U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Mexico, April 1997
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs.
Official Name: United Mexican States
Area: 1,972,500 sq. km. (761,600 sq. mi.); about three times the
size of Texas.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Mexican(s).
Type: Federal republic.
GDP (1997, proj.): $370 billion.
Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world and the second-most populous country in Latin America after Portuguese-speaking Brazil. About 70% of the people live in urban areas. Many Mexicans emigrate from rural areas that lack job opportunities--such as the underdeveloped southern states and the crowded central plateau--to the industrialized urban centers and the developing areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to some estimates, the population of the area around Mexico City is about 20 million, which would make it the largest concentration of population in the world. Cities bordering on the United States, such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, and cities in the interior, such as Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Puebla, have undergone sharp rises in population.
The 1917 constitution provides for a federal republic with powers separated into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In practice, the executive is the dominant branch, with power vested in the president, who promulgates and executes the laws of the Congress. The president also legislates by executive decree in certain economic and financial fields, using powers delegated from the Congress. The president is elected by universal adult suffrage for a six-year term and may not hold office a second time. There is no vice president; in the event of the removal or death of the president, a provisional president is elected by the Congress.
The Congress is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Consecutive re-election is prohibited. Senators are elected to six-year terms. Implementing constitutional changes made in 1996, for the first time on July 6, 1997, 32 of the 128 seats in the Senate will be elected by proportional representation from party lists on a national basis. With this change, some states may have more Senators than others. The 32 Senators elected in 1997 will only serve three-year terms, in order to bring the entire Senate back into the same cycle in the year 2000. Deputies serve three-year terms. In the lower chamber, 300 Deputies are directly elected to represent single-member districts, and 200 are selected by a modified form of proportional representation from five electoral regions created for this purpose across the country. The 200 proportional representation seats were created to help smaller parties gain access to the Chamber.
The judiciary is divided into federal and state court systems, with federal courts having jurisdiction over most civil cases and those involving major felonies. Under the constitution, trial and sentencing must be completed within 12 months of arrest for crimes that would carry at least a two-year sentence. Practice often does not meet this requirement. Trial is by judge, not jury, in most criminal cases. Defendants have a right to counsel, and public defenders are available. Other rights include defense against self-incrimination, the right to confront one's accusers, and the right to a public trial. Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.
National Security Mexico's armed forces in 1995 numbered about 175,000. The army makes up about three-fourths of the total. One year of limited training is required of all males at age 18. Principal military roles include national defense, narcotics control, and civic action assignments such as road-building, search and rescue, and disaster relief.
PRINCIPAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
President--Ernesto ZEDILLO Ponce de Leon
Mexico maintains an embassy in the United States at 1911 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006 (tel. 202-728-1600).
Consular offices are located at 2827 16th St. NW, 20009 (tel. 202-736-1012), and the trade office is co-located at the embassy (tel. 202-728-1686).
Consulates general are located in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, and San Francisco; consulates are (partial listing) in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, and Tucson.
Although educational levels in Mexico have improved substantially in recent decades, the country still faces daunting problems. Education is one of the Government of Mexico's highest priorities and it has increased the education budget 7.2% over 1996 to $15 billion for 1997 -- one-fourth of the total budget. Education in Mexico is also being decentralized from federal to state authority in order to improve accountability.
Education is mandatory from ages six through 18. The increase in school enrollments during the past two decades has been dramatic. By 1994, an estimated 59% of the population between the ages of six and 18 were enrolled in school. Primary (including preschool) enrollment in public schools from 1970 through 1994 increased from less than 10 million to 17.5 million. Enrollment at the secondary public school level rose from 1.4 million in 1972 to as many as 4.5 million in 1994. A rapid rise also occurred in higher education. Between 1959 and 1994, college enrollments rose from 62,000 to more than 1.2 million.
Although education spending has risen dramatically, given increased enrollment, a net decline occurred in per student expenditures. The Mexican Government concedes that despite this progress, 2 million children still do not have access to basic education, and hopes to provide access to half of those children by the year 2000.
