Mexico: country profile

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Country profile: Mexico


Dance group in Culiacan. (© Teun Voeten/Panos Pictures)

The novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once said that the 71-years of government in Mexico by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was the ‘perfect dictatorship’. When Enrique Peña Nieto won the election in 2012, the PRI came back to power after a 12-year break. Many people asked if the PRI had changed or if this was like ‘old wine in new bottles’.

Peña Nieto wanted to change things. Last year he started the Pact for Mexico – changes in energy, justice, politics and social development, and education, taxation and telecommunications. With Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey, Mexico is now one of the ‘MINT’ economies - Jim O’Neill thought up this name, after calling Brazil, Russia, India and China the ‘BRIC’ countries a few years before. Like the other MINT economies, Mexico has the advantage of a young workforce near a very large market – the United States.

International finance organizations think Peña Nieto’s reforms are good, but many people in Mexico do not agree with them. Some people eg. film director Alfonso Cuarón, say that Peña Nieto has not explained why some of these reforms will help (eg. the Energy Reform Bill that will end the state control of oil and gas). Peña Nieto and people who see Mexico as the ‘new China’ think that ‘Mexico’s moment’ has arrived, but many other people think Peña Nieto is controlled by international finance.


Children with no parents in the Casa de Ninos Emanuel. Teun Voeten/Panos Pictures

Is Mexico living its ‘moment’? There is still a very big gap between high and low incomes, big differences between people who live in the south and the north, people who live in cities and in rural areas. The ‘Oportunidades’ programme is famous (money for poor families if they send their children to school and to visit health clinics), but they need better education and healthcare for poorer people too.

There are also big problems with security. Mexico has nine cities in the Top 50 most violent cities in the world (in a 2013 list) - Acapulco is number two. A lot of the violence in Mexican society is related to drugs mafia. About 70,000 people have been killed since the start of the drug wars in 2006, and thousands more have disappeared.


Children demonstrate for peace in Ciudad Juarez. Teun Voeten/Panos Pictures

The vigilante groups fight for the right to a freer life. So do the Zapatistas in Chiapas. 2014 was the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista Rebellion. The Ejército Zapatista Liberación Nacional (EZLN) still fights to help the indigenous communities and against the state. President Fox took government soldiers away from Chiapas in 2000 (the EZLN say), and the state has changed to a ‘low intensity’ approach – they are trying to make other social movements turn against the Zapatistas. by Russell White.

Leader President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Economy GNI per capita $9,740 (Guatemala $3,120, United States $50,120).

Money Peso.

Main exports Manufactured goods, oil and oil products, silver, fruits, vegetables, coffee, cotton. Two decades after the North American Free Trade Area started, 78% of Mexico’s exports go to the US but it also has free-trade agreements with 50 countries.

People 120.5 million. Annual population growth 1990-2012 1.5%. People per square kilometre 61 (UK 257). Health Infant mortality 14 per 1,000 live births (Guatemala 27, US 6). Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 790 (US 1 in 2,400). HIV rate 0.2%. Very big variations in healthcare.

Environment Interesting environmental developments in Mexico City because of the high pollution eg. ‘Hoy No Circula’ (No Driving Today) days when pollution is too high, and the ‘azoteas verdes’– green roofs – on schools, hospitals and government buildings.

Religion Mexico is still a Catholic country (about 83%) but evangelical Protestantism is getting more popular.

Language About 93% speak only Spanish and 1% speak only indigenous languages. The rest speak both.

Human development index 0.756, 71st of 187 countries (Guatemala 0.628, US 0.914).

Country profile: Mexico Fact File

Income distribution Income inequality is very high, especially in rural communities.

Freedom Journalists and newspapers have to be careful about what they write and publish about the cartels (drugs mafias). The government has the right to block cellphones and censor websites during protests – but people say this law breaks civil liberties.

Position of women Rural women have less work than women in cities. Violent crime against women is a big problem.

Literacy 94%. Literacy has increased a lot in the last two decades, but there is a big difference between the different regions.

Life expectancy 77 years (Guatemala 72, US 79).

Sexual minorities Homosexuality has been legal since 1872, laws against discrimination were passed in 2003 and gay marriage is now legal in Mexico City. But other parts of the country are more conservative.

NI Assessment (Politics) Mexico is trying to be like a modern democracy. People were afraid that the return of the PRI party would bring back the politics of the past, but this is not the case. But there is still corruption and secrecy. Some people on the Left think Mexican democracy is corrupt, but Mexican politics are very different from the past. Enrique Krauze wrote in The Huffington Post: ‘The open society of today is more uncertain and dangerous than the politically protected society of the past, but it is also far more honest, and open to positive improvement.’

Country profile: Mexico ratings in detail

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