Friday, August 28, 2009

HISTORIA MEXICANA 5: The 20th Century and Modern-day Mexico

Following the assassination of Francisco Madero and general Victoriano Huerta’s declaration of himself as president in 1913, Mexico’s final revolution continued for several more years as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata (who had once been comrades in arms of Huerta) turned their forces against him. American president Woodrow Wilson pulled his support of Huerta off the table after Madero’s assassination and began backing Villa and Zapata, as well as Sonora governor Alvaro Obregon and Coahuila governor Venustiano Carranza. Now boxed in, Huerta fled the country in 1914. However, the four revolutionaries broke into separate camps of Constitutionalists and Conventionists, the latter of which were unified in their desire to keep Carranza from taking over the country. Vicious fighting took place for the next several years in which thousands of people perished and the likes of Villa, Zapata, Carranza and Obregon all met the wrong end of a gun. It wasn’t until the mid-1930’s (after several years in which Plutarco Elias Calles controlled many events from inside and outside the government) that some semblance of stability was achieved…just in time for the Great Depression.
The Thirties can be remembered when what is now the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, first began a decades-long political rule of Mexico, initially under Calles. The PRI was founded in 1929, and eventually came to dominate Mexican politics for the rest of the 20th Century. Ironically, Calles was exiled in 1936 (two years after Lazaro Cardenas became president) in a move that took the army out of direct political power. Cardenas went on to nationalize Mexico’s oil and electric industries, created the National Polytechnic Institute, and began a series of land reforms and distributed free textbooks to schoolchildren across the country. Cardenas stepped down from office in 1940, and is said to be the only president from the PRI’s 70-year dynasty who did not use the office to make himself wealthy.
Although his successor, Manuel Avila, undid the land reforms instituted by Cardenas while further entrenching the PRI machine, Mexico continued a 40-year period of growth that is called the Milagro Mexicano (or “Mexican Miracle”) despite a number of economic difficulties along the way that led to the nationalization of banks and two devaluations of the peso. A third devaluation of the peso in 1994 plunged the economy into the country’s worst recession in half a century. That year also marked the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in which Mexico joined the United States and Canada in an economic bloc based on liberalized trade rules between the three countries.
Over this period, though, the PRI was steadily losing its grip on power, and finally lost the presidency after seven decades when Vicente Fox of the Partido Accion Nacional defeated PRI incumbent Ernesto Zedillo in 2000. To his credit, Zedillo conceded defeat on national radio the night of the election, thereby quashing potential PRI disputes of the result. After six years, Fox stepped down and was replaced in 2006 by fellow PAN member Felipe Calderon, who won a hotly-contested election against Party of Democratic Revolution candidate Manuel Lopez Obrador. The conservative Calderon has capped salaries of public officials while stepping up the government’s battle against the drug cartels that have paralyzed Mexico’s northern border.
Modern-day Mexico covers nearly 2 million square kilometers, or about three times the size of the state of Texas. It is a nation of over 100 million people (including 20 million residents in Mexico City), third most-populous in the Western hemisphere. Mexico’s gross domestic product of US$1.35 trillion is the 12th largest in the world. The country’s per capita income of US$12,800 is third-highest in Latin America and has been growing steadily, but there is still a great deal of poverty within its borders. Mexico has a 92 percent literacy rate, with compulsory education for children between 6 and 15 years of age.

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