Mexico is bordered by the United States on the north, the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea on the east, and Guatemala and Belize on the south. It is characterized by an extraordinary diversity in topography and climate and is crossed by two major mountain chains, the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental. The high central plateau between these two mountain ranges historically funneled most of the human population toward the center of this region. Mexico features volcanic peaks, snow-capped mountains, tropical rain forests, and internationally famous beaches. Mexico City is an enormous metropolitan area and dominates the rest of the country’s culture, economy, and politics. Nearly one-fifth of the nation’s population lives in the immediate vicinity of the capital. Mexico City is also a central hub for Mexico’s transportation networkincluding railroads, highways, and airlines.
Mexico and the United States share a border that is 3,100 km (1,900 mi) long, much of which is formed by the Ro Grande, a major river known as the Ro Bravo in Mexico. This international border is the longest in the world between an economically developing country and one with a highly developed, industrialized economy. This proximity has influenced Mexico’s internal and external migration patterns, prompting several million Mexicans to move north to the border region or to the United States itself. It has also affected the culture of both Mexico and the United States, fostering the development of a number of communities along the border that mix the cultures of both nations. Mexico covers an area of 1,964,382 sq km (758,452 sq mi).
The climate throughout much of Mexico is characterized by high temperatures and moderate to low rainfall. The highland climates vary considerably with elevation, but the central plateau generally has a moderate climate with few extremes of hot or cold. Mexico City, for example, has an average July high temperature of 23C (74F) and an average January high temperature of 21C (70F). Cities at lower elevations on the plateau have somewhat warmer climates. The northern and central areas of the plateau are arid and semiarid, with the drier regions receiving about 300 mm (about 12 in) of rainfall annually. Rainfall increases in the southern regions of the plateau, which receive about 500 to 650 mm (20 to 26 in) of rainfall annually, with most of it typically falling in the summer. Traditional rainfall patterns in the Valley of Mexico have been altered by substantial industrial pollution, which has become so serious that the rainy and dry seasons no longer follow a regular annual cycle.
Much of northwest Mexicoincluding Baja California and the northern regions of the Pacific Coast lowlandsis quite arid, receiving less than 130 mm (5 in) of rain per year. The northern Gulf Coast plains are semiarid, receiving about 250 to 560 mm (about 10 to 22 in) of rainfall annually. As on the central plateau, rainfall increases toward the south on both the western and eastern coasts.
The tropic of Cancer, which marks the northern limits of the tropics, passes through the southern tip of Baja California and crosses central Mexico. Much of southern Mexico has a tropical climate with distinct rainy and dry seasons; the Gulf Coast has more regular and abundant rainfall than the southern regions of the Pacific Coast. Temperatures in these coastal regions range between 21 and 27C (70 and 80F) during the year. Annual rainfall, which generally ranges between 1,500 and 2,000 mm (60 and 80 in), comes mainly during the rainy season of May to October. Mexico’s Gulf Coast is subject to hurricanes that pass through the region and often cause extensive damage.
The northern Yucatn Peninsula is hot and semiarid. Annual rainfall ranges between 500 and 1,000 mm (20 and 40 in). The extreme southern part of Mexico, including the Chiapas Highlands and the southern regions of the Yucatn Peninsula, is rainy and tropical. The climate in this region is generally hot and humid, with annual average temperatures of more than 24C (75F). Maximum precipitation occurs in summer, with average annual rainfall exceeding 2,030 mm (80 in) in some areas.
Mexico’s political model theoretically has much in common with that of the United States. As with the U.S. government, Mexico’s government is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. In Mexico, however, the executive branch dominates the other branches to such an extent that the country effectively has a political system that is controlled by its president. For most of the 20th century, only one political party, the government-controlled Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), played an influential role in politics or in the decision-making process. After it was founded in 1929, the government party monopolized most national political offices. The PRI did not lose a senate seat until 1988 or a gubernatorial race until 1989. It lost the presidency for the first time in 2000, when Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) defeated the PRI candidate.
