For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
United Mexican States
Area: 1,972,550 sq. km. (761,600 sq. mi.); about three times the size of Texas.
Cities: Capital--Mexico City (22 million, estimate for metro area). Other major cities--Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Acapulco, Merida, Leon, Veracruz.
Terrain: Coastal lowlands, central high plateaus, and mountains up to 5,400 m. (18,000 ft.).
Climate: Tropical to desert.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Mexican(s).
Population (July 2009 est.): 111,211,789.
Annual growth rate (2009 est.): 1.13%.
Ethnic groups: Indian-Spanish (mestizo) 60%, Indian 30%, Caucasian 9%, other 1%.
Religions (2000 census): Roman Catholic 76.5%, Protestant 6%, other 0.3%, unspecified 13.8%, none 3.1%.
Education: Years compulsory--11 (note: preschool education was made mandatory in Dec. 2001). Literacy--91.4%.
Health (2009): Infant mortality rate--18.42/1,000. Life expectancy--male 73.25 years; female 79 years.
Work force (2008 est., 45.5 million): Agriculture, forestry, hunting, fishing--21.0%; services--32.2%; commerce--16.9%; manufacturing--18.7%; construction--5.6%; transportation and communication--4.5%; mining and quarrying--1.0%.
Type: Federal republic.
Independence: First proclaimed September 16, 1810; republic established 1824.
Constitution: February 5, 1917.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state and head of government). Legislative--bicameral. Judicial--Supreme Court, local and federal systems.
Administrative subdivisions: 31 states and a federal district.
Political parties: Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), National Action Party (PAN), Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Green Ecological Party (PVEM), Labor Party (PT), and several small parties.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (official exchange rate, 2008 est.): $1.143 trillion.
GDP (PPP method, 2008 est.): $1.559 trillion.
Per capita GDP (PPP method, 2008 est.): $14,200.
Annual real GDP growth: (2008 est.) 1.4%; (2007) 3.3%; (2006) 4.8%; (2005) 3.0%; (2004) 4.4%; (2003) 1.4%; (2002) 0.8%; (2001) -0.2%; (2000) 6.6%.
Inflation rate: (2008 est.) 6.2%; (2007) 3.8%; (2006) 3.4%; (2005) 3.3%; (2004) 5.2%; (2003) 4.0%; (2002) 5.7%; (2001) 4.4%; (2000) 9.0%.
Natural resources: Petroleum, silver, copper, gold, lead, zinc, natural gas, timber.
Agriculture (3.7% of GDP): Products--corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, cotton, coffee, fruit, tomatoes, beef, poultry, dairy products, wood products.
Industry (34.1% of GDP): Types--food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, mining, textiles, clothing, motor vehicles, consumer durables.
Services (62.2% of GDP): Types--commerce and tourism, financial services, transportation and communications.
Trade (Goods): Exports (2008 est.)--$294 billion f.o.b. Imports (2008 est.)--$305.9 billion f.o.b. Exports to U.S. (2007)--$223 billion (82% of total). Imports from U.S. (2007)--$141 billion (50% of total). Major markets--U.S., EU, Canada.
Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world and the second most-populous country in Latin America after Portuguese-speaking Brazil. About 76% of the people live in urban areas. Many Mexicans emigrate from rural areas that lack job opportunities--such as the underdeveloped southern states and the crowded central plateau--to the industrialized urban centers and the developing areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to some estimates, the population of the area around Mexico City is nearly 22 million, which would make it the largest concentration of population in the Western Hemisphere. Cities bordering on the United States--such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez--and cities in the interior--such as Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Puebla--have undergone sharp rises in population in recent years.
Mexico has made great strides in improving access to education and literacy rates over the past few decades. According to a 2006 World Bank report, enrollment at the primary level is nearly universal, and more children are completing primary education. The average number of years of schooling for the population 15 years old and over was around eight years during the 2004-2005 school year, a marked improvement on a decade earlier--when it was 6.8 years--but low compared with other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
Highly developed cultures, including those of the Olmecs, Mayas, Toltecs, and Aztecs, existed long before the Spanish conquest. Hernando Cortes conquered Mexico during the period 1519-21 and founded a Spanish colony that lasted nearly 300 years.
