raised in New Spain. The peninsulares were sent from Spain to

hold the highest

colonial offices in both the civil and church administrations. The

peninsulars held

themselves higher than the criollos, who were almost never given high

office. The

resentment of the criollos became an influential force in the later

movement for

independence. In 1808 the viceroy, under pressure from influential

criollos, permitted them

to participate in the administration. Other peninsular officials

objected and expelled the

viceroy. In the midst of these factional struggles a political

rebellion was begun by the

Mexican people. Mexico has been rocked by political rebellion during

most of its entire

history in one way or another. Under the various dictatorships that

Mexico found itself

under at times in history, it made tremendous advances in economic and


development. Many of the new undertakings were financed and managed by

foreigners (mostly

American and European). This was and continues to be a major factor in

the discontent of

most Mexicans. Moreover, the government favored the rich owners of

large estates,

increasing their properties by assigning them communal lands that

belonged to the Native

Americans. When the Native Americans revolted, they were sold into

peonage. Discontent,

anger and a spirit of revolt continued to grow throughout Mexico.

Madero was elected

president in 1911, but was not forceful enough to end the political

strife. Other rebel

leaders, particularly Emiliano Zapata and Francisco (Pancho) Villa,

completely refused to

submit to presidential authority. Victoriano Huerta, head of the

Madero army, conspired

with the rebel leaders and in 1913 seized control of Mexico City. New

armed revolts under

Zapata, Villa, and Venustiano Carranza began, and Huerta resigned in

1914. Carranza took

power in the same year, and Villa at once declared war on him. In

addition to the ambitions

of rival military leaders, intervention by foreign governments seeking

to protect the

interests of their nationals added to the confusion. In August 1915, a


representing eight Latin American countries and the United States

recognized Carranza as the

lawful authority in Mexico. The rebel leaders, except for Villa, laid

down their arms. The

bandit leader incited his forces to commit crimes against Americans to

show his resentment

against the United States and in 1916 led a raid on Columbus, New

Mexico. As a result, an

American force under General John J. Pershing was sent to Mexico. A new


enacted in 1917, provided for a labor code, prohibited a president from

serving consecutive

terms, expropriated all property of religious orders, and restored

communal lands to the

Native Americans. Many provisions dealing with labor and social welfare

were advanced. Some

of the most drastic were intended to curb foreign ownership of mineral

properties and land.

In 1936 an expropriation law was passed enabling the government to

seize private property

whenever necessary for public or social welfare. The national railways

of Mexico were

nationalized in 1937, as were the soil rights of the oil companies. A

government agency

called Petr leos Mexicanos, or Pemex, was created to administer the

nationalized industry.

The expropriations seriously affected the Mexican oil industry, for it

became difficult for

Mexico to sell oil in U.S., Dutch, and British territories. Mexico was

forced to arrange

barter deals with Italy, Germany, and Japan. The oil trade with these

nations was

interrupted by World War II. In 1940, the so-called Good Neighbor

Policy of the United

States became dominant in Mexican politics. This policy involved close

cooperation with the

United States in commercial and military matters. Mexico agreed to

allow the United States

Air Force to use Mexican airfields and also agreed to export critical

and strategic

materials (mostly minerals) only to countries in the western hemisphere.

Consistent with its

policy of cooperation with the United States, Mexico severed diplomatic

relations with

Japan, Italy and Germany in December 1941. In May 1942, after the

sinking of two Mexican

ships by submarines, the Mexican Congress declared war on Germany,

Italy, and Japan. Later

that same year a trade agreement, establishing mutual tariff

concessions, was negotiated by

Mexico and the United States. In 1944, Mexico agreed to pay U.S. oil

companies $24 million

plus interest, for oil properties expropriated in 1938. In June 1945,

Mexico became an

original member of the United Nations. The government stabilized the

peso in with the aid

of loans from the Treasury of the United States and the International

Monetary Fund. In

1950, the problem of Mexican laborers who entered the United States to

seek seasonal farm

employment became a matter of grave concern to the two governments.

Official agreements

between Mexico and the United States provided for the legal entry of a

specified number of

such workers annually. Approximately 1 million, however, crossed the

border illegally every

year. The problem was further complicated by the demand of the Mexican

government for

guarantees against the exploitation of its citizens by U.S. employers

and by the hostility

of U.S. farm labor organizations toward the competition of Mexican

migratory laborers

willing to work for substandard wages. In March 1952, the Congress of

the United States

passed a bill providing for the punishment by fines and imprisonment of

those recruiting and

employing aliens who entered the country illegally. The Mexican economy

grew at a healthy

annual pace during the period from 1970 to 1974, but beginning in 1975

growth decreased

markedly and inflation rose substantially. In an attempt to reduce the


foreign-trade deficit, the government in 1976 devalued the peso by more

than 50 percent by

changing from a fixed to a freely floating exchange rate. A

potentially beneficial economic

development was the discovery in 1974 and 1975 of huge crude-petroleum

deposits in Campeche,

Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz states. Oil production more than

doubled during the latter

half of the 1970s. By the mid-1980s a rapid increase in foreign debt,

coupled with falling

oil prices, had plunged the country into severe financial straits. In

1989, the Salinas

government sped up the privatization of state-controlled corporations

and modified

restrictive trade and investment regulations to encourage foreign

investment by permitting

full control of corporations by foreign investors. The current

president, Ernesto Zedillo,

is a strong advocate of reform. He has taken the lead in performing

budget cuts, price and

tax adjustments, tight monetary policy and further deregulation and



The Mexican population is composed of three main groups: the people of

Spanish descent, the

Native Americans, and the people of mixed Spanish and Native American

ancestry, or mestizos.

Of these groups, the mestizos are by far the largest, constituting

about 55 percent of the

population. The Native Americans total about 30 percent. The

population of Mexico is

90,419,606. The population density in 1990 was 119 people per square

mile with about 73

percent of Mexicans living in urban areas. (Encarta, “Mexico”)

Political Divisions

Mexico consists of 32 administrative divisions 31 states and the

Distrito Federal (federal

district), which is the seat of the federal administration. The

national executive power is

vested in a president, who must be Mexican-born and the child of a

native Mexican. The

president is popularly elected for a six-year term and may never be

reelected. The president

appoints the cabinet, which is confirmed by the congress. The

legislative power in Mexico

consists of the senate and the chamber of deputies. The upper house is

a senate, with 64

members popularly elected for six years. Two senators are elected from

each state and from

the federal district. The lower house is a chamber of deputies, made

up of 500 members

elected to 3-year terms. Three hundred are elected from single-member

districts based on

population, and the remainder are elected according to a system of


representation. Senators and deputies may not serve two consecutive

terms. The highest

tribunal in Mexico is the supreme court of justice, made up of 21 full-

time members

appointed by the country’s president with the consent of the senate.

Other important

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