The Heritage Foundation

Backgrounder #581 on Latin America

May 19, 1987

May 19, 1987 | Backgrounder on Latin America

Mexico's Many Faces


(Archived document, may contain errors)

1 581 May 19,1987 MEXICO'S MANY FACES Paul R. Wisgerhof Senior Fellow INTRODUCTION Mexico is a kaleidoscope of peoples, land forms, climates, and economies. It is bounded on the north by the United States and on the south by Belize and Guatemala. While Mexico's racial spectrum varies from pure white to pure black, most Mexicans are mestizos a mixture of white and Indian blood. Spanish is the official language, but some 50 Indian tribes survive, speaking 60 indigenous languages.

Mexico has an area of about 763,000 square miles, or the equivalent of the entire United States east of the Mississippi River minus Wisconsin and Michigan. The population is estimated at 79 m illion at the end of 1986, giving a population density of a bit over 100 per square mile. The U.S with an area of 3.6 dion square miles and a population of about 237 million, has a population density of about 66 per square mile. Nearly 25 ercent nation's p opulation resides in the 106,000 square mile central highland re 'on. Mexico's population over the 100 million mark early in the 1990s Centralism. The overarching theme of Mexico is centralism. All major government decisions are made in Mexico City. All a i r and land transportation networks radiate from of all Mexicans live within a SO-mile radius of Mexico clty, and almost 50 percent o r the population is growing at a rate of between 2.5 and 3.0 percent per year is will push the This is the third in a seri e s of Heritage studies on Mexico. It was preceded by Backaounder No. 575 Mexico: The Key Players April 14,1987) and Backmounder No. 573 Keys to Understanding Mexico: Challenges'to the Ruling PRI April 7,1987 Future papers will examine other Mexican politic a l parties as well as the nation's economic and foreign policies. 'in w I 2 u 0 a w Mexico City, as do most communications nets and the national media. Most businesses have head uarters in Mexico City. The banks, nationalized in 1982, are run from Mexico C i The 8 ominant political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (commonly called opposition party is centered in the north, with some inroads now being made in the Mexico clty suburbs.

Although geographically a part of North America, Mexico is cultu rally and linguistically much a part of Spanish-speaking Central and South America. While the oliticians ve7 an intellectuals who run the government are very wary of the cultural and PO P itical influence of the United States, the people are much less so. Even though the relationship between the two nations' governments is often tense, that between the peoples is usually warm P x I" from its initials in Spamsh) has its national base in Mexico City. Its most effective THE US-MEXICAN BORDER Running from Tiju a na, Baja California, to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and then along the Rio Grande River to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, is Mexico's 1,987-mile border with the U.S. Politically and geographically the border province can be divided into three pieces the Rio Grande v alley from Matamoros to Ciudad Juarez the desert center from Ciudad Juarez to San Luis, Sonora Arizona and the California area from San Luis to Tijuana (Yuma, Arizona to San Ysidro California to El Paso, Texas Free Zone. A 16-mile-wide strip along the bor d er is a "free zone No duty is paid on the Mexican side until the goods pass into the Mexican customs region at the customs and immigration check point 16 miles inside the border. The Mexican "free zone", coupled with the provisions of Section 807 of the U . S. Tariff Schedule, have given rise to the so-called ma uiladora" industries, literally meanin "hand made." These are manufacturing firms complete the product in Mexico. Duty is paid only on the value added to the product in Memco. Wage rates are very low compared to similar work rates in the U.S., and qe duty paid on the finished product is also typically little or nothing. There are some 700 maquiladora plants along the border, concentrated in Matamoros, Reynosa, Nueva Laredo Ciudad Juarez, Nogales, Mexi c ali, and Tijuana whic B import parts, semi-finished materiaf and sub-assemblies from the U.S. and Agriculture is important along two se ents of the border: the Rio Grande valley, and the Mexicali to Colorado River sector o Baja California. Both areas use i rrigation and important along most oft Yl e border concentrate on tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, and other crops in demand in the U.S particularly in winter. Baja also raises cotton for local use while the Rio Grande Valley produces beef, corn, and ah crops for Mexican consumption. Beef cattle production is Speaking Spanglish. The key border "service" indus is tourism--in both directions.

