Distrito Federal





Distrito Federal



Pronunciation: dees-TREE-toh feh-deh-RAHL.

Origin of state name: Describes the location of the federal government of Mexico.


Capital: Ciudad de México (Mexico City).

Established: 1824.

Coat of Arms: The coat of arms contains a picture of a golden castle that is surrounded by three stone bridges. There are two lions supporting the castle tower. Around the border of the shield are ten thorny cactus leaves.

Holidays: Año Nuevo (New Year's Day—January 1); Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day—February 5); Benito Juárez's birthday (March 21); Primero de Mayo (Labor Day—May 1); Revolution Day, 1910 (November 20); and Navidad (Christmas—December 25).

Flag: There is no official flag.

Time: 6 AM = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).



1 Location and Size

The Distrito Federal (DF, Federal District) is the capital of Mexico. (Most of its territory is occupied by Mexico City.) It has an area of 1,547 square kilometers (597 square miles). It is about ten times the size of the District of Columbia, the US capital. Although there are no municipalities in Mexico's Distrito Federal, there are sixteen political districts.

The Distrito Federal is located in the center of the country. It is bordered on the north and west by the state of México and on the south by the Mexican state of Morelos.

The Distrito Federal lies on the high valley of Mexico, where the elevation is 2,280 meters (7,525 feet). (The high valley also encompasses parts of the Mexican states of Hidalgo, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and México.) The high valley is surrounded by mountains. Two volcanoes—Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl—are sometimes visible from the DF. One of the best-known canals in the Federal District is the Xochimilco canal.


2 Climate

The climate is generally dry, with the greatest rainfall occurring during the

Henk Sierdsema/Saxifraga/EPD Photos Aerial view of Mexico City.
Henk Sierdsema/Saxifraga/EPD Photos

Aerial view of Mexico City.
summer months of June, July, and August. Average annual rainfall is 107 centimeters (42 inches). Average overall temperature is 14°c (58°f). In May, the warmest month, the average daily high temperature is 26°c (79°f). In January, the coldest month, the average daily high is 19°c (66°f).

In 1985, the DF region was struck by a devastating earthquake.


3 Plants and Animals

The area was once home to dense forests. Deforestation and heavy development has reduced much of the habitat of the native animals. During the winter months, migrating butterfly species may be viewed around the DF.

The government has created special reserves for protection of native plants and animals. The Chichinautzin Ecological Reserve, established in the late 1980s, has volcanic craters that sprout unique vegetation. Ajusco National Park has pine and oak forests. Xochimilco floating gardens is a popular tourist spot. Native animals can be seen in the zoo in Chapultepec Park.


4 Environmental Protection

Mexico City has some of the worst air pollution of any city in the world. In 1988, the government passed a law aimed at

Distrito Federal
improving air quality. Regulations aimed at reducing exhaust emissions from the four million cars registered in the DF have resulted in improved air quality as of 2004.

Mexico's first national park, Desierto de los Leones (Desert of the Lions), was established in the DF in 1917. It is a rich forest area (the name desert came from its remote location in 1917). In response, the government launched a program to try to restore the health of the forest. Trees are being replanted and woodpeckers are being reintroduced.


5 Population, Ethnic Groups, Languages

Distrito Federal had a total population of 8,605,239 in 2000; of the total, 4,110,485 (48%) were men and 4,494,754 (52%) were women. The population density was 5,799 people per square kilometer (15,019 people per square mile). The Distrito Federal is the most densely populated region of the country. Almost all residents speak Spanish, but about 1.8% of the population speaks one of the indigenous languages as their first language.


6 Religions

According to the 2000 census, 81% of the population, or 7 million people, were Roman Catholic; 3%, or 277,400 people, were Protestant. That year there were also 7,852 Seventh-Day Adventists, 21,893 Mormons, 74,140 Jehovah's Witnesses, and 18,380 Jews. Over 280,000 people reported no religion.


7 Transportation

Mexico-Benito Juárez Airport provides international flights to and from the Distrito Federal. Mexico City has been served by the Sistema de Transporte Colectivo Metro, an extensive metro system (over 200 kilometers/125 miles), since the 1960s. More than four million people travel on it each day. The fare is approximately us$0.20.

8 History

Mexico City is one of the oldest cities continuously inhabited in Latin America. Remains found at Tlatilco point to 1500 B.C. as the first time when a permanent settlement was built in Mexico City. Between 100 and 900 A.D. the center of human activity in the central valley of Mexico moved to Teotihuacán, an area north of modern day Mexico City. There, impressive pyramids were built as sites of worship for the Sun and the Moon. The valley where the city of Mexico is located was populated by Toltec Indians who began to grow and expand from southern Mexico and reached Teotihuacán after the Teotihuacán culture had begun its decline.

