The end of PRI's hegemony
Accused many times of blatant fraud, the PRI's candidates continually held almost all public offices until the end of the 20th century. It was not until the 1980s that the PRI lost the first state
governorship, an event that marked the beginning of the party's loss of hegemony. Through the electoral reforms started by president Carlos Salinas de Gortari and consolidated by president Ernesto
Zedillo, by the mid 1990s, the PRI had lost its majority in Congress. In 2000, after seventy years, the PRI lost a presidential elections to a candidate of the National Action Party (PAN - Partido Acciòn
Nacional), Vicente Fox. He was the 69th president of Mexico. The continued non-PAN majority in the Congress of Mexico prevented him from implementing most of his reforms.
President Ernesto Zedillo
In 1995, President Ernesto Zedillo faced an economic crisis. There were public demonstrations in Mexico City and constant military presence after the 1994 rising of the Zapatista Army of National
Liberation in Chiapas. Zedillo also oversaw political and electoral reforms that reduced the PRI's hold on power. After the 1988 election, which was strongly disputed and arguably lost by the
government party, the IFE (Instituto Federal Electoral – Federal Electoral Institute) was created in the early 1990s. It is run by ordinary citizens, overseeing that elections are conducted legally and fairly.
President Vicente Fox Quesada
As a result of popular discontent, the presidential candidate of the National Action Party (PAN) Vicente Fox Quesada won the federal election of July 2, 2000, but did not win a majority in the chambers of
congress. The results of this election ended 71 years of PRI hegemony in the presidency. Many people in Mexico claim that, even if Fox won the election, President Zedillo did not give his party (PRI) a
chance to dispute the results of the election by making Fox's victory "official" by addressing the nation the same night of the election, a first in Mexican politics (and in other places, too, where it is more
normal for the losing candidate to admit defeat, rather than the outgoing incumbent). One reason offered for this is that Zedillo sought a quick and peaceful election in 2000 to avoid another crisis after
the change of government.
President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa
Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (also a member of the conservative and Christian Democratic National Action Party (PAN) is, as of July 2006, the president of Mexico. Many people in Mexico claim that he
actually did not win the election: as a result, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) was appointed as the "legitimate president" and is
currently traveling all over the country, along with his own cabinet, to strictly supervise every and all of the actions of president Felipe Calderón.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party
In 1929, the National Mexican Party (PNM) was formed by the serving president, General Plutarco Elías Calles. (It would later become the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) that ruled the country
for the rest of the 20th century.) The PNM succeeded in convincing most of the remaining revolutionary generals to dissolve their personal armies to create the Mexican Army, and so its foundation is
considered by some the real end of the Mexican Revolution.
The PRI set up a new type of system, led by a caudillo.
The PRI is typically referred to as the three-legged stool, in reference to Mexican workers, peasants and bureaucrats.
See also: Confederation of Mexican Workers
After it was founded in 1929, the PRI monopolized all the political branches. The PRI did not lose a senate seat until 1988 or a gubernatorial race until 1989. It wasn't until July 2, 2000, that Vicente
Fox of the opposition "Alliance for Change" coalition, headed by the National Action Party (PAN), was elected president. His victory ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year hold on the
President Lázaro Cárdenas
President Lázaro Cárdenas came to power in 1935 and transformed Mexico. On April 1, 1936 he exiled Calles, the last general with dictatorial ambitions, thereby removing the army from power.
Cárdenas managed to unite the different forces in the PRI and set the rules that allowed his party to rule unchallenged for decades to come without internal fights. He nationalized the oil industry on
March 18, 1938, the electricity industry, created the National Polytechnic Institute, granted asylum to Spanish expatriates fleeing the Spanish Civil War, started land reform and the distribution of free
textbooks for children.
President Manuel Ávila Camacho
Manuel Ávila Camacho, Cárdenas's successor, presided over a "bridge" between the revolutionary era and the era of machine politics under PRI that would last until 2000. Camacho, moving away
from nationalistic autarchy, proposed to create a favorable climate for international investment, favored nearly two generations ago by Madero. Camacho's regime froze wages, repressed strikes, and
persecuted dissidents with a law prohibiting the "crime of social dissolution." During this period, the PRI regime thus betrayed the legacy of land reform. Miguel Alemán Valdés, Camacho's successor,
even had Article 27 amended to protect elite landowners.
The Mexican economic miracle
During the next four decades, Mexico experienced impressive economic growth (from a very low base), and historians call this period "El Milagro Mexicano", the Mexican Miracle. This was in spite of
failing foreign confidence in investment during the worldwide Great Depression. The assumption of mineral rights and subsequent nationalisation of the oil industry into Pemex during the presidency
of Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was a popular move.
However, the economy collapsed several times afterwards. Although PRI regimes achieved economic growth and relative prosperity for almost three decades after World War II, the management of the
economy collapsed several times, and political unrest grew in the late 1960s, culminating in the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. In the 1970s, economic crises affected the country in 1976 and 1982,
after which the banks were nationalized, having been blamed for the economic problems. (La Década Perdida) On both occasions, the Mexican peso was devalued, and, until 2000, it had been normal
to expect a big devaluation and a recessionary period after each presidential term ended every six years. The crisis that came after a devaluation of the peso in late 1994 threw Mexico into economic
turmoil, triggering the worst recession in over half a century.
