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Map of Mexico.
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Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States.
—Nemesio García Naranjo[3] (misattributed to dictator President of Mexico Porfirio Diaz)[4]

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States (Spanish: Estados Unidos Mexicanos), is a fairly large country in North America. It borders the United States to the North and Guatemala and Belize to the South. Its capital is Mexico City, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America. Like the United States of America capital it used to be a separate part of the country (in this case, the Federal District) instead of a state, but gained its autonomy in December 2017, with the city's boroughs becoming municipalities and electing their own mayors like the rest of the country. Just like its USA counterpart, Mexico is divided into provinces (32 of them), which it calls states.



Once the site of Native American civilizations such as the Toltecs, the Maya, the Aztecs (who gave the country its name, from "Mexica", the ruling tribe of the Aztec empire), the Mixtecs, and the Zapotecs, the country was conquered by Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century. The conquistadores, all Catholic, killed and looted the "inferior" peoples of the Americas, always in the name of their savior:[5]

In one day in 1521, in the Battle for Tenochtitlan, the Spaniards and their allies killed or captured 40,000 indigenous peoples. Justification? The conquistadors claimed that the principal reason for the war against the native Mexicans was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They got some help from other native groups, since the Aztec habit of sacrificing children to their gods understandably didn't go over so well with the people whose children were being sacrificed. For said groups, this turned out to be something of a Faustian bargain.[6]

For 300 years, the Spanish rulers administered Mexico as New Spain, discriminating against the indigenous population, mestizos (those of mixed european and native ancestry), and criollos(sons and daughters of europeans born in the colonies) at various levels of government. In 1810, a revolt, sparked by Miguel Hidalgo, caused an entire war to break out between the Hidalgo forces and the Royalist troops, culminating in the eventual "freedom" of Mexico (and the execution years before of Hidalgo at the hands of Royalist soldiers). One of the turning points took place when a high-ranking Spanish general - Augustín de Iturbide - changed sides to profit from the revolution; he later became the first "emperor"[note 1] of Mexico and managed to hold on to power for a full two years. After a good 11 years of civil warring the county decided to settle on a monarchy to prevent the Cádiz Constitution (a very liberal constitution) being put in practice. A year later, the country decided to become a federal republic.

Independent Mexico[edit]

In the 1830s, General Antonio López de Santa Anna decided to make Mexico a central republic instead. This, among other things, led to the Texan war of independence. Then, a French baker complained that his bakery was broken into and this, in turn, caused yet another war, this time with France. After finally agreeing to pay the baker (and France), the U.S.A. annexed Texas, which in the eyes of Mexico was a declaration of war. Seven million dollars (out of a promised 15 million), the Mexican-American War, a genocide[7], and a treaty later, the country entered into a state of imbalance. During most of this time, Santa Anna had been in and out of power repeatedly, serving eleven disconnected terms for President and finishing hardly any of them, while also being sent into "permanent" exile almost as often as becoming President. He would be a funny figure if his disastrous military leadership hadn't cost Mexico so dearly. After the liberals won the election, Mexico returned to a federal republic by the 1860s. Since then the country has been decidedly secular, throwing the Roman Catholic Church into a fit now and then.[note 2]

The Three Years' War, Second French intervention and Second Mexican Empire[edit]

Siege of Puebla by the French.

Their debt was still high, and England, France and Spain invaded Mexico to make the president pay. Being in the middle of a civil war, president Benito Juárez[note 3] agreed to pay until the war was over. England and Spain left, but France decided to stay and make Mexico into an Empire which France could control. This resulted in the second French intervention of Mexico, also known as the Franco-Mexican War. Although a very under-trained, under-fed and under-equipped Mexican army was able to defeat the French army at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5th, 1862,[note 4] the very first defeat for the French army in more than forty years, the Mexicans were losing the war, but the end of the American Civil War (the American government supported Juárez, and threatened to intervene once it was over) and the unification of France's rival, Germany, caused France to reconsider its little adventure and it pulled out its troops. The republicans began winning battles and eventually captured the French-imposed emperor Maximilian von Habsburg, who was actually very liberal — but he had come to power with the assistance of conservatives, whom he had since alienated with his liberal policies, and liberals were unwilling to accept a monarch. After Maximilian's execution, Juárez became a dictator[note 5] (only he was good enough, hence why no one remembers it) until he died. This made way for general Porfirio Díaz. After a poor administration by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, Díaz won the next election and was a good president. Then, he had his friend Manuel Gonzalez Flores win the next election, and he had a poor administration. The wildly popular Díaz was able to use this to ignore his previous pledge to never run for reelection, and he then changed the constitution so he could be a dictator. Díaz's 31-year dictatorship was extremely significant for the history of Mexico because it would bring the rapid industrialization of the country; promising "Orden y Progreso" (Order and Progress), much of Mexico's present heavy rail infrastructure was built during his tenure. Also tax breaks and similar measures meant to incentivize foreign and national investment were applied in select areas that would become burgeoning industrial centers (such as the present-day city of Monterrey), and the country began modeling itself on the image of the great industrial powers of that time, most notably France, of which Díaz himself was a great admirer (he would die in Paris after his self-imposed exile). All was not good for the regular citizens of the country, however, as although the reforms brought wealth to the business class and the establishment of a national army brought political stability to the republic, the regime was also characterized by the brutal repression of labor movements and the genocide of indigenous populations in the states Sonora and Yucatán, as well a subjugation of the country's agricultural workers to an almost slave-like status.


