Mexico is bordered by the United States to the north and Belize and Guatemala to the southeast. Mexico is about one-fifth the size of the United States. Baja California in the west is an 800-mile (1,287-km) peninsula that 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 beyond.
At least three great civilizations—the Mayas, the Olmecs, and the Toltecs—preceded the wealthy Aztec empire, conquered in 1519–1521 by the Spanish under Hernando Cortés. Spain ruled Mexico as part of the viceroyalty of New Spain for the next 300 years until Sept. 16, 1810, when the Mexicans first revolted. They won independence in 1821.
From 1821 to 1877, there were two emperors, several dictators, and enough presidents and provisional executives to make a new government on the average of every nine months. Mexico lost Texas (1836), and after defeat in the war with the U.S. (1846–1848), it lost the area that is now California, Nevada, and Utah, most of Arizona and New Mexico, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1855, the Indian patriot Benito Juárez began a series of reforms, including the disestablishment of the Catholic Church, which owned vast property. The subsequent civil war was interrupted by the French invasion of Mexico (1861) and the crowning of Maximilian of Austria as emperor (1864). He was overthrown and executed by forces under Juárez, who again became president in 1867.
Norse incursions along the coasts, starting in 795, ended in 1014 with Norse defeat at the Battle of Clontarf by forces under Brian Boru. In the 12th century, the pope gave all of Ireland to the English Crown as a papal fief. In 1171, Henry II of England was acknowledged “Lord of Ireland,” but local sectional rule continued for centuries, and English control over the whole island was not reasonably secure until the 17th century. In the Battle of the Boyne (1690), the Catholic King James II and his French supporters were defeated by the Protestant King William III (of Orange). An era of Protestant political and economic supremacy began.
By the Act of Union (1801), Great Britain and Ireland became the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.” A steady decline in the Irish economy followed in the next decades. The population had reached 8.25 million when the great potato famine of 1846–1848 took many lives and drove more than 2 million people to immigrate to North America.
GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $1.346 trillion; per capita $12,800. Real growth rate: 3.3%. Inflation: 4%. Unemployment: 3.7% plus underemployment of perhaps 25%. Arable land: 13%. Agriculture: corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, cotton, coffee, fruit, tomatoes; beef, poultry, dairy products; wood products. Labor force: 45.38 million; agriculture 18%, industry 24%, services 58% (2003). Industries: food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum, mining, textiles, clothing, motor vehicles, consumer durables, tourism. Natural resources: petroleum, silver, copper, gold, lead, zinc, natural gas, timber. Exports: $267.5 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.): manufactured goods, oil and oil products, silver, fruits, vegetables, coffee, cotton. Imports: $279.3 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.): metalworking machines, steel mill products, agricultural machinery, electrical equipment, car parts for assembly, repair parts for motor vehicles, aircraft, and aircraft parts. Major trading partners: U.S., Canada, Spain, South Korea, Japan (2006).
Telephones: main lines in use: 19.861 million (2006); mobile cellular: 57.016 million (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 850, FM 545, shortwave 15 (2003). Radios: 31 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 236 (plus repeaters) (1997). Televisions: 25.6 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 7.629 million (2007). Internet users: 22 million (2006).
Railways: total: 17,665 km (2006). Highways: total: 235,670 km; paved: 116,751 km (including 6,144 km of expressways); unpaved: 118,919 km (2004). Waterways: 2,900 km navigable rivers and coastal canals. Ports and harbors: Acapulco, Altamira, Coatzacoalcos, Ensenada, Guaymas, La Paz, Lazaro Cardenas, Manzanillo, Mazatlan, Progreso, Salina Cruz, Tampico, Topolobampo, Tuxpan, Veracruz. Airports: 1,834 (2007).
International disputes: prolonged regional drought in the border region with the U.S. has strained water-sharing arrangements.