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Mexico

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Statistics

  • Total Population: 113,724,226 (2011)
  • Life Expectancy: 76 years (2011)
  • Per capita income (ppp): $13,800 US (2010)
  • Ethnicities:
    -Mestizo 60%; Amerindian 30%, Caucasian 9%; other 1%
  • Major export products: manufactured goods, oil and oil products, silver, fruits, vegetables, coffee, cotton
  • Monetary unit: 1 USD ~ 11 pesos

Background

ChurchThere is a popular saying in Mexico, “So far from God and so close to the United States." Thanks to U.S. advice and friendly pressure, Mexico's "economic restructuring" has resulted in a classic economical portrait of our times. At the same time that it has benefited the financial elite, it has squeezed a once thriving middle class and has had a devastating impact on Mexico's poor.

Since the mid-1980s when Mexico suffered an economic crisis due to the petroleum price crisis (very similar to the current situation precipitated by the coffee price crisis), international lenders have been pushing Mexico towards neo-liberal politics, free-trade practices and economic austerity measures. Under former-president and Harvard alumni Carlos Salinas de Gotari these pressures became institutionalized practices in Mexico's move towards "modernized" economic policies, culminating in NAFTA.

But from the moment of its signing, the treaty that was campaigned as Mexico's "golden key" to transform itself into a "First World" nation, has been riddled with conflict and contradictions. But the most notorious, of course, was the Zapatista Uprising.

The first of January 1994, after ten years of organizing, the Zapatista insurrection shook Mexico out of its stupor and the world out of its enchantment with free trade. The date of their public debut was chosen to coincide precisely with the enactment of NAFTA and Mexico's "Entrance into the First World". Likewise, the Zapatista declarations identified neo-liberal politics as the main target and source of their extreme poverty and marginalization. "Entrance into the First World?" the Indigenous people questioned, "Entrance for whom?"

In 1528 Renaissance era "free trade" enthusiasts conquered Chiapas in the search for easy profits. Despite famed human rights defender Fray Bartolomé de Las Casa influences as bishop of the dioceses of Ciudad Real, not even the Indians branded with the word "free" on their arms could escape being made slaves. Four hundred and sixty years later free trade proponents in Mexico tried to brainwash Chiapan Indians with promises of a better life.

Local kidsBut the indigenous peoples' historical memory is strong… and the impact of the 1989 liberalization of the coffee market has only confirmed their fears.

In their overwhelming majority, the modern-day Zapatistas are descendants of the Mayan people who first resisted the European colonization some 500 years prior. In the 10 years of the Zapatista military and political campaigns since the 1994 uprising, they have undertaken a mostly peaceful and inspiring struggle to defend their culture and fundamental rights, and to construct practical mechanisms for change.

"I can tell you, we are very tired of false promises. When we rose up in arms, we declared to the nation and to the world the political, social, economic and cultural causes of our struggle," explained Commandante David of the Indigenous Clandestine Committee. "We rose up in arms because our people are dying of hunger. We don't want more promises; we want to see action."

CHIAPAS

Chiapas is one of the most marginalized states in all of Mexico, infamous for being one of the states richest in natural resources, yet with one of the poorest populations in all of Mexico. The state is characterized by having one of the highest rural populations, the least developed health infrastructure, the lowest levels of income and education, and the highest malnutrition rates in Mexico. In addition, its inhabitants have one of the lowest life expectancy rates (67 years) and the highest infant mortality rates in the nation (averaging 55 per 1,000 in the state, but with considerably higher rates in Indigenous communities).

The Zapatista movement has provoked creative initiatives to transform the entrenched politics of exploitation in Chiapas and at large. The creation of “Autonomous Zones” – replete with parallel governments, independent schools, health clinics and economic projects – is one example.

Producer cooperatives are common in Chiapas, and coffee is one of the main products farmers can organize around. Chiapas is the largest coffee producer in Mexico and considered the largest organic coffee producer in the world. The first organic farm to be certified in the world is in Chiapas. But it is the cooperative style coming out of the Zapatista movement and the concept of Indigenous Autonomy that has captured our imagination.

Resources:

CIA World Factbook

US State Department Profile

UNICEF

"Visit Mexico" website

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