Origin of state name: May have originated from the native Aztec word tlapaco, which means "humid land." May also have originated with the first Spaniards, who thought the native leader was Tabasco, but his name was more likely Taabs-Coob.
Capital: Villahermosa (vee-ah-hair-MOH-sah).
Entered country: 1824.
Coat of Arms: Four squares depict castles, a shield and sword, a crowned lion ready to attack, and a native warrior. In the center, an oval features a representation of the Virgin Mary.
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 state flag.
Time: 6 AM = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Tabasco is located on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (an isthmus is a narrow strip of land that connects two larger areas, in this case the Bay of Campeche on the north and the Gulf of Tehuantepec on the south). Tabasco covers an area of 24,662 square kilometers (9,522 square miles), which is a little smaller than the US state of Vermont. The state is bordered on the north by the Gulf of Mexico; on the south by the Mexican state of Chiapas; on the east by the Central American country of Guatemala and the Mexican state of Campeche; and on the west by the Mexican state of Veracruz. It has seventeen municipalities, and its capital is Villahermosa.
Almost all the territory of Tabasco is low and flat. The only exception is the region bordering the state of Chiapas, where the hilly region of the Chiapas Sierra begins.
This state has almost a third of all Mexico's water resources. Tabasco's major rivers are the Grijalva and the Usumacinta. The Usumacinta, Mexico's largest river, forms a natural border between Mexico and Guatemala. Other noteworthy rivers include the Palizada, San Pedro, San Pablo, Tonalá, and Mezcalapa. In Tabasco, the largest lagoons are the Rosario, Las Ilusiones, Pomposú, Machona, and Canitzán.
The warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico contribute to the climate, which is generally warm and humid. The average temperatures is 24°c to 28°c (76°f to 82°f). The highest monthly average rainfall occurs in August and September. Up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) of rain often falls during September alone.
The mountain region of the state has rain forest conditions that are well suited for the growth of exotic trees (including mahogany, cedar, ceiba, palo, tinto, barí, and rubber trees) and various species of ferns. Fruit trees such as tamarind, orange, and sapodilla (the source of chicle, the base for chewing gum and other products) are also found. Mangroves (tropical evergreens with a tangled root system) are found along the coast.
Deer, ocelots, spider monkeys, and jaguars are a few of the larger mammals found in the state. Smaller mammals include squirrels, anteaters, and rabbits. Alligators and a wide variety of poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes can be found in the state. Common birds include macaws, quetzals, toucans, and hummingbirds.
Protected areas in the state include the Biosphere Reserve of the Wetlands of Centla, which has been designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the international conservation group known as the Ramsar Convention. This area has been threatened by the activities of the petroleum exploration and production company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMAX).
Tabasco had a total population of 1,891,829 in 2000; of the total, 934,515 were men and 957,314 were women. The population density was 76 people per square kilometer (197 people per square mile). In 2000, the capital, Villahermosa, had a population of 545,433.
Almost all citizens speak Spanish as their first language. A small number, about 3.7%, of the population, speaks indigenous (native) languages.
According to the 2000 census, 62% of the population, or about 1.2 million people, were Roman Catholic; 12%, or 226,683 people, were Protestant. That year there were also 58,701 Seventh-Day Adventists, 20,734 Jehovah's Witnesses, and over 180,000 people who reported no religion.
Tabasco has one international airport. The state also has about 7,912 kilometers (4,914 miles) of roads and 315 kilometers (196 miles) of railroads.
The Olmec civilization developed in Tabasco starting in 1500 B.C. It was around 500 B.C. that the Olmec reached its cultural and economic peak. The Maya emerged as the dominant culture in the region
In 1518, Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva's (c. 1489–1527) five-ship expedition in the Caribbean first reached Tabasco territory. Soon, the Spaniards entered into contact with the Chontales natives who gave them utensils made of gold as gifts. This sparked interest among the Spaniards to explore the territory in search of gold mines. Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) reached the region a year later and successfully fought against the Chontales. The Spanish military might convinced a local indigenous leader, called Tabasco, to present Cortés with a present of twenty native women. Among them was Malinche, who later became Cortés's mistress and mother of his son Martín. Malinche is often unjustly accused of providing Cortés with vital information to defeat the Aztecs. Her ability to learn Spanish and communicate with Cortés is the reason for those unfounded claims.
Indigenous uprisings and the Spanish preoccupation with dominating the central valley of Mexico delayed the conquest of Tabasco until the late 16th century. For a brief period, Tabasco was put under the authority of the province of Guatemala. By the end of the 16th century, the indigenous population was barely around 7,500, and there were no more than one hundred Spanish colonizers. To promote agricultural activity, the Spanish began introducing African slaves. Its geographic location and the growing trade that existed in the region made Tabasco a prime target of British, French, and Dutch pirates. The pillage by pirates and the uprisings by the indigenous population and African slaves hindered the economic development and population growth in the region. Those uprisings also reflected the deplorable living conditions of the indigenous and enslaved populations. New uprisings during the 18th century provoked the Spaniards to increase the slave trade and promote new settlements by colonizers.
The 1810 independence movement did not reach Tabasco. It was only in 1821 that the region became independent of Spanish colonial rule. In 1824 Tabasco became a federal state. Political instability and confrontations between local military leaders characterized much of the 19th century. For a brief period of time, US troops occupied the region during the Mexican-American War (1846–48). In 1863, French invading troops occupied the region to enforce the monarchial rule of Emperor Maximilian (1832–1867).