During the 13th century, Mexica Indians, also known as Aztecs, arrived in the region. According to the historical myth, they left a northern (probably mythical) city of Aztlán. They were led by their god, Huitzilopochtli, represented by a warrior-like figure. The myth says that when they arrived in the lake-filled region, the Aztecs witnessed the vision of an eagle devouring a snake while perched on a cactus. They believed that this was a message that their god wanted them to stay there. Tenochtitlán-Mexico was founded on June 8, 1325.

Under the leadership of monarchs Izcoatl, Montezuma I (Moctezuma I, d. 1469), Axayacatl (15th century), Tizoc, Ahuizotl (d. 1503), and Montezuma II (Moctezuma II, 1466–1520), the Aztecs emerged as the most important civilization in the central valley of Mexico. The highly disciplined warriors, who took the eagle and jaguar as their symbols, rapidly expanded the areas under Aztec domination. Yet, the Aztecs also absorbed and incorporated religious beliefs and cultural values of the groups they entered into contact with and dominated.

One of the most impressive constructions in Mexico City was the Templo Mayor, a double pyramid dedicated to the gods Tlaloc (god of water and rain) and Huitzilopochtli (god of war). They believed that Templo Mayor was the center of a universe, and human sacrifices were required to sustain it as such. In addition, there were other temples dedicated to Quetzalcóatl (father of civilization), Tezcatlipoca (god who creates and changes all things), and Ehecatl (god of wind). Together with the temples, the city rapidly grew as a commercial and military center of a vast Aztec empire. Located in the middle of a number of small lakes, the city gave way to the construction of a number of canals that surrounded plots of lands, called chinampas.

When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, Mexico-Tenochtitlán was probably one of the most populated cities in the world. Its structures and buildings must have deeply impressed the Spanish conquistadores (conquerors). Because of a religious myth, Aztecs expected the return of Quetalzcóatl. Believing Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) was the returning god, Emperor Montezuma II met Cortés at the entrance of the city to welcome him. Cortés imprisoned Montezuma and moved on to kill many of the Aztec nobility. Despite the resistance of the Aztecs led by Cuahtémoc (c. 1495–1522), Cortés successfully conquered Mexico-Tenochtitlán on August 13, 1521.

Cortés quickly moved to control the rest of the central valley of Mexico but made Mexico-Tenochtitlán the capital city of the new Spanish territory. Roman Catholic churches were built on top of the ruins of Aztec temples, and the new government buildings replaced other sacred Aztec constructions. The Mexican presidential palace, the city's cathedral, and the main central square were located exactly in the same place where the Aztec's most important buildings were erected. That gives Mexico City a profound sense of the dramatic changes that occurred with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. It also reflects the deep history of a city that has been one of the world's greatest cities for centuries. Most of the people of Mexico are mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European descent). They are like Mexico City, where two rich and expanding civilizations came together.

After Cortés conquered it, Mexico-Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) became the center of colonial rule—through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, and through the heart of the independence movement between 1810 and 1821. It was at the center of the political instability that characterized Mexico between 1823 and 1867. It was the place where president Benito Juárez (1806–1872) began adopting his celebrated reforms. Mexico City was the main objective of the revolutionary leaders of 1910.

Plaza de la Constitución, the square in the center of the city (commonly referred to as the Zócalo), symbolizes the three cultures of Mexico City: the original Aztec, the invading Spanish, and the resulting Mexican culture that blends the two. The DF is one of the most populated cities in the world. It

© Peter Langer/EPD Photos Mosaics depicting Mexico's history and future cover the central library of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City. The mosaics, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest in the world, measure over 40,000 square feet (4,000 square meters).
© Peter Langer/EPD Photos

Mosaics depicting Mexico's history and future cover the central library of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City. The mosaics, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest in the world, measure over 40,000 square feet (4,000 square meters).
was the site of the Olympic Games in 1968, when drug testing was first introduced. The city experienced rapid growth in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

By the 1970s, the city began to experience extreme problems with air pollution. Mountains surrounding the city exacerbated the problem, since they caused the air to be trapped over the city.


9 State and Local Government

The chief of government (jefe de gobierno) is the chief executive (or mayor) in the Distrito Federal. Previously appointed by the president as a cabinet minister, since 1997 the chief executive has been democratically elected, by those residing in the Distrito Federal, for a six-year, nonrenewable term. The first elected chief of government was Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano (b.1934). The legislative assembly of the DF is comprised of sixty-six members, forty elected in single member districts and twenty-six elected by proportional representation. The chief of government of the DF is elected concurrently with the president of Mexico on a separate ballot. As in other DFs, the federal government retains some authority to decide on matters that pertain to financial and administrative issues.