Independence from Spain was proclaimed by Father Miguel Hidalgo on September 16, 1810. Father Hidalgo's declaration of national independence, known in Mexico as the "Grito de Dolores," launched a decade-long struggle for independence from Spain. Prominent figures in Mexico's war for independence were: Father Jose Maria Morelos; Gen. Augustin de Iturbide, who defeated the Spaniards and ruled as Mexican emperor from 1822-23; and Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, who went on to dominate Mexican politics from 1833 to 1855. An 1821 treaty recognized Mexican independence from Spain and called for a constitutional monarchy. The planned monarchy failed; a republic was proclaimed in December 1822 and established in 1824.
Throughout the rest of the 19th century, Mexico's government and economy were shaped by contentious debates among liberals and conservatives, republicans and monarchists, federalists and those who favored centralized government. During the two presidential terms of Benito Juarez (1858-71), Mexico experimented with modern democratic and economic reforms. President Juarez' terms of office and Mexico's early experience with democracy were interrupted by the invasion in 1863 of French forces who imposed a monarchy on the country in the form of Hapsburg archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria, who ruled as emperor. Liberal forces succeeded in overthrowing, and executing, the emperor in 1867 after which Juarez returned to office until his death in 1872. Following several weak governments, the authoritarian Gen. Porfirio Diaz assumed office and was president during most of the period between 1877 and 1911.
Mexico's severe social and economic problems erupted in a revolution that lasted from 1910-20 and gave rise to the 1917 constitution. Prominent leaders in this period--some of whom were rivals for power--were Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obregon, Victoriano Huerta, and Emiliano Zapata. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), formed in 1929 under a different name, emerged from the chaos of revolution as a vehicle for keeping political competition among a coalition of interests in peaceful channels. For 71 years, Mexico's national government was controlled by the PRI, which won every presidential race and most gubernatorial races until the July 2000 presidential election of Vicente Fox Quesada of the National Action Party (PAN), in what were widely considered at the time the freest and fairest elections in Mexico's history. President Fox completed his term on December 1, 2006, when Felipe Calderon assumed the presidency.
The 1917 constitution provides for a federal republic with powers separated into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Historically, the executive has been the dominant branch, with power vested in the president, who promulgates and executes the laws of the Congress. The Congress has played an increasingly important role since 1997, when opposition parties first made major gains. The president also legislates by executive decree in certain economic and financial fields, using powers delegated from the Congress. The president is elected by universal adult suffrage for a 6-year term and may not hold office a second time. There is no vice president; in the event of the removal or death of the president, a provisional president is elected by the Congress.
The Congress is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Consecutive re-election is prohibited. Senators are elected to 6-year terms, and deputies serve 3-year terms. The Senate's 128 seats are filled by a mixture of direct-election and proportional representation. In the lower chamber, 300 deputies are directly elected to represent single-member districts, and 200 are selected by a modified form of proportional representation from five electoral regions. The 200 proportional representation seats were created to help smaller parties gain access to the Chamber.
The judiciary is divided into federal and state court systems, with federal courts having jurisdiction over most civil cases and those involving major felonies. Under the constitution, trial and sentencing must be completed within 12 months of arrest for crimes that would carry at least a 2-year sentence. In practice, the judicial system often does not meet this requirement. Trial is by judge, not jury. Defendants have a right to counsel, and public defenders are available. Other rights include defense against self-incrimination, the right to confront one's accusers, and the right to a public trial. Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. (See "Reforms" below for comments on judicial reform currently underway.)
Principal Government Officials
President--Felipe CALDERON Hinojosa
Foreign Secretary--Patricia ESPINOSA Cantellano
Ambassador to the U.S.--Arturo SARUKHAN Casamitjana
Ambassador to the United Nations--Claude HELLER Rouassant
Ambassador to the OAS--Gustavo ALBIN
Mexico maintains an embassy in the United States at 1911 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-728-1600). Consular offices are located at 2829 - 16th St. NW, 20009 (tel. 202-736-1000), and the trade office is co-located at the embassy (tel. 202-728-1687, fax. 202-296-4904).
