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Country statistics


1,958,200sq km (756,061sq mi) 97,361,711

capital (population):

Mexico City (8,591,309)


Federal multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Mestizo 60%, Native American 30%, European 9%


Spanish (official)


Roman Catholic 90%, Protestant 5%


New peso = 100 centavos.

Republic in s North America. The North American republic of Mexico is the world's largest Spanish-speaking country. It is largely mountainous. The Sierra Madre Occidental begins in the nw state of Chihuahua, and runs parallel to Mexico's w coast and the Sierra Madre Oriental. Monterrey lies in the foothills of the latter. Between the two ranges lies the Mexican Plateau. The s part of the plateau contains a series of extinct volcanoes, rising to Citlaltépetl, at 5700m (18,701ft). This region includes many of Mexico's largest cities, including the capital (and world's largest city), Mexico City, and Guadalajara. The s highlands of the Sierra Madre del Sur include the archaeological sites in Oaxaca. Mexico contains two large peninsulas: the mountainous and arid Baja California in the nw; and the lowland Yucatán peninsula in the se. Ciudad Juárez and Nuevo Laredo are important cities on the border with the United States.

Climate and Vegetation

Mexico's climate varies greatly according to altitude. Most rain occurs between June and September, and rainfall decreases n of Mexico City. More than 70% of Mexico has a desert or semi-desert climate. Irrigation is essential for agriculture. The n deserts are abundant in plants such as cactus, mesquite, and yucca. Luxuriant rainforests exist in the s, and Mexico also has areas of tropical grassland.

History and Politics

One of the earliest Native American civilizations was the Olmec (800–400 bc). The Maya flourished between ad 300 and 900. The Toltec Empire ruled between 900 and c.1200. But it was the Aztec who dominated the central plateau from their capital at Tenochtitlán (modern-day Mexico City). Many splendid pyramids and temples remain from these civilizations.

Fernández de Córdoba was the first European to explore Mexico in 1517. In 1519–21, Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernán Cortés, captured the capital and the Aztec emperor Montezuma. In 1535, the territory became the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Christianity was introduced. Spanish colonial rule was harsh, divisive, and unpopular. Hidalgo y Costilla's revolt (1810) failed to win the support of creoles.

In 1821, Mexico gained independence and General Augustín de Iturbide became Emperor. In 1823, republicans seized power and, in 1824, Mexico became a republic. In 1832, Santa Anna became president. War with Texas escalated into the Mexican War (1846–48) with the United States. Under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (1848), Mexico lost 50% of its territory. A revolution led to the overthrow of Santa Anna in 1855, and civil war broke out. Liberal forces, led by Benito Juárez, triumphed in the War of Reform (1858–61), but conservatives with support from France installed Maximilian of Austria as Emperor in 1864. In 1867, republican rule was restored and Juárez became president. In 1876, an armed revolt gave Porfirio Díaz the presidency. Beside the period 1880–84, Díaz's dictatorship lasted until 1910. Following an armed insurrection, Francisco Madero became president in 1911. A weak leader, General Huerta toppled Madero in 1913. Huerta's dictatorship prolonged the Mexican Revolution (1910–40) and led to US intervention. The US-backed forces of Carranza battled with the peasant armies of Villa and Zapata. During the 1920s and 1930s, Mexico introduced land and social reforms. After World War II, Mexico's economy developed with the introduction of liberal reforms. Relations with the US improved greatly, although problems remain over Mexican economic migration and drug trafficking.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico continuously from 1929 to 2000. In 1994 the Zapatista National Liberation Army (ZNLA) staged an armed revolt in the s state of Chiapas, principally calling for land reforms and recognition of Native American rights. Ernesto Zedillo of the PRI became president in 1994 elections. The National Action Party defeated the PRI in 2000 elections, and Vicente Fox succeeded Zedillo as president, the first non-PRI leader of Mexico. In 2001, after a nationwide march by the Zapatistas led by Subcommandante Marcos, the Mexican parliament passed a new rights' bill for indigenous peoples.


Mexico is an upper-middle-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita US$9100), faced with problems of unemployment, inflation, inequality, and illegal emigration to the United States. Mexico's heavy borrowing on the strength of its oil reserves in the 1970s, led to economic depression with the drop in oil prices in the 1980s. In June 1993, Mexico joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 1994, Mexico, the USA, and Canada formed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the world's single largest trading bloc. In late 1994, Mexico plunged into economic crisis. Only a US$50,000 million loan from the USA prevented Mexico defaulting on its foreign debts. President Zedillo introduced an austerity package of wage freezes, interest-rate rises, and tax increases. Remarkably, Mexico repaid the loan in 1997.

Mexico is the world's fifth largest producer of crude oil. Machinery and transport equipment account for 32% of exports, minerals and fuels 30%. Other manufactures include chemicals, clothing, steel, and textiles. Many factories near the USA border assemble goods (such as car parts and electrical products) for US companies. Agriculture is important, contributing c.8% of GDP and employing 28% of the workforce. Mexico is the world's fifth largest producer of coffee. Food crops include beans, maize, rice, and wheat. Beef and dairy cattle and other livestock are raised. Fishing is also an important activity. The largest sector of the economy is services. Growing industries include forestry and tourism.

Political map

Physical map


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