Mexico 2 Essay, Research Paper
Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country and the second-largest Roman Catholic nation in the world. It extends from the 14th to the 32d parallel north of the equator in southern North America. Brazil and Argentina are the only Latin American countries that exceed it in area. The United States borders Mexico on the north, while Guatemala and Belize are found on the southeast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west and south. The country’s name is taken from the Mexico, one of seven Nahuatl tribes that inhabit the central region of the country.
Ancient Native American civilizations–including those of the Maya, Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Toltec, and Aztec — flourished there for centuries before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Under the Spaniards, Mexico became the Viceroyalty of New Spain. It was ruled as a colony for more than 300 years and gained independence on Oct. 4, 1824.
Political strife, anarchy and war marked the next half-century. This period brought war with the United States in 1846 and the loss of what is now Texas, followed in 1848 by the cession of lands included in the present U.S. states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, and California. In the late 1800s, Dictator Porfirio Diaz brought a long period of stability and development by foreign interests. The 1910 Revolution signaled the beginning of a period of dramatic social change that led to the creation of the Constitution of 1917, which remains in force. President Lazaro Cardenas achieved widespread land reform and nationalization of the country’s basic industries in the l930s. Although Mexican industry expanded substantially between 1940 and l980, rapid population growth prevented millions of Mexicans from escaping the chains of poverty. After 1980 a recessionary world economy slowed progress.
Mexico is mostly mountainous. The volcano Orizaba, located near Puebla in a chain of mountains called the Transverse Volcanic Sierra, is Mexico’s highest mountain, with an elevation of 18,855 ft. This sierra extends east west across Mexico to the north of Mexico City, the country’s capital, and includes the spectacular volcanoes Popocatepetl, IxtacihuatlI and Paricutin, the last born only in 1943.
The two main mountain ranges to the north of Mexico City run north and south; they are southward continuations of the Rocky Mountains. These are the Sierra Madre Occidental in the west, with elevations exceeding 10,000 ft and the Sierra Madre Oriental in the east, which rises to more than 13,000 ft. The Mexican Plateau, covering over 40% of the country’s area, sits between them. This tableland increases in elevation as one moves southward; the farther south, the cooler and rainier it becomes. The Sierra Zacatecas divides the Mexican Plateau into the dry, sparely settled Northern Mesa and the lake-dotted, densely populated Central Mesa. Coastal plains border the mountains along the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coasts. The Gulf of California separates the Baja California peninsula from the mainland.
East-west trend lines dominate mountains along the southern Pacific coast; they are structurally related to landforms in Central America and the West Indies. The down-faulted lowland of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec’s narrowest point interrupts these mountains. They include the rounded, worn, and ancient rocks of the Southern Sierra Madre, which descend steeply to the Pacific coast between Cape Corrientes and the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The isolated Balsas River Basin separates the volcanic zone from the Southern Sierra Madre.
In the east the Yucatan Peninsula is a low limestone platform that projects northward into the Gulf of Mexico. In the southeast, between the Yucatan Peninsula and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the principal landforms are the Tabasco Plain, along the Gulf of Mexico; the Chiapas Highlands, which reach elevations of more than 9,385 ft; the Chiapas Valley; the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, an eastward continuation of the Southern Sierra Madre; and a narrow coastal plain along the Pacific Ocean.
Mexico is divided by a major biogeographic regional boundary: the imaginary line that separates the temperate and tropical floral and faunal zones. This contributes to Mexico’s great biological diversity. Rain-forest vegetation predominates in the states of southeastern Mexico, especially southwestern CAMPECHE, northeastern CHIAPAS, northern TABASCO, southeastern VERACRUZ, and in the southern and eastern regions of the Yucatan Peninsula. Annual rainfall exceeds 2,000 mm (80 in) in these places. Coniferous and oak-tree forests predominate in humid areas at higher elevations, including the Sierra Madre Oriental, the Sierra Madre Occidental, the Sierra Madre del Sur, the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, the Transverse Volcanic Sierra, and the uplands of northern Baja California. Tropical savanna dominates much of the Yucatan Peninsula and some parts of the Pacific and Gulf coastal plains. Thorny desert thickets and dry grasslands can be found in dry areas of the Mexican Plateau, northeastern and northwestern parts of the country, and in Baja California. Mangrove swamps are common in low, muddy areas along the Gulf and Pacific coasts south of the Tropic of Cancer.
Widely distributed fauna include deer, coyote, rabbits, skunks, badgers, pumas, bears, snakes, and many species of birds. Armadillos, iguanas, tapirs, monkeys, macaws, parrots, crocodiles, and snakes inhabit the tropical areas.
