Politics in Mexico: History and Political Culture
Some Great Sources
1) Official Mexico Sources
2) BBC Country Profile: Mexico
3) World Fact Book Country Profile: Mexico
4) Yahoo Mexico Links
A. Before we examine its history, lets commence with a few basic facts about Mexico
1. In social terms, Mexico is a country w/1/5 the land area of the US, has a population of approx 129.9M (2017 est., WorldOmeters).
- It is a very urbanized country w/about 75% living in cities and w/Mexico City—w/20M population—being largest city in the world
- life expec = 76.7 (2014, World Health Organization); literacy = 90%-all good #s for a developing country and probably auger good things…
- Literacy 95.1% (96.2%-men and 94.2%-women...CIA World Factbook 2016)
- also pretty mixed country ethnically (60% mestizo; 30% Amerindian; 9% white),
- RELIGION (about 89% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant, 5% other)
2. In economic terms, it is a mixed bag:
- Mexico has a free market economy that recently entered the 2 trillion dollar class (CIA World Factbook, 2017).
- Mexico has the 16th largest GDP in world; and the economy is currently growing at 2.5% and 2.8% over the last 5 years (2017 Index of Economic Freedom)
- Trade volume has tripled since 1994, placing Mexico ahead of Great Britain, Spain, and S Korea (The Economist, 2008); it is the 13th larget exporting country in the world per globalEDGE 2017
- It one of the world’s 5 biggest producer’s of oil and natural gas in the world.
- On other hand Mexico was also hit hard by the drop in oil prices in the late 1970s as well as the late 2000s (according to the Economist it is around 20%; compared to the US rate of
- According to the World Bank (2009) Nearly 18% Mexicans are classified as EXREMELY POOR BUT that has dropped down to 10% by 2017 (per Borgen Project). It has been cut by 25%
- 21% are labeled MODERATELY POOR (Borgen Project 2017)--unable to afford to house, clothe or feed themselves...
- The CIA World Factbook (2009) suggests that approximately 13.8% live below the official poverty line
- AND yet Mexico has 16 billionaires: with Carlos Slim leading the way (Forbes 2015).
- Mexico is therefore a country of economic contrasts then: it is both rich and was rapidly growing at the same time it is poor and stagnating...
3. In political terms, the Mexican political system is a close copy of the US system—at least on paper
- In reality, the Mexican President has much more power than its US counterpart, a single political party, the PRI, has governed Mexico since 1929 (pronounced "PREE")...though the PAN party has controlled the executive branch since 2000 and so the iron and corrupt grip of the PRI has been broken, which is, perhaps, an auger of the move towards multi-party democracy in Mexico.
- Elections held in July 2000 marked the first time since the 1910 Mexican Revolution that the opposition defeated the party in government, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Vicente FOX of the National Action Party (PAN) was sworn in on 1 December 2000 as the first chief executive elected in a free, fair, and truly multi-party election.
-Vicente Fox (left) delivering his acceptance speech
after being sworn in as president of Mexico, Dec. 1, 2000
- In July of 2006, Felipe Calderon won a VERY close and controversial election against leftist PRD candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (he lost by a margin of 0.58%, or approximately 243,000 votes).
- In December 2006, Felipe Calderon was sworn into office as Mexico's President-elect...
-Fox and Calderon during the 2006 Mexican election -Felipe Calderon and his family on the way to voting
- In July of 2012, Mexico elected its current President Enrique Pena Nieto
- The election wasn't particularly close and it marked the return to power of the formerly dominant PRI Party to the presidency
-Newly elected President Nieto with his wife in background -Nieto's winning smile
- Some analysis of the 2012 election
- Analyses of Nieto Presidency
- Ongoing Guardian analysis of Nieto Presidency
II. Mexican History
A. Until the 15th century, most of what is now Mexico was inhabited by native cultures, notably the Mayans and the Aztecs.
-Mayan Map -Aztec Mythology
-Mayan Priest & Warrior -Aztec Warrior
- The Spanish arrived in 1519 under the command of Hernando Cortes, subjugating the Aztecs relatively easily. They had better weapons, horses (the Aztecs had never seen them), and were also helped by religious beliefs that white gods would one day arrive in the region
- Hernando Cortes, circa 1519 -H. Cortes in "the New World"
- By the middle of the 16th century, the whole of what is now Mexico had been conquered and occupied by Spain. What the Spanish were after was gold, silver, precious mettles—brought back to Spain to fuel internal development and war/crusades
- The Spanish brought Catholicism, a new authoritarian political system, and hacienda-style economics
- After a long struggle (about 11 years), Mexico finally won independence in 1821.
- Independence, however, did not bring political stability to Mexico. In fact, b/n 1821 and roughly 1870s, the country went thru a series of rebellions, a war w/US and relative political instability
- In 1877, the military govt of Porfirio Diaz came to power and ruled from 1877 to 1911—35 years—w/an iron fist.
-Diaz in full military splendor -Diaz the civilian
- This period is known as the porfiriato: during his rule, Mexico was politically stable, national income, foreign investment and trade all grew; the RRs were expanded, and vast new tracks of land were opened to settlers
- While the economy developed, political freedom was completely cut off, some peasants lost their land and were forced to become laborers--the majority remained illiterate
- The middle classes became unhappy about being excluded from power and demanded greater democracy.
