New Internationalist


June 1984

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Map of Mexico

Leader: President Miguel de Ia Madrid Hurtado

Economy: GNP per capita US $2,250 per year

Monetary unit: Peso.

Main exports: crude petroleum, coffee, shrimps, cotton.

People: 71 million.

Health: Infant Mortality 54 per thousand lis’e births.

Culture: Mixed Spanish-Indian mestizos make up 59% of the population. Indians are 12%, whites and other races 13%. Spanish is official language, but Indian languages also spoken. Religion Over 90% of population is Catholic. Some Indian groups mix Catholicism with pagan ritual.

Source: ’World Development Report, 1983

NO Latin American people have been caricatured quite as much as the Mexicans. They have been variously shown as bloodthirsty bandits, lazy peasants sleeping under huge somberos, corrupt officials or romantic balladeers with Zapata moustaches. Hollywood has a lot to answer for.

The real Mexicans are a complex and colourful people. Descended from the unique fusion of Spanish and Amerindian blood resulting from the 16th century conquest, they have been moulded by a turbulent history of colonial subservience, civil wars, invasion and revolution.

Mexico is a land rich in natural resources, especially oil, silver and tropical produce. Yet as many as 40% of the world’s largest Spanish-speaking population live in poverty. And the population is one of the fastest growing in the world. Mexico City alone will have some 40 million inhabitants, to be the biggest city in the world, by the year 2000.

Fifty miles away from the capital, in Morelos state where Emiliano Zapata led the peasants’ rebellion, a campesino wearing traditional garb of white cotton pants and shirt cultivates his tiny maize plot with a machete. He typifies the Mexican betrayed by the momentous Revolution which split the nation in 1911 and cost nearly two million lives - so vividly portrayed in the murals of Diego Rivera and David Siquciros.

A kind of political mafia emerged from the revolution, it has cleverly used the symbols and ideology of the Revolution - Zapata’s ‘land, liberty and social justice’ - to sanctify its commitment to revolutionary ideals. But all the while it is keeping itself in power and pursuing decidedly unrevolutionary policies which have failed to benefit millions.

Some Mexicans maintain it will take a second revolution before Mexico can truly go forward. Whether the United States would allow this is a moot point. Being the poor neighbour of a super-power is no easy matter, especially as it was partly at Mexico’s expense that the United States achieved its current prominence. By shady dealings and brute force, Mexico was persuaded to relinquish a huge tract of land from California in the west to Texas in the east in the last century.

Of paramount importance to the US is Mexico’s stability. With Central America ablaze, Mexico is the last bulwark against the revolutionary tide. So far, Mexico’s unique political system has kept the lid on social discontent, but who knows for how much longer.

Any cracks in the Mexican Leviathan would send shock waves north of the border. And with the Americans’ current involvement in the region the Mexican saying takes on new meaning - ‘poor Mexico, so far from God, so near to the United States’.

Mike Rose

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Recession and austerity measures increasing rich/poor gap.
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Present system highly dependent on IMF and Western banking system.
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‘Much machismo.
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[image, unknown] Centre right despite left-wing rhetoric.
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83% Good.
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Human rights abuses occur, press self-censored, president sacrosanct.

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66 years. Disparity between urban and rural, rich and poor.

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This feature was published in the June 1984 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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