Given the dominance of the executive over the legislative and judicial branches, interest groups and lobbyists similar to those found in the United States have not developed in Mexico. Groups and individuals who wish to influence policy do so primarily through the executive branch, seeking contacts with agency heads and cabinet figures and, on occasion, with the president himself.
Mexicolike Argentina, Brazil, and Chileis a semi-industrialized country. The country is rich in industrial resources, including petroleum and several metals. Mexico’s manufacturing output includes many basic goods, such as steel, machinery, and petrochemicals, as well as a wide range of consumer goods. Agriculture still provides more jobs than industry, however. Many farm families earn barely enough to survive, and many city dwellers are unable to find jobs.
After World War II (1939-1945), Mexico became known for its continuously growing economy. During that time, Mexico’s economy changed from a primarily agricultural one to an economy based on services and manufacturing. Beginning in the 1970s, however, the country’s economy began to stagnate as Mexico fell deeply into debt. In the late 1970s Mexico borrowed billions of dollars at extremely high interest rates in anticipation of increased oil revenues. When the oil prices dropped sharply in the early 1980s, Mexico’s oil revenues plummeted as well. This led to a large foreign debt and the nation began to fall behind on its loan payments. Mexico soon faced a severe economic recession, forcing the government to renegotiate the nation’s foreign debt and begin instituting budget cuts and austerity programs.
The economic recession led the government to reexamine Mexico’s national economic policy, which had protected the nation’s young industries by imposing high tariffs on imported goods. These tariffs raised the price of goods imported from the United States, for example, and encouraged Mexicans to buy less expensive goods produced in Mexico. On the other hand, this policy reduced competition in the Mexican economy and induced many state-owned industries and private companies to become less efficient. The Mexican government began to replace this official protection of domestic industries with an aggressive policy of privatization, selling back government-operated and owned industriesincluding banks, utilities, airlines, and manufacturing companiesto the private sector. Privatization aimed to make Mexican companies and industries more efficient and competitive by allowing private owners, rather than government officials, to make decisions that would affect an industry’s profitability.
Mexico also began working to integrate its economy into the larger and much more competitive global economy. These efforts culminated in Mexico’s signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which went into effect in 1994. NAFTA is a trade pact between Canada, Mexico, and the United States that aims to foster free trade and eliminate tariffs among the three nations.
These free-trade policies were pursued aggressively in the late 1980s and early 1990s, resulting in moderate economic growth. But this growth was built upon an increasingly shaky economic foundation. Mexico allowed the peso to become overvalued in relation to the dollar in the early 1990s. This meant that the government’s official exchange rate did not accurately reflect the value of the peso. When the government devalued the peso in December 1994 to more realistically reflect its worth, the value of the peso declined excessively. This prompted foreign and domestic investors to withdraw millions of dollars from the country, and Mexico’s economy went into a tailspin.
To support the peso and prevent a total economic collapse, the United States government, in conjunction with the World Bank, provided an emergency loan to Mexico in January 1995. However, the economic crisis was the worst in Mexico since the global economic depression of the 1930s, and resulted in negative economic growth in the country in 1995 and 1996. The economic crisis led to a serious decline in the standard of living for most Mexicans, as well as an increase in extreme poverty. The nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced domestically by a country, declined 6.2 percent from 1994 to 1995. Since then the economy has been recovering. In 1998 the GDP was $393.5 billion.
Mexico City, capital of Mexico and the center of the nation’s political, cultural, and economic life. Its population of 16.9 million (1996 estimate) makes Mexico City the second largest metropolitan area in the world, behind only Tokyo, Japan. It is also the seat of Mexico’s powerful, centralized federal government. Much of the political decision-making for the nation takes place in Mexico City. Culturally, Mexico City dominates the nation since most of Mexico’s leading universities, intellectual magazines, newspapers, museums, theaters, performing arts centers, and publishing firms are located in the capital.