Every country has its unique history and character. Some countries have a certain prestige to their name (England is the birthplace of Shakespeare, and French cuisine is world renown) while others are infamous (North Korea is not a place that evokes the notion of freedom in people’s minds), and many are both (such as the country that we are discussing here). Regardless of the negative or positive connotation that a country has, it is important to note how it came to be that way, and for that, a general understanding of the culture, history, and political situation of a country is necessary. Considering Mexico in particular, we can see the powerful contrasts of rich and poor, educated and uneducated, ethical and unethical, purity and debauchery, spiritual orthodoxy and occultism. There is such contrast in Mexico (in terms of nature and mega cities, decadence and moral value, ignorance and world class academia, etc) that it is no surprise that the country can mean anything to anyone, allowing individuals to project the best and the worst in such a nation.
One of the first observations I can make of that country is that it is an artificial nation. What I mean by this is that its people’s identity had to be relabeled many times as time passed, making the identity of the people of the nation anything but uniform. From pre-columbian times the territory that is now Mexico was an amalgamation of tribes that spoke a variety of languages, though some used Nahuatl as the lingua franca, such as the Caxcans of northern Mesoamerica. After conquest it became a member of not only the Spanish Monarchy, but also the Roman Catholic sphere of control. After independence it was indeed severed from the Spanish Crown, but not from the Spanish language, culture and traditions, not to mention the influence of the Catholic Church (though politicians aimed to change that, particularly Calles, initiating the Cristero Wars). To this very day many Mexicans respect the leadership of the Bishop of Rome and do not question his authority. In modern times, we see a Mexico that is influenced by many nations at once. Being the country with the most free trade agreements, countries like Japan, China, Turkey, and others are trying to find their place in Mexico. This will inevitably lead to another phase in the cultural development of the country, to one where English is the lingua-franca for business and where the educational system adapts to meet the needs of a global capitalist system by emphasizing subjects that deal with manufacture, tourism, and trade. But with every new phase of identity layers piling on, the old still echoes through. The caste system in place during Spanish colonial times still has a lingering influence to this day, and is evident in the proportion of actors in “novelas” that are light skinned an portrayed as affluent, the members of the high society, A.K.A “la alta sociedad.” But even though the past still has a grasp on the present, there is always an effort, however small or big, to have self-determination. The country has striven to differentiate itself from its Spanish brothers by having a unique national culture and identity. The government under the PRI political party has in the 20th century sought to forge a national identity based on Meztisaje, Mariachi Music, and Patriotism. It made Rodeo the official sport of the country. These endeavors are a challenge, for they use new concepts to create an identity for a new nation, a nation that is a mix of languages, ethnicity, religions, and ideals.
In addition to how we have described Mexico thus far, it is also important to see it as a modern nation on the rise. The elite in Mexico City are trying to make Mexico a first world country, unfortunately, however, they are not as eager to modernize the judicial system or their position of privilege. Compromises must be made if the country is to be a first class nation, and traditions that have made certain groups too comfortable must be changed for the greater good.
Attempts at making Mexico a strong nation have been made many times in the past. Emperor Maximilian wanted to expand the Second Mexican Empire to encompass Central America. President Porfirio Díaz, hero of the Cinco de Mayo battle of Puebla, created railways, theaters, and imported French culture and architecture. President Vicente Fox tried to make Mexico an example of a nation that can make the best out of globalization. Although great progress has been made in all endeavors, the underlying issue, the root of the problem, has always been inequality.
The tensions in Mexico’s past and present stem from the ever-present issue of poverty and inequality. It is as though Jesus’s words to his apostles, namely, that the poor will always be with you, was a curse that Mexico received in full force. This tension has been labeled as a battle between “conservative” (those who want to keep the status quo and its privileges to a few) and “liberals” (those who want a Republic that will represent the population in spite of people’s pedigree and status).
These two forces have been fighting each other since the nation’s birth, namely, its independence from Spain. The conservatives wanted a Monarchy that would secure the privileges of the elite, and the liberals wanted a Republic, inspired by that of the young United States of America.
After the American Invasion, in which Mexico lost approximately half its lands, the liberals lost a certain level of legitimacy, as they could no longer point to the United States as a role model. The conservatives now had the moral and patriotic high-ground. But it was not long until they became traitors to the independence of the infant nation.
Conservatives, who wanted to privileged the rich and the Catholic Church, endeavored to bring a European Monarch to rule Mexico. Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria was an ideal candidate, but he stated that he would only become emperor under the condition that it was the will of the Mexican people. The Conservatives elaborated an electoral fraud that made it seem as if the country overwhelmingly was in favor of a national monarch (one more example, unfortunately, of electoral fraud in Mexico). And so Maximilian was given the throne, but not long after, was executed by the forces of President Benito Juarez.
When Benito Juarez regained the presidency, the Republic was restored. Juarez, a contemporary of Lincoln and Free Mason, presided over a country that resembled the United States in terms of political system. Presidential elections were now official policy, as opposed to the hereditary monarchy that was envisioned during the rule of Maximilian. This was interrupted, however, under the rule of President Díaz, who stayed in power for almost three decades, ousted only by the violent turmoil of the Mexican Revolution.
After the revolution Mexico became a modern, stable, and economically growing nation state. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) presided over what came to be known as the Pax Priista, a period of constant economic growth and institutional stability. The single party authoritarian rule was a mix of right wing nationalism (fascism), as well as welfare state populism (reminiscent of Soviet Communism), while at the same time allowing free market economic activity and the guise of a Western style democracy. It was certainly a successful system until the incident of Tlatelosco in 1968, in which peaceful protesting students were massacred by an unknown shooter hidden in a building, and the repression was blamed on the armed forces. The state lost its facade of legitimacy, and would slowly traverse through a transitional state in which the helm of power shifted to different factions (most notably the PAN party in 2000).
Today Mexico is a contradiction. It is on the verge of being one of the most economically powerful and politically influential countries in the Western Hemisphere, yet at the same time it is also on the verge of being a failed state, a narco state where the rule of law exists only on legal documents. Where it goes from here we can only speculate, but hope is never missing in the hearts of the nation, as Mexican activist Andrés Manuel López Obrador said, “Only the people can save the people.” We are certain that the Mexican people have the will to make the country safe and prosperous once again.
The Mexican economy has received a large amount of foreign direct investment recently, but it has not done enough to foster a strong internal market. Millions still live in poverty in a country with the resources and capital of a first-world country. Low wages account for this paradox. In order to remain “competitive” in neoliberal globalization terms, wages must be kept low so that foreign investors have more of an incentive to build factories in Mexico, reminiscent of the Chinese model. A society with low purchasing power cannot have a robust domestic market, and thus, cannot have a high standard of living. Even though foreign owned factories employ many in Mexico, the wages are low, the products produced are exported, and the profits off-shored. Therefore, despite high GDP ranking and billions of dollars related to high amounts of international trade, the benefits are not reaching the common folk enough. In sum, Mexico is a first rate country with third rate living standards.
Although it is important for Mexico to be a model Socialist leaning nation like Venezuela, the free market economy does have a chance to continue to thrive, and thrive more, if honest, consistent, and effective regulatory power is used by the government. If businesses are protected, if organized crime is dismantled, if corruption is persecuted, and honesty promoted, then Mexico’s economic power can be unleashed and show its true force, a phenomena that would impress the world.