Mexican handicrafts. en the peso is expensive, as it was from 1978 to 1983, Memcans cross into the U.S. for clothing, cons umer oods, and luxuv items. The most im ortant Nuevo Laredo/Laredo; and Matamoros/Brownsville When the peso is chea as it now is, Americans flock to exico to buy gasoline, sugar, and centers for this trade are the "twin" cities o F Tijuana/San Diego; Ciud a d Juarez/ E 1 Paso 3Border area Mexicans culturally are far more influenced by the U.S. than the rest of Mexico and are often more mestizo, middle class, and "Mexican" than many of their nei bors of the larger cities of Northern Mexico. Spanish is spoken b y most residents on fre uently than farther south. A special jargon, sometimes called "Spanglish" is often heard A big business for the border residents is illegal immigration to the U.S. Mexicans by the thousands travel to the border every week, lookin f o r work. Some cross daily, ichng north toward central Texas, Chicago, and New York. One roup of illegals comes to the stays, with little or no intention of returning until it is time to retire THE DYNAMIC NORTH bot !i? sides of the border, but English will be heard on the Mexlcan side much more in ii! ast Los Angeles and Ciudad Juarez up jobs in agriculture along the Rio Grande or in the f mperial Valley. Others hea B farther U.S. annually, works for six to twelve months, and returns i! ome; another group a r rives and The ten states of northern Mexico (Baja California Norte, Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Durango, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi) are among the most dynamic and progressive states in the nation. Generally dry, under populated 44 percent of the land area; 14 ercent of the population), mountainous, and far from Mexico this prosperity is big business and big agriculture.

Monterrey a city of 2.7 million, is the capitol of Nuevo Leon and one of the major industrial and com mercial centers of Mexico. The five major industrial rou s of goods and services, or roughly 25 ercent of Mexico's GNP. These Big Five are: A6a steel, consumer goods, and services! VISA (Carta Blanca beer, agriculture, and trucking CRISA (Mexico's lar est glass maker CYDSA (Mexico's largest rivate chemical City, the north has prospere x more than most of Mexico during this century. The key to headquartered in Monterrey and their associated firms produce about f'P 8 bi lion per ear f x com any and PRO +E XA (oil-field e uipment, pipelines, and re ated services The farm s ies running these operations are t e Garza, Lapera, Sada, Paez, Zaragosa, and Wolf.

Coahuila; truck assembly p f ants in Chihuahua City, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Victoria operations scattered t i! rough virtually every state in the region Mexico's Motown. Monterrey, and its neighbor in Coahuila, Saltillo, have become the Detroit of Mexico. General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford have large plants in the area which make engines (Ford in Monterrey) an d assemble cars (GM and Chrysler in Saltillo).

Other major industrial com lexes in the region include the steel mills at Monclova Tamaulipas; Ford's bi car assembly plant in Hermosillo, Sonora; and a host of mining Agribusiness is the other key to the nort h. Des ite, or in some cases because of, the Northern Mexico, which accounts for 40 percent of all irrigated land and 65 percent 'of Mexico's agricultural exports. The major centers are in Baja California, around Mexicali where cotton and winter vegetable s predominate; in the Hermosillo, Ciudad Obregon, and Navojoa areas of Sonora where cotton and vegetables predominate, but where there is also a large canning industry for domestic consumption; the wine and fruit growing area around Torreon and Parras, Coa h uila; and the grain, vegetable, and fruit growng areas of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas land reform earlier this century, large-scale agricu P tural businesses have prospered in 4Cattle, Lumber and Tourists. Cattle raising is very big business in all of Chihu ahua Coahuila, Durango, and Zacatecas, where nearly 70 percent of Mexicos beef cattle are raised. Lumbering is also im ortant in Chihuahua and Durango, with the two states accounting for over half of J exicos lumber production.

