Mexico Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Mexico is a country located in North America. With the capital city of Mexico City, Mexico has a population of 128,932,764 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Mexico was ruled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) during most of the 20th century. The country was modernized after the Second World War. An oil boom in the 1970s was followed by a debt crisis in 1982. Subsequently, the economy was increasingly directed towards market economy, but a new economic crash occurred in 1994. PRI finally lost power and between 2000 and 2012 the country was ruled by the Conservative National Action Party (PAN). Under PAN’s rule, the military was embroiled in a “war” against the violence and organized crime that the drug cartels were behind.

During World War II, Mexico’s industrialization began in earnest. The post-war era was characterized by political stability, strong population growth, expansion of schooling and economic expansion. The years between 1940 and 1970 are sometimes called the “Mexican miracle”. But the growth in the social economy could not keep up with the population growth, and the cities could not swallow all the labor flowing from the countryside. The result was mass unemployment and the fact that townships were growing, especially in the capital, and an extensive emigration to the United States.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Mexico. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The PRI was long regarded as a legitimate administrator of the Mexican revolution’s ideas of democracy and equality. In reality, Mexico was a one-party state, where a powerful elite through unfair electoral laws and recurring election cheats kept the community in a strong grip. Mixed economic policy primarily favored the upper and middle class of cities. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Mexico.

Debt Crisis

In the 1970s, new oil deposits were discovered around the Tehuantepec nose. An oil boom followed, the outside world provided generous loans and the Mexican economy showed impressive growth figures. But the success was short-lived. Falling oil prices, high interest rates on foreign currency loans, an oversized public sector and general financial distress led Mexico to bankruptcy in 1982.

Drastic austerity measures were implemented, and after a few years the economy began to show signs of recovery. However, this was done at the price of deteriorating living conditions for middle and low income earners, and widespread dissatisfaction emerged among traditional PRI supporters. The criticism against the government grew after the severe earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985 with surrounding areas. Over 20,000 people perished and about 300,000 became homeless. The reconstruction work was ineffective and those responsible were accused of embezzling aid.

A rapid fall in oil prices in 1986 forced a shift in economic policy. Import restrictions were switched to free trade, and parts of the large state industrial sector were sold to private owners. One result of the criticism of PRI was a new electoral law with a mix of proportional and majority elections and with state support for political parties.


In the 1988 presidential election, PRI candidate Carlos Salinas won by a narrow margin and after a disputed voting process. Salinas implemented market economy reforms aimed at liberalization, privatization, free competition, free trade and budgetary balance. Foreign investment poured into the country. But the major class differences in society persisted.

On New Year’s Day 1994, a few thousand residents of the state of Chiapas in the far south began an armed uprising against the government demanding land reform, democracy and social improvements, mainly for the indigenous peoples. They called themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN), after the old revolutionary leader Zapata (see Older history). After a brief battle between the rebels and the army, negotiations began with the church as mediator.

Within the PRI, the reforms of the political system had created a divide between the government and the party’s traditional power elite. Five months before the 1994 presidential election, the PRI presidential candidate was assassinated and a few weeks after the election, the party’s secretary general was assassinated. Most point to the fact that they fell victim to conspiracies within the party leadership and a number of high-ranking politicians were arrested in the following years on suspicion of involvement in the death. At the same time, a number of other murders took place, including at a bishop, as well as kidnappings linked to the drug cartels.

Financial Crisis

The 1994 presidential election was won by Ernesto Zedillo, who has now become the PRI candidate. He got off to a rough start: the Chiapas uprising, the violence and the political chaos deterred foreign investors and diminished confidence in the Mexican currency, the peso. In December 1994, an acute currency crisis was a fact. Pesons plummeted in value, stock prices fell and the entire Latin American financial world was shaken. International credit agencies and the United States entered into billion in early 1995 to stem the so-called tequila crisis.

The government implemented tough austerity measures and raised taxes, while interest rates and prices skyrocketed. Bankruptcies hit large sections of the middle class and about one million people lost their jobs. But in 1996, the economy began to recover and Mexico was able to repay large parts of the crisis loans fairly quickly. In the 1997 congressional elections, the PRI lost for the first time its absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Three years later, a point was made for the party’s long holding of power.

When the right-wing PAN’s candidate Vicente Fox won the 2000 presidential election, the PRI was defeated for the first time in 71 years. In Congress, the PRI remained the largest party, albeit by a small margin. Without congressional support, Fox had a hard time enforcing promised reforms.

Rights of indigenous peoples

The rioting uprising in Chiapas was reminiscent of early 2001, when a large group of Zapatists, with their mythical leader “subcomendante” Marcos, led a three-week march against the capital demanding increased rights for the indigenous peoples. March participants were met everywhere by flag-waving people and in the capital, 150,000 people gathered to pay tribute to Marcos. President Fox promised to meet some of the requirements, and new laws were passed that at least on paper strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples.

In the spring of 2006, a demonstration in San Salvador Atenco outside Mexico City led to riots and several deaths, and a teacher strike in Oaxaca led to a social uprising with several dead and many arrested. The police were criticized for assault, sexual abuse and torture in both cases.

Contested choice

The 2006 presidential election was a smooth match between PAN’s candidate Felipe Calderón and his main challenger, Mexico City’s popular mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a candidate for the Leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). PRI’s candidate came a long way. In the congressional elections, PAN became the largest party for the first time.

