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 70% 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 about 20 million, which would make it the largest concentration of population in the world. 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.
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 control Mexican politics from 1833 to 1855. Santa Ana was Mexico's leader during the conflict with Texas, which declared itself independent from Mexico in 1836, and during Mexico's war with the United States (1846-48). The presidential terms of Benito Juarez (1858-71) were interrupted by the Hapsburg monarchy's rule of Mexico (1864-67). Archduke Maximilian of Austria, whom Napoleon III of France established as Emperor of Mexico, was deposed by Juarez and executed in 1867. General Porfirio Diaz 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 I. Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obregon, Victoriano Huerta, and Emiliano Zapata. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), formed in 1929 under a different name, continues to be the most important political force in the nation. It emerged as a coalition of interests after the chaos of the revolution as a vehicle for keeping political competition in peaceful channels. For almost 70 years, Mexico's national government has been controlled by the PRI, which has won every presidential race and most gubernatorial races.
The Congress is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Consecutive re-election is prohibited. Senators are elected to 6-year terms. Implementing constitutional changes made in 1996, for the first time in the July 1997 elections, 32 of the 128 Senate seats were proportionally elected from national party lists. The 32 senators elected in 1997 will only serve 3-year terms, in order to bring the entire Senate back into the same cycle in the year 2000. Deputies serve 3-year terms. 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 created for this purpose across the country. 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. Practice often does not meet this requirement. Trial is by judge, not jury, in most criminal cases. 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.
President Zedillo continued the process already underway of opening Mexico's political system, reforming the justice system, curtailing corruption, strengthening the fight against narcotics trafficking, and furthering Mexico's market-oriented economic policies. A severe financial crisis occupied much of the Zedillo Administration's attention in 1995-96, creating a need for difficult emergency economic stabilization policies and intensified longer-term economic restructuring.
Mexico actively participates in several international organizations. It is a 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 OPEC. Nevertheless, Mexico does seek to diversify its diplomatic and economic relations, as demonstrated by its accession to GATT in 1986; its joining APEC in 1993; becoming, in April 1994, the first Latin American member of the OECD; and a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1996. Mexico attended the 1994 Summit of the Americas, held in Miami, and managed coordination of the agenda item on education for the 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago.
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 nearly 290 million legal crossings from Mexico to the United States. In addition, more than a half-million American citizens live in Mexico. More than 2,600 U.S. companies have operations there, and the U.S. accounts for 60% of all foreign direct investment in Mexico. Along the 2,000-mile shared border, state and local governments interact closely.
Since 1981, the management of the broad array of U.S.-Mexico issues has been formalized in the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission, composed of numerous U.S. cabinet members and their Mexican counterparts. The Commission holds annual plenary meetings, and many sub-groups meet during the course of the year to discuss trade and investment opportunities, financial cooperation, consular issues and migration, legal affairs and anti-narcotics cooperation, cultural relations, education, energy, border affairs, environment and natural resources, labor, agriculture, health, housing and urban development, transportation, fisheries, tourism, and science and technology. The Commission met on June 10-11, 1998 in Washington, during which the two governments signed new agreements on border affairs, the environment, public health, transportation safety, energy, education and cultural heritage. On June 3-4, 1999, the Commission met in Mexico City to build on the presidential meeting in Merida and continue its work in the many fields making up the broad bilateral relationship.
A strong partnership with Mexico is critical to controlling the flow of illicit drugs into the United States. The U.S. has certified Mexico as fully cooperating in this effort based on significant counternarcotics progress in 1998 and a number of new and significant Mexican initiatives in fighting drug trafficking. This is the best way to ensure that Mexico's cooperation and anti-drug efforts grow even stronger.
During 1996, the U.S. and Mexico established a High-Level Contact Group (HLCG) on narcotics control to explore joint solutions to the shared drug threat, to coordinate the full range of narcotics issues, and to promote closer law enforcement coordination. President Zedillo formalized his government's commitment to counternarcotics cooperation with the United States by signing the "Declaration of the Mexican-U.S. Alliance Against Drugs" with President Clinton in May 1997. The binational alliance worked throughout 1997 to produce a "U.S.-Mexico Binational Drug Strategy," a document which contains 16 alliance objectives, ranging from drug shipment interdiction to extradition of drug traffickers. Following the controversy in 1998 over a U.S. money laundering investigation of Mexican banks and individuals (Operation Casablanca), the two governments agreed on procedures to improve communication and coordination in cases of sensitive law enforcement investigations. During their February 1999 meeting in Mexico, Presidents Clinton and Zedillo adopted comprehensive benchmarks (Performance Measures of Effectiveness) that both governments will now use to assess how well the two countries are meeting the goals and objectives of the joint strategy.
The U.S. embassy in Mexico is located at Paseo de la Reforma 305, 06500 Mexico, DF. U.S. Mailing Address: Box 3087, Laredo, Texas 78044-3087, Tel. (from the U.S.): (011) (52-5) 209-9100. Internet: http://www.usembassy-mexico.gov