The local and state governments are the same, since the Federal District is the local government of the capital city of Mexico.


10 Political Parties

The three main political parties in all of Mexico are the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN), and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). These three parties have a strong presence in the DF. Voters first democratically elected their chief of government in 1997. Former PRD presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cárdenas Solórzano won the election. The PRD's Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the 2000 election and emerged as one of the most important contenders for the 2006 presidential election. The PRD is strongest in the DF, but the PAN has also made inroads. Since the PRI has mostly lost support in urban areas, its strength in the DF has also diminished significantly since the mid-1980s.


11 Judicial System

The Superior Tribunal of Justice is the highest court in the Distrito Federal. Its members are appointed by the chief of government, with congressional approval, for renewable six-year terms. Although there is also an electoral tribunal and lower courts, the presence of the national Supreme Court and the Federal Electoral Tribunal usually render the Federal District Superior Tribunal and Electoral Tribunal less important than its counterparts in the other thirty-one states. Yet, as the Distrito Federal slowly changes from being a bureaucracy highly controlled by the federal government into a more state-like autonomous entity, the independence, the autonomy, and the importance of the federal district judicial system will become more important.

12 Economy

Over 10% of Mexico's gross domestic product (GDP) is produced in the DF. Many manufacturing concerns are headquartered in the DF; it is also a center for Mexico's tourism industry.


13 Industry

Major industries located in the DF include the manufacture of auto parts, food products, electrical equipment, electronics, machine tools, and heavy machinery.


14 Labor

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Mexican workers saw their wages increase 17%, from $2.09 per hour in 1999 to $2.46 per hour in 2000. (The average US worker earned $19.86 per hour in 2000.) After one year, workers are entitled by law to six days paid vacation.


15 Agriculture

A few small dairy farms lie on the outskirts of the city, with the milk and cheese sold locally. Some families also raise pigs and chickens in backyard pens. A typical family might keep three pigs and one or two dozen chickens. Some of the animals are consumed by the family, but most are raised to be sold by local butcher shops. Vegetables and fruits are also raised, but only in small family gardens.

16 Natural Resources

There was once logging in the DF, but most of the forests are now protected.


17 Energy and Power

The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) manages the generation of electricity in Mexico; the smaller, but also government-owned, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LFC) supplies electricity to much of the DF.


18 Health

The Distrito Federal (Mexico City) has 109 general hospitals, 699 outpatient centers, and 589 surgical centers.

Most of the Mexican population is covered under a government health plan. The IMSS (Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social) covers the general population. The ISSSTE (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de Trabajadores del Estado) covers state workers.


19 Housing

Housing in the DF varies from luxury townhouses and apartments to housing built from poor quality materials. About 10% of the housing is in need of upgrading. The rapid growth in population in the DF means that there is an ongoing shortage of affordable housing.


20 Education

The system of public education was first started by President Benito Juárez in 1867. Public education in Mexico is free for students from ages six to sixteen. There were about 1.5 million school-age children in the DF in 2000. Many students elect to go to private schools, especially those sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. The thirty-one states of Mexico all have at least one state university. The National University of Mexico (UNAM) is located in the DF, as are El Colegio de Mexico (College of Mexico) and the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (National Polytechnic Institute).

21 Arts

Mexico City is home to many dance and music performing arts groups. The Ballet Folklórico Nacional de Mexico (National Folk Ballet of Mexico) performs in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Three other companies—Ballet Independiente, Ballet Neoclásico, and Ballet Contemporánea—perform in Mexico City. There are three major orchestras (including a children's symphony orchestra). ¡Que Payasos! (Clowns) is a popular rock-and-roll group that performs at festivals, especially for young people. There are over thirty-seven theaters and auditoriums sponsoring plays, concerts, and other types of performances.


22 Libraries and Museums

There are 390 branches of the national library system in the Distrito Federal. There are also 127 museums. The most important museums are the art studio of famous painter Diego Rivera (1886–1957); an archeological museum; the home of artist Frida Kahlo (1907–1954); a national zoo; a science museum; a museum of paleontology (the study of fossils); a stamp museum; a mural museum dedicated to the art of Diego Rivera; a museum of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920); a cultural institute of Mexico and Israel; the Palace of Fine Arts; the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe (patron saint of Mexico); a Bible museum; an Olympic museum; Chapultepec Castle (located in Chapultepec Park—a huge city park); the archeological museum of Xochimilco; and many others.