Pancho Villa looking like an absolute badass.

After 31 years of continuous rule, Díaz said the country was ready for democracy, and elections were to be held. Díaz was an old man and had hoped to win one last election so that he could arrange for a successor to take over so he could retire. Francisco I. Madero, a man from the extremely rich Madero family from the north of the country who held liberal ideas from his time studying in Europe, ran against him and was able to gain a lot of support by promising to help poorer people. Díaz tried to manipulate the elections, as he had done many times in the past. At the last minute, he had Madero thrown in jail, and when the election was held, the results showed that Díaz won almost 100% of the vote, which was a big surprise to all the people who had not, in fact, voted for him. So Madero, who was still in jail, called for a popular revolt against Díaz and made more promises to help poor people. This kicked off the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920, where several anti-Díaz leaders raised armies and began fighting against Díaz. Among them:

  • Emiliano Zapata, mustache enthusiast and land rights leader, from the south
  • Francisco "Pancho" Villa, also mustache enthusiast and popular bandit/vigilante/leader from the north
  • Pascual Orozco, totally not a traitor
  • Venustiano Carranza, also not a traitor

Eventually, Díaz went into exile in Europe, and Madero was able to claim the presidency. But then Madero was betrayed by Victoriano Huerta and killed, and Huerta became the new dictator president. Those rebel leaders who had helped Madero continued fighting, now against Huerta, who eventually went into exile too.

Then Venustiano Carranza, one of the rebel leaders, took the presidency and some of the other rebels began fighting against him too. One of these rebels, known as Pancho Villa, needed suppplies got sick of the US supporting Carranza and attacked a small town in New Mexico; the US then sent an army to march around northern Mexico, chasing him in vain. The other major rebel leader, Emiliano Zapata, along with Villa, are still considered folk heroes in Mexico. In fact, the Zapatistas (a leftist political-violent organization) are named after Zapata in a Latin American tradition of naming political movements and guerrilla groups after people they are only vaguely related to (remember Nicaragua's Sandinistas?—same idea).

What follows is a series of political assassinations that aimed to put an end to the last remnants of the revolution; Carranza kills Zapata, then Alvaro Obregón, a friend of Carranza, kills him; then Obregón kills Villa, becoming the last man standing in what would be a mildly comedic series of events if they hadn't resulted in much of Mexico's political instability throughout the 20th century.

With Obregón now in charge and most of the rebel leadership dead, the revolutionary fighting began to wind down, and a new constitution was drafted, based on the one written by Madero's government back in 1917. This constitution was at the time one of the most socially progressive in the world, but also led to the imposition of an increasingly inflexible dominant party system.[note 6] In 1929, the creation of secular laws around education led to a short but bloody Catholic uprising, which was quickly put down. In the early 1930s, three presidents ruled Mexico on the orders of Plutarco Elías Calles (the Man Behind the Man). After Lázaro Cárdenas won the next election, he was exiled. Cárdenas nationalized Mexican oil after the American companies refused to obey Mexican law on Mexican land. He also welcomed Soviet politician and communist Leon Trotsky into Mexico.[note 7] Mexico was also one of the few countries to openly support the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and accepted a sizable number of refugees after the republicans' eventual defeat. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled the country from 1929 to 2000; at the time Mexico was known as the 'perfect dictatorship', since the country still held elections every six years[note 8] and was spared the political instability and civil wars that marred much of Latin America.[note 9][note 10]

Post-revolution and modern Mexico[edit]

NAFTA signing ceremony in 1992.

In 1940, after Nazi Germany sank two of its ships, Mexico entered World War II and for the first and only time in its history fought on foreign shores when it sent the Escuadrón 201 to the Philippines. After the war, the Mexican economy grew exponentially. In the 1950s the urban population started to grow. By 1960 Mexico was actually quite well off for a "Third World Country". However, the presidents didn't rule as well as they thought, and popular movements began to emerge. One such case was the Movement of 1968. Students were beaten up by the police and they protested against that. After a set of demands and months of protests, students were massacred in the Plaza of the Three Cultures on the Tlatelolco neighborhood of Mexico City on October 2, 1968, 10 days before the 1968 Summer Olympic Games started. Three years later, a student demonstration was repressed by a paramilitary group called "Los Halcones"[note 11](Halcon means falcon).

