Mexico is a nation where affluence, poverty, natural splendour and urban blight rub shoulders.
Its politics were dominated for 70 years by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. But elections in 1997 saw a resurgent opposition break what was in effect a one-party system with a democratic facade.
Elections in 2000 confirmed the trend when Vicente Fox became the first president to come from the opposition.
Mexico has the second-largest economy in Latin America and is a major oil producer and exporter. Though production has fallen in the last few years, about one-third of government revenue still comes from the industry. Much of the crude is bought by the US.
But prosperity remains a dream for many Mexicans, and the socio-economic gap remains wide. Rural areas are often neglected and huge shanty towns ring the cities.
In recent decades many poor Mexicans have sought to cross the 3,000-km border with the US in search of a job. At one point more than a million were being arrested every year, but since 2007 there appears to have been a dramatic fall in numbers, mainly attributed to changing demographics in Mexico itself.
Mexico was home to numerous ancient American civilisations
The Mexican economy is heavily dependent on the money sent home by the millions of migrant workers in the US, and was hit hard by the downturn in its neighbour's economy in the wake of the credit crunch of 2008.
At a glance
- Politics: The Institutional Revolutionary Party was ousted in 2000 after 70 years of ruling Mexico effectively as a one-party state. It returned to power in 2012, promising it will not return to its old authoritarian ways
- Economy: Latin America's second largest economy is heavily dependent on oil and remittances from migrant workers in the US, but has seen a boom in foreign investment since the recession of 2008-9
- International: Traditionally close to the US, Mexico has demonstrated greater independence since the 1960s, but relations with its larger northern neighbour still loom large, especially as a result of the high volume of trade and extensive Mexican migration to the US
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
On a more positive note, Mexico has recently been emerging from its deepest economic slump since the 1930s, with foreign companies pouring billions of dollars of fresh investment into the country. Foreign direct investment climbed nearly 30 per cent in the first six months of 2010 from a year earlier.
Violent crime though remains a major concern; Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world, and over 47,500 people have died in drug-related violence since December 2006.
Powerful cartels control the trafficking of drugs from South America to the US, a business that is worth an estimated $13bn (£9bn) a year.
Mexico's northern border towns are experiencing the worst of the violence. Ciudad Juarez (just across from El Paso in Texas) is the city suffering the most. There are also high levels of violence in Michoacan and Guerrero states.
However, Mexico is a large country, and there are still many areas which do not experience high levels of serious crime. The overall murder rate is lower than several other countries in the region, including El Salvador and Honduras.
Another persistent issue has been the pressure for greater rights for Mexico's indigenous people. A law passed in 2001 fell short of giving Mexico's Indians political autonomy.
However, demands for indigenous rights have been largely peaceful since 1994, when at least 150 people died during an uprising in the southern state of Chiapas, led by the Zapatista rebel movement.
Writers such as Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, the mural-painter Diego Rivera, and popular ranchero and mariachi music mean that Mexican culture is known throughout the Spanish-speaking world and beyond.