Table of Contents


Contact Information

Mexico and Neocolonialism
An Irish perspective


By Tony Phillips [1]


This article explores colony and conquest with examples from the post-colonial realities of modern-day Mexico and Ireland, examining Mexico City over the last seven centuries from its foundation to its growth into the powerhouse at the centre of the planet's seventh largest economy, and covering its legendary foundation by Aztec nomads, to Spanish slaughter, revolutionary Mexican attacks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and invasion and annexation by the United States. Bloody colonial battles are contrasted with global corporate buy-outs in the context of the 1994 Peso crisis responsible for the collapse of various Latin American currencies and economies - the ‘Tequila effect’ - and corrupt Mexican President Salinas' resultant Irish exile. Finally post-colonial power is contrasted with neo-colonial hegemony exploring international relations from various perspectives: the currency markets, religion and property rights.

Founding of Mexico
(Ramírez Codex, late sixteenth century)


Tenochtitlán, Mexico City

Four hours south of where I write this article, by toll road, is the Mexican capital. Formerly called Tenochtitlán, the remains of this city are now buried beneath the flagstones of the polluted metropolis that is Mexico City. Visitors can still marvel at Aztec architecture in tours that pass underneath the modern Zócalo (Plaza de la Constitución), the central square of Mexico City. Surfacing, they can expect to encounter another one of the many demonstrations against the legitimacy of the declared winning candidate of the 2006 Mexican presidential elections, Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa. Calderón, the candidate for Mexico's neoliberal PAN party, won a statistically impossible [2] victory over Mexico City's former mayor, the PRD party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Obrador's response was to set up a parallel government. One wonders what would have happened if presidential candidate Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. had taken a similar approach in the United States elections of 2000.

The Mexican citizens refer to their great capital as the 'Distrito Federal' (or DF for short). The DF is now the world's second largest city, by population, after Tokyo, Japan, with 20 million official inhabitants.

Until 1521, DF was the capital of the Méxica tribe (whom we often refer to as the Aztecs). They chose to build Tenochtitlán, the umbilical centre for their extensive empire, on an island in a defensible lake (now covered with landfill). Legend has it that the site was chosen when the Méxica discovered an eagle eating a snake on a cactus. This legend is now depicted on the modern Mexican flag.

Hernán Cortés, the illegitimate son of impoverished Spanish soldier Martín Cortés, conquered Tenochtitlán from Emperor Moctezuma II (Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin) and razed it to the ground. Hernán Cortés was then just thirty-four years of age; he had migrated to Cuba from Extremadura, Spain, just twelve years before his invasion of the North American mainland. DF was also conquered by nationalist insurgents in the 1800s and the 1900s, and then by the USA in 1848.

This article explores its current 'ownership'.


As one drives further north from Central Mexico, the highland plains slowly descend into the drier and wider deserts of Chihuahua and Durango, eventually reaching the current building project that is President Bush's immigrant wall. The current Mexican-US border is conspicuous for its huge dollar-denominated border retail outlets, with their lines of cars with Mexican plates, and the polluted NAFTA-focused maquiladoras (Mexican export-factories), on the southern side.

The US southwestern states of California, Nevada, New Mexico, parts of Wyoming and Colorado, Arizona and Texas were part of New Spain and later (for about thirty years) of the Mexican Republic, after Mexico finally won its independence from the Spanish. Four hundred million acres (corresponding to these ceded southwestern states), were eventually bought from Mexico for three payments, totalling just over 40 million dollars. The deal was not well received in Mexico but was forced through by the US armies after their defeat of the Mexicans in the 1846-1848 war.

The Alamo, Two Histories

The Alamo, 1960, directed by 
and starring John Wayne

US history presents us with folkloric references to Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, famous for their hats and knives respectively. These two were overrun and killed by their own Mexican army at The Alamo. The mythical tale, immortalised by John Wayne in the last century, and by the US newspapers in the nineteenth century, was the birthplace of one of the first political catch phrases: 'Remember the Alamo!', something every US schoolchild learns to this day, even if they don't know why.

Widely publicised at the time, The Alamo raised sufficient outrage north of the border to enable President Polk to declare war on his southern neighbour, Mexico. Polk's Mexican land grab, a kind of manifest destiny looking south, proved to be quite a bargain. However Mexican 'agreement' to the terms offered required that the US army also invade Tenochtitlán in 1848.

In order to understand this process, it is necessary to take a revisionist look at the historical context of 'The Alamo'. The Texan insurgency of the 1830s was an internal Mexican matter. Texan rebels were fighting for unrestricted slavery rights contravening the Federal Mexican government who had declared a slavery ban in September 1829. The threat of freed slaves outraged the Texan cotton farmers, so political pressure was brought to bear in DF. One month later, the Mexican laws were changed to allow slavery, but only in Texas. This exception carried some restrictions (no new slaves). It was not to suffice. Restrictions on Texan slaves threatened the cotton industry with increased labour costs and higher taxation and led to Texan plans for self-determination. This finally led to a failed rebellion and to The Alamo. After the Texan insurgency was put down, Polk declared his war on Mexico, an economic disaster from a Mexican perspective, resulting in the annexation of about half of Mexico's territory (the four hundred million acres mentioned above).


1 - 2 - 3


Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 1 March 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Phillips, Tony, 'Mexico and Neocolonialism: an Irish perspective
' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:1 (March 2007). Available online (www.irlandeses.org), pp. 16-22, accessed .


The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

 Copyright Information