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Viewpoint: Five Myths About Mexico

Author: Shannon K. O'Neil, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program
May 1, 2013


President Obama's visit to Mexico is part of a long tradition of diplomatic relations between the US and its neighbour to the south.

But while many Americans feel that they understand the basic economic and social forces that drive Mexico, the realities are much more interesting.

Here five myths about Mexico, that have a direct impact on American foreign policy, are debunked.

Mexico is no longer a poor country

Though many Americans think of Mexico as a country of either wealth or poverty, by most accounts it is now a middle-class country.

A majority of Mexican households - incorporating roughly 60m people - now have disposable income. Half of the people in Mexico own their own car, and one-third own a computer. Nearly everyone has a television and mobile phone.

These new urban middle-class Mexicans are also investing in their children's education. There are now 45,000 private schools, comprising nearly a third of all Mexico's schools.

Student enrollment in universities and beyond has tripled in the past 30 years, from under a million in 1980 to almost three million today.

The rise of the middle class has affected Mexico's politics, too, with this segment pivotal in voting out the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000, and then voting them back in to Los Pinos, Mexico's White House, last year.

This crucial voting bloc is increasingly up for grabs, rapidly joining the ranks of Mexico's proclaimed political independents.

They mirror the US middle class in their concerns, paying close attention to economic opportunities and security, two important issues in US-Mexico relations.

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