Mexico

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Introduction

Lying between the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, the Latin American nation borders the United States of America, Guatemala and Belize. Mexico is a representative democratic republic, with a President acting as both chief of government and head of government, alongside a bicameral Congress and an extensive federal system. Current severe human rights concerns include abuses committed by law enforcement personnel, criminal activities carried out by drug cartels and criminal gangs, discrimination against indigenous people, violence against women and girls, and widespread sexual and economic exploitation.

Geography

Mexico is a Latin American country which borders to the United States to the north and Guatemala and Belize to the South. It has a long western coastline on the Pacific Ocean and an eastern coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. The capital is Mexico City.

Population and Language

Mexico's population has grown rapidly from 68 million in 1980 to over 116 million in 2012 [1] of which almost 30 per cent is under 18 years old.[2] About 60 per cent are of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent, 30 per cent are purely indigenous ancestry and 10 per cent are of European descent. Spanish is the official language, but various indigenous languages are also spoken.[3]

History and Politics

A number of great civilisations flourished in the area of Mexico of which the Maya and Aztec civilisations are the best known. In the Early 16th century Mexico was colonised by the Spanish, who exported much of the countries wealth to Europe. Republican ideas, inspired by the French Revolution and the establishment of the United States, contributed to growing unrest and eventually led to Mexican independence in 1821. The post independence period was characterised by frequent turnover of governments and widespread waste, inefficiency and corruption. In 1857, a new constitution triggered armed conflict between liberal republicans and conservative factions, leading to the defeat of the latter. Porfirio Diaz became president after a successful armed revolt in 1876 and dominated Mexican politics for the next thirty years - a period of considerable economic growth but growing social inequality, particularly in regard to the indigenous population who sank deeper into peonage. In 1910 an uprising led by idealistic liberal leader Francisco I. Madero developed into a full civil war with shifting power struggles. A 1917 Constitution was drawn up to try and end the conflict, but was never fully implemented. The exact duration of the war is debated, but violence broke out intermittently until at least 1929. The 1934 government of Lázaro Cárdenas, nominally socialist, focussed on addressing some of the social inequalities of the country by redistributing land, supporting the Mexican labour movement and nationalising the oil industry. Mexican politics would be dominated for the next several decades by successive leftist parties, collectively referred to as as the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional).

Since the Second World War, Mexico's population and economy have grown, as has economic integration with the United States. Much of the economic development, however, has primarily benefited the middle and upper classes. 70 years of PRI rule ended with the election of Vicente Fox of the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) in 2002, but in 2012 the PRI returned to power.[4]

Economy

Mexico has the second largest economy in Latin America. There is however a wide socio-economic gap with rural areas often neglected. In 2010 around 64.2 per cent of the population lived in poverty. Many poor Mexicans cross the border to go to the United States in search of work. The economy is largely dependent on the money sent home by migrant workers. Currently, around a third of government revenue comes from oil production and exports. [5] Mexico remained relatively resilient in the face of the United States economic slowdown and maintained a growth rate of 3.9 per cent during 2012.[6] Foreign direct investment increased 30 per cent in the first half of 2010 compared to a year earlier.[7]. According to the World Bank it has a huge potential for accelerating economic growth.

Media and Civil Society

Freedom House reports that although legal and constitutional guarantees of free speech have been improving, the freedom of journalists has deteriorated. Reporters continue to face a high risk of physical harm when discussing issues regarding the police, drug trafficking or corruption. According to the National Human Rights Commission 82 journalists have been killed between 2005 and 2012 and most of these crimes go unpunished. Internet access is not restricted by the government, but criminal gangs threaten citizens who attempt to report on crimes via the internet. Three individuals were killed in 2011 by a gang because they reported crimes online. Religious and academic freedom are generally respected.[8] Amnesty International further notes that 20 human rights defenders were threatened or attacked in 2011 and the Minister of the Navy publicly attacked the work of some human rights organisations that documented abuses by the armed forces. [9]

Human Rights and Children's Rights

The primary concern in Mexico is the ongoing criminal activities by drug cartels and other criminal gangs, sometimes acting in cooperation with the police or other public officials. Widespread human rights abuses by the army and the navy have been reported, but are mostly ignored by the government. Police forces have been accused of excessive use of force, enforced disappearance and torture - these too, for most part, have not been investigated. Convictions under the criminal justice system allow for arbitrary detention, torture, fabrication of evidence and denial of access to an effective defence. Reforms of the system have been slow to happen.

Migrants, including children, travelling through Mexico to the U.S. are at risk of kidnapping, rape and being killed by criminal gangs often operating with public officials. The Committee on the Rights of the Child notes that children are also often sexually exploited. Child sex tourism, child pornography and prostitution are widespread and measures to prevent the offences are still largely inadequate. Unaccompanied children from neighbouring countries are especially at risk of sexual exploitation. [10]

Amnesty International has stated that violence against women and girls remain widespread and access to justice and safety is not ensured. Furthermore, legal provisions form an obstacle in accessing abortion services, which restricts the reproductive rights of women. Indigenous peoples' rights are also threatened by discrimination and systematic inequality. Economic and development projects are undertaken on indigenous lands without the prior consent of the affected communities.[11]

  1. UNDESA, 2011 Population Statistics
  2. UNICEF, 2011 Brazil Statistics
  3. The Colombia Electronic Encyclopedia Mexico Land and People
  4. The Colombia Electronic Encyclopedia Mexico History
  5. BBC, Mexico
  6. World Bank, Mexico
  7. BBC, Mexico
  8. Freedom House Mexico 2013
  9. Amnesty International Mexico
  10. OHCHR 56th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
  11. Amnesty International Mexico

Sources:

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