Tourism is very important in Baa California Norte (Tijuana and Ensenada), Sonora Gu.as and Topolobambo), an d Sinaloa (Mazatlan Any American tourist driving from the S. to Mexico City will pass through the region, spending from one to three nights on the way from their brethren in c entral and southern Mexico. The hard against the whites. The Apaches in Sonora and their weapons until 18

88. The Comanches of Coahuilq were pacified about 18

80. The Tarahumaras of Chihuahua government, but have not fou ht anyone for about 100 years. The Yaquis of Sonora final9 stopped fighting in the 1 8 30s when the government gave them land along the Yaqui River, and constructed a dam to irrigate their fields.

The difficulties involved in settling this vast area produc very who come to the point quick ly and do not beat around the bush or cheapskates. The distance from Mexico City and the drive tough bargains. Indeed, other Mexicans call the people predictably have increased U.S. cultural influence in this commonly, especially among the upper and middl e classes children in private schools, out of reach of the leftist public school teachers unions The north has always been a violent land. Here the revolution of 1910 be an, and many Durango are the center of maor opium poppy and marijuana production. The p oppy sap is consumed in the U.S of the bloodiest battles were fought in Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon. Today, 8 inaloa and converted to Mexican brown h eroin, which accounts for a sigmficant portion of all heroin THE GULF COAST Running from Tampico on the nort h to the Tabasco-Campeche border on the south the Gulf Coast is a land of contrasts. (The strip north of Tampico could also be included but it more pro erly is part of northern Mexico. The coast north of Tampico is mud flats world.) Here the Spaniards firs t met the Mexico of the Aztecs and founded Veracruz as the first port of the new land supply during the campaign to conquer the Aztecs in far off Tenochtitlan (Mexico City).

Veracruz is the center of one of the important agricultural states of Mexico. The state is the nations largest producer of pineapple, sugar cane, otatoes, beans, chili, and oranges been an important element in the states economy for decades. Because much of the oil has a high sulphur content, and because some of the wells drilled for o il only produce sulphur, Veracruz is the nations largest producer of that important chemical product sand dunes, an B scrub, typical of the grass savannah meeting the sea anywhere in the Cortez landed in Veracruz in 15

19. The port and town became his capital and center of It has a population of about 6 mllion, of whom some 3 0,000 are pure Indians. Oil has I 5Smuggling North, Then South. Shipping also is an important industry in this region.

Tampico, Tamaulipas, is the major port for northern Mexico and has been a center for smugglin since the U.S. War Between the States; in those days, however, the goods were smueled into Mexico. Tam ico also boasts one of Mexico's large oil refineries, and has a Campeche. of Mexico's oldest oil towns: Pozo Rico. Oil has been produced here for nearly 80 years first b foreign companies, and since 1938, by the Mexlcan national etroleum company PEMAX. From Tuxpan south, to Tabasco, in a band from five to 7 0 miles wide, is the center of M e xico's tro ical agriculture. Prior to the major land reform programs of the most of the land is held by small farmers, a result of the land reforms o the 1930s. South from Veracruz the land becomes progressive1 wetter, with rainfall increasing from about H ot and Wet Tabasco. At the southernmost point of the Bay of Cam eche is the old narrow waist of Mexico, Coatzacoalcos is the fastest growing port of Mexico. It is also the smuggle d into the Confederacy whereas today the flow has been reversed, with goods being growng chemical industry, t K anks to the natural gas supplied by the "Cactus" pipeline from South of Tampico, where the Sierra Oriental mountains come down to the Gulf, is one F 1930s and 1940s, muc g of this land was part of enormous haciendas or l antations. Now 70 inches per year at Veracruz to over 150 in abasco port of Coatzacoalcos. Home of PEMEX's operations in the Isthmus o P Tehuantepec, the railroad to the port of Salinas Cruz on the Pacific and U.S. cargo destined for the Pacific coast U.S and vice versa. The major oil fields at Major refineries and processing K lants have been built at both Coatzacoalcos and Minatitlan. Agriculture in themregion is c ilis, sugar and beans. Most of the original population was Indian, but they have been supp lanted by mestizos from all parts of Mexico.