These events marked the beginning of the "Dirty War", in which political dissidents "disappeared". After 3 corrupt presidents, in the 1980s Mexico had some change and opened up the political spectrum a bit. After the Mexico City earthquake of September 19, 1985, Mexicans realized that the current party was not as effective as it claimed to be. After some controversial elections in the late 80s, the PRI saw itself forced to open the political system in the 1990s and lost the presidency to the conservative National Action Party[note 12] candidate Vicente Fox in the 2000 elections.

In 2006, President Felipe Calderón decided to "declare war on drugs" without a proper analysis of the dangers of initiating such a "war" with most of the municipal and state police corporations, as well as the whole government structure completely overridden with corruption and infiltrated by drug dealers. Over ten years later, more than 100,000 people have died in violent crimes related to this "war" and drug cartels still have huge power, sometimes even greater than the government, and the Mexican people noticed the conservatives turned out to not be as good as they thought.

Mexican army drug raid.

As a result, the PRI slowly but steadily regained political ground, and surrounded by very strong accusations of fraud, Enrique Peña Nieto (who was once unable to name three books he has ever read), candidate for the PRI, was able in 2012 to win presidential elections. Peña Nieto resulted in an extremely mediocre and unfit presidency, as evidenced by his continuous displays of ignorance of basic geographical knowledge of the country he rules as well as his inability to keep the Mexican economy stable. When he came to power, an American dollar was worth around twelve pesos. As of June 2015, an American dollar is worth close to 15 pesos, and in early January of 2016, the peso-to-dollar ratio changed from 1:15 to 1:19.[8] This, combined with the classic authoritarianism that plagues Mexican politics, has given way to a huge wave of social, political and economic unrest not seen in the country for decades. In short Peña Nieto in a sense is the Mexican equivalent of George W. Bush, including the dynastic aspect.[note 13] In his defense, however, since he took office, oil, one of Mexico's top exports, fell from over $100 per barrel to less than $40 in August 2015.

In addition to the ongoing unrest, the public widely believes that the current Mexican government propagates and coordinates with the major drug cartels. It is also believed that the ABC Daycare Fire in 2009 in Hermosillo, Mexico, was blamed indirectly on the Mexican government. It was revealed that the daycare had no windows, was at twice the maximum capacity, no emergency fire exits, and, at the time of the incident, didn't possess A/C, resulting in the deaths of 49 children ranging from ages 1-8. The federal daycare oversight agency responsible for preventing this had been bribed by the owners to pass every safety inspection test.[note 14] The disappearance of 43 "Normalista" students from Ayotzinapa at Iguala in September 2014 caused even more uproar after allegations that high-level government officials purportedly knew of the incident but were bribed by the Sinaloa drug cartel to keep quiet were leveled at President Peña Nieto, the mayor of Iguala, who was responsible for handing custody of the arrested students from local police to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, and even the chief of Iguala's police force. As of August 2015, no Mexican government official has been investigated or arrested in connection with any of the above tragedies, and 38 unknown bodies found in an unmarked grave near Iguala have been found, although approximately twenty more students are still missing.[9]

The 2018 election saw a surprising rise of the left. Leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often called AMLO) gained a wide lead in the polls over his opponents, while his party also gained an advantage in congressional preference. Obrador was elected president with a historic 53% of the vote, and his party also won a majority in Congress (which no party had won in 20 years).

Mexico today[edit]

The US-Mexico border: visible at night.

Currently, Mexico involuntarily plays the part of a conservative boogeyman for Republicans in the United States. If one were to listen to the average conservative blowhard, one would think that Mexico and Mexicans are solely responsible for problems related to immigration and drugs,[note 15] never mind the American demand for cheap, under-the-table labor and marijuana that Mexicans, through two very different means of provision, are quite willing to sate.

Poor Mexicans come to the US to work for cheap; as most poor Mexicans are Mestizo or other scary foreign words for "mixed race", the general assumption in America is that all Mexicans are a scary brown, while in reality "Mexican" is about as descriptive of ethnicity as "New Yorker". As a matter of fact Mexico is actually home to many different types of ethnic groups just like America and the Mexicans you see commonly represented are one of many that live in a country that includes pure whites, Indigenous, blacks (a forgotten minority that wasn't even listed in Mexico's census until 2016), Arabs, and Asians, similar to its northern neighbor.

Mexico and the United States are partnered in the War on Drugs; however, as one of the lower-scoring nations on the corruption perceptions index,[2] it is widely believed that Mexico propagates the expensive war, which is raging on forty years after its declaration, due to drug cartels bribing and giving kickbacks to officials at every level of government, particularly in the states at both the northern and southern borders.

