Situated in the southwestern part of mainland North America and roughly triangular in shape, Mexico stretches more than 3000 km from northwest to southeast. Its width is varied, from more than 2000 km in the north and less than 220 km at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the south.
Mexico is bordered by the United States to the north, and Belize and Guatemala to the southeast. Mexico is about one-fourth the size of the United States. Baja California in the west is an 1,250-km peninsula and forms the Gulf of California. In the east are the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Campeche, which is formed by Mexico's other peninsula, the Yucatán. The center of Mexico is a great, high plateau, open to the north, with mountain chains on the east and west and with ocean-front lowlands lying outside of them.
The terrain and climate vary from rocky deserts in the north to tropical rain forest in the south. Mexico's major rivers include the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) and the Usumacinta on its northern and southern borders, respectively, together with the Grijalva, Balsas, Pánuco, and Yaqui in the interior.
According to the World Bank, Mexico is the 12th nation in the world in regards to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and the highest per capita income in that region; and is firmly established as an upper middle-income country. Since the economic debacle of 1994-1995 the country has made an impressive recovery, building a diversified economy and improving infrastructure. According to the director for Colombia and Mexico of the World Bank, the population below the poverty level has decreased from 24.2% to 17.6% in the general population and from 42% to 27.9% in rural areas
Mexico has a free-market economy with a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. The number of state-owned enterprises in Mexico has fallen from more than 1,000 in 1982 to fewer than 200 in 1999. The administration of President Ernesto Zedillo (1994–2000) continued a policy of privatizing and expanding competition in sea ports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity, natural gas distribution, and airports which was initiated by his predecessors Miguel de la Madrid and Carlos Salinas.
A strong export sector helped to cushion the economy's decline in 1995 and led the recovery in 1996–1999. Private consumption became the leading driver of growth, accompanied by increased employment and higher wages. Mexico still needs to overcome many structural problems as it strives to modernize its economy and raise living standards. Income distribution is very unequal, with the top 20% of income earners accounting for 55% of income.
Following 6.9% growth in 2000, real GDP fell 0.3% in 2001, with the US slowdown the principal cause. Positive developments in 2001 included a drop in inflation to 6.5%, a sharp fall in interest rates, and a strong peso that appreciated 5% against the US dollar. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since NAFTA was implemented in 1994.
Mexico has opened its markets to free trade as no other country in the world, having lifted its trade barriers with more than 40 countries in 12 Free Trade Agreements, including Japan and the European Union. However more than 85% of the trade is still done with the United States. Government authorities expect that by putting more than 90% of trade under free trade agreements with different countries Mexico will lessen its dependence on the US. The government is seeking to sign an additional agreement with Mercosur
With an estimated 2005 population of about 106.5 million, Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Mexico is ethnically and culturally diverse. According to the CIA World Factbook, about 60% of the population is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), another 30% is Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian, and 9% is white (or of European descent). The remaining 1% includes black and others. The national newspaper El Universal, claims that the Amerindian population in Mexico is approximately 12.7 million or about 11.9% of the population. Other ethnic groups, aside from the Amerindian, aren't mentioned in the article.
Mexico is the country where the greatest number of U.S citizens live outside the United States. This may be due to the growing economic and business interdependence of the two countries under NAFTA, and also that Mexico is considered an excellent choice for retirees. A clear example of the latter phenomenon is provided by San Miguel de Allende and many towns along the Baja California peninsula and around Guadalajara, Jalisco.
Mexico is predominantly Roman Catholic (about 89% of the population), with 6% adhering to various Protestant faiths (mostly Pentecostal), and the remaining 5% of the population adhering to other religions or professing no religion. Some of the country's Catholics (notably those of indigenous background) syncretize Catholicism with various elements of Aztec or Mayan religions.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) enjoys a growing presence in the major border cities of northeastern Mexico. Judaism has been practiced in Mexico for centuries, and there are estimated to be 100,000 Jews in Mexico today. Islam is mainly practised by members of the Arab, Turkish, and other expatriate communities; Mexico's indigenous Muslims number only a few thousand or less, although recent years have seen some growth of Islam in Chiapas.
Spanish is the official language of Mexico and is spoken by the majority of the population. About 7% of the population speaks an Amerindian language. The government officially recognizes 62 Amerindian languages. Of these Nahuatl, and Maya are each spoken by 1.5 million, while others, such as Lacandon, are spoken by less than 100. The Mexican government has promoted and established bilingual education programs in indigenous rural communities.
Although Spanish is the official language of Mexico, English is widely used in business. As a result, English language skills are much in demand and can lead to an increase in the salary offered by a company. It is also spoken along the U.S.-Mexican border, in big cities, and in beach resorts. Also, the majority of private schools in Mexico offer bilingual education, both in Spanish and English. English is the main language spoken in U.S. expatriate communities such as those along the coast of Baja California and the town of San Miguel de Allende. There are also Mormon colonies in Chihuahua where education is delivered in English.
With respect to other European languages brought by immigrants, the case of Chipilo, in the state of Puebla, is unique, and has been documented by several linguists like Carolyn McKay. The immigrants that founded the city of Chipilo in 1882 came from the Veneto region in northern Italy, and thus spoke a northern variant of the Venetian dialect. While other European immigrants assimilated into the Mexican culture, the people of Chipilo retained their language. Nowadays, most of the people who live in the city of Chipilo (and many of those who have migrated to other cities) still speak the unaltered Veneto dialect spoken by their great-grandparents making the Veneto dialect an unrecognized minority language in the city of Puebla. A similar case is that of the Plautdietsch language, spoken by the descendants of German and Dutch Mennonite immigrants in the states of Chihuahua and Durango.
Mexico has made impressive improvements in education in the last two decades. In 2004, literacy rate was at 92%, and youth literacy rate (ages 15-24) was 96%. Primary and secondary education (9 years) is free and mandatory. Even though different bilingual education programs have existed since the 1960s for the indigenous communities, after a constitution reform in the late 1990s, this programs have had a new thrust, and free text books are produced in more than a dozen indigenous languages.
Mexico was the first country to establish, in the 1970s a system of "distance-learning" satellite secondary education, aimed for the little towns and rural communities. In 2005 this system included 30,000 connected schools, 3 million students and 300,000 teachers, who use televised lectures and education science programs, pre-recorded and transmited through "EduSat", via satellite. Schools that use this system are known as telesecundarias in Mexico. The Mexican "distant-learning" secondary education is also transmitted to some Central American countries and to Colombia, and it is used in some southern states of the United States as a method of bilingual education.