Liberal forces successfully brought an end to monarchical rule in 1867. Tabasco was soon brought under control, first by Mexican president Benito Juárez (1806–1872) loyalists, and later by forces loyal to Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915), the man who ruled Mexico between 1876 and 1910.
The Mexican Revolution, which started in 1910, had limited impact in this scarcely populated region. The revolutionary victors quickly obtained the support of the local elites before the new constitution of Mexico was written in 1917. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the dominant political party in the country for many years, exercised overwhelming power in Tabasco during most of the 20th century, especially after large oil fields were discovered in the state.
The state governor is democratically elected every six years for a nonrenewable term. There are twenty-one legislators in the state's unicameral (single chamber) Chamber of Deputies. Fourteen members are elected from single member districts and seven are elected by proportional representation for nonrenewable three-year terms. Although there are formal provisions for separation of power, the governor has historically exercised enormous prerogatives and attributions. Accusations of electoral fraud have questioned the legitimacy of the democratic system in the state in recent years.
The seventeen municipalities that comprise Tabasco hold democratic elections for municipal presidents and council members every three years. Immediate re-election is not allowed. Although some decentralization initiatives are producing positive results, the state still has a long way to go to achieve successful decentralization. More effective decentralization has consolidated in the more populous municipalities.
The three main political parties in all of Mexico are the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The PRI has dominated politics in Tabasco. Roberto Madrazo, the current president of the PRI, was a former governor of Tabasco (1995–2000). Madrazo's election as governor was marked by accusations of massive fraud against Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was then the PRD candidate and as of 2004 was the mayor of Mexico City. The PRD is the second most important party in the state.
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice is the state's highest court. Its nineteen members are appointed by a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature from a three-person list submitted by the state governor. Only highly qualified attorneys, approved by a Council of the Judiciary, can be nominated to serve in the highest court. There has not been alternation in power in Tabasco, and the PRI has exercised enormous influence and power in the oil-rich state. As a result, the judicial system has not traditionally shown evidence of independence and autonomy.
General service-based companies account for about 21% of the state economy. Trade activities account for about 18% of the economy, followed by mining at 16%, finance and insurance at 15%, construction at 9%, transportation and communications at 8%, agriculture and livestock at 8%, and manufacturing at 5%.
Villahermosa is the commercial and manufacturing center of the state. Manufacturing companies include food processing plants and companies producing wood products, cigars, soap, and clothing. The oil industry continues to play an important role in the state economy and in the nation as a whole. There is some small-scale handicraft manufacturing, particularly in items made with alligator skin.
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.
Most residents are employed in agriculture. Major crops include corn, beans, yucca, and rice. These crops are generally used for local consumption. Export crops include cacao (cocoa beans), sugarcane, bananas, and coconuts. Cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats are the primary livestock animals.
Oil and cement are among the most important natural mineral resources of the state.
Mexico's existing natural gas reserves are located primarily in the southwestern states of Tabasco and Chiapas. Almost all of the energy in Mexico is provided by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). In February 2002, the CFE introduced new electric rates. For households that use less than 140 kilowatt hours per month, there was no rate increase. (This is about 75% of all households in Mexico, according to CFE).
The state of Tabasco has 25 general hospitals, 586 outpatient centers, and 61 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.
Only about one-half of the housing available in the state of Tabasco is in good repair. More than 18% is in need of significant upgrading. Many homes do not have running water or access to electricity.
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. According to the 2000 census, there were approximately 457,100 school-age students in the state. Many students elect to go to private schools. The thirty-one states of Mexico all have at least one state university. The Universidad Juarez Autonoma de Tabasco is located in Villahermosa.
Many cultural events take place in the Palacio del Gobierno, the Sala de Arte Antonio Ramírez, and the Teatro de Seguro Social in the capital, Villahermosa. Most cities have a cultural center, where local performing arts troupes perform.
There are 556 libraries and eighteen museums in the state. Centro has a museum of anthropology. El Museo de la Venta in Villahermosa is a combination zoo and archeological museum. Its collections include large heads sculpted from basalt rock by the indigenous Olmec people. The Carlos Pellicer Museum in Villahermosa is a regional museum of anthropology.
Villahermosa, the capital, has four daily newspapers: Diario Olmeca, El Sureste de Tabasco, Novedades de Tabasco, and Tabasco Hoy.
There are natural regions of interest to tourists in the state. There is whitewater rafting at Usumacinta. Archeological sites are found at La Venta (Olmeca culture) and at Comacalco and Ponomá (Mayan culture). The beaches along the Gulf of Mexico attract tourists to the resorts there. Festivals are regularly held in the capital, Villahermosa. La Polvora Lagoon is a park with waterfalls and hiking and activities for children.
Villahermosa's baseball team, Olmecas de Tabasco, plays in the 10,500-seat Centenario 27 de Febrero stadium.
La Malinche was the daughter of an Aztec ruler who became the mistress of the Spanish conqueror, Hernán Cortés. Roberto Madrazo was governor of Tabasco from 1995 to 2000, and he was the president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as of 2004.
DeAngelis, Gina. Mexico. Mankato, MN: Blue Earth Books, 2003.
Supples, Kevin. Mexico. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2002.
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Naturally Tabasco. http://www.mexonline.com/tabasco-tourism.htm (accessed June 17, 2004).