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A brief history of Mexico

At the time of the conquest, which began in 1519, the indigenous population was approximately 5 million and the Aztec empire was at its height. By 1521 the Spanish had conquered the Aztecs and killed their emperor, Montezuma II. For the next three centuries Spain ruled Mexico, calling it the viceroyalty of New Spain.

Independence from Spain was achieved in 1821 after 11 years of armed struggle. This was followed by turbulence, with 30 changes of government in the next 25 years. Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836. Then, after losing the war with the United States (1846–48), Mexico was forced to cede half its territory. During the period from 1876 to 1910 Mexico was ruled by the dictator Porfirio Diaz, whose suppression of dissent and neglect of the rural poor led directly to the Mexican revolution of 1910–1917, led by campesino leaders Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. More than a million people lost their lives in the revolution.

Stability was achieved only in 1929 by the party now known as the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), which ruled continuously since the revolution until 2000. President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–40) had some success in realizing the social goals of the revolution with a massive land distribution, the expropriation of the petroleum industry, the establishment of labor unions, and the extension of education to rural areas.

Postwar Mexico is marked by stability, growth of the middle class, and neglect of the poorest. When Mexico nearly defaulted during the debt crisis of 1982, the whole world awoke to the seriousness and destabilizing influence of massive foreign debt in the Third World. Mexico recovered slowly, and until the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was actually seen as a model for the success of free trade and structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and IMF. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), however, has not helped the Mexican economy. In 1995 more than a million workers lost their jobs, and the minimum wage bought less than 40 percent of what it did in 1982. When the Zapatista Liberation Army (FZLN) came abruptly and unexpectedly onto the scene on January 1, 1994, it gave voice to the passionate protest of the indigenous peoples of the southern state of Chiapas. Though the FZLN is disarming in favor of organizing a political party, it is still a major player in a Mexico in crisis, its currency.

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