On September 19, 1985, an earthquake measuring approximately 8.0 on the Richter scale struck Michoacán and inflicted severe damage on Mexico City. Estimates of the number of dead range from
6,500 to 30,000. (See 1985 Mexico City earthquake.)
Mexico is a country in North America and the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. It also has the largest
number of American Indian language speakers on the continent (the majority speaking Nahuatl, Mayan, Mixtec
and Zapotec). Human presence in Mexico has been shown to date back 40,000 years based upon ancient
human footprints discovered in the Valley of Mexico  (previous evidence substantiated indigenous inhabitants
at 12,500 years ago). For thousands of years, Mexico was a land of hunter-gatherers. Around 9,000 years ago,
ancient Mexicans domesticated corn and initiated an agricultural revolution, leading to the formation of many
complex civilizations. These civilizations revolved around cities with writing, monumental architecture,
astronomical studies, mathematics, and militaries. After 4,000 years, these civilizations were destroyed with the
arrival of the Spaniards in 1519. For three centuries, Mexico was colonized by Spain, during which time the
majority of its indigenous population died off. Formal independence from Spain was recognized in 1821. A war
with the United States ended with Mexico losing almost half of its territory in 1848. France then invaded Mexico in
1864 and ruled briefly until 1867. The Mexican Revolution would later result in the death of 10% of the nation's
population. Since then, Mexico as a nation-state has struggled with reconciling its deeply-entrenched indigenous
heritage with the demands of the modern Western cultural model imposed in 1519. The nation's name is derived
from the Mexican civilization (known in popular culture as the Aztecs).
|An image of one of the pyramids in the upper level of Yaxchilán
The pre-columbian history
of what now is known as
Mexico is known through
the work of archaeologists
and epigraphers, and
through the accounts of
clergymen, and indigenous chroniclers of the immediate post-conquest period. While relatively few documents (or codices) of the Mixtec and
Aztec cultures of the Post-Classic period survived the Spanish conquest, more progress has been made in the area of Mayan archaeology and
Human presence in Mesoamerica was once thought to date back 40,000 years based upon what were believed to be ancient human footprints
discovered in the Valley of Mexico, but after further investigation using radioactive dating, it appears this is untrue. It is currently unclear
whether 21,000 year old campfire remains found in the Valley of Mexico are the earliest human remains in Mexico. Indigenous peoples
began to selectively breed maize plants around 8,000 BC. Evidence shows a marked increase in pottery working by 2300 B.C. and the
beginning of intensive corn farming between 1800 and 1500 B.C..
Between 1800 and 300 BC, complex cultures began to form. Many matured into advanced pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations such as
the: Olmec, Izapa, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Tarascan, "Toltec" and Aztec, which flourished for nearly 4,000 years before the
first contact with Europeans.
|Toltec warrior columns at Tollan (Tula), Hidalgo
These civilizations are credited with many inventions
and advancements including pyramid-temples,
mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and theology.
Archaic inscriptions on rocks and rock walls all over
northern Mexico (especially in the state of Nuevo León)
demonstrate an early propensity for counting in Mexico.
These very early and ancient count-markings were
associated with astronomical events and underscore
the influence that astronomical activities had upon
Mexican natives, even before they possessed
In fact, many of the later Mexican-based civilizations
would carefully build their cities and ceremonial centers
according to specific astronomical events. Astronomy
and the notion of human observation of celestial events
would become central factors in the development of
religious systems, writing systems, fine arts, and
|Tenochtitlan, looking east. From the mural painting at the National Museum of
Anthropology, Mexico City. Painted in 1930 by Dr Atl.
Prehistoric Mexican astronomers began a tradition of precise observing, recording, and commemorating
astronomical events that later become a hallmark of Mexican civilized achievements. Cities would be founded
and built on astronomical principles, leaders would be appointed on celestial events, wars would be fought
according to solar-calendars, and a complex theology using astronomical metaphors would organize the daily
lives of millions of people.
At some different points in time, three Mexican cities (Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Cholula) were among the
largest cities in the world. These cities and several others blossomed as centers of commerce, ideas,
ceremonies, and theology. In turn, they radiated influence outward into neighboring cultures in central Mexico.
While many city-states, kingdoms, and empires competed with one another for power and prestige, Mexico can
be said to have had five major civilizations: The Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Toltec, the Aztec and the Maya. These
civilizations (with the exception of the politically-fragmented Maya) extended their reach across Mexico, and
beyond, like no others. They consolidated power and distributed influence in matters of trade, art, politics,
technology, and theology. Other regional power players made economic and political alliances with these five
civilizations over the span of 3,000 years. Many made war with them. But almost all found themselves within
these five spheres of influence.
Main article: Olmec
The Olmec were an ancient PreColumbian people living in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, roughly
in what are the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Their immediate
cultural influence, however, extends far beyond this region. The Olmec flourished during the Formative (or
Preclassic) period, dating from 1200 BCE to about 400 BCE, and are believed to have been the progenitor
civilization of later Mesoamerican civilizations.
|View of Avenue of the Dead from Pyramid of the Moon
Main article: Teotihuacan
The decline of the Olmec resulted in a power vacuum in Mexico. Emerging from that vacuum was Teotihuacan,
first settled in 300 B.C. By AD 150, it had grown to become the first true metropolis of what is now called North
America. Teotihuacan established a new economic and political order never before seen in Mexico. Its influence
stretched across Mexico into Central America, founding new dynasties in the Mayan cities of Tikal, Copan, and
Kaminaljuyú. Teotihuacan's influence over the Maya civilization cannot be overstated: it transformed political
power, artistic depictions, and the nature of economics. Within the city of Teotihuacan was a diverse and
Most of the regional ethnicities of Mexico were represented in the city, such as
Zapotecs from the Oaxaca region. They lived in rural apartment communities where
they worked their trades and contributed to the city's economic and cultural
prowess. By AD 500, Teotihuacan had become one of the largest cities in the world.