Besides its embassy, Mexico maintains over 50 diplomatic offices in the U.S. Consulates general are located in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, and San Francisco; consulates are (partial listing) in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, and Tucson.
President Felipe Calderon of the PAN was elected in 2006 in an extremely tight race, with a margin of less than one percent separating his vote total from that of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ("AMLO") of the left-of-center Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). AMLO contested the results of the election, alleging that it was marred by widespread fraud. Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal, while acknowledging the presence of randomly-distributed irregularities, rejected AMLO's accusation of widespread fraud and upheld Calderon's victory on September 5, 2006.
In the 2006 elections, the PAN emerged as the largest party in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, with just over 40% of the seats in each house of Congress. It does not enjoy a legislative majority. Although the PRI no longer controls the presidency or a majority in Congress, it remains a significant force in Mexican politics, holding 18 governorships and often playing a pivotal role in forming coalitions in Congress. The next congressional elections--for all 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies--will take place on July 5, 2009.
One of President Fox's most important reforms was the passage and implementation of freedom of information (FOIA) laws. President Fox also highlighted the need for modernization of Mexico's criminal justice system, including the introduction of oral trials. Judicial reforms stalled at the federal level during the Fox years, but President Calderon succeeded in passing legislation to reform the federal judicial system in 2008. The reform legislation set a timetable of eight years for full implementation.
In addition to judicial reform, President Calderon has also succeeded in negotiating with Congress to pass important fiscal, electoral, energy, and pension reforms. The administration is grappling with many economic challenges, including the need to upgrade infrastructure, modernize labor laws, and make the energy sector more competitive. Calderon has stated that his top economic priorities remain reducing poverty and creating jobs, and some administration officials alluded in early 2009 to additional fiscal reforms in the coming year.
Mexico is highly dependent on exports to the U.S., which represent more than a quarter of the country's GDP. The result is that the Mexican economy is strongly linked to the U.S. business cycle, and has suffered from the economic slowdown in the United States. Real GDP grew by 4.8% in 2006, 3.3% in 2007, and 1.4% in 2008, but government officials expect the economy to contract by up to 5% in 2009.
Mexico's trade regime is among the most open in the world, with free trade agreements with the U.S., Canada, the EU, and many other countries (44 total). Since the 1994 devaluation of the peso, successive Mexican governments have improved the country's macroeconomic fundamentals. Inflation and public sector deficits are under control, while the current account balance and public debt profile have improved. As of October 2008, Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch Ratings had all issued investment-grade ratings for Mexico's sovereign debt.
Mexico is among the world's most open economies, but it is dependent on trade with the U.S., which bought about 82% of its exports in 2007. Top U.S. exports to Mexico include electronic equipment, motor vehicle parts, and chemicals. Top Mexican exports to the U.S. include petroleum, cars, and electronic equipment. There is considerable intra-company trade.
Mexico is an active and constructive member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It hosted the September 2003 WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun. The Mexican Government and many businesses support a Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Trade disputes between the United States and Mexico are generally settled through direct negotiations between the two countries or via WTO or North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) panels. The most significant areas of friction involve agricultural products such as livestock and sweeteners. To address the issues that affect these industries in a manner consistent with the principles of free trade, the United States and Mexico have established technical working groups.
Only 13% of Mexico's land area is arable, of which less than 3% is irrigated. Top revenue-producing crops include corn, tomatoes, sugar cane, dry beans, and avocados. Mexico also generates significant revenue from the production of beef, poultry, pork, and dairy products. In total, agriculture accounted for 3.7% of GDP in 2008, yet agricultural employment accounted for over 14% of total employment. Most of the population is employed in the services sector (60% of total employment).
Implementation of NAFTA has opened Mexico's agricultural sector to the forces of globalization and competition, and some farmers have greatly benefited from greater market access. In particular, fruit and vegetable exports from Mexico have increased dramatically in recent years, exceeding $4 billion to the United States alone in 2007. However, structural inefficiencies that have existed for decades continue to limit improvements in productivity and living standards for many in the agricultural sector. These inefficiencies include a prevalence of small-scale producers, a lack of infrastructure, inadequate supplies of credit, a communal land structure for many producers, and a large subsistence rural population that is not part of the formal economy. It is estimated that half of Mexico's producers are subsistence farmers and over 60% produce corn or beans, with the majority of these farmers cultivating five hectares or less, although the number of Mexican farmers is steadily decreasing as they seek greater economic opportunities from off-farm employment.