Sustained economic growth is vital to Mexico's prospects for a successful evolution to a more competitive democracy. Mexico's level of economic prosperity has a direct, though proportionally smaller impact on the U.S. as it affects trade and migration. In recent years Mexico has sought economic prosperity through liberalization of its trade regime. In January 1994, Mexico joined Canada and the United States in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which will phase out all tariffs over a 15-year period. Four months later, in April 1994, Mexico joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Mexico was the first Latin American member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), joining in 1993, and in January 1996, became a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Mexico's NAFTA membership helped the Mexican economy grow by 3.5% in 1994. Following the December 1994 devaluation of the peso, however, Mexico experienced a severe financial crisis that also threatened the stability of other emerging market economies, especially in Latin America.
The United States responded by leading a group of international lenders in making available to Mexico over $40 billion in international financial assistance, including $20 billion from the United States. This action helped stabilize the Mexican economy, allowing Mexico to repay the loans to the United States more than three years ahead of schedule and with $580 million in interest.
In 1996, Mexico's economy grew over 5%, recovering from the recession more briskly than anticipated. Inflation fell, unemployment fell and the peso stabilized. Mexican real GDP is expected to grow about 4% in 1997.
Although the 1995 recession was severe, with real GDP falling 6.2%, tough stabilization measures averted an even more serious collapse and brought about a rapid recovery. NAFTA contributed to the process of adjustment by enabling Mexico to reduce its current account deficit through increased exports rather than through slashing imports from the United States, as it had following the 1982 debt crisis.
U.S. relations with Mexico are as important and complex as with any country in the world. A stable, democratic and economically prosperous Mexico is fundamental to U.S. interests. Our relations with Mexico have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans -- whether the issue is trade and economic reform, drug control, migration, or the promotion of democracy. The U.S. and Mexico are partners in NAFTA, and enjoy a rapidly developing trade relationship.
The scope of U.S.-Mexican relations goes far beyond diplomatic and official contacts; it entails extensive commercial, cultural, and educational ties, as demonstrated by the nearly 290 million legal crossings from Mexico to the United States in fiscal year 1995. In addition, more than half a million American citizens live in Mexico. More than 2,600 U.S. companies have operations there, and the U.S. accounts for 60% of all foreign direct investment in Mexico. Along the 2,000-mile shared border, state and local governments interact closely.
Since 1981, the management of the broad array of U.S.-Mexico issues has been formalized in the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission, composed of numerous U.S. cabinet members and their Mexican counterparts. The Commission holds annual plenary meetings, and many sub-groups meet during the course of the year to discuss trade and investment opportunities, financial cooperation, consular issues and migration, legal affairs and anti-narcotics cooperation, cultural relations, education, energy, border cooperation, environment, labor, agriculture, health, housing and urban development, transportation, fisheries, tourism, and science and technology.
A strong partnership with Mexico is critical to controlling the flow of illicit drugs into the United States. The U.S. has certified Mexico as fully cooperating in this effort based on an unprecedented level of cooperation on counternarcotics and Mexico's own initiatives in fighting drug trafficking. This is the best way to ensure that Mexico's cooperation and anti-drug efforts grow even stronger. During 1996, the U.S. and Mexico established a High-Level Contact Group (HLCG) on narcotics control to explore joint solutions to the shared drug threat, to coordinate the full range of narcotics issues and to promote closer law enforcement coordination.
The United States and Mexico have a long history of cooperation on environmental and natural resources issues, particularly in the border area, where there are serious environmental problems caused by rapid population growth, urbanization, and industrialization. Cooperative activities between the U.S. and Mexico take place under a number of agreements such as:
A 1944 treaty creating the International Boundary and Water Commission, which has a wide range of responsibilities for solving U.S.-Mexico water and boundary problems such as distributing the waters of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande between the two countries; jointly operating international dams and other joint flood control works along boundary rivers; and solving border water quality control problems. Since the early 1980's the IBWC has focused on border sanitation and groundwater resources.
The 1983 La Paz Agreement to Protect and Improve the Border Environment.
The 1993 North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation, created under NAFTA by the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, to strengthen environmental laws and address common environmental concerns; and
A November 1993 agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, also under NAFTA, establishing the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission (BECC) which works with local communities to build or upgrade environmental infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plants, drinking water systems, and solid waste disposal facilities; and the North American Development Bank (NADBANK), which leverages private sector capital to finance border environmental infrastructure projects certified by the BECC.
PRINCIPAL U.S. OFFICIALS
Ambassador--James R. Jones