Origin of state name: The country name comes from words in the language of the indigenous Náhuatl people: metztli (moon), xictli (center), and co (place).
Capital: Mexico City
Coat of Arms: The national coat of arms is an eagle with a snake in its beak, perched on a cactus.
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: The national flag is a tricolor of green, white, and red vertical stripes; at the center of the white stripe is the national coat of arms.
Time: 6 AM = noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
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1 Location and Size
Situated south of the United States on the North American continent, Mexico has an area of 1,972,550 square kilometers (761,606 square miles), including many uninhabited islands off the east and west coasts, which have a combined area of 5,073 square kilometers (1,959 square miles). Mexico is slightly less than three times the size of the US state of Texas, including the narrow peninsula of Baja. Mexico has a total boundary length of 13,683 kilometers (8,501 miles). The capital city, Mexico City, is located in the south-central part of the country.
Mexico's dominant geographic feature is the great highland central plateau, which occupies most of the width of the country, extending from the US border to 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) . The plateau is enclosed by two high cordilleras (mountain chains), the Sierra Madre Oriental on the east and the Sierra Madre Occidental on the west, each separated from the coast by lowland plains. The ranges rise to over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), and some volcanic peaks exceed 5,000 meters (16,400 feet). Pico de Orizaba, or Citlaltépetl (5,700 meters/18,702 feet ), is the highest point in the country. The Laguna Salada is the lowest point of the country (10 meters/33 feet below sea level).
The Río Bravo del Norte (known as the Río Grande in the United States) is a river that extends for about 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) of the boundary with the United States. The Papaloapan River is an important source of waterpower. The largest lake in Mexico is Lake Chapala (in the state of Jalisco), which covers about 1,686 square kilometers (651 square miles).
The climate varies according to altitude and rainfall. The coastal plains, Yucatán Peninsula, and lower areas of southern Mexico have a mean temperature of 25° c to 27° c (77° f to 81° f ). The temperate zone (tierra templada) has a mean temperature of 21° c (70° f ). Mexico City and most other important population centers are in the cool zone (tierra fria), with a mean annual temperature of 17° c (63° f ). The highest mountain peaks are always covered with snow.
Annual rainfall may exceed 500 centimeters (200 inches) in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, while in parts of Baja California there is practically no rainfall. Precipitation is adequate in central Mexico, while in the northern states desert-like conditions prevail.
3 Plants and Animals
Plant and animal life differs sharply with Mexico's varied climate and topography. The coastal plains are covered with a tropical rain forest, which merges into subtropical and temperate growth as the plateau rises. In the dry northern states, there are fewer trees and vegetation, with desert plants covering much of the area. Oaks and conifers are found in mixed forest regions along the mountain slopes. The Yucatán Peninsula has scrubby veg-etation.
Among the wild animals are the armadillo, tapir, jaguar, bear, and several species of monkey, deer, and boar. Poisonous snakes and harmful insects also are found. In the coastal marshes malarial mosquitoes pose a problem. The only remaining elephant seals in the world are on Guadalupe Island west of Baja California.
4 Environmental Protection
Mexico loses its forest at a rate of about 0.9% annually due to agricultural and industrial expansion. Mexico City has chronic smog, aggravated by the pres ence of thousands of factories, by more than two million motor vehicles, and by open burning of garbage by many citizens. Cities along the US-Mexican border also suffer from serious air pollution. Transportation vehicles are responsible for 76% of the air pollution. Water pollution results from the combined impact of industrial, agricultural, and public waste. In the north, fresh water resources are scarce and polluted. In the central-southeast region, water is frequently inaccessible and of poor quality.
Mexico has the fourth most extensive mangrove (a tropical evergreen) area in the world. In 2001, sixty-four of the nation's mammal species and thirty-six bird species were endangered, including the Mexican grizzly bear (possibly extinct), the southern bald eagle, the ridge-nosed rattlesnake, and two species of crocodile. At least thirty
5 Population, Ethnic Groups, Languages
In 2003, the population of Mexico was estimated by the United Nations at 103.4 million. It is projected to total 119.6 million by 2015. In 2002, the population density averaged 52 persons per square kilometer (135 persons per square mile). In 2003, approximately 33% of the population was under fifteen years of age. About 74% of the population lived in urban areas in 2001.
In 1990, the US Census Bureau estimated that 13.5 million persons of Mexican ancestry were living in the United States. Likewise, the largest community of US citizens living outside the United States is found in Mexico.
The people of Mexico are mostly Mestizos, a mixture of native Amerindian and Spanish heritage. There are small numbers of persons of other European heritage. At last estimates, 60% of the population was Mestizo, 30% was pure Amerindian, 9% was white, and 1% was something other. Amerindian influence on Mexican cultural, economic, and political life is very strong.
Spanish is the official language and is spoken by nearly the entire population. This gives Mexico the world's largest Spanish-speaking community, since more Mexicans speak Spanish than do Spaniards. Only a small number of inhabitants, about 1% of the population according to the last estimate, speak only indigenous Amerindian languages or dialects. A larger percentage, some 7.5% at last estimate, speak an Amerindian language as well as Spanish. There are at least thirty-one different Amerindian language groups, the principal languages being Nahuatl, Maya, Zapotec, Otomi, and Mixtec.
