On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a parish priest from the town of Dolores, issued a call to rebellion. In response, rebel leader Vicente Guerrero and defected royalist general Agustín de Itúrbide collaborated to gain Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821. Together they drafted a Mexican constitution. However, in 1822, Itúrbide declared himself emperor of the country. A year later, Antonio López de Santa Anna overthrew Itúrbide and drew up a new constitution that established a federal Mexican republic composed of 19 states and four territories. From 1823 to 1836, Santa Anna served as president, squelching Texas' stand for independence in the battle of the Alamo during his last year in office. He was later defeated by American forces during the Mexican-American War and, by 1855, had gone into exile. Following Mexico's occupation by the French in the mid-1800s, Porfírio Díaz served as president from 1876 to 1909. Despite ushering in the industrial age and greatly improving the country's infrastructure, Díaz was a dictator who bestowed political favors on the very wealthy citizenry, largely ignored the poor and ruled ruthlessly by force. The Mexican people, tired of the unbalanced distribution of wealth and power, initiated the Mexican Revolution in 1910. The 10-year civil war resulted in at least 2 million casualties. Finally, in 1934, Lázaro Cárdenas became president and re-established the ancient ejido system, which established communally shared tracts of farmland. The system benefited both the citizens and the economy. World War II further stimulated the nation's development through the development of roads, the building of factories and the establishment of irrigation systems.
Mexico's population has greatly increased since World War II, but the distribution of wealth remains imbalanced. Due to negligible legislative assistance, the poor are generally unable to improve their socio-economic status. The state of Chiapas exemplifies the problems caused by financial imbalance. In 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army rose up to challenge discrimination against Chiapas’ poor. Although their rebellion was unsuccessful, the Zapatistas continue to fight against imbalanced land ownership and power distribution, with little success. Further complicating the already problematic social division is the ever-growing problem of drug trafficking, which has contributed to political and police corruption and helped widen the gap between the elite and the underprivileged. In recent years, the building of foreign-owned factories and plants (maquiladoras) in some of Mexico’s rural areas has helped draw the population away from Mexico City and redistribute some of the country’s wealth. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 increased Mexico's financial ties to the United States and Canada, but the Mexican economy remains fragile. Despite its problems, the Mexican economy, with its growing industrial base, abundant natural resources and variety of service industries, remains important to Latin America. Despite the political and social changes that have occurred over the centuries, evidence of past cultures and events are apparent everywhere in Mexico. Many of Mexico’s rural areas are still inhabited by indigenous people whose lifestyles are quite similar to those of their ancestors. In addition, many pre-Columbian ruins still exist throughout Mexico, including the ancient city of Teotihuacán and the Mayan pyramids at Chichén Itzá and Tulum. Reminders of the colonial past are evident in the architecture of towns like Taxco and Querétaro.
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