Mexico has 31 states and one Federal District, Mexico City, where the seat of the Federal Government and approximately one-fifth of the population can be found. The country is considered a federal republic, with each state — from Baja in the north to Oaxaca in the south — having a separate state government answerable to the national government. The land covers a wide variety of terrain, from desert like plains to mountainous rain forest, and the varied states encompass a wide range of ethnic and social groups.
The region of North America now known as Mexico has been inhabited by humans for over 4,000 years. In the 15th century and the Age of Exploration, the West became acquainted with the region and colonized it in an attempt to control its vast natural resources, which included minerals, timber, and a variety of botanical discoveries such as tomatoes and corn. The conquest had tragic consequences for the native peoples of North America, who found themselves subsumed by a highly stratified and deeply Catholic culture.
Early in the 1800s, the country fought for independence and won, inspired by the efforts of other former colonies. The first century of independence, however, was marked by revolution and state infighting, with various factions waging for control, culminating in 1917 with the drafting of the Constitution. Much like the United States, Mexico divides the governance of the country into executive, judicial, and legislative branches in a system of checks and balances.
The states are divided into municipalities, which are governed by mayors. Mexican states also have legislatures, constitutions, and governors, and function in some sense as independent entities able to enact and enforce their own laws. This model of government is familiar to American citizens, who are acquainted with a system of decentralized states as well as a Federal seat of government.
Mexico has several major active political parties, including the Institutional Revolutionary Party, National Action Party, Party of the Democratic Revolution, Green Ecological Party, and Labor Party. The Institutional Revolutionary Party controlled the government for 71 years until 2000, when Vicente Fox of the National Action Party was elected president for a non-renewable term of six years.
In the late part of the 20th century, the country underwent many governmental reforms, including a restriction of the powers of the president, which had traditionally been the most powerful branch of government. It has also instituted laws and procedures to fight corruption at all levels of the government, as well as to promote a healthy and sustainable economy. Most of the laws have been put in place at the federal level, governing all the states, while some Mexican states have enacted more radical legislature aimed at putting a stop to corruption in government and economic exploitation.