Teotihuacan's economic pull impacted areas in northern Mexico as well. It was a
city whose monumental architecture reflected a new era in Mexican civilization,
declining in political power about AD 650, but lasting in cultural influence for the
better part of a millennium, to around AD 950.
|Olmec colossal head 1, at Jalapa.
|Mayan architecture at Uxmal
Main article: Maya civilization
Contemporary with Teotihuacan's greatness was the greatness of the Mayan civilization. The period between 250 and 650 saw an intense flourishing of Maya civilized accomplishments. While the
many Maya city-states never achieved political unity on the order of the central Mexican civilizations, they exerted a tremendous intellectual influence upon Mexico. The Maya built some of the most
elaborate cities on the continent, and made innovations in mathematics, astronomy, and writing that became the pinnacle of Mexico's scientific achievements.
Main article: Toltec
Just as Teotihuacan had emerged from a power vacuum, so too did the Toltec civilization, which took the reins of cultural and political power in Mexico from about 700. Many of the Toltec peoples were
northern desert peoples, often called Chichimeca in Nahuatl language. They fused their proud desert heritage with the mighty civilized culture of Teotihuacan. This new heritage would give rise to a
new empire. The Toltec empire would reach as far south as Central America, and as far north as the Anasazi corn culture in the Southwestern United States. The Toltec established a prosperous
turquoise trade route with the northern civilization of Pueblo Bonito, in modern-day New Mexico. Toltec traders would trade prized bird feathers with Pueblo Bonito, while circulating all the finest wares
that Mexico had to offer with their divorced, immediate neighbors. In the Mayan area of Chichen Itza, the Toltec civilization spread and the Maya were once again powerfully influenced by central
Mexicans. The Toltec political system was so influential, that any serious Maya dynasty would later claim to be of Toltec descent. In fact, it was this prized Toltec lineage that would set the stage for
Mesoamerica's last great indigenous civilization.
Main article: Aztec
With the decline of the Toltec civilization came political fragmentation in the Valley of
Mexico, and into this new game of political contenders for the Toltec throne stepped
outsiders: the Mexica. They were a proud desert people, one of seven groups who
formerly called themselves "Aztecs", but changed their name to Mexica after years of
migrating. When they arrived in the Valley of Mexico, they were no longer calling
themselves "Aztecs". Newcomers to the Valley of Mexico, they were seen as crude
and unrefined in the ways of the prestigious Nahua civilizations, such as the fallen
Latecomers to Mexico's central plateau, the Mexica thought of themselves as heirs
to the prestigious civilizations that had preceded them, much as Charlemagne did
with respect to the fallen Roman Empire. What the Mexica lacked in political power,
they made up for with ambition and military skill.
In 1428, the Mexica led a war of liberation against their rulers from the city of
Azcapotzalco, which had subjugated most of the Valley of Mexico's peoples. The
revolt was successful, and the Mexica, through cunning political maneuvers and
ferocious fighting skills, managed to pull off a true "rags-to-riches" story: they
became the rulers of central Mexico as the leaders of the Triple Alliance.
This Alliance was composed of the city-states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. At their peak, 350,000 Mexica presided over a wealthy tribute-empire comprising around 10 million people,
almost half of Mexico's then-estimated population of 24 million. This empire stretched from ocean to ocean, and extended into Central America. The westward expansion of the empire was stopped
cold by a devastating military defeat at the hands of the Purepecha (who possessed state-of-the-art copper-metal weapons). The empire relied upon a system of taxation (of goods and services) which
were collected through an elaborate bureaucracy of tax collectors, courts, civil servants, and local officials who were installed as loyalists to the Triple Alliance (led by Tenochtitlan).
The empire was primarily economic in nature, and the Triple Alliance grew very rich: libraries were built, monumental architecture was constructed, and a highly prestigious artistic and priestly class
was cultivated. All of this created a "First World" aura of invincibility around the island-city of Tenochtitlan. Unlike the later Spanish, the Mexica did not seek to "convert" or destroy the cultures they
conquered. Quite the opposite: the engines of warfare and empire in Central Mexico required that all participants understand and accept common cultural "rules" in order to make the flow of imperial
wealth as smooth as possible. The rules of empire in Mexico were old rules, understood by all the power players and "contenders to the throne," as had been shown many times before (the kingdom
of Tlaxcala would attempt its own power grab in 1519 by using the Spanish as mercenary-allies).
By 1519, the Mexica capital, Tenochtitlan, was the largest city in the world with a population of around 350,000 (although some estimates range as high as 500,000). By comparison, the population of
London in 1519 was 80,000 people. Tenochtitlan is the site of modern-day Mexico City.
