Maya of the Yucatán
El Hombre Sobre la Tierra works with several Mayan villages in the Mexican state of Yucatán—the peninsula perhaps best known for one of the country's top tourist destinations, Cancún. Despite Cancún's successful tourism-based economy, there is severe poverty in the region. For the past five centuries, the indigenous Maya have fought to defend their cultural identity and natural resources in the face of colonization, state-sponsored marginalization and most recently, globalization. Today, most Maya live in poor conditions, usually in small homes with earthen floors, palm-leaf roofs and timber walls. Education levels remain low, and Mayan-speaking adults are alienated from the Spanish-speaking majority, who monopolize political, economic and social power. Cultural norms, such as preventing women from owning land or working outside the home, make progress particularly challenging for women in the region. . Slash-and-burn agriculture has depleted environmental resources, making it necessary for Mayan communities to seek more sustainable means of development.
Background on Mexico
After more than 10 years of war and centuries of Spanish dominance dating to conquest by Hernán Cortés and the conquistadors, Mexico won independence in 1821. Since then, its history has been linked closely with that of the U.S. and it is now the U.S.’s leading trading partner. However, Mexico is plagued by drug related violence and a highly unequal distribution of wealth.
Timeline of Major Events
|1821|| Spain recognizes Mexico's independence.|
|1848|| Mexico cedes half of its territory to the United States in the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo.|
|1910|| Unrest amongst peasants and urban workers leads to the Epic Revolution.|
|1911|| Mexico's dictator, Porfirio Diaz, is overthrown.|
|1920|| The President of Mexico is murdered. Civil war follows.|
|1929|| The National Revolutionary Party is formed. Later renamed the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). |
|1968|| Student demonstration in Mexico City over unequal distribution of wealth is violently suppressed by Mexican security forces.|
|1976|| Huge offshore oil reserves are discovered.|
The Zapatista National Liberation Army leads a guerilla rebellion in Chiapas, which is brutally suppressed by government troops.
The stock market plunges and the peso loses a third of its value.
|1996|| The insurgency in the south escalates. The Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) attacks government troops.|
Special prosecutor appointed to tackle issue of violent crime against women.
US President George W. Bush signs legislation intended to curb illegal immigration by constructing 700 miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border. Mexico condems the plan.
The number of drug-related killings soars. More than 4,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Calderon took office two years prior.
51.3% of the population lives below the poverty line.
44% of women participate in the labor force.
Mexico’s economy is the 12th largest in the world and the nation is a leading producer of oil. Improvements in the women’s labor force have translated into small economic gains, however half the number of women employed is half that of men and so a large gender-based wage gap still exists.
Income distribution is highly unequal in Mexico – poor urban populations live in hazardous conditions, and poor rural populations suffer from isolation and have few income opportunities.
The indigenous populations of Mexico have long suffered economic, political and social marginalization. Comprising between 12% and 30% of the population, indigenous groups maintain the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates in the country.
Public Health Concerns
Since 2006 over 10,000 people have died as a result of drug related violence. As a consequence of poverty and drug-related instability, approximately 400,000 Mexicans immigrate to the United States in search of jobs each year, at great personal risk.