Current Economic & Political Context


Today, Mexico is the 2nd largest economy in Latin America. It’s population is 113 million.

Though strengthened by foreign investment, trade with the US from NAFTA, and remittances from the U.S., the economy faces ongoing challenges of deep inequality, over-reliance on exports to the U.S., a state-controlled oil company with shrinking production, and extremely low tax collections.

The recession that began in 2008 was deeply felt in Mexico – its economy shrank by 6.1% in 2009, and the country lost hundreds of thousands of jobs, many in manufacturing.  Mexico’s oil production continues to decrease, and the country has barely succeeded in growing per capita income over the past ten years.  The unemployment rate (official) is 5.4%, compared to 4.1% pre-recession, and the percentage of Mexicans in poverty has grown to 46.2% (as opposed to 21.4% of the Brazilian population).  As the unemployment crisis continues in the US, Latinos are more seriously impacted, as well as remittances to Mexico.

*from the World Bank data sets

The signing and implementation of NAFTA has meant that Mexico has been able to increase its trade significantly – it is the third largest trading partner of the U.S after Canada and China.  The World Bank calls Mexico the easiest place in Latin America to do business.  Exports to the US have rebounded.


After 70 years of rule by the PRI party, the center-right PAN party won the presidential election in 2000 and 2006.   This election was hailed as evidence of the democratization of Mexican politics and a move away from the more authoritarian style of the one party government.  Yet, “if democracy is fundamentally a system of governance based on the participation of citizens in the public realm, it follows that democratisation involves more than the institution of competitive elections. Democratization also requires the transformation of the institutions of the state, economy and civil society into public spaces that reflect a culture of citizenship, in which there is a recognition, encouragement and protection of the rights of citizens and their ability to participate in all spheres of public life.”  (Brickner, 2010).  In Mexico, the corporatist influences of the past continue to dominate institutions, for example the unions, the state-controlled oil industry, and monopolistic sectors of the economy such as banking. (Brickner, The Economist).

Further reforms since 2000 have been difficult.  The PRI continued to control Congress, and the divisions between the parties has made the process of cooperation difficult.  Vicente Fox was not considered an effective president during his 2000-2006 term, though he claimed that he had shifted away from the authoritarian rule of past presidents and instituted greater transparency and democratization. (Wiarda, Kline, 2007, p 398)  Fox expected that he would be able to work with the Bush administration in the US to improve the immigration process and allow more workers from Mexico into the US, but after September 11th, 2001, the Bush administration turned its focus to fighting terrorism and to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and border-crossing difficulties and anti-immigration sentiments in the U.S. only grew.

After Fox’s administration, there was much speculation that Lopez Obrador of the leftist PRD party could win the 2006 election, but the PAN candidate, Felipe Calederon won and continued PAN’s control of the presidential office.  Calderon shifted Mexico’s policy of fighting the drug cartels, by deploying federal army troops to battle drug criminals.  Yet the effectiveness of his decision have been widely criticized.  In 2009, public policy think tank Mexico Evalua found that public sector spending on security increased by seven-fold compared to the previous administration, however the increased spending has not resulted in either a reduction in the crime rate or a more effective justice system. – press release (in English)

In fact, violence has increased dramatically, and there is growing evidence that many casualties are innocent citizens – both from army and cartel violence – despite Calderon’s claim that almost all of those killed by the army have been criminals.

Many Mexicans believe that they do not have the power to hold government officials accountable, and that the war on drugs is a losing proposition.  La violencia spreading to previously peaceful parts of the country.  In Monterrey, killings related to organized crime have risen from 22 to 178 in 3 years.  As many as 40,000 people have been killed over the past 5 years, and the vast majority of these deaths are never investigated.  While the government claims that those killed are connected with the drug trade, activists say that many being killed are civilians, and often by the military as well as cartels.  Many are calling for a scaling back of the militarization of the drug war that has escalated since 2006 when President Calderon declared war on the cartels and deployed tens of thousands of military troops for this purpose.  Estimates on the value of the drug trade to Mexican cartels are as high as $30 billion annually.  The US has pledged $1.4 billion in aid to Mexico’s military over 3 years in comparison.  Some are calling for legalization of drugs as a means to stem the violence.

The PRI party is expected to benefit from the concerns about the drug violence, with “growing nostalgia for the way things were under PRI presidents”.  PRI party governor of the State of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, is largely expected to be nominated as the PRI’s next presidential candidate.  Though the PRI lost two presidential elections, they control a majority of Congress, and state governorships – allowing them to control significant spending in ways that can garner votes.

The latest Latinobarómetro poll, published by the Economist, shows that popular support for democracy has declined – those responding positively to the statement “democracy is preferable to any other type of government” declined 9 points since last year, perhaps due in part to the violence.  Only about 20% responded that they were satisfied with how democracy works in Mexico.

Pan American Post 10/25/11, Hannah Stone
A report in the WSJ looks at the high number of arrests of undocumented
migrants from Mexico and Central America who are detained by agents close
to the US’s northern border. Experts consulted by the newspaper said that
these individuals would not have crossed over from Canada, and suggested
rather that border agents may be overstepping their remit, and asking for
proof of immigration status even from those who are not trying to cross the
US-Canada border, but are merely traveling nearby.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Americas for journalists,
according to a joint report by the UN and the Organization of American
States (OAS), with 13 journalists killed so far in 2011. Many of these
deaths have been linked to violence caused by organized crime.

The New York Times reports on US infiltration of Mexican drug cartels,
saying that Washington’s network of informants in the country has grown
significantly in recent years. These agents have been involved in two dozen
killings or captures of high-level cartel bosses, according to the report,
but their presence remains a sensitive issue for the Mexican authorities

Pan American Post 10/24/11 Geoffrey Ramsey

The Washington Post reports on the reduced emphasis that the Calderon
administration is placing on drug crop eradication in Mexico. Owing to a
scarcity of resources and the domestic unpopularity of such efforts in
rural areas, soldiers who were previously involved in eradication have been
increasingly reassigned to focus on urban security in crime hotspots like
Monterrey, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. In 2010, security forces cleared
43,000 acres of marijuana, down from 77,500 acres of marijuana in 2005.

Pan American Post 10/20/11
The Center for Strategic and International Studies published a
the resurgence of Mexico’s PRI party and the implications for the 2012
presidential elections. The reports argues that evern since winning a
Congressional majority in 2009, the PRI has managed to “prepare a path
towards electoral victory” by pushing federal funds towards the areas and
programs most needed to attract voters.

Pan American Post 10/11/2011
The Mexican government reported a large decline in the number of Central
American migrants crossing the country on the way to the US, based on a 70
percent drop in the number of undocumented Central Americans stopped in the
country. Some 140,000 were detained in 2010, down from 433,000 in 2005. The
Associated Press reports that this conclusion is questioned by academic
Rodolfo Casillas, who argued that detentions had fallen due to a government
decision to stop raiding cargo trains to look for migrants. However, as
noted in Thursday’s post, arrests of undocumented migrants on the US border
have declined to their lowest level in 40 years, suggesting that the US
could be seeing a real drop in those trying to make their way there via
Mexico, perhaps discouraged by the ailing economy or by the threat of
violence from Mexican gangs in the border region.

Feminist Activism, Union Democracy and Gender Equity Rights in Mexico

BRICKNER, RACHEL. Journal of Latin American Studies42. 4 (Nov 2010): 749-777.

“Making the Desert Bloom”, The Economist, August 27th, 2011

Grayson, George, “Mexico, the Emergence of a Messianic Reformer”, “Latin American Politics and Development”, Westview Press 2007, p 387-402.


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