When Calderón was declared victorious in the presidential election, López Obrador and his supporters refused to accept the result. The left demanded that all votes be recalculated. A tense political situation ensued and mass protests on the streets paralyzed the capital for weeks. Only after two months was the official result clear: Calderón had won by a 0.6 percentage point margin. Foreign observers, from the EU, among others, considered that the election had been carried out correctly. Despite this, the protests continued.

In December 2006, Calderón could still take over as president. One of his first steps was to lower wages for himself, the government and high-ranking government officials as part of a austerity package. He succeeded better than his predecessor in implementing structural reforms, including by agreeing with PRI on many issues. In 2007, a change was made to the pension system and new tax legislation that would increase the state’s income.

War against the drug leagues

One of Calderón’s main promises was that he would take action against drug-related violence and police corruption, using the military. About 50,000 soldiers were deployed to fight the drug leagues. But the tougher shots led to the situation deteriorating. The murder rate rose and organized crime spread throughout the country (see Democracy and Rights).

At the beginning of 2009, it was clear that the international financial crisis had hit the economy hard. Money shipments from the US declined, as did exports. During the spring, the infectious swine flu also broke out, spreading from Mexico and coming to be classified as a pandemic. The infection caused great concern and hit the important tourism industry and the food industry.

At the same time, the image of Mexico was increasingly characterized by widespread violence. It contributed to a defeat for PAN in the 2009 general election. PRI more than doubled its representation and gained close to half the seats, giving Calderón a more difficult government position during the second half of his six-year term.

PRI will return

Nevertheless, PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, former governor of the state of Mexico, won by a good margin ahead of López Obrador, who was again the PRD’s presidential candidate. For PAN, things went worse, partly because of dissatisfaction that the violence continued to increase despite Calderón’s major efforts to overcome it.

As in the previous election, López Obrador claimed that cheating and irregularities occurred, with bribery and manipulation of media reporting. PAN also protested. López Obrador, who was supported by tens of thousands of protesters in the capital, forced a recast of some of the votes, but the result was firm. He then filed a formal appeal, but two months after the election, the Supreme Electoral Court determined the outcome. The situation never became as chaotic as after the 2006 election. López Obrador left the PRD after the election defeat and instead focused on the left-wing National Renewal Movement (Morena).

In its 2012 entry, Peña Nieto presented an ambitious reform plan and a “pact for Mexico” to which the two major opposition parties PRD and PAN had already joined. Later, PRI’s closest ally, the environmental party PVEM, also joined the plan.

Pact in 95 points

The pact consisted of 95 points, including strengthening the rule of law and social justice, boosting the economy, increasing security and reducing corruption, and strengthening democratic governance. How the reforms were to be financed was not entirely clear, but the pact also contained plans for increased tax collection. Peña Nieto’s promises of increased competition contributed to a strong influx of foreign investment, which pushed the stock exchange to record levels and strengthened the currency against the dollar.

Initially, Peña Nieto was successful with her pact. In a short time, the government succeeded in, among other things, passing through structural reforms in the education system and the telecom and energy sector.

The educational reform means, among other things, that compulsory evaluations of teachers have been introduced, in order to overcome corruption and abuse in appointments and professional activities. The unions who feared mass redundancies protested vigorously. Strikes and violent demonstrations – sometimes with fatal outcome – occurred for several years (see also Education).

Contested energy reform

In the telecommunications sector, the semi-monopoly previously held by billionaire Carlos Slim was unlocked, and foreign ownership was allowed. At the same time, a limit was set at 49 percent for foreign ownership in the media sector.

The most controversial was the reforms in the energy field. The plans to open up the state-controlled oil industry for private investment required a constitutional change. Peña Nieto assured that it was not a privatization, but rather a loosening of existing rules. PAN set conditions for its support and received some changes to the electoral laws. But the PRD was unhappy and one year after Peña Nieto’s accession, the party unexpectedly withdrew from the pact. Despite this, Congress soon afterwards took a first step towards dissolving the state’s strict monopoly in the oil industry (see further Economic overview).


In spite of election promises on other measures against the violence, the military continued to be used in the fight against drug-related violence. After a certain decline, the violence soon rose instead, to record high levels (see Democracy and Rights). Authorities at all levels attempted to obscure abuses committed by security forces, including torture of potential eyewitnesses.

A particularly noteworthy case occurred in the fall of 2014 when 43 teacher students disappeared without a trace, following a demonstration that ended with them being arrested by Iguala police in the state of Guerrero. Gradually, it became clear that the students were murdered by members of a criminal gang – on behalf of local authorities. No clarity could be brought into exactly what happened to the students. Several independent investigations, with the participation of foreign experts, rejected an official statement that their corpse was burned at a dump. Relatives of the missing students and other critics continued to protest throughout the country for several years.

The corruption of government officials – and rising violence – contributed to historic losses for the PRI in the governor’s election in June 2016. PRI lost control of six of the twelve states in question, four of which the party ruled for almost 90 years.

The PRI’s crusade continued in the presidential and congressional elections in July 2018. The party’s presidential candidate, José Antonio Meade, received just under 15 percent of the vote and came in third place. Victory did this time Andres Manuel López Obrador who stood for the third time, now for Morena. López Obrador won convincingly, with 52 percent of the vote. At the same time, his left alliance gained a majority in both chambers of Parliament.

Mexico Modern History