Written by Alfonso Elizondo
When the Spaniards finally left Mexico after Iturbide’s failed empire in 1823, the country was in total chaos, with two opposing factions of liberals and conservatives, a centralist government that tried unsuccessfully from Mexico City to resolve the conflicts between the federal entities, and a destitute population suffering the consequences of internal wars and endemics caused by the immigration of Spaniards and slaves to Mexico.
The last census of the population of Mexico in 1820 estimated about 6 million Mexicans in a territory of just over 4 million square kilometers. As a result of ineffective centralism, much of Mexico’s northern territory was abandoned and the only two towns within nearly two million square kilometers were San Antonio in Texas and Santa Fe in New Mexico. This situation, coupled with Texas’s bid for independence, led the United States to carry out an invasion of Mexican territory between 1846 and 1848, forcing the Mexican government to sign the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo whereby Mexico lost more than 2 million square kilometers of what was then its territory. So the first important event in independent Mexico was the US invasion and the loss of more than half of its territory.
The second most important event in independent Mexico was the Reform War started in 1857 when the New Mexican Magna Carta was promulgated, making the country a secular state. Benito Juárez was the main promoter of liberalism in Mexico, and although the French supported a conservative aristocrat and installed him as emperor of Mexico, Juarez succeeded in driving them out of the country, ordered Maximilian de Habsburg to be shot, and maintained a liberal political system similar to that of the world’s most advanced countries until his death. So Benito Juárez was undoubtedly one of the heroes of Mexico who gave the country international distinction since he, like Abraham Lincoln, declared the abolition of slavery.
Then came the era of the Porfiriato when General Porfirio Diaz assumed the presidency of Mexico. He occupied this position for three decades during which time he made a contradictory impact on the Mexican nation. On the one hand, he managed to create a railway infrastructure linking the two major Mexican ports of Veracruz on the Atlantic coast and Acapulco on the Pacific, passing through Mexico City, and he also established communication by rail with the United States, a development that led to a significant flow of trade and industrial activity.
Unfortunately, Porfirio Diaz created a capitalist aristocracy, the owners of agricultural land and mines who have retained their privileges until today. At the same time he made no effort to improve the income of the workers and peasants who continued to live in increasingly precarious conditions and to grow in number. This character retired from of the political scene with a huge fortune and went to France where he died without even the slightest memory of the country that made him rich.
The high level of inequity and injustice created by the Porfiriato was undoubtedly the most important cause for the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution and a hundred years after it began there is still no accurate understanding of its effect on the Mexican political system and especially on the increasingly precarious situation of the working classes, both in terms of their low income and their demographics.
Perhaps the most well-known benefits of the Mexican Revolution never reached the low-income population, and the benefits that went to big capitalists and foreign investors were hidden, as was the case with the creation of the Bank of Mexico to print currency that would facilitate the accumulation of wealth, and the current tax system that only benefits the billionaires.
Fortunately, at the end of Calles’s Maximato, in 1929 Lázaro Cárdenas was elected president of Mexico and he banished Calles. Cardenas promoted free school education, implemented the Agrarian Reform by giving land to the peasants and nationalized oil. This led to the formation of a middle class in Mexico for the first time, and during the 50s the country experienced considerable economic development that was further boosted by the effects of the postwar period. The positive effect continued during the 1960s and it was not until the late 1970s that the Mexican economy was exhausted, but that was just when the oil boom began with the discovery of large oil reserves in the Gulf Coast Mexico.
During the six-year presidency of Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), Mexico experienced a brief economic upturn caused by the privatization of parastatals and consequently there was an increase in foreign investment to acquire them. And when the FTA came into existence in 1994, the Zapatista movement emerged at the same time as the assassinations of presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, and Senator Francisco Ruiz Massieu. Mexico entered a recession for which former President Zedillo was blamed for having failed to understand globalization.
All these mistakes made by PRI presidents caused the Executive Branch to pass into the hands of PAN politicians who in just two consecutive fiscal years plunged the country into poverty and brought about the bloodiest phase in its history, when Calderón put the Army to serve a police function against the criminal economy.
Addendum: Although the Executive Branch has returned to the PRI, the current president lacks intelligence and is leading the country into a total debacle that is being offset coincidentally by the fact that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec will be the main avenue of communication between the two oceans surrounding America and will be the channel for most of the trade between China and the West.