Mexico subsidizes agricultural production through various support programs, the most notable being the PROCAMPO initiative.
Manufacturing and Foreign Investment
The manufacturing sector, which accounts for about 18% of GDP, grew by 1.5% in real terms in 2007. Construction grew by 2.6% in real terms in 2007.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Mexico for 2007 was $ 25 billion, up 22% over the previous year. The U.S. was once again the largest foreign investor in Mexico, accounting for 40% ($9.9 billion FDI from the U.S.) of reported FDI. The economic slowdown in the U.S. in 2008 and 2009 has caused a significant decline in this figure.
Oil and Gas
In 2007 Mexico was the world's eighth-largest crude exporter, and the third-largest supplier of oil to the U.S. Oil and gas revenues provided more than one-third of all Mexican Government revenues.
Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex, holds a constitutionally established monopoly for the exploration, production, transportation, and marketing of the nation's oil. With its primary known oil reserves already in serious decline, Mexico will have to determine in the near future how it wants to harvest its harder-to-exploit probable reserves in order to avoid very difficult economic choices. The Mexican Congress passed energy reform legislation in October 2008 that gives Pemex more budgetary autonomy and transparency. However, the reforms do not open the petroleum sector to investment and will do little to address declining production.
While private investment in natural gas transportation, distribution, and storage has been permitted, Pemex remains in sole control of natural gas exploration and production. Despite substantial reserves, Mexico is a net natural gas importer.
Transportation and Communications
Mexico's land transportation network is one of the most extensive in Latin America with 357,000 kilometers (km.) of paved roads, including more than 11,000 kilometers of four-lane paved roads. The 26,622 kilometers (16,268 mi.) of government-owned railroads in Mexico have been privatized through the sale of 50-year operating concessions.
Mexico's ports have experienced a boom in investment and traffic following a 1993 law that privatized the port system. Mexico's ports moved nearly 1.7 million containers in 2006. A number of international airlines serve Mexico, with direct or connecting flights from most major cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Latin America. Most Mexican regional capitals and resorts have direct air services to Mexico City or the United States. In 2005, the Government of Mexico agreed to sell Mexicana, one of the two main national airlines, to a private investor, and did the same with Aeromexico in 2007. Airports are semi-privatized with the government still the majority shareholder, but with each regional airport group maintaining operational autonomy.
The telecommunications sector is dominated by Telmex, the former state-owned monopoly. Several international companies compete in the sector with limited success. The teledensity rate in Mexico (around 19%) is below average in Latin America. Wireless penetration is much higher, with over 65 million wireless subscribers in the first quarter of 2008, although 31 million of these customers use prepaid cards, and many use their phones to receive calls only. Mexico's satellite service sector was opened to competition, including limited foreign direct investment, in 2001.
Mexico's armed forces number about 225,000. The army makes up about three-fourths of that total. The navy is a completely autonomous cabinet agency and as such there is no joint chief of staff position. Principal military roles include national defense, narcotics control, and civic action assignments such as search and rescue and disaster relief. Mexican military and naval forces provided disaster assistance to the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005.
President Calderon has made public security a focus of his presidency and, in addition to passing judicial reform legislation, has launched aggressive military-led operations against organized crime and drug traffickers in several states, raised pay for the military, and replaced numerous corrupt federal police officers and prosecutors.
Traditionally, Mexico has sought to maintain its interests abroad and project its influence largely through moral persuasion and has championed the principles of nonintervention and self-determination. In its efforts to revitalize its economy and open up to international competition, Mexico has sought closer relations with the U.S., Western Europe, and the Pacific Basin. Presidents Fox and Calderon have more actively promoted international human rights and democracy and sought to increase Mexico's participation in international affairs.
