Mexico has 131.4 million people. Mexico is on the southern border of USA and is the world’s 13th largest country by area, and third largest in Latin America (after Brazil and Argentina). It has the world’s largest population of Spanish speakers. Its capital and largest city is Mexico City, which has 21 million people. In 1521, Spain conquered Mexico, calling it New Spain. Spanish language and the Catholic Church expanded in Mexico over the next 300 years. In 1821, Mexico became independent, but in the next 55 years USA and France invaded Mexico. In 1876, a local politician Porfirio Diaz became Mexico’s president. He governed as a dictator until 1910, when the Mexican Revolution started and continued for 10 years. Today Mexico is a developing country, characterised by extremes of wealth and poverty with little middle class, and has the world’s 15th largest economy. The country struggles with social inequality, poverty, and extensive crime, in particular drug trafficking. Nevertheless, it is a major tourist destination – the sixth most visited country in the world.

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Mexico from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1910 (to 1920) – Mexican Revolution. Armed rebellion begins against the government of President Porfirio Diaz, who has been in power since 1876 (to 1911). Porfirio Diaz had risen to the rank of general, leading republican troops against the French-imposed rule of Emperor Maximilian. His regime ended political turmoil and promoted economic development. Porfirio Diaz’s economic policies largely benefited his circle of allies as well as foreign investors and helped a few wealthy estate-owning ‘haciendas’ acquire huge areas of land, leaving rural campesinos (peasant farmers) unable to make a living. In later years, these policies grew unpopular due to civil repression and political conflicts, as well as challenges from labour and the peasantry, groups that did not share in Mexico’s growth. Official election results in 1910 declared that Porfirio Diaz had won almost unanimously and his opponent, a wealthy estate owner Francisco Madero received only 400 votes. This fraud was too blatant, and riots broke out. Francisco Madero called for armed rebellion against Porfirio Díaz, leading to the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution. Porfirio Díaz tried to use the army to suppress the revolts, but most of the ranking generals were old men close to his age (80) and they did not act swiftly or with sufficient energy to stem the violence. Revolutionary force – led by, amongst others, Emiliano Zapata in the South, Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Pascual Orozco in the North, and Venustiano Carranza – defeated the Federal Army. In summary, Porfirio Diaz’s 35-year-long dictatorship brought stability, modernisation and economic growth, but at the price of political repression. Foreign powers had important economic and strategic interests in the outcome of power struggles in Mexico, with USA’s involvement in the Mexican Revolution playing an especially significant role.
  3. 1911 – Francisco Madero becomes the 37th president of Mexico.
  4. 1913 – Francisco Madero introduces land reform and labour legislation. However, the revolutionary leaders had many different objectives; revolutionary figures varied from liberals like Francisco Madero to radicals such as Emiliano Zapata and Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Consequently, it proved impossible to agree about how to organise the government that emerged from the triumphant first phase of the revolution. This standoff over political principles led quickly to a struggle for control of the government.
  5. 1913 – Francisco Madero is deposed in a right-wing coup d’état and assassinated. His vice-president Jose Suarez is also assassinated. This ‘Ten Tragic Days’ military coup took place in Mexico City, led by General Felix Diaz, nephew of Porfirio Díaz, and General Bernado Reyes, and joined by General Victoriano Huerta, the military commander of the city. It was supported by the USA ambassador, Henry Wilson. Victoriano Huerta, who wanted to reassert the policies of the former president Porfirio Diaz, becomes president. The Federal Army became an arm of the Victoriano Huerta regime, swelling to some 200,000 men, many pressed into service, and most were ill-trained. Several different revolutionary forces emerge.
  6. 1914 – The new president of USA, Woodrow Wilson attempted to oust president Victoriano Huerta. USA Navy made an incursion on the Gulf Coast, occupying Veracruz in April 1914. Although Mexico was engaged in a civil war at the time, the USA intervention united Mexican forces in their opposition to USA. Foreign powers helped broker a USA withdrawal. USA timed its pull-out to throw its support to the Constitutionalist faction under Venustiano Carranza. Initially, the forces in northern Mexico were united under the Constitutionalist banner, with able revolutionary generals serving the civilian Venustiano Carranza. Francisco “Pancho” Villa began to split from supporting Venustiano Carranza, as Victoriano Huerta was on his way out. The break was not simply on personalist grounds, but primarily because Venustiano Carranza was politically too conservative for Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Venustiano Carranza was not only a political holdover from the Porfirio Díaz era, but was also a rich hacienda owner himself, whose interests were threatened by the more radical ideas of Francisco “Pancho” Villa, especially on land reform. Emiliano Zapata in the south was also hostile to Venustiano Carranza due to his stance on land reform.
