Introduction to the History of Mexico

Introduction to the History of Mexico

The history of Mexico is usually divided in four major periods.  However, we have decided to split it in five sections due to the importance of change in the sole political party structure present in Mexico for almost a Century. After 70 years, Partido Revolucionario Industrial (PRI) was replaced in the government by another political party, Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), when Vicente Fox won the presidential elections in 2000. We remark this last period because of the structural changes in the society, the increase of violence, the governmental restructuration and the consequences of the so-called “war on drugs.”

The first period is the Pre-Columbian or prehistoric period, where great civilizations such as the Olmecas, Mayas and Aztecs ruled what is now Mexico. This period goes from 2500 B.C. to the year 1521 A.C., when Tenochtitlan fell in hands of the Spanish conquistadors.

The following period started with the capture of Tenochtitlan and marked the beginning of a 300-year-long colonial period (1521-1821), during which Mexico was known as “New Spain.” The establishment of the Viceroyalty, together with the influence of the Catholic Church and many other religious orders, characterizes the Colonial Period.  Additionally, many economic, social and administrative changes took place in the region.

Modern Mexico started with the Declaration of Independence in 1810 and ended with the Mexican Revolution in 1910. This period is characterized by the attempts to build an independent nation from Spain. The country faced many conflicts and changes in the government, shifting from liberal to conservative ideologies.

After the Mexican Revolution in 1910, a new period that has come to be know as “contemporary Mexico” changed all the pre-established economic, social and political structures in the country.  The Revolution ended in 1917 but ongoing upheavals continued through the rest of the Century. After the Revolution, the PRI became the official party and authoritarian governments followed for a period of 70 years.

The restructuring of the “post revolutionary” political system, which gave extraordinary powers to the President, collapsed in 2000. The democratic elections of that year, Vicente Fox being elected president, changed the relationship between the federal executive branch, Congress and each particular State.

In 2006, President Felipe Calderon sent 6,500 federal troops to Michoacán in order to stop the violence caused by the “Cartel de la Familia.” That action has come to be known as the beginning of the “War on drugs.” This “war on drugs” has created catastrophic consequences for the stability of the nation.  According to official statistics, since the beginning of the war, the death toll has reached more than 34,600,[1] let alone the death toll for 2010 being 12,237 – the highest so far.[2]  However, it would be unfair to blame the President for all this violence.  While it is true that the breaking of corrupt old political structures unleashed violence between the government and the organized crime, it is important to note that much of the terror and violence that strikes Mexico is due to intra-cartel violence.


[2] R. Zamaripa, Nuevo año, misma Guerra, Periódico Reforma, January 2, 2011, (available at


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