Mexico actively participates in several international organizations; it was elected to a seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2009-2010, having most recently held a seat during 2002-2003. Mexico is a strong supporter of the United Nations and Organization of American States systems and also pursues its interests through a number of ad hoc international bodies. Mexico has been selective in its membership in other international organizations. It declined, for example, to become a member of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Nevertheless, Mexico does seek to diversify its diplomatic and economic relations, as demonstrated by its accession to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986; its joining the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) in 1993; its becoming, in April 1994, the first Latin American member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); and its entering the World Trade Organization as a founding member in 1996. Mexico attended the 1994 Summit of the Americas, held in Miami; managed coordination of the agenda item on education for the 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile; hosted a Special Summit of the Americas in early 2004; and participated actively in the 2008 Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Mexico hosted the September 2003 WTO Ministerial in Cancun and a Hemispheric Security Conference in October of the same year. It was elected to the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors in 2003. In 2002 it hosted the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Cabo San Lucas.
U.S. relations with Mexico are as important and complex as with any country in the world. A stable, democratic, and economically prosperous Mexico is fundamental to U.S. interests. U.S. relations with Mexico have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans--whether the issue is trade and economic reform, homeland security, drug control, migration, or the promotion of democracy. The U.S. and Mexico are partners in NAFTA, and enjoy a broad and expanding trade relationship. In March 2005, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada formed the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), which contemplates trilateral and bilateral initiatives to develop new avenues of cooperation that will enhance North America's security, competitiveness, and economic resilience.
The scope of U.S.-Mexican relations goes far beyond diplomatic and official contacts; it entails extensive commercial, cultural, and educational ties, as demonstrated by the annual figure of about a million legal border crossings a day. In addition, between a half-million and a million American citizens live in Mexico. More than 18,000 companies with U.S. investment have operations there, and the U.S. accounts for 47% of all foreign direct investment in Mexico. Along the 2,000-mile shared border, state and local governments interact closely.
There has been frequent contact at the highest levels. Presidents' meetings have included a visit by Calderon to Washington, DC to meet with then President-elect Obama in January 2009 and a visit by President Obama to Mexico City in April 2009. Presidents George W. Bush and Calderon met multiple times, including at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting in Bangkok in October 2003 and during President Bush's visits to Monterrey in January 2004 (Summit of the Americas) and March 2002. Presidents Bush and Fox met in Crawford in March 2005 where, along with then Canadian Prime Minister Martin, they launched the Security and Prosperity Partnership. They held a follow-on SPP meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Harper in Cancun in March 2006. President Calderon joined President Bush and Prime Minister Harper in Montebello, Canada in August 2007 and in New Orleans for the third SPP leaders' meeting in April 2008.
A strong partnership with Mexico is critical to combating terrorism and controlling the flow of illicit drugs into the United States. In recent years, cooperation on counter-narcotics and Mexico's own initiatives in fighting drug trafficking have been unprecedented. At the August 2007 SPP leaders' meeting in Montebello, Canada, Presidents Bush and Calderon announced the Merida Initiative to work together and with the countries of Central America to combat drug trafficking and organized crime in the region. In June 2008, President Bush signed the congressional appropriations bill allocating assistance to Mexico as part of the Merida Initiative. Funding for Mexico under the initiative totaled $700 million for FY 2008-2009.
Border and Environmental Affairs
Cooperation between the United States and Mexico along the 2,000-mile common border includes state and local problem-solving mechanisms; transportation planning; and institutions to address resource, environment, and health issues. In 1993, the Border Liaison Mechanism (BLM) was established. Chaired by U.S. and Mexican consuls, the BLMs operate in "sister city" pairs and have proven to be effective means of dealing with a variety of local issues ranging from accidental violation of sovereignty by law enforcement officials and charges of mistreatment of foreign nationals to coordination of port security and cooperation in public health matters such as tuberculosis.
As the number of people and the volume of cargo crossing the U.S.-Mexico border grow, so, too, does the need for coordinated infrastructure development. The multi-agency U.S.-Mexico Binational Group on Bridges and Border Crossings meets twice yearly to improve the efficiency of existing crossings and coordinate planning for new ones. The 10 U.S. and Mexican border states have become active participants in these meetings.
The United States and Mexico have a history of cooperation on environmental and natural resource issues, particularly in the border area, where there are serious environmental problems caused by rapid population growth, urbanization, and industrialization. Cooperative activities between the U.S. and Mexico take place under a number of agreements such as: