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Mexico, the United Mexican States, a federal republic occupying the southernmost portion of the North American continent. Mexico is bounded by the United States to the north, Guatemala and Belize to the south, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west.

Land and climate

Mexico is nearly 1,200 mi/1,930 km long with an area of 761,530 sq mi/1,972,544 sqkm. Two mountain ranges run most of the length of the country from northwest to southeast, the Sierra Madre Occidental along the Pacific coast and the Sierra Madre Oriental along the Atlantic coast. Between the two ranges lies the great central plateau rising 3,000 to 4,000 ft/914 to 1219 m in the north to 8,000 ft/2,438 m in the south. Mexico City, the capital, is situated near the southern end of the plateau at an elevation of about 7,400 ft/2,256 m.

Mexico is a land of dramatic contrasts. Its mountain ranges include the extinct volcanoes Popocatépetl (17,888 ft/5,452 m), Ixtacihuatl (17,343 ft/5,286 m), and Orizaba (18,406 ft/5,610 m). Its high plateau gives way to semi-tropical coastal regions. To the northwest lies Baja California, mountainous desert, and to the southeast the low limestone plateau of the Yucatan which includes tropical forests in the south. As a result, Mexico's climate varies considerably from the mountains to the desert, from the temperate plateau to the tropical lowlands. In all, less than 15% of the land surface is cultivable and most of it is on the central plateau.


The majority of Mexicans are mestizos, a mixture of native Americans and Spanish, but nearly one-tenth of the population remains pure native American and many of Mexico's native Americans speak only their native languages. About 10% of the population is of pure Spanish descent. Spanish is the official language and the people are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.


Despite considerable industrialization since World War II, agriculture remains the major employer in the Mexican economy with more than 25% of the work force. The chief subsistence crops are corn and beans. The main commercial crops are wheat, corn, beans, cotton, coffee, sugarcane, sisal, and citrus fruits. The country also has valuable forests and fisheries which contribute to its economy. Mexico is rich in minerals and exports silver, zinc, lead, manganese, and sulfur. Abundant reserves of iron ore and uranium await development. Huge petroleum reserves, perhaps the second largest in the world, were discovered in the mid 1970s. Major industries include iron and steel, textiles, chemicals, electric goods, ceramics, paper, footwear, and processed foods. Mexico is plagued by inflation, government debt, and, more recently, a severe drop in world oil prices. Its economic problems are compounded by unemployment and illiteracy.


Prehistoric remains indicate that Mexico was inhabited as early as 10,000 B.C. Between A.D. 300 and 800, four classical native American civilizations developed in Mexico including the Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula. By the 15th century the Aztecs established the last Indian civilization in Mexico with its capital at Tenochtitlán, the site of present day Mexico City. It was this empire, under Montezuma, which was conquered by the Spanish under Hernán Cortés in 1521 thereby ushering the Spanish dominion. The Spanish consolidated their rule, exploiting the labor and mineral wealth of the colony they named New Spain. The colony was governed by a line of 62 viceroys appointed by the Spanish throne until independence in 1821. At the same time, the Roman Catholic church pursued a thorough policy of converting the Indians to Christianity and acquired considerable power. In September 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo raised a rebellion against Spain which was subsequently crushed, another priest, José María Morelos, took up the struggle in 1813, but he too was defeated. Finally, backed by conservative elements seeking independence from a more liberal Spain, the country achieved independence in 1821 under Augustín de Iturbide. Emperor Augustín I was deposed in 1823 by Antonio Lopes de Santa Anna who dominated the turbulent politics of the new federal republic until 1855. During that period, Mexico waged a costly war with the U.S., the Mexican-American War (1846–48), which led to the loss of Texas and Mexico's considerable northwest territories in the U.S.

In 1855 Benito Pablo Juarez overthrew Santa Anna and introduced a more liberal constitution. Civil war between liberals and conservatives followed. In the ensuing turmoil, the French invaded and Napoleon III installed Maximilian of Austria as emperor in 1864. He was overthrown and executed in 1867. From 1876 to 1911 Mexico was governed by Gen. Porfirio Díaz, who brought a measure of stability and economic growth to the country. But his oligarchic regime generated deep and widespread resentment. Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Francisco Madero raised rebellions which led to the downfall of Díaz in 1911. In 1917 Venustiano Carranza established control and promulgated a new liberal constitution. President Alvaro Obregon (1920–24) began a program of land redistribution and education and carried on a struggle with the Roman Catholic church which was not settled until 1929 when the church was granted autonomy in religious matters only. In 1929 Plutarco Elías Calles established the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which has effectively governed Mexico ever since. President Lázaro Cárdenas continued educational reform and nationalized some industries. Since World War II, Mexico has been politically relatively moderate and stable, concentrating primarily on economic development. Despite progress, significant signs of strain and resistance were apparent under the presidencies of Luis Echeverria and his successor José Lopez Portillo. Mexico's economy suffered in the 1970s, due in part to the worldwide oil glut. Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado was elected president in 1982, promising new programs to deal with Mexico's grave economic problems, such as the crushing foreign debt and high unemployment. De la Madrid's programs failed, and Carlos Salinas de Gortari succeeded him in 1988. Under De Gortari's leadership, Mexico's economy has enjoyed a substantial revival, helped by new foreign investment and the turning over of government-run industries to the private sector. Although the rule of the PRI is challenged since the 1980s, PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon was elected president in 1994. At the 1997 elections, the PRI lost its absolute majority for the first time.


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