- Diaz promised democracy and an election was announced for 1910. He beat his chief rival, Francisco Madero, but corruption was evident and Madero cried foul.
- He called for a revolt and Mexico exploded into Social Revolution. Diaz sailed to France into exile and civil war erupted.
- However, the revolutionaries that brought Diaz down—led by Francisco Madero—failed to reform the system and in 1913, Madero was murdered and civil war broke out b/n three competing groups: one led by Emiliano Zapata, another by Pancho Villa & the 3rd by Venustiano Carranza
-Emilano Zapata -Pancho Villa
-Venustiano Carranza -Los Amigos de politico
- The civil war resulted in the deaths of about 1M Mexicans, the assassinations of Villa and Zapata, and the ascension of Carranza to the Presidency
- In 1917, the world’s most liberal constitution was drawn up and it granted the govt the rite to redistribute land, granted labor the rite to organize and collectively bargain, subordinated the church to the state, and foreign companies kicked out
- The Partido Revolucionario Institucianal (PRI or “pree”) was formed in 1929 and order was gradually restored. This party governed Mexico until December of 2000.
- It has stayed in power largely through political corruption, stolen elections, fraud, etc.
A. Mexico is divided into 31 states and each state is divided into several municipalities.
- Although the Mexican constitution provides for a Federal System
- in reality Mexico is highly centralized due to the fact the federal govt control of public revenues
- for example, fed govt controls about 85% of public revenues, the state govts, 12% and the municipalities 3% (McCormick 2006).
- Without independent financing, it is difficult for regional and local govts to be truly independent
- As Charles Hauss points out, Mexico’s political system defies easy classification.
- Many analysts consider it authoritarian b/c authority is concentrated in the office of the president and b/c the PRI has tended to dominate
- Although there are limits on the authority of the president, they are not well defined in a formal, legal sense.
- However, analysts also recognize that Mexico is characterized by competitive if not always fair elections so many consider it a hybrid system
B. Policy-making Structures
a. President: the president is elected to a non-renewable 6 year term.
(1) All real pol power flows from—and revolves around
(2) In fact, the Mexican Prez is far more influential than his American counterpart
(3) The current Prez is Enrique Pena Nieto, who ushered in the PRI coming back to the presidency
(4) Mexican govt often referred to as presidential govt b/c there are few limitations on a president’s power:
i. For example, the President directly appoints thousands of posts in the civil service—this perhaps his most impt power
ii. allowed to initiate legislation: virtually ALL bills of any significance orginate in the Executive office
iii. has power of decree on a wide variety of subjects, including the way law is implemented
iv. has power to direct armed forces for external and internal security and power to declare “state of siege”
a. The Mexican Assembly is called the Congress, is bicameral.
(1) It has little impact on the policy-making process
(2) The Congress has served as either a sinecure for politicians on the way out or a stepping stone for those on the way up
(3) It has also provided a forum for the opposition leaders to air their opinions.
(4) However, elections are becoming more competitive, and as they do, the role of Congress will increase.
(5) A huge constraint is that politicians cannot serve consecutive terms and historically only 14% have served non-consecutive terms (McCormick 2006; Hauss 2004).
b. Chamber of Deputies: 500 deputies elected for 3 year terms. 300 are elected from single member districts and 200 are selected proportionally
(1) Voters thus vote twice: once for the representative from their district and once for the party
(2) as stated, they cannot serve consecutive terms and must skip a term before being eligible for reelection (written into constitution to prevent dictatorship and allow new blood into govt)
c. Senate: Like its US counterpart, the Mexican Senate represents the states.
(1) Has 128 members, made up of 4 from each of the 31 states and from the Fed District of Mexico City
(2) Senators serve 6-year terms and as in Chamber of Deputies--cannot serve consecutive terms.
(3) PRI still has large majority in Senate
d. Supreme Court:
-Some of Mexico's Supreme Court Justices in action
(1) Modeled after US SCT: has eleven members, including chief justice—appointed for fifteen years by prez and confirmed by Senate. Justices can serve only one, fifteen year term. **Before the reform of 1995, there were twenty-one Justices who served for life**
(2) President also has power to remove them.
(3) Has generally played very limited role in Mexican political life
i. The power of Judicial Review was introduced by Zedillo in 1995...Only time will tell how the Court uses this power
e. Political Parties: briefly
(1) Mexico has been a virtual one-party state since 1929, with the PRI dominating the Presidency and Congress and patronage power
(2) However, in 2000, two parties—the PAN and PRD—made important inroads on the PRI domination
(3) The Partido de Accion Nacional (PAN), is a rite of center party and the major opposition party in Mexico since the 1930s...it has held the presidency since 2000 and won more seats in Congress
(4) The Partido de Revolucion Democratica (PRD)—a left of center reform partyfielded a candidate (Andres Lopez Obrador) who almost won the presidency and which holds a few Governorships; so it is also making progress
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Gavilan College. Gilroy, CA. 95020
Last updated on: April 27, 2017
© Marc Turetzky, 2017