New Internationalist


May 1992

new internationalist
issue 231 - May 1992

Country profile: Mexico

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Where is Mexico? [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Where is Mexico? MIKE ANDREWS / CAMERA PRESS [image, unknown]
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There is no easy way to define Mexico. There is the Mexico of high finance and the middle class westernized suburbs. Then there is indigenous Mexico, 11 million people living and working in much the same way as people lived at the time of the sixteenth century Spanish conquest. The majority of Mexicans are mixed blood Mestizos, but even then the way of life varies with location, be it lowland desert, temperate mountain, or tropical forest.

Perhaps the characteristic most Mexicans share is an independence and nationalism borne of a history full of conflict, occupation, civil war and insurgency, so that, after 60 years of apparent stability, the spirit of rebellion is not forgotten.

Today, six years after the earthquake which killed at least 8,000 in Mexico city and brought the country to a standstill, and despite high inflation and currency devaluation, Mexico is enjoying a boom which has seen banks reporting 1,000 per cent increases in their share values and company profits soaring. Negotiations for a common market with the US and Canada, trade agreements with most of Latin America, and President Salinas de Gortari's free market policies are seen by the business world as Mexico's passport out of the Third World.

The level of poverty continues to grow, however, and it is predicted that increased competition, mainly with the US, and the streamlining of industry - much of which is newly privatized - will bring rising unemployment. Mexican farming, traditionally a community-owned, non-intensive system, is particularly threatened. As land is turned over to intensive farming, subsistence cultures are shattered and migration to the shanty towns surrounding major cities increases. Mexico City in particular has rapidly growing shanty towns; thousands arrive each week in search of work, having lost their land.

Land battles between peasant groups and large landowners have long been a feature of life in Mexico, and though the land constitutionally belongs to the peasants, local government and police rarely come to their aid. Assassinations of peasant leaders, accusations of torture, false imprisonment and police corruption are frequent, and the list of human rights abuses grows daily. The liberty which was fought for in the name of Zapata is yet to be won for many people, and the 60-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has done little to help the peasant.

Most Mexicans are cynical about the social and political reforms being promised by Salinas and his government. But if these reforms are not seen to work then unrest, which has never really left Mexico, will grow rapidly. Revolution is a much overused word, but in Mexico Fidel Castro is more popular than Salinas or Bush.

Ray Hoskins


LEADER: President Carlos Salinas de Gortari

ECONOMY: GNP per capita: $1,760 per capita (US $20,910)
Monetary unit: Peso
Main Exports: Crude Oil, Automobiles, Tomatoes

PEOPLE: 88.6 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality rate 36 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Spanish-Indian mixed race Mestizos make up 75 per cent of the population, the indigenous or Indian groups are 13 per cent, white and others 12 per cent.
Languages: Spanish is the official language, but 56 indigenous languages are spoken. The most widely used is Nahuatl, with 1.3 million speakers.
Religion: More than 90 per cent Catholic. Pre-Hispanic religions practised and combined with Catholicism.

Sources: The Mexican Economy 1991 (Banco de Mexico); State of World Population 1991; State of the Worlds Children 1992

Last profiled In June 1984



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown]
The shift from traditional industries has raised poverty rates.

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LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
High at 88% for men, 82% for women.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Heavily dependent on foreign investment.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown]
Human rights abuses frequent.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Equality is not yet law, abortion is illegal, but literacy is comparable with men's.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
70 years (US 76 years) but lower in rural areas.

1984: [image, unknown] [image, unknown] (66 years)



Politics now

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Dominated by one party for 60 years.


NI star rating

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previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page [image, unknown]

This feature was published in the May 1992 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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