According to the 2000 census, about 88% of the Mexican population is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and about 6% is Protestant. There are small Greek and Russian Orthodox communities. There are also small numbers of Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims. While professing the Roman Catholic faith, a number of indigenous people include strong pre-Hispanic Mayan elements in their religion.
Veneration of the patron saints plays an important role in Mexican life, and the calendar is full of feast days (fiestas). These predominantly Roman Catholic celebrations include many ancient Amerindian rites and customs and, invariably, bands of mariachi musicians playing Mexican folk songs.
In 2002, the country had about 323,977 kilometers (201,319 miles) of roads and 18,000 kilometers (11,185 miles) of railroads. In 2000, there were over 8.7 million registered vehicles, including 5.5 million passenger cars and 3.2 million commercial vehicles. Mexico has 2,900 kilometers (1,802 miles) of inland waterways and lakes, but these are not as important to transportation as are ocean and coastal shipping areas. There are 102 ocean ports, the most important being Tampico and Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico; Mazatlán and Manzanillo on the Pacific coast; and Guayamas on the Gulf of California.
In 2001, there were an estimated 1,852 airports and airfields. Principal airports include Juan N. Alvarez at Acapulco, Cancún International at Cancún, and Benito Juárez at Mexico City. Mexican commercial aircraft carried twenty million passengers on scheduled domestic and international flights in 2001. The main airline company is Aeroméxico.
The land now known as Mexico was inhabited by many of the most advanced Amerindian cultures of the ancient Americas. The Mayan civilization in the Yucatán Peninsula began about 2500 B . C ., flourished about 300 to 900 A . D ., and then declined until its conquest by the Spanish.
The Mayas were skillful in the construction of stone buildings and the carving of stone monuments. They built great cities at Chichen-Itzá and many other sites. In the early 10th century the Toltecs founded their capital of Tollan (now Tula), and made the Nahua culture, of which they were a part, predominant in the Valley of Mexico until the early 13th century. At that time, the Aztecs, another Nahua tribe, gained control.
© Peter Langer/EPD Photos
The Kukulcán Pyramid at Chichén Itzá was planned so that the setting sun would cast a shadow of a serpent writhing down the steps of the pyramid during the vernal equinox (longest day of the year).
The Aztecs were skilled in architecture, engineering, mathematics, weaving, and metalworking. They had a powerful priesthood and a complex religion dominated by the sun god and war god Huitzilopochtli, to whom prisoners captured from other tribes were sacrificed.
The empire was at its height in 1519, when the Spanish, under Hernán Cortés (1485–1547), landed at present-day Veracruz. With superior weapons and the cooperation of local chieftains, the Spaniards conquered Mexico by 1521. First, Cortés imprisoned the Aztec emperor Montezuma II (1466–1520). Then Montezuma's nephew, Cuauhtémoc (or Guatimotzin, c. 1495–1522), drove the Spanish from Tenochtitlán (ancient name of Mexico City) on June 30, 1520. This is now called "la noche triste" ("the sad night"), during which Montezuma died, probably at the hands of the Spaniards. Cortés later returned to Tenochtitlán and defeated Cuauhtémoc.
The Spaniards brought Roman Catholicism to Mexico, imposed their legal and economic system on the country, and enslaved many of the inhabitants. The combination of Spanish oppression and the diseases the conquistadors (Spanish conquerors) brought with them reduced the Amerindian population from an estimated 5 million in 1500 to 3.5 million a century later.
Spain ruled Mexico as the viceroyalty of New Spain for three centuries. Continued political abuses and Amerindian enslavement, combined with the political uncertainty that followed French emperor Napoleon's (1769–1821) invasion of Spain in 1807, produced a Mexican independence movement. Between 1810 and 1815, several unsuccessful revolts took place. In 1821, independence was finally proclaimed and secured. Agustín de Iturbide (1783–1824) proclaimed himself emperor of Mexico in 1822 but was deposed in 1823, when a republic was established.
Over the next twenty-five years, there were at least thirty changes of government. General Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794–1876) became the dominant figure in the 1830s and 1840s to attempt to centralize the new government. Texas gained its independence from Mexico in 1836 as a result of the defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto. It joined the United States in 1845 after a brief period as a republic. Mexico lost the subsequent war with the United States (1846–48), which began over a dispute about the border of Texas. Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico recognized the Rio Grande as the boundary of Texas and ceded half its territory (much of the present western United States) in return for $45 million.
A reform government was established in 1855 after a revolt against Santa Anna, and a new liberal constitution was adopted in 1857. In 1861, French troops under Emperor Napoleon III (1808–1873) intervened in Mexico, supposedly because Mexico had not paid its debts. They installed Archduke Maximilian of Austria (1832–1867) as emperor. The French withdrew in 1866. Maximilian was executed and the republic was restored in 1867.
Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915) seized power in 1867 and assumed the presidency. He held this position almost continuously until 1911. Under his dictatorship, Mexico modernized by opening its doors to foreign investors and managers. At the same time, all dissent was suppressed, and there was a complete lack of concern with improving the lives of Mexican peasants. An elite corps of mounted police, the Rurales, held the rural areas in check. Resentment among the middle classes and the peasantry continued to grow.
After Díaz was once again reelected to the presidency in 1910, the Mexican Revolution erupted. This revolution had claimed perhaps one million lives by 1917. It was, on the one hand, a protest by middle-class political liberals against the oppressive Díaz regime and, on the other hand, a massive popular rebellion of peasants who demanded the right to own land. The interests of these two groups sometimes coincided but more often clashed. Riots in Mexico City forced Díaz to resign and leave the country in 1911. Liberal politician Francisco Indalecio Madero (1873–1913) was elected president that year. Meanwhile, popular revolts led by Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919) and Francisco "Pancho" Villa (1878–1923), who refused to submit to Madero's authority, led the country into chaos. Madero was ousted and murdered in 1913 by General Victoriano Huerta (1854–1916).
When Huerta, a corrupt dictator, was driven from power in July 1914, a full-scale civil war broke out. This phase of the revolution ended in February 1917 when a new constitution was proclaimed. This document was considered by some to be the world's
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A young girl celebrates during a festival honoring the Michoacan's ancient Purépecha empire and the indigenous Purépacha people.
first socialist constitution. It embodied the principle of the one-term presidency in order to prevent the recurrence of a Díaz-type dictatorship.
Venustiano Carranza (1859–1920) was elected president in 1917, but for the next decade Mexico was still beset by political instability and fighting between various revolutionary groups. Most of the revolutionary leaders met with violent deaths. Zapata, still regarded by many as a revolutionary hero, was assassinated in 1920.
Political stability at last came to Mexico with the formation in 1929 of an official government party that incorporated most of the social groups that had participated in the revolution. It has been known since 1945 as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional—PRI). Although founded to support the interests of peasants, workers, and other disadvantaged groups, it has also been closely allied with business since the 1940s. Considered to be one of the most outstanding political leaders of the post-1929 era, Lázaro Cárdenas (1895–1970), who was president from 1934 to 1940, sought with some success to realize the social goals of the revolution. His reforms included massive land redistribution, establishment of strong labor unions, extension of education to remote areas of the country, and in 1938, the takeover of foreign petroleum holdings, mostly US-owned.
The years since World War II (1939–45) have been marked by political stability, economic expansion, and the rise of the middle class, but also by general neglect of the poorest segments of the population. An economic boom during the late 1970s, brought about by huge oil export earnings, benefited a small percentage of the people. Still, millions of peasants continued to be only slightly better off than in 1910. Declining world oil prices in 1981 led to a severe financial crisis in 1982. Mexico's new president, Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado, put economic austerity measures into place. He also promised a crackdown on corruption, which has long been a problem in Mexico. In October 1987, the PRI named Carlos Salinas de Gortari as its candidate to succeed President de la Madrid in December 1988. Salinas' legitimacy was questioned as there was a complete shutdown of the computer systems that were calculating the votes that brought him into office. Salinas promoted the privatization of state industries and free trade agreements. In September 1993, changes in federal electoral were designed to make elections free from corruption.
Mexico City was devastated by a major earthquake in September 1985. The official death toll was seven thousand, although unofficial estimates were as high as twenty thousand. In addition, 300,000 were left homeless. There was widespread protest over the fact that many of the buildings destroyed had been built in violation of construction regulations and claims that foreign emergency aid had been mishandled by the government.
In August 1992, formal negotiations regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were concluded, whereby Mexico would join the United States and Canada in the elimination of trade barriers, the promotion of fair competition, and increased investment opportunities. NAFTA went into effect on January 1, 1994.
In January 1994, a primarily Amerindian group calling itself the Zapatista Army of National Liberation resorted to an armed uprising against the government. The group initially took control of four municipalities in Chiapas to protest what it regarded as government failure to effectively deal with regional social and economic problems. Two months after the Zapatista uprising, the nation witnessed its first high-level political assassination in over sixty years when PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was murdered in Tijuana, in Baja California. His replacement, Ernesto Zedillo, was elected at the end of the year in a closely monitored campaign.
In December 1994 the Mexican peso was devalued. The economy went into its worst recession in more than fifty years. Over a million Mexicans lost their jobs. The United States responded to its neighbor's distress with a multimillion-dollar bailout that kept the economy from getting worse.
The public discontent with the economic crisis, poverty, crime, corruption, and political instability, led in 1997 to a rejection of Mexico's nearly seventy-year-old system of one-party rule. In June of that year, the PRI lost its majority in the lower house of the National Congress to the combined power of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the conservative National Action Party (PAN).
In December 2000, Vicente Fox Quesada of the conservative PAN Party became president, the first non-PRI ruler in more than seventy years. By mid-2003, Fox had lost popularity after his two most symbolic legislative initiatives failed to pass the divided congress. The president failed to solve the indigenous revolt in Chiapas. A tax reform aimed at increasing government revenues to beef up social spending was also significantly scaled back. President Fox's legislative and government agendas moved slowly and many Mexicans then looked to the PRI as a government alternative.