Allies of the Mexica-Aztecs
In the formation of Triple Alliance empire, the Mexica-Aztecs established several ally states. Among them were Cholula (the site of an early massacre by Spaniards), Texcoco (the site of a major library,
subsequently burned by the Spanish), Tlacopan, and Matatlan. Also, many of the kingdoms conquered by the Mexica-Aztecs provided soldiers for further imperial campaigns such as: Culhuacan,
Xochimilco, Tepeacac, Amecameca, Coaixtlahuacan, Cuetlachtlan, Ahuilizipan. The Mexica-Aztec war machine would become multi-ethnic, comprising soldiers from conquered areas, led by a large
core of Mexica warriors and officers. This same strategy would later be employed by the Spaniards.
Legacy of the Mexica
The Mexica left a deep and durable stamp upon Mexican culture. Much of what is considered modern Mexican culture derives from the Mexica civilization: place-names, words, food, art, dress, symbols,
and even the name "Mexican". (See also Origin and history of the name "Mexica").
The name "Mexica"
Popular culture incorrectly refers to the Mexica as "Aztecs" (a term popularized in the 19th century by European writers). In previous centuries, there were tribal groups who referred to themselves as
Aztecs. But upon their arrival into the Valley of Mexico, these groups splintered and became the various Nahuatl-language city-states. The one group that rose the highest in power and prestige was the
Mexica. Thus, their territory was often referred to as Mexico (not "Azteco"). It is from the name Mexica that the Spaniards continued to call the land Mexico, the name by which it is still known today. The
people of this land are themselves known as Mexicans. These names are derived directly from the name Mexica (and not Aztec).
Mexico City as the capital
Today, the Mexicas' capital city of Tenochtitlan surives in modern times as Mexico City, the capital of the modern nation of Mexico. As was the case before European arrival, Mexico City remains the
largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere (and second-largest in the world following Tokyo, Japan).
In their haste to colonize, the Spanish retained much of the original layout of the city of Tenochtitlan, reflected in the flower district of Xochimilco, the various city districts (barrios), and in the central
precinct of the Zócalo (formerly the ceremonial center of Tenochtitlan). Many streets and boulevards lay along the same paths as the previous water canals of Tenochtitlan. Several pyramids and ruins
have even remain unearthed within the urban sprawl of the city. Today, Mexico City administers legal rule over 110 million people, whereas in 1519, that number was 25 million.
Food and cuisine
Food and aliments originating from Mexico
Mexico is a Megadiverse country. As such, many ingredients commonly used as aliment by today's people worldwide originate from Mexico, the name itself originating from Nahuatl. Examples of such
ingredients are: Chocolate, Tomato, Maize and Corn, Vanilla, Avocado, Guava, Chayote, Epazote, Camote, Jícama, Tejocote, Nopal, Tejocote, Huitlacoche, Sapote, Mamey sapote, many varieties of
The majority of Mexico's cuisine are of indigenous origins and are based on the ingredients listed above:
corn enters in the composition of tortillas, tamales, pozole, enchiladas
avocado is the principal ingredient of guacamole
chocolate is used in mole and atole
These foods continue to make up the core of Mexican cuisine today.
Because the Mexica spoke Nahuatl (the most common language at the time of Spanish arrival) their terms and names were widespread as descriptors of cities, regions, valleys, rivers, mountains,
and many cultural objects. The Spanish used Nahuatl translators as they waged wars of conquest throughout Mexico. As a result, Nahuatl names were used as geographic identifiers as far away as
Guatemala and the northern state of Coahuila on the southern Texas border. Numerous words from the Nahuatl language are today interspersed within Mexican Spanish. These words are used to
describe geography, foods, colloquialisms, and first names for people (e.g., Xochitl for females and Tenoch for males).
Today, approximately 1.5 million people continue to speak the Nahuatl language. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in learning Nahuatl by Spanish-speaking and English-speaking
Mexicans at-large. Some Mexican-American activists have portrayed Nahuatl language as a path to claiming an identity that is not European-based or Anglo-derivative (i.e. "Hispanic", "Latino", or
Modern flag of Mexico
The official story of Mexico is, the coat of arms of Mexico was inspired by an Aztec legend based on the founding of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs, then a nomadic tribe, were wandering throughout Mexico in
search of a sign that would indicate the precise spot of which they would build their capital. Their god Huitzilopochtli had commanded them to find an eagle devouring a snake, perched on top of a
cactus that grew on a rock submerged in a lake. After two hundred years of wandering, they found the promised sign on a small island in the swampy lake of Texcoco. It was there they found their new
capital, Tenochtitlan, also known as Mexico.
Art and symbols
Mexica art has inspired generations of Mexican-descent artists, both inside and outside of Mexico's modern borders. Images of pyramids, the "Aztec calendar", and armed indigenous warriors have
been popular themes. Also popular have been zig-zag motifs (found on indigenous buildings and pottery) and the theological notion of The Four Directions (found among indigenous cultures across
the Western Hemsiphere). In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the ceremonies and art of the Day of the Dead. The art, architecture, and symbols of the Mexica civilization exert
such a unique identity that they are commonly used in advertisements for tourism to Mexico.
For much of its history, the majority of Mexico's population lived an urban lifestyle: cities, towns, and villages. Only a fraction of the population was tribal and wandering. Most people were
permanently-settled, agriculturally-based, and identified with an urban identity, as opposed to a tribal identity. Mexico has long been an urbanized land, which was graphically reflected in the writings of
the Spaniards who encountered them.
|Mexica warriors as shown in the Florentine Codex.
|Site of Tenochtitlán, according to Lienzo de Tlaxcala.