Beyond Coatzacoalcos lies the wet state of Tabasco. The capital is Villahernosa, one of the few dry areas in the state. An agricultural state, Tabasco is famous for its hot chilis especially the world renowned j alapenyo--the smaller ones of which are among the hottest K enequen, a plant used to make natural fiber rope. Tabasco was the western edge of the Maya culture. Archeological sites still can be found, and several are well developed Itourkt attractions eppe r s raised anywhere in the world. Other major crops include sugar cane and The heart of Mexico runs from Guadalajara and Aguascalientes on the West and'North to Tlaxcala and Puebla on the East and South. Some 18 million people live in Mexico City and about a n equal number live in the remainder of the heartland region of Apascalientes, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Michocan, Mexico, Federal District, Morelos, Tlaxcala, and Puebla. The region is a high plateau, with floor elevation between 5,000 and 8,000 feet. The surrounding mountains have peaks ranging from 11,200 to more than 17,000 feet. The region covers an area about the size of Colorado 6 Rolled Into One. Mexico City, for the Mexican, is New York, Washington, and Los Angeleqrolled into one. A s has been the case for centuries, all roads lead to Mexico City.

The City is the most dense1 valley surrounded b 12,000-foot mountains create one of the world's worst smogs is is aggravated by the 4 B percent of Mexico's industry that is located in the Ci ty As the seat of government, Mexico City is home to the President, the 464 member Congress, and some 800,000 other bureaucrats who comprise the government. Together with perhaps another 750,000 members of the upper class they run most of the nation. Just below them on the socioeconomic scale are the 6 million members of Mexico City's middle class. Then come 8 million poor and another 3 million who have either arrived too recently in Mexico City to be an effective part of the economic system or who have "d r opped-out" of the economic system altogether opulated area of the country and one of the densest communities in the world Rl e City's 3.5 million motor vehicles in an 8,OWfoot hi In the eastern art of the city, be ond the airport, lies the working class s u burb of Netzahualcoyotl. P ts 3 million peop r e live in some of the worst slums in the hemisphere. In stark contrast are the wealthy suburbs of Lomas de Chapultepec, Bosque de las Lomas, and Polanco THE IMPOVERISHED SOUTH The states of Oaxaca and Guerrer o include some of the most beautiful scenery in.

Mexico and some of its most abject poverty. This was part of "old Mexico and the home of several of the nation's revolutions.

Both states' chief economic activity is agriculture. The principal crops are coffee tobacco, sugar, pineap les, and rubber. Lumbering is also important, especially in Oaxaca.

Mexican inheritance laws. As farms become too small to support the average family, many farmers have moved into towns and cities to become artisans or laborers Each state is overpopu s ated, and the land is divided into ever smaller plots through Old Indian Ways. Many areas of both states are remote, lacking in medical and sanitary facilities. The writ of the central government is weak. This is Indian territory. Most of the population is of either the Mixtec or Zapotec tribe, although at least 16 other tribes live in the region. Outside the towns, the Indians continue in their old ways, further debilitating the government's attempt to exercise effective control o f the region.

The Yucatan eninsula is composed of three states: Cam eche Yucatan, and Quintana Roo. This is the K ome of the Maya, the builders of some of K exico's proudest to make natural fiber rope corn, beans, and cattle. A growing number o 8 farmers i s Roo are Cancun, Cozume P Island, and Isla Mujeres. Both Yucatan and Campeche boast archeological monuments. 0 Oil and agriculture form the economic base of the region. The Campeche fields on the southeastern edge of the Gulf of Mexico are among the most productive in the nation.

Major off-shore operations are centered on the Campeche towns of Carmen and the state capitol, Campeche. The major agricultural crops are sisal (from the hene uen plant, used specializing in tropical fruits for export to the US T ourism is the most im ortant growth industry in the three-state region. In Quintana impressive Maya ruins, all well visited.