Mexico has abundant petroleum resources along the Gulf coastal plain. The Reforma field of Chiapas and Tabasco states, developed since 1972, and offshore in the Gulf of Campeche, where deposits were discovered in 1978 and 1981, have made Mexico the fifth-leading exporter of oil in the world. More gas and oil fields were found in 1984, bringing Mexico’s proven oil reserves to almost 66 billion barrels in 1992. Natural gas, sulfur, and salt are found with the petroleum deposits. Other minerals of commercial importance are coal and iron ore. Mexico is also the world’s leading exporter of silver and an important producer of gold, copper, lead, manganese, zinc, mercury, fluorite, and salt.
Because Mexico has so much arid territory and terrain in slope, lands suitable for farming are only about 15% of the total area while lands for grazing make up about 38%. Forests cover 25% of the land. Fish are abundant in waters off both coasts. The government in the mid-1980s worked to increase greatly the exploitation of marine resources. Many hydroelectric power sites are located along the steep edge of the Mexican Plateau.
The Mexican government has not collected or officially recorded racial data since 1921; for that reason precise data about the ethnic composition of the population are not available. About 55% of the Mexican people are mestizos, a racial category resulting from the intermarriage of European Caucasians and Native Americans. Roughly 29% are Native Americans, 15% Caucasians, and 1% fall into other categories. The federal government uses the primary language spoken as the basis for identifying ethnic groups. In the 1990 census, 91% of the people reported that Spanish was their primary language. The most widely spoken languages other than Spanish are: Nahuatl, used in east central Mexico; Maya, primarily in the Yucatan; Zapotec and Mixtec, spoken in OAXACA state; and Otomi, spoken near Mexico City and in parts of PUEBLA and Veracruz states. In 1990 over 6.3 million Mexicans spoke one of the dialects of these languages.
An estimated 93% of the population are Roman Catholics, 3% are Protestants, and 3% identify themselves as nonreligious; Jews number about 100,000. Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed. Church and state are strictly separated, partly because of a strong anti-clerical tradition.
Intensive adult education programs were begun in the 1970s to decrease illiteracy. Today, the literacy rate is 87%. Most of the young people between 6 and 14 years old attend a 6-year, free, compulsory elementary-school program. About 8 million students are enrolled in secondary schools and colleges; of these, many attend regional technological institutes where training emphasizes skills needed for national development. Only about 5% attend institutions of higher learning, such as the National Autonomous University of Mexico (see MEXICO, NATIONAL AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF) or the National Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1936.
Since 1931, when the first Social Security Law was passed, health conditions in Mexico have improved dramatically under the aegis of the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS). Life expectancy has steadily increased in the decades since 1930, and the number of medical specialists has risen markedly. Mexico now has about one physician for every 1,200 people.
Mining and subsistence farming, the predominant economic activities during the Spanish colonial period, remain important today. However, silver is now less important than petroleum, natural gas, and other industrial minerals, and commercial agriculture has been actively promoted by government-sponsored programs of agrarian reform, irrigation, and road construction. Manufacturing grew rapidly after 1940. Today, however, services such as tourism, banking, and advertising are the dominant and fastest-growing sector of the economy, contributing 56% of the gross national product . Tourism, which has been officially encouraged, is Mexico’s second-largest earner of foreign exchange, after oil. The country earned more than $4.8 billion from tourism and more than $10 billion from oil exports in 1989.
Nevertheless, a recessionary world economy and depressed oil markets contributed to an economic crisis that started in the early 1980s and persisted. Following multiple devaluations of the peso, the nation faced bankruptcy. Whereas a U. S. dollar bought 23 pesos in 1980, it bought well over 3,000 in 1992. Inflation exceeded 150% in 1987. Real income plunged in the 1980s. An estimated 40% of the workforce was unemployed or underemployed in 1990. The government imposed a broad austerity program to stimulate the economy, taking such measures as the privatization of more than 1,000 companies. The country began emerging from its economic tailspin in 1991.
Because of the recent growth of service industries, a declining percentage of the economically active population is engaged in manufacturing. Principal iron and steel centers are located at Monterrey and Monclova, close to the Sabinas coalfield, and at Lazaro Cardenas, near the mouth of the Balsas River. The two largest government-owned steel mills were put up for sale in 1991. Most other industries are attracted to the densely populated urban areas in and around Mexico City, Guadalajara, Orizaba, and Puebla. Besides steel, the main industries are food processing, petroleum refining, the manufacture of petrochemicals, synthetic fibers, textiles, fertilizers, paper, and pharmaceuticals, and automobile assembly.
The growth of maquiladora factories in cities along the U. S. border is a recent development. The Border Industries Program, begun in 1965, has led to the creation of more than 1,000 manufacturing plants in border cities, such as Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana. These firms can import raw materials duty-free from the United States and assemble them with cheap labor into such products as appliances, which they export back to the United States, paying taxes only on the value added.