Mexico - Political background

Mexico was one of Spain's richest colonies thanks to its silver mines. Following the wars of independence (1810–24), the new nation went through years of turbulence and dislocation. Growth began under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz (1876–1910) but fell during the chaotic years of the Mexican Revolution (1910–17). Since then, Mexico has struggled with the problems of modernization and economic growth.

Mexico is a federal republic, governed according to the Constitution promulgated at the end of the revolution in 1917. The presidency is very powerful. The president is elected for a six-year term and cannot be reelected. The legislature is the bicameral Congreso de la Union (National Congress). The Camera de Sandores (Senate) has 128 senators; 96 are elected to 6-year terms (half are elected every three years) and 32 are allocated proportionally by political party. The Camera Federal de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies) has 500 members, of whom 300 are elected to 3-year terms directly from single-member constituencies and 200 by proportional allocation by political party.

From 1929 until 2000, the ruling party was the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI—Institutional Revolutionary Party). It claims descent from the time of the Mexican Revolution. The PRI regimes believed in a nationalistic government policy and a central guiding role for the state. In foreign policy, the PRI emphasized a non-interventionist position and independence from U.S. policy. Under President Carlos Salinas (1988–94), the Mexican government departed radically from former policies in favor of privatization and a free market approach. Salinas pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect on 1 January 1994, confronted the unions and management of the national petroleum industry (PEMEX), and caused considerable debate by legislating the sale of village communal lands (ejidos). The rewriting of history textbooks for schools in favor of a free market interpretation of Mexican history provoked argument within the party. Salinas surrounded himself with economists and technocrats, many of whom obtained their doctorates at top U.S. universities.

His successor, Ernesto Zedillo, president from 1994–2000, continued free-market policies. During his term, the peso was devalued, triggering a severe economic recession. The Mexican people, shaken by the dramatic decline in the economy and corresponding rise in poverty, ended the PRI's 70-year dominance of the Chamber of Deputies in legislative elections in June 1995. A coalition of the leftist Partido Revolucionario Democratico (PRD—Party of the Democratic Revolution) and the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN—National Action Party) took control of the Chamber of Deputies, and their candidates also won several key mayoral and gubernatorial races. Zedillo decided not to follow the long-standing tradition of handpicking the person who would succeed his as the PRI candidate for president, and held a presidential primary. Francisco Labastida Ochoa earned the PRI spot on the ballot.

In 2000, after more than 70 years of PRI presidents, Vicente Fox Quesada, candidate of the PAN, won 42.5% of the vote to the PRI candidate's 36.1%. The PAN, founded in 1939, has generally been to the right of the PRI, and draws much of its support from the northern part of the country and the urban middle classes. It typically looks back to an older traditional Mexico and to closer ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

Other parties include the PRD, leading a coalition of left and center groups which came together to support the presidential candidacy of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (who received about 17% of the popular vote in the 2000 election), son of the famous president Lazaro Cárdenas (1895–1970, president from 1934–40). In general, the PRD advocates government intervention in the economy while the other parties favor a freer economy.

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