Main article: Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire
In 1519, the native civilizations of what now is known as Mexico were invaded by Spain, and two years later in
1521, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was conquered by an alliance between Spanish and Tlaxcaltecs (the main
enemies of Aztecs). Francisco Hernández de Córdoba explored the shores of South Mexico in 1517, followed by
Juan de Grijalva in 1518. The most important of the early Conquistadores was Hernán Cortés, who entered the
country in 1519 from a native coastal town which he renamed "Puerto de la Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz" (today's
Contrary to popular opinion, Spain did not conquer all the empire when Cortes conquered Tenochtitlan in 1521. It
would take another two centuries after the Siege of Tenochtitlan before the Conquest of the Aztec Empire would
be complete, as rebellions, attacks, and wars continued against the Spanish by other native peoples.
Role of religion in the fall of the Aztec Empire
The Aztecs' religious beliefs were based on a great fear that the universe would cease functioning without a
constant offering of human sacrifice. They sacrificed thousands of people on special occasions. This belief is
thought to have been common throughout Nahuatl people. In order to acquire captives in time of peace, the Aztec
resorted to a form of "ritual warfare", or flower war. Tlaxcalteca and other Nahuatl nations were forced into such
wars, and not particularly liking the idea of being a perpetual source of human sacrifices they willingly joined the
Spaniard forces against the Aztecs. The small Spanish force, consisting of about 600 men schooled in European
warfare and equipped with steel weapons and armor, was reinforced with thousands of indigenous Indian allies.
Their use of ambush during indigenous ceremonies allowed the Spanish to avoid fighting the best native
warriors in direct armed battle, such as during The Feast of Huitzilopochtli.
Plagues and epidemics in colonial Mexico
Another important factor for the fall of Tenochtitlan (the Aztec capital) was the various plagues and epidemics
brought to America by sick Spaniards and African slaves. Smallpox, flu, Bubonic plague, measles, and several
other diseases took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Aztecs and other natives. These epidemics may have
killed over half of the approximately 8,000,000 natives who lived in Tenochtitlan in the course of a few years' time.
Syphilis was already a mesoamerican disease.
The colonial period
Main article: Colonial Mexico
The Spanish defeat of the Aztecs in 1521 marked the beginning of the 300 year-long colonial period called the
New Spain. After the fall of Tenochtitlan, it would take decades of sporadic warfare to pacify the rest of
Mesoamerica. Particularly fierce was the Chichimeca War in the north of the New Spain (1576-1606).
The Council of Indies and the Mendecant establishments that arose in Mesoamerica as early as 1524 labored to
generate capital for the broken crown of Spain and convert the Indian populations to Catholicism. Over the period
of conquest (1519-c1600s) and the following Colonial periods the sponsorship of Mendecant friars and a
process of religious syncretism combined the Pre-Hispanic cultures with Spanish socio-religious tradition. The
resulting hodgepodge of culture was a pluriethnic State that relied on the repartimiento of peasant "Republic of
Indians" labor to accomplish any work considered necessary. The existing feudal system of pre-Hispanic
Mesoamerican culture was replaced by the encomienda feudal-style system of Spain, probably adapted to the
pre-Hispanic tradition. It was finally replaced by a debt-based inscription of labor that led to wide-spread
revitalization movements and prompted the revolution that ended the colonial state of New Spain.
During the colonial period, which lasted from 1521 to 1810, Mexico was known as "Nueva España" or "New
Spain" (as aforementioned), whose claimed territories included today's Mexico, the Spanish Caribbean islands,
Central America as far south as Costa Rica, an area comprising today's southwestern United States, and the
Philippines. Spaniards claimed all lands they walked across and all the land drained by the rivers they saw. They
did not conquer or develop any territories that did not have an Indian population to catechize and provide a
sufficient labor source. They walked over a good part of North America looking for treasures and subsequently
claimed the land as was their practice. Finding no treasures or sedentary Indian tribes they could catechize and
assimilate, they returned to their ranchos and haciendas in Mexico and stayed there. The result was a lot of
maps. The Indians who lived there were mostly ignored or inscribed into labor.
Mexican war of
Main article: Mexican War
After Napoleon I invaded
Spain in 1807 and put
his brother, Joseph on
the Spanish throne,
and rich land-owners
who supported Spain's
Bourbon royal family
objected to the
Thus an unlikely alliance
was formed in Mexico:
liberales, or Liberals,
who favored a
democratic Mexico, and
favored a Mexico ruled by
a Bourbon monarch who
would restore the status
quo ante. These two
elements agreed only
that Mexico must achieve
determine her own
Taking advantage of the
fact that Spain was
under the occupation of
Napoleon's army, Miguel
Hidalgo y Costilla, a
Catholic priest of
Spanish descent and
Spain in the small town
of Dolores on
September 16, 1810.
This act started the long war, the first official document of independence was the Solemn Act of the Declaration of Independence of Northern America signed
in 1813 by the Congress of Anáhuac. Eventually led to the official recognition of independence from Spain in 1821 and the creation of the First Mexican
Empire. As with many early leaders in the movement for Mexican independence, Hidalgo was captured by opposing forces and executed.
Prominent figures in Mexico's war for independence were Father José María Morelos, Vicente Guerrero, and General Agustín de Iturbide. The war for
independence lasted eleven years until the troops of the liberating army entered Mexico City in 1821. Thus, although independence from Spain was first
proclaimed in 1810, it was not achieved until 1821, by the Treaty of Córdoba, which was signed on August 24 in Córdoba, Veracruz, by the Spanish viceroy
Juan de O'Donojú and Agustín de Iturbide, ratifying the Plan de Iguala.