Exchanging Yucatan For Defense. In 1846-1847, the Governor of Yucatan offered to give the territory to the U.S. in return for a de fense of the Mexicans from attacks b the disaffected Maya Indians. Causing these attacks was the near-slavery in which the were held. The entire Yucatan was in sporadic rebellion from 1850 to 18

99. President Porfirio Diaz in 1896 sent the Mexican army to Yucatan, along with a construction company to build the army a railroad on which to move supplies. The army crushed the Maya resistance on Guatemala, it is the forgotten corner of the nation. Since the discovery of oil in 1975 however, and because of the growing geopolitical importance of the border, the state is getting increasing attention from Mexlco City. Chiapas also hosts all refugee camps for displaced persons from Central America.

Chia as is mostly mountainous, except for a small region in the sou thern part of the state is covered in jungle. The major crops are sugar, corn, beans, cotton, and wheat,,with the number one crop now co'ffee THE PACIFIC COAST dim From the northern perspective, Chiapas lies at the end of the Mexican road. Bordering state c ap led the Soconusco, famous for raising tropical fruit and cocoa trees. Much of the This scenic area favored by tourists includes all of three states and parts of five others.

Fully included are Baja California Sur, Nayarit, and Colima, plus a band about 30 miles wide extending from just north of Mazatlan, Sinaloa, to the Oaxaca-Chiapas border on the south.

The most im ortant industry for the re ion is tourism. Major resorts exist at Cab0 San Lucas and San 9 ose de 10s Cabos, Baja Ca f ifornia Sur; Mazatlan, Sinaloa;.Manzanillo Colima; and Ixtapa/Zihuantanejo and Acapulco, Guerrero. The tourists come for the climate, fishing, and nightlife. The fishing also is an important industry in Baja, Sinaloa and Guerrero The major ports of the littoral area are La Paz, Baja; Acapulco, Guerrero; and Salina Cruz, Oaxaca. The latter is the Pacific terminus of the trans-is t hmus railroad from Coatzacoalcos. The largest sin le steel mill in Mexico is located at Lazar0 Cardenas concentrate on the local market. Agriculturally this is a rich area. Coconut, pineapples sugar, tropical fruits and vegetables, and cotton are importan t crops Michocan. Other industrial e B orts in the region are generally small to medium-sized and NATIONAL CONCERNS There are, of course, elements in the "Mexican equation" which should be dealt with on a national rather than a re 'onal basis. Amon them is the matter of cultural dominance of Mexico by the U.S or at B east a perception o f this on the part of the politicians in Mexico P:k The government of Mexico ma fear the U.S. for many reasons, but the one issue that raises anti-U.S. rhetoric to its hig H est pitch is the question of U.S. cultural influence in 8Mexico. Most of those who attempt to limit U.S. influence see increasing U.S. cultural penetration of the Mexican scene as harmful to Mexicos national unity and to the peoples perception of themselv e s as a dynamic force in hemispheric and world affairs and otentially destabilizin to the nation as a whole. Nevertheless, U.S. television is available Spanish are everywhere, including the smallest towns and villages 1 y cable in most major %A exican citi e s, and U.S. TV programs and movies dubbed in is being reduced, Mexico still suffers from class. One finds few mestizos and virtually business. Likewise, except for a few Party (PRI) who represent strata of the government are mostly no black A large majori ty of the urban poor are recently arrived immigrants from farms and villa es. Man are Indians, and almost all others are mestizos. A portion of the poor is blac EJ especi ly along the coast in the Veracruz region.

Outside the big cities in the high plateau region, agriculture predominates. This is the bread-basket of central Mexico, with corn and beans as the major crops along with wheat vegetables, and dairy/beef cattle. This area was initially orgamzed b the Spaniards into large haciendas or plantation/e s tate agricultural areas. This was en (r ed by the 1910-1920 revolution. The land reform of President Plutarco Calles and his successors gave small farmers tenure of 5 acres, more or less, de ending on the condition of the land, and remains with the State established cooperative farms for up to 10 a families. In most cases, title to the land Paul R. Wisgerhof is a State Department officer on special leave to the Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Wisgerhof has served in Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Germany, Ecuador, and Japan. The Views expressed in this study are his own and should in no way be attributed to or necessarily reflect the views of the Department of State or the U.S. government 9 I }{ \f1

} }

About the Author