  7. 1914 – President Victoriano Huerta is ousted. He resigned under pressure and went into exile. The opposition coalition was dissolved, and Mexico entered a new stage of civil war. Victoriano Huerta’s resignation marked the end of an era – the Federal Army, a spectacularly ineffective fighting force against the revolutionaries, ceased to exist. The alliance between Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Emiliano Zapata did not function in practice beyond this initial victory against the Constitutionalists. Emiliano Zapata returned to his southern stronghold in Morelos, where he continued to engage in guerrilla warfare. Francisco “Pancho” Villa prepared to win a decisive victory against the Constitutionalist Army under Alvaro Obregon.
  8. 1915 – The two rival armies of Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Alvaro Obregon met from 6 April 1915 to 15 April 1915 in the Battle of Celaya. The frontal cavalry charges of Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s forces were met by the shrewd, modern military tactics of Alvaro Obregon. Constitutionalist victory was complete. Venustiano Carranza emerged as the political leader of Mexico with a victorious army to keep him in that position. Francisco “Pancho” Villa retreated north, seemingly into political oblivion. Venustiano Carranza and the Constitutionalists consolidated their position as the winning faction, with Emiliano Zapata remaining a threat until his assassination in 1919, when he was ambushed and shot to death in Morelos by government forces.
  9. 1915 – A German-initiated plan for Victoriano Huerta to regain the Mexican presidency through a coup d’état was foiled. Victoriano Huerta was captured by USA and put in prison where he died, most likely from poisoning by USA.
  10. 1916 – Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s forces executed 34 USA citizens in his fight against the Constitutionalists. 
  11. 1916 (to 1917) – Inconclusive USA incursion against guerrilla leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa.
  12. 1917 – Venustiano Carranza promulgated a new Mexican Constitution. Economic and social conditions improved, with the constitution providing the framework. The Constitution also restricted the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.
  13. 1917 – World War One. On 19 January 1917, a secret message (the Zimmermann Telegram) was sent from the German foreign minister to Mexico, proposing joint military action against USA if war broke out. The offer included material aid to Mexico to reclaim the territory lost during the Mexican American War, specifically the American states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Venustiano Carranza’s generals told him that Mexico would lose to its much more powerful neighbour USA. Zimmermann’s message was intercepted and published, causing outrage in USA and catalysing a USA declaration of war against Germany in early April 1917. Venustiano Carranza then formally rejected Germany’s offer, and the threat of war with USA eased.
  14. 1920 – Mexican Revolution ends, and a constitutional government is established. A major effect of the revolution was the disappearance of the Federal Army in 1914, defeated by revolutionary forces of the various factions of the Mexican Revolution.
  15. 1920 – President Venustiano Carranza is murdered during an internal feud among his former supporters over who would replace him as president. This is followed by a decade of instability.
  16. 1920 – Elections are held, and Alvaro Obregon is elected for a four-year presidential term. Since political opposition parties were essentially banned, the Catholic Church filled the political void and play the part of a substitute opposition.
  17. 1923 – Revolutionary hero and military leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa is assassinated by his political enemies.
  18. 1924 – Alvaro Obregon completed his presidential term still alive, the first since Porfirio Díaz. Plutarco Calles becomes president.
  19. 1926 (to 1929) – Cristero War. This war is a counter-revolution against the Plutarco Calles regime set off by his persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico and specifically the strict enforcement of the anti-clerical provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 and the expansion of further anti-clerical laws. Priests and religious leaders were prevented from wearing their habits, were denied the right to vote, and were not permitted to comment on public affairs in the press. The Cristero War was resolved diplomatically, largely with the help of USA Ambassador, Dwight Morrow. The conflict claimed about 97,000 lives: 57,000 on the federal side, and 30,000 Cristeros (Jesus Christ fighters). As promised in the diplomatic resolution, the laws considered offensive by the Cristeros remained in the books, but the federal government made no organised attempt to enforce them. Nonetheless, persecution of Catholic priests continued in several localities, fuelled by local officials’ interpretation of the law.
  20. 1928 – After the presidential term of Plutarco Calles, which ended in 1928, former president Alvaro Obregon won the presidency, but he was assassinated immediately after the election, by a religious fanatic Jose Toral, leaving a power vacuum.
  21. 1929 – Former president Plutarco Calles forms what later becomes the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which dominates government for 71 years (to 2000).
  22. 1930 (to 1980) – Mexico experiences a long period of economic growth.
  23. 1934 (to 1938) – President Lazaro Cardenas begins programme of oil nationalisation, land reform and industrial expansion. With his election to the presidency for a six-year term beginning in 1934, Lazaro Cardenas moved to the left in frank opposition to Plutarco Calles’s wishes. When the inevitable test of power came, Lazaro Cardenas won, and Plutarco Calles was pushed into temporary exile.