In 1821, Agustín de Iturbide, a former Spanish general who switched sides to fight for Mexican independence, proclaimed himself emperor – officially as a
temporary measure until a member of European royalty could be persuaded to become monarch of Mexico (see Mexican Empire for more information). A
revolt against Iturbide in 1823 established the United Mexican States. In 1824, "Guadalupe Victoria" became the first president of the new country; his given
name was actually Félix Fernández but he chose his new name for symbolic significance: Guadalupe to give thanks for the protection of Our Lady of
Guadalupe, and Victoria, which means Victory.
After independence, several Spanish possessions in Central America which also proclaimed their independence were incorporated into Mexico from 1822 to
1823, with the exception of Chiapas and several other Central American states. The mostly vacant northern claims of the Spanish were claimed by Mexico
and almost totally ignored, since little wealth was being extracted from them and the fledgling governments had neither money nor inclination to develop them.
Soon after achieving its independence from Spain, the Mexican government, in an effort to populate some of its sparsely-settled northern land claims,
awarded extensive land grants in a remote area of the state of Coahuila y Tejas to thousands of immigrant families from the United States, on the condition
that the settlers convert to Catholicism and assume Mexican citizenship. It also forbade the importation of slaves, a condition that, like the others, was largely
|Coat of arms used during the First
The government of the newly independent Mexico soon fell to rogue republican forces led by Antonio López de Santa Anna and others. The first Republic was
formed with Guadalupe Victoria as its first president, followed in office by Vicente Guerrero who won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote. The Mexican
constitution was at that time very similar to the US constitution; but was largely disregarded by the majority of the population. The conservative party saw the
opportunity to control the government and led a revolution under the leadership of Gen. Anastasio Bustamante who became president from 1830 to early
1832. The federalists asked Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna to overthrow Bustamante and he did, declaring General Manuel Gómez Pedraza (who won
the electoral vote back in 1828) as the "true" president. Elections took place, and Santa Ana took office on 1832. Constantly changing political beliefs, as
president (he was president eleven different times), in 1834 Santa Anna abrogated the federal constitution, causing insurgencies in the southeastern state
of Yucatán and the northernmost portion of the northern state of Coahuila y Tejas. Both areas sought independence from the central government. After
negotiations and the presence of Santa Anna's army eventually brought Yucatán to again recognize Mexican sovereignty, Santa Anna's army turned to the
northern rebellion. The inhabitants of Tejas, calling themselves Texans and led mainly by relatively recently-arrived English-speaking settlers, declared
independence from Mexico at Washington-on-the-Brazos, giving birth to the Republic of Texas. Texan militias defeated the Mexican army and won
independence in 1836, further reducing the claimed territory of the fledgling Mexican republic. In 1845, Texans voted to be annexed by the United States, and
this was agreed to by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President John Tyler.
|Antonio López de Santa Anna
War with the United States
Main article: Mexican-American War
Many presidents, dictators, etc. came and went during a long period of instability which lasted most of the 19th
century. One of the dominant figures of the second quarter of that century was the dictator Antonio López de Santa
During this period, nearly half of Mexico's territory was annexed by the United States with the pretext of being
"unsettled". Mexico had a population of about 8,000,000 in 1846 of which about 60,000 lived in the northern
territories – mostly in New Mexico (53,000) and California (7,000). Santa Anna was Mexico's leader during the
conflict with Texas, which declared itself independent from Mexico in 1836 and ensured that independence by
defeating the Mexican army and Santa Anna. Santa Anna was in and out of power again during the U.S.-Mexican
War (1846-48). After accepting Texas's application for statehood in 1846, the US government sent troops to Texas
in order to secure the territory, subsequently ignoring Mexico's demands for US withdrawal. Mexico saw this as a
US intervention in their internal affairs by supporting a rebel province.
Disagreements about boundaries made the conflict inevitable. Mexican troops then attacked and killed several
American soldiers and captured a small American detachment between the Rio Grande (which the Republic of
Texas, and subsequently the U.S., claimed as the southern border) and the Nueces River (which had been
considered the historic southern border of the Mexican department of Tejas). As a result, President James K.
Polk requested a declaration of war, and the US Congress voted in favor on May 13, 1846. Mexico formally
declared war on 23 May. This resulted in the U.S.-Mexican War, which lasted from 1846 to 1848. Mexico was
defeated by United States forces, which occupied Mexico City and many other parts of the country. The war was
terminated with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo which stipulated that, as a condition for peace, Mexico was
obligated to sell the mostly vacant northern territories to the United States for US$15 million. Over the next few
decades, Americans settled these territories and petitioned for statehood, forming the states of California,
Nevada, and Utah, and most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Baja California was not included in the U.S.
purchases or in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo despite being occupied by U.S. troops at the end of the war.
In 1853, mostly vacant desert territory containing parts of present-day Arizona and New Mexico were sold to the
United States in the Gadsden Purchase. This land was sold by President Santa Anna in order to gain personal
profit and to pay off his army. The Americans had not realized when they were negotiating the Treaty of Hidalgo
(when they accepted the Gila River as the southern U.S. boundary) that a much easier railroad route to California
lay slightly south of the Gila River. The Southern Pacific Railroad, the second transcontinental railroad to
California, was built through this purchased land in 1881.