23 Media

Mexico City has numerous newspapers. Some of the most popular ones are Cuestión, Diario de México, Diario Oficial de la Federación, El Economista, El Heraldo de México, El Sol de México, El Universal, Esto, Etcerera, Excelcior, Expanción, La Afición, La Crónica de Hoy, La Prensa, Novedades, Reforma, and Uno Mas Uno.


24 Tourism, Travel, and Recreation

Mexico City's downtown area has a beautiful baroque cathedral called the Catedral Metropolitana. Alameda Central, dating from the 17th century, is the oldest park in the country. The Palacio de Bellas Artes has murals by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974) and crystal carvings of Mexico's famous volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl. The Zona Rosa (Pink Zone), a famous shopping area, also has two beautiful statues, La Diana Cazadora and the statue of Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus). Chapultepec Park houses the castle of the former emperor Maximilian (1832–1867) and empress Carlotta (1840–1927), a zoo and botanical gardens, and the famous Museum of Anthropology, which has the old Aztec calendar and a huge statue of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god. The main avenue of Mexico is La Avenida de la Independencia, featuring the statue of the Angel of Independence, a famous landmark of the city. The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, is visited by thousands of pilgrims, some who climb the steps on their knees. The floating gardens of Xochimilco may be viewed by boat. University City houses the Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM); its modern campus buildings feature murals and mosaics by Diego Rivera on their outer walls.

Bullfighting is popular in Mexico City. Spectators may choose to pay higher prices to guarantee seats in the shade, since the sun in Mexico City can be scorching.


25 Sports

Soccer is the most popular sport, and Mexico City has six soccer stadiums. Four teams—National Team, Atlante, América, and Necaxa—play their home games in the huge Estadio Azteca (Aztec Stadium); it seats 114,465 people and was the site of the World Cup finals in 1970 and 1986. The soccer team from the Universidad Autónoma de México plays in the 72,449-seat Olympic Stadium, built for the 1968 Olympics. Another soccer team, Cruz Azul, plays in a 39,000-seat stadium.

The professional baseball team, Diablos Rojos, plays in the 26,000-seat Foro Sol stadium. Mexico City also hosts bullfighting in the 40,000-seat Plaza Mexico and in the 10,000-seat Plaza de Toreo Cuatro Caminos. Toluca has minor league soccer teams that play in the 26,000-seat Nemesio Diez stadium. Nezahualcayotl has a professional soccer team, Neza, which plays in the 37,000-seat Neza 86 stadium.

26 Famous People

Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) was a Spanish conquistador who conquered Aztec emperor Montezuma II to become the founder of Spanish Mexico. Though born in Spain, after his death his remains were placed in a vault at the Hospital de Jesus chapel, which he helped build. Octavio Paz (1914–1998), winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature, was born in Mexico City. Composer Carlos Chávez (1899–1978) produced works that combined Mexican, Indian, and Spanish-Mexican influences. Cantinflas (Mario Moreno Reyes 1911–1993) was a popular comedian, film producer, and writer who appeared in more than fifty-five films, including a role as Passepartoute in the 1956 version of Around the World in Eighty Days. Agustín Lara (1900–1970) was a popular composer who made his mark in the film industry from 1930 to 1950, a period known as the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. Carlos Fuentes (b. 1928) is a renowned writer, editor, and diplomat. He was head of the department of cultural relations in Mexico's ministry of foreign affairs from 1956 to 1959 and Mexican ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977. His fiction works deal with Mexican history and identity and include A Change of Skin, Terra Nostra, and The Years with Laura Díaz (all of which have been translated into English from Spanish). José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (1776–1827) was a journalist, satirical novelist, and dramatist, known by his pseudonym El Pensador Mexicano. His best known work is El Periquillo Sarniento (The Itching Parrot). Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (1859–95) is considered to be one of the first Mexican modernist poets. The life of painter Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) was the subject of a 2002 feature film, Frida, starring Salma Hayek.

27 Bibliography

Books

Caistor, Nick. Mexico City: A Literary and Cultural Companion. New York: Interlink Books, 2000.

Carew-Miller, Anna. Famous People of Mexico. Philadelphia: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003.

Laidlaw, Jill A. Frida Kahlo. Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, 2003.

Supples, Kevin. Mexico. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2002.


Web Sites

Mexico City. http://www.mexicocity.com (accessed on June 17, 2004).

Mexico for Kids. http://www.elbalero.gob.mx/index_kids.html (accessed on June 15, 2004).

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