  24. 1940 – Most historians consider 1940 a major dividing line between the era of military violence and then political consolidation by military leaders of the Revolution and a post 1940 prolonged period of political stability and economic growth. During the next four decades, Mexico experienced impressive economic growth (albeit from a low baseline). A key component of this phenomenon was the achievement of political stability, which since the founding of the dominant party, has insured stable presidential succession and control of potentially dissident labour and peasant sections through participation in the party structure.
  25. 1942 (to 1945) – World War Two. Mexico joins the Allies declaring war on Germany and Japan.
  26. 1945 – Mexico’s population exploded at the end of World War Two. The industrialism spawned by the war became a major element in the economy. Post-war Mexico was marked by a continuity of basic policies unprecedented in Mexican history and by the peaceful constitutional transfer of presidential power from one civilian regime to the next.
  27. 1960 – President Aldolfo Mateos nationalised the electrical system.
  28. 1960s – Unrest amongst peasants and labourers over unequal wealth distribution is suppressed.
  29. 1968 – The Summer Olympics are held in Mexico City.
  30. 1968 – Student demonstration in Mexico City during the Olympic Games is fired on by security forces. Hundreds of protesters are killed or wounded. The extent of the violence shocks the country.
  31. 1976 – Huge offshore oil reserves are discovered; the Cantarell field becomes the mainstay of Mexico’s oil production.
  32. 1982 – President Jose Portillo nationalises the banking industry.
  33. 1985 – Earthquake in Mexico City kills thousands and makes many more homeless. It caused US$3 to 4 billion in damage.
  34. 1988 – Carlos de Gortari of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is elected president in a rigged election, with an official 51% of the vote.
  35. 1993 – Parliament ratifies the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with USA and Canada.
  36. 1994 – Luis Colosio is assassinated during his campaign to become Mexican president in a rally in Tijuana.
  37. 1994 – A guerrilla rebellion in Chiapas by the Zapatista National Liberation Army is brutally suppressed by government troops. The government and Zapatistas agree on greater autonomy for the indigenous Mayans of Chiapas the following year.
  38. 1996 – The insurgency in the south escalates as the leftist Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) attacks government troops.
  39. 1997 – The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) suffers heavy losses in elections and loses its overall majority in the lower house of parliament for the first time since 1929.
  40. 2000 – Vicente Fox of the conservative ‘Alliance for Change’ wins presidential elections, the first opposition candidate ever to do so. He is the first president not from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 71 years. Parliamentary elections see the ‘Alliance for Change’ emerge as the strongest party, narrowly beating the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
  41. 2002 – Millions of secret security files are released, shedding light on the repression of hundreds of political activists in the 1960s and 1970s.
  42. 2003 – The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) wins a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
  43. 2006 – Conservative candidate Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) is declared the winner of presidential elections with a razor-thin majority over his leftist rival, Andres Obrador. The National Action Party (PAN) won a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Andres Obrador led hundreds of thousands in a protest on the election result.
  44. 2006 – A new federal police force is created to tackle drugs cartels; thousands of troops are deployed in the western state of Michoacan as part of a major anti-drug trafficking drive.
  45. 2007 – Heavy rains flood nearly the entire southern state of Tabasco. Some 500,000 are made homeless in one of the country’s worst natural disasters.
  46. 2009 – The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) wins a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
  47. 2009 – Army troops enter Ciudad Juarez, on the border with USA, as open warfare erupts between rival drug gangs.
  48. 2012 – The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Nieto wins presidential election. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) wins a plurality of seats in the Chamber of Deputies.
  49. 2013 – Miguel Morales, head of the brutal Zetas drugs cartel, is arrested in the highest-profile arrest since President Enrique Nieto adopted a policy from 1 December 2012 of targeting local bosses rather than big names.
  50. 2014 – Mexico’s Congress approves sweeping reforms to the country’s energy sector that will open the market to foreign oil firms and strip state-owned energy group Pemex of the monopoly it has held since nationalisation in 1938.
  51. 2018 – USA, Canada and Mexico reach a new trade deal – ‘The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement’ (USMCA) – to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).
  52. 2018 – Left-wing former mayor of Mexico City, Andres Obrador of ‘Together we will make history’ (a coalition of parties), is inaugurated president after winning an overwhelming victory in the presidential election. ‘Together we will make history’ also won majorities in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies and five governorships.
  53. 2020 (to 2022) – COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 324,000 deaths in Mexico.
  54. 2022 – Mexico has 131.4 million people.

© Comasters June 2022.

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