As a bonus, the city of Tucson (Arizona) and its few hundred inhabitants was added to the United States territory
of New Mexico. The primary reason for Mexico's defeat was its problematic internal situation, which led to a lack of
unity and organization for a successful defense. One of the very few commemorated groups of Mexicans in the
U.S. invasion of 1847 was a group of very young Military College cadets (now considered by some as Mexican
national heroes). These cadets fought to the death defending their college against a detachment of American
soldiers during the Battle of Chapultepec (September 13, 1847). Another group of combatants revered by
Mexicans was the Batallón de San Patricio, a unit composed of hundreds of mostly Irish-born American deserters
who fought under Mexican command until their overwhelming defeat at the Battle of Churubusco (August 20,
Most of the "San Patricios" were killed and a few captured. Many of the captured men were court-martialled by the
U.S. Army as deserters and traitors, and were subsequently executed at Chapultepec.
The struggle for liberal reforms
Main article: La Reforma
In 1855, Santa Anna, who had become dictator one more time, was overthrown by the liberals, in what was called the Revolution of Ayutla. The moderate liberal Ignacio Comonfort became president.
The Moderados tried to find a middle ground between the nation's Liberals and Conservatives.
The 1857 Constitution
During Comonfort's presidency, a new Constitution was drafted. The Constitution of 1858 retained most of the Roman Catholic Church's Colonial era privileges and revenues, but, unlike the earlier
constitution, did not mandate that the Catholic Church be the nation's exclusive religion. Such reforms were unacceptable to the leadership of the clergy and the Conservatives. Comonfort and
members of his administration were excommunicated, and a revolt was then declared.
The War of Reform
This led to the War of Reform, from December 1857 to January 1861. This civil war became increasingly bloody and polarized the nation's politics. Many of the Moderates came over to the side of the
Liberals, convinced that the great political power of the Church needed to be curbed. For some time, the Liberals and Conservatives had their own governments, the Conservatives in Mexico City and
the Liberals headquartered in Veracruz. The war ended with Liberal victory, and Liberal president Benito Juárez moved his administration to Mexico City.
|Portrait of Maximilian I of Mexico, by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
French intervention and the Second Mexican Empire
Main article: French intervention in Mexico
In the 1860s, the country again underwent a military occupation, this time by France, establishing the Habsburg
Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria on the throne of Mexico as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, with support
from the Roman Catholic clergy and conservative elements of the upper class as well as some indigenous
communities. Although the French, then considered one of the most efficient armies of the world, suffered an
initial defeat in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (now commemorated as the Cinco de Mayo holiday) they
eventually defeated the Mexican government forces led by the general Ignacio Zaragoza and set the couple upon
|Benito Juárez, President of Mexico (1861–1863 and 1867–1872)
The Mexican monarchy set
up its government in the
Capital of Mexico City and
used the National Palace
as their government seat.
The Emperor's consort,
born a Belgian princess,
was Empress Carlota of
Mexico, a cousin of Queen
Victoria of the United
Kingdom. The Imperial
couple chose as their
home Chapultepec Castle,
and later adopted two
grandchildren of the first
Augustin I. The Imperial
couple noticed how the
people of Mexico were
treated, especially the
Indians, and wanted to
ensure their human rights.
They were interested in a
Mexico for the Mexicans,
and did not share the
views of Napoleon III, who
was interested in
exploiting the rich mines in
the north-west of the
Emperor Maximilian I
favored the establishment
of a limited monarchy
sharing powers with a
democratically elected congress. This was too liberal to please Mexico's Conservatives, while the liberals
refused to accept a monarch, leaving Maximilian with few enthusiastic allies within Mexico. Maximilian was
eventually captured and executed in the Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro, by the forces loyal to President
Benito Juárez, who kept the federal government functioning during the French intervention that put Maximilian in
In mid-1867, following repeated losses in battle to the Republican Army and ever decreasing support by
Napoleon III, Maximilian was captured and executed by Juárez's soldiers, along with his last loyal generals, Mejia
and Miramon in Querétaro. From then on, Juárez remained in office until his death from heart failure in 1872.
Restoration of the Republic
In 1867, the republic was restored and Juárez was reelected, continuing to implement his reforms. In 1871 he was elected a second time, much to the dismay of his opponents within the liberal party,
who considered reelection to be something undemocratic. Juárez died one year later and was succeeded by Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada.
Order, progress and the Díaz dictatorship
In 1876 Lerdo was re-elected, defeating Porfirio Díaz in the elections. Díaz rebelled against the government with the proclamation of the Plan de Tuxtepec, in which he opposed reelection, in 1876. Díaz
managed to overthrow Lerdo, who fled the country, and was named president.
Díaz became the new president. Thus began a period of more than thirty years (1876–1911) during which Díaz was the strong man in Mexico. This period of relative prosperity and peace is known as
the Porfiriato. During this period, the country's infrastructure improved greatly thanks to increased foreign investment. However, the period is also characterized by social inequality and discontent
among the working classes.
The Mexican Revolution
See also: Mexican Revolution
In 1910 the 80-year-old Díaz decided to hold an election to serve another term as president. He thought he had
long since eliminated any serious opposition in Mexico; however, Francisco I. Madero, an academic from a rich
family, decided to run against him and quickly gathered popular support, despite Díaz putting Madero in jail.
