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Country Profile : Mexico

Country profile: Mexico

Map of Mexico

Mexico is a nation where affluence, poverty, natural splendour and urban blight rub shoulders.

Its politics were dominated for 70 years by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. But elections in 1997 saw a resurgent opposition break what was in effect a one-party system with a democratic facade.

Elections in 2000 confirmed the trend when Vicente Fox became the first president to come from the opposition.

Overview

Mexico is a major oil producer and exporter. Though production has fallen in the last few years, about one-third of government revenue still comes from the industry. Much of the crude is bought by the US.

Vendor sells flowers for Day of the Dead celebrations
A vendor sells flowers for Mexico's Day of the Dead celebrations

But prosperity remains a dream for most Mexicans. Rural areas are often neglected and huge shanty towns ring the cities.

Many poor Mexicans try to cross the 3,000-km border with the US in search of a job, and more than a million are arrested every year.

Hundreds die of heat exhaustion or thirst while making the attempt, and the exodus has led to some towns and villages in Mexico being virtually empty of able-bodied men.

The Mexican economy is heavily dependent on the money sent home by the millions of migrant workers in the US, and so it has been hit hard by the downturn in its neighbour's economy.

Another persistent issue has been the pressure for greater rights for Mexico's indigenous people. A law passed in 2001 fell short of giving Mexico's Indians political autonomy.

However, demands for indigenous rights have been largely peaceful since 1994, when at least 150 people died during an uprising in the southern state of Chiapas, led by the Zapatista rebel movement.

Violent crime is a major concern; Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world. Turf wars between rival drug cartels are said to lie behind many gangland killings.

Writers such as Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, the mural-painter Diego Rivera, and popular ranchero and mariachi music mean that Mexican culture is known throughout the Spanish-speaking world and beyond.

Facts

  • Full name: United Mexican States
  • Population: 109.6 million (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: Mexico City
  • Area: 1.96 million sq km (758,449 sq miles)
  • Major language: Spanish
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 74 years (men), 79 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 peso = 100 centavos
  • Main exports: Machinery and transport equipment, mineral fuels and lubricants, food and live animals
  • GNI per capita: US $9,980 (World Bank, 2008)
  • Internet domain: .mx
  • International dialling code: +52

Leaders

President: Felipe Calderon

Felipe Calderon, from the governing, conservative National Action Party, was declared the winner of the bitterly-fought July 2006 presidential election with a lead of less than a percentage point over his left-wing rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Felipe Calderon, Mexican president-elect
Felipe Calderon's election win was bitterly disputed by opposition

His win was confirmed after weeks of legal wrangling. He took office on 1 December; raucous scenes in Congress accompanied his inauguration. Mr Obrador, a populist former mayor of Mexico City, challenged the poll outcome in the courts and led a campaign of street protests. He refused to recognise Mr Calderon's win.

Soon after taking office, Mr Calderon announced plans for an anti-poverty drive, targeting Mexico's 100 poorest towns. He also promised to cut his own salary by 10%. Both themes were central to the election campaign of his rival.

He vowed to tackle violent crime, tax evasion and corruption. To this end, he promised to raise salaries in the army - a key player in the fight against crime.

He has predicted that the fight against drug gangs will take longer than his six-year term in office. He has dispatched thousands of troops to combat feuding drug cartels.

Mr Calderon has pledged to create jobs, in an effort to stem outward migration, and to pursue major infrastructure projects, including roads, airports, bridges and dams.

However, Mexico's economy was hard hit by the 2008 downturn in global demand, pushing down the president's approval ratings.

In the 2009 mid-term elections, voters punished Mr Calderon and his National Action Party by making the formerly all-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) the biggest force in the Chamber of Deputies.

Born in 1962, in Morelia in Michoacan state, he is married and has three children. A lawyer and an economist by profession, he resigned as energy minister in 2004 to pursue his presidential ambitions.

His predecessor, Vicente Fox, took office in December 2000 and was unable by law to run in the 2006 poll.

Media

Mexico's media were traditionally dominated by the Televisa group, which had firm links with the PRI. But the loosening of the PRI's hold led to greater editorial independence and the emergence of competitors.

Televisa once had a virtual monopoly in Mexican TV and it is still a major global supplier of programmes in Spanish. New players - such as the Azteca group and foreign satellite and cable operators - have mounted an assault on Televisa's dominance.

The radio market is very large, with around 1,400 local and regional stations and several major station-owning groups. Some high-powered stations on Mexico's northern border beam their signals into lucrative US markets.

Mexican newspapers reflect different political views; sensationalism characterises the biggest-selling dailies.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in 2008 that Mexico was the most deadly country in the Americas for journalists.

The press

Television

Radio

News agencies

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