As a major transit country between the main producers (Colombia and others) Mexico, much like Central America has a huge problem with drug smuggling. Since the early 2000s the conflict between different cartels among each other, as well as the police and military against all of them[note 16] has escalated to an outright war. Parts of Northern, Southern and Eastern Mexico have become the most dangerous cities in the world and disappearances and gruesome murders of people who "got in the way" or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time have become a fact of life in Mexico. That being said, other parts are safer than many major cities of the US and most major holiday hotspots are still quite safe. The situation in Mexico today is brilliantly explored in the 2010 movie "El Infierno".Wikipedia

Today, the northern and southern portions of Mexico are controlled by separate quasi-governments of cartels and AutodefensaWikipedia Forces who are in a constant state of conflict.[note 17] The Mexican government is all but gone in these areas, where the rise of Narco Saints to venerate famous and mythical "Robin Hoods" such as Jesus Malverde and Juan Joaquin "El Chapo" Loera Guzman have fostered a soft public image of the cartels, and a strong and powerful cult of personality.[note 18]

Some parts of the capital city have seen a huge influx of English-speaking Americans, to the point English predominates in some neighborhoods. The Spanish-speaking populations there are reacting... about as well as their American counterparts do to influxes of Spanish-speaking people. Some things truly are a universal part of the human condition.[10]

Cultural superstitions, woo, and pseudo-medical practices[edit]

Mexico, being a mostly impoverished country, with a strong and active native indigenous movement like its neighbors to the south, is rife with undertones of fundamentalist Christianity, the practices of curanderismo, and those who promote woo and New Age mysticism. Take mysticist María Sabina.Wikipedia Known as one of the founders of the modern New Age movement, she was the first curandera (native shaman, known more broadly as "witch doctors") to truly enter the mainstream culture of Mexico's society. She was also the first curandera to let foreigners receive velado (to light with a candle) treatments, designed to open the gates of the mind, using hallucinogenic mushrooms and drugs as part of the ceremony, a modern aspect of many spiritual New Age and alternative medicine and medical woo promoted heavily by the local occultist and gave Dr. Oz drug dealers a new avenue to make profits.

Mexico states[edit]

Mexico is made up of 32 states (31 federative states and the capital state, Mexico City). Each state has its own congress and constitution and are allowed to do anything they like with their own internal affairs.[11]

The states of Mexico. Mexico City in orange is the capital state.

See also[edit]


  1. That was his actual title.
  2. Now and then, the G-O-D is invoked by pretty much every politician in Mexico, whether they're PRI, PAN, Labor Party, Green Party, or Partido Nueva Alianza.
  3. Who was the first indigenous leader of an independent country in the Americas being of Zapotec descent and originally a monolingual speaker of that language. He was also surprisingly small at 137 cm (4'6").
  4. Now celebrated as "Cinco de Mayo", a relatively minor holiday (still a reason to drink, of course) in Mexico but Oh my god five Margaritas only 19.99 limited offer only today! Oh my gaaawwwwdddd we're getting wasted! ¡Arriba! in the US
  5. Don't ever say or even imply such a thing to a Mexican whose political leanings you don't know — you may be in for an hour-long pointless political discussion at the very least
  6. Unlike "true" single-party states, Mexico never outlawed other parties; however, de facto there was only one party that mattered and well into the 1980s no election at the national level was even close to competitive. The PRI has in fact lost only two presidential elections since 1929 and was in power again between 2012-2018. That said, power struggles within the PRI were often rather public and were sometimes justified on an ideological basis
  7. Who was killed there on Stalin's orders in 1940.
  8. Most of them free and fair, though doubts about the result of the 1988 election are still widespread
  9. Though American business interests in Mexico were never threatened, the CIA never found it necessary to intervene and make Mexico another puppet state like Argentina or Iran.
  10. Just replace "Latin America" with "former Soviet Union", and you've got United Russia.
  11. Otherwise known as the Corpus Christi Massacre of 1968 or El Halconazo
  12. In Spanish, the party is named the Partido Accion Nacional and is better known as PAN.
  13. Though in his case it is a party dynasty rather than a family dynasty
  14. Although the conspiracy rumors go that the warehouse next to the daycare had some embarrassing and incriminating tax documents (confirmed) of a politician (disputed) who decided to burn it down. Basically, the daycare was seen as unfortunate collateral damage.
  15. Kinda ironic, considering Mexico is effectively controlled by mostly conservative politicians. So, is Bill O'Reilly warning us about the dangers of Republicans and extreme Christianity?
  16. Though shady deals and "dirty" cops cannot be ruled out entirely
  17. The autodefensas are led by a PRIEST of all people. Well, in Michoacan.
  18. Why do you think there were massive protests organized to free El Chapo?