When the official election results were announced, it was declared that Díaz had won re-election almost
unanimously, with Madero receiving only a few hundred votes in the entire country. This fraud by the Porfiriato was
too blatant for the public to swallow, and riots broke out. Madero prepared a document known as the Plan de San
Luis Potosí, in which he called the Mexican people to take their weapons and fight against the government of
Porfirio Díaz on November 20, 1910. Madero managed to flee to San Antonio, Texas, where he started to prepare
his overthrow of the Díaz government. This started what is known as the Mexican Revolution.
The Federal Army was defeated by the revolutionary forces which were led by, amongst others, Emiliano Zapata
in the South, Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco in the North, and Venustiano Carranza. Porfirio Díaz resigned in
1911 for the "sake of the peace of the nation" and went to exile in France, where he died in 1915.
|Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Villa is sitting in the presidential throne in the
Palacio Nacional at the left.
The revolutionary leaders
had many different
figures varied from liberals
such as Madero to
radicals such as Emiliano
Zapata and Pancho Villa.
As a consequence, it
proved very difficult to
reach agreement on how
to organize the
government that emanated
from the triumphant
revolutionary groups. The
result of this was a
struggle for the control of
Mexico's government in a
conflict that lasted more
than twenty years. This
period of struggle is
usually referred to as part of the Mexican Revolution, although it might also be considered a civil war. Presidents
Francisco I. Madero (1913), Venustiano Carranza (1920), and former revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata
(1919) and Pancho Villa (1923) were assassinated during this time, amongst many others.
Following the resignation of Díaz and a brief reactionary interlude, Madero was elected President in 1911. He was
ousted and killed in 1913 by Victoriano Huerta, with the support of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane
Wilson, but not that of U.S. President-elect Woodrow Wilson. Huerta was a former General of Porfirio Díaz.
Huerta's brutality soon lost him his domestic support, and his regime was actively opposed by the Wilson
Administration. In 1915 he was overthrown by Venustiano Carranza, a former revolutionary general. Carranza
promulgated a new Constitution on February 5, 1917. The Mexican Constitution of 1917 still guides Mexico.
Carranza was assassinated in an internal feud of his former supporters over who would replace him as
In 1920 Álvaro Obregón, one of Carranza's former allies who plotted against him, became president. He
accommodated all elements of Mexican society except the most reactionary clergy and landlords, and
successfully catalyzed social liberalization, particularly in curbing the role of the Catholic Church, improving
education and taking steps toward instituting women's civil rights.
While the Mexican revolution and civil war may have subsided after 1920, armed conflicts did not cease. The most
widespread conflict of this era was the battle between those favoring a secular society with separation of Church
and State and those favoring supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church, which developed into an armed uprising
by supporters of the Church that came to be called "la Guerra Cristera."
It is estimated that between 1910 and 1921 about 900,000 people died.
|Porfirio Díaz, President of Mexico, (1876 - 1911)
|Madero and Zapata in Cuernavaca, Morelos
|Dead fighters in Manzanillo, Colima
The Cristero War 1926-1929
Between 1926 and 1929 an armed conflict in the form of a popular uprising broke out against the
anti-Catholic/anti-clerical Mexican government, set off specifically by the anti-clerical provisions of the Mexican
Constitution of 1917. Discontent over the provisions had been simmering for years. The conflict is known as the
Cristero War. A number of articles of the 1917 Constitution were at issue. Article 5 outlawed monastic religious
orders. Article 24 forbade public worship outside of church buildings, while Article 27 restricted religious
organizations' rights to own property. Finally, Article 130 took away basic civil rights of members of the clergy:
priests and religious leaders were prevented from wearing their habits, were denied the right to vote, and were
not permitted to comment on public affairs in the press.
The Cristero War was eventually resolved diplomatically, largely with the influence of the U.S. Ambassador. The
conflict claimed the lives of some 90,000: 56,882 on the federal side, 30,000 Cristeros, and numerous civilians
and Cristeros who were killed in anticlerical raids after the war's end. As promised in the diplomatic resolution,
the laws considered offensive to the Cristeros remained on the books, but no organized federal attempts to
enforce them were put into action. Nonetheless, in several localities, persecution of Catholic priests continued
based on local officials' interpretations of the law.
|Logo of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
On January 1, 1994, Mexico became a full member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), joining
the United States of America and Canada in a large and prosperous economic bloc. It is on this date that the
Zapatista Army of National Liberation emerged, capturing several towns and sparking a brief conflict with the
government. On March 23, 2005, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America was signed by the
elected leaders of those countries.
According to the U.S. CIA Factbook for 2006: Mexico has a free market economy that recently entered the trillion
dollar class. It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by
the private sector. Recent administrations have expanded competition in seaports, railroads,
telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports. Per capita income is one-fourth
that of the US; income distribution remains highly unequal. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since the
implementation of NAFTA in 1994. Mexico has 12 free trade agreements with over 40 countries including,
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the European Free Trade Area, and Japan, putting more than 90% of trade
under free trade agreements.
The Fox administration was cognizant of the need to upgrade infrastructure, modernize the tax system and labor
laws, and allow private investment in the energy sector, but has been unable to win the support of the
opposition-led Congress. The current Calderón government that took office in December 2006 is confronting the
same challenges of boosting economic growth, improving Mexico's international competitiveness, and reducing
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2001, ISBN 0-292-70502-6
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Adams, University of Oklahoma Press, 1996, ISBN
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