Mexico has a population of slightly more than 100 million people, making it the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world and the third most populous country in the Western Hemisphere. Its location just south of the United States, with which it shares a 2,000-mile border, has led to a very close, and at times contentious, relationship with its northern superpower neighbor. A large portion of the Western United States was seized from Mexico in the mid-1800s following the US victory in the Mexican-American War. Relations between the two countries warmed during the latter stages of the 20th century as trade became a powerful interconnection. The bilateral economic relationship with Mexico is among the most important for the United States, thanks in large part to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has been in effect since 1994. Mexico is the United States’ third most important trading partner, while the United States is Mexico’s most important trading partner.
Lay of the Land: Bridging the gap between North and Central America, Mexico has a wide range of climate and topography. Two mountain ranges and the high plateau between them dominate central Mexico. The western range, with peaks up to 10,000 feet, is known as the Sierra Madre Occidental; the Sierra Madre Oriental, on the east, is much lower. A range of ancient and active volcanoes crosses Mexico east to west near Mexico City; some of these reach 18,000 feet in elevation. There are wide coastal plateaus, especially on the Gulf of Mexico. The Yucatán Peninsula is an interesting feature; a wide, flat thumb of low-lying jungle thrusting into the Gulf of Mexico, it is the site of ancient Mayan cities, which were abandoned centuries ago and only rediscovered in the 19th century.
Mexico’s early history was dominated by four great civilizations—the Mayas, Olmecs, Toltecs and finally the Aztecs. The Spanish, led by Hernán Cortés, conquered the Aztecs in 1519–1521. Spain ruled Mexico for the next 300 years until 1821 when Mexicans won their independence after a 10-year struggle.
Throughout its history, Mexico has had an ambivalent love-hate relationship with its northern neighbor. Relations between the countries often have been characterized by conflict, the most violent of which occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The war of 1846-1848 was the most significant clash, as Mexico lost approximately half of its territory to the US. The war also established the United States dominance vis-à-vis Mexico in terms of future political and military affairs, including the US military expedition into northern Mexico during World War I to capture the bandit Pancho Villa.
US relations with Mexico are as important and complex as with any country in the world. A stable, democratic, and economically prosperous Mexico is fundamental to US interests, according to the State Department. US relations with Mexico have a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, whether the issue is trade and economic reform, homeland security, drug control, migration, or the promotion of democracy. Each day an average of one million people legally cross the US-Mexico border. In addition, between a half-million and a million American citizens live in Mexico. Along the 2,000-mile shared border, state and local governments interact closely.
Mexico surpassed Japan in 1999 to become the United States’ second most important trading partner following Canada, However it fell to third place in 2008 as US trade with China increased. The United States is Mexico’s most important customer by far, receiving about 87% of Mexico’s exports. Petroleum tops the list of Mexican exports (up from $14 billion in 2003 to $30 billion in 2007). In 2007 Mexico was the world’s eighth-largest crude exporter, and the third-largest supplier of oil to the US. Oil and gas revenues provided more than one-third of all Mexican government revenues.
Blackwater Project Raises Concerns along US-Mexico BorderA project run by private military contractor Blackwater Worldwide stirred up concerns in 2008 along the US-Mexico border. Earlier rebuffed in its attempt to open a large training camp in the rural San Diego County community of Potrero, Blackwater found itself in a battle over the company’s bid to open a training facility for the US Navy. The current dispute centered on Blackwater’s 48-student school in San Diego County’s Otay Mesa on the US-Mexico border and just down the road from US Border Patrol offices. According to Blackwater, the site offers indoor shooting instruction and simulated ship training to improve the anti-terrorist skills of naval personnel. US Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) said that the presence of a “private mercenary army” on the border, where it was hard to tell who is a citizen and who was not, was a “recipe for disaster.” Filner and other Blackwater opponents cited the company’s record in Iraq, which included the 2004 killing of four company personnel in Fallujah, Iraq, and the shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater employees.
According to the State Department’s 2007 report, the good news with Mexico’s human rights situation is that the government “generally respected and promoted human rights at the national level by investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing public officials and members of the security forces.” The bad news, though, was that “impunity and corruption remained problems, particularly at the state and local level.”
Fencing the US-Mexico Border
Andrew Jackson was nominated to be the first Ambassador to Mexico in 1823, but declined the appointment. Five years later, he was elected President of the United States.
President Barack Obama choice as the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico is Earl Anthony “Tony” Wayne, a high-ranking career diplomat who has spent little time in Latin America.