Mexico is a nation undergoing rapid change. Past characterizations of the country as rural, undemocratic, and protectionist have been replaced in the last decades of the twentieth century by descriptions that refer to Mexico as urban, opening to democracy, and market-oriented. For a country composed mostly of peasants before the Revolution (1910-20), Mexico has undergone broad and rapid urbanisation; Mexico City has emerged as one of the world's largest cities at the end of the twentieth century. Throughout most of its history, Mexico has been ruled by strongmen or a one-party system; in 1997 pressures for an open democracy are greater than ever. Under the presidencies of Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94) and Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994- ), the economy, long one of the most protectionist and statist of the non-socialist countries, dramatically about-faced, embracing open-market policies and free-trade links with the United States and countries throughout the Americas.
They say that Mexico is a country no one ever leaves. Every year, millions of tourists pass through, and Mexicans jovially warn that a part of them will remain behind forever. Most visitors are vacationing North Americans who wind up on the brilliant beaches of Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. The beaches, of course, are among the world's best - but those who venture inland are rewarded with the true soul of Mexico, which has always resided firmly in the interior.
And it is a big soul. The Republic of Mexico is vast, comprising nearly two million square miles of coastline, desert, rain forest, mountains, and fertile plains. From the American borderlands of the wide, agriculturally rich north, the country narrows gently as it sweeps south and east. The two main mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental, hug the west and east, finally merging into the volcanically active central highlands and the capital, Mexico City - the most populous city in the world. Further south, the country narrows to only 100 miles, then broadens again before reaching the Guatemalan border. There are two major peninsulas in Mexico that are almost countries themselves. In the west is the poetically barren Baja Peninsula, which seals in the biological riches of the Sea of Cortes; to the east, protruding into the Caribbean like the end of a fish hook, is the Yucatan peninsula, bursting with rain forests, Mayan ruins, and white powder beaches. The population is about 93 million, and the generosity of the Mexican people is unsurpassed. Knowing a few simple sentences in Spanish will win hearts.