Jun 232016
 

At the Mexico-China Forum for Cooperation in Mexico City in May 2016, authorities from China’s Guangdong Province met with Mexican officials and discussed plans to invest in Mexico’s recently-established Special Economic Zones.

special-economic-zones

These zones offer tax benefits and support services to investors in order to generate new sources of employment in southern Mexico (Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán, Veracruz and Tabasco).

Trade between Guangdong Province and Mexico was worth $10.4 billion last year, 25% of the two countries’ total trade. Chinese firms are considering projects related to aerospace, vehicles, electronics and energy, which could add $480 million in foreign direct investment. In support of closer ties between Mexico and China, China Southern Airlines plans direct flights between Guangdong and Mexico starting next year, which would serve business travelers and also boost tourism.

Jun 202016
 

Mexico is the world’s leading producer of silver and has occupied top spot for several years. Mexico’s output of silver rose 2.0% in 2015 to 5,372 metric tons (189.5 million ounces). Mexico is responsible for 21% of global production, followed by Peru (15%), China (12%) and Australia and Russia (each 6%). About 70% of silver produced in Mexico is exported, the remainder is sold on the domestic market.

Global silver production fell slightly in 2015 due to decreased output from Canada, Australia and China. World demand for silver in 2015 reached a record 33,170 tons (1,170 million ounces), due to surges in three manufacturing sectors: jewelry, ingots and coins, and photo-voltaic solar panels.

The increased output in Mexico came from expansions in the Saucito and Saucito II mines, operated by Fresnillo, and the El Cubo mine, managed by Canadian firm, Endeavour Silver. A similar increase in production is predicted this year, given the on-going expansion of the San José mine, owned by Canada-based Fortuna Silver Mines.

Zacatecas is Mexico’s leading silver producing state (46.5% of total; see map), well ahead of Chihuahua (16.6%), Durango (11.3%) and Sonora (6.9%).

Silver production in Mexico, 2011. Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

Silver production in Mexico, 2011. Data: INEGI. Credit: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico

In Zacatecas, silver mining is especially important in the municipalities of Fresnillo (24% of total national silver production) and Mazapil (15%) as well as Chalchihuites and Sombrerete (3% each). The main silver mining municipality in Chihuahua is Santa Bárbara (3% of national total). In Durango, San Dimas and Guanaceví are each responsible for about 3% of national production, while the leading municipality for silver in Sonora is Nacozari de García (1%).

The legacy of silver

The importance of silver mining in colonial New Spain can not be over-emphasized. For instance, during colonial times nearly one third of all the silver mined in the world came from the Guanajuato region!

Even today, the cities and landscapes of many parts of central and northern Mexico reveal the historical significance of silver mining. The legacies of silver mining include not only the opulent colonial buildings in numerous major cities such as Zacatecas and Guanajuato, as well as innumerable smaller towns, but also the deforestation of huge swathes of countryside.

The landscape of states like San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas and Guanajuato was forever changed by the frenzied exploitation of their woodlands. Silver mines needed wooden ladders and pit props. The smelting of silver ore required vast quantities of firewood. Barren tracts of upland testify to the success of those early silver mines. Mining played a crucial role in the pattern of settlement and communications of most of northern Mexico. The need to transfer valuable silver bullion safely from mine to mint required the construction of faster and shorter routes (see, for example, El Camino Real or Royal Road, the spine of the colonial road system in New Spain), helping to focus the pattern of road and rail communications on a limited number of major cities.

Once workable ores ran out, smaller mining communities fell into obscurity and many became ghost towns. Some of these settlements, such as Real de Catorce and Angangueo, have enjoyed a new lease of life in recent years due to tourism.

The main town associated with silver and tourism is Taxco, the center of silversmiths and silver working in Mexico.

Mining towns described briefly previously on Geo-Mexico.com include:

Note: This is a 2016 update of a post first published in 2013.

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Jun 162016
 

On 21 June, the public transit system known as ACAbús will finally officially begin operations in the resort city of Acapulco in Guerrero. ACAbús began trial operations on 31 May, following several years of delays.

acabus

The service employs 135 Dina buses of various kinds, all equipped with state-of-the-art technology to reduce emissions, save fuel and will substitute 366 old, less efficient vehicles to the benefit of both locals and tourists.

The system represents an investment of around $140 million, roughly two-thirds for highway and transit stop refurbishment and one-third for operating equipment (vehicles and travel card machines).

ACAbús connects the resort’s many tourism attractions and facilities. The main central axis (map) is a 16-km (10 mile) long route from Las Cruces along Avenida Cuauhtémoc to Caleta, with 18 stops along the way. This portion will be confined solely to rapid transit articulated buses.

Map of ACAbús network; click forlarger pdf map

Map of ACAbús network; click for larger pdf map

Four trunk routes supplement this central axis, each with a limited number of stops. The ones of interest to most tourists will be Routes 4 and 5, which run along the main Costera Miguel Alemán highway. A series of shorter feeder routes provides easy access from most parts of the city to the nearest trunk route.

Passengers are required to obtain a pre-paid card in order to use the system. Most journeys, including connecting service, will cost $10 pesos (less than 60 cents U.S.).

The number of different bus routes in Acapulco has been reduced from about 220 to 120, but travel times should be greatly improved. Authorities claim that the system should cut regular traffic by about 25%, and that everyone will benefit as it means that older vehicles have been removed from the roads with a decrease in total emissions.

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Jun 132016
 

Mexico’s national electrical system serves about 97% of all Mexicans. In recent years electrical generation has not been able to keep pace with demand for electricity, which is increasing at about 6% to 7% per year. Attempts to increase private sector investment in energy as a means to keep up with surging demand have met opposition in the Mexican Congress. Under current law, private investors may generate electricity but transmission and distribution are restricted to the Federal Electricity Commission.

Mexico's major power stations. Fig 16-2 of Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

Mexico’s major power stations. Fig 16-2 of Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved.

About 30% of Mexico’s total installed electricity generating capacity of 60,000 MW comes from conventional power plants burning oil. Natural gas-fueled power plants account for about 35%, while coal plants contribute about 9%. Altogether, fossil fuel burning facilities account for almost three-quarters of Mexico’s generating capacity.

Many of Mexico’s newer power plants are highly efficient, gas-fired, combined cycle plants which integrate gas and steam turbines. On a per megawatt basis, they are relatively economical to build. Their major disadvantage (equally true for conventional thermo-electric power stations) is that their emissions contribute to air pollution (particularly sulfur dioxide) and global warming. About 25% of Mexico’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide are due to electricity generation.

Hydroelectric power has been important since the early part of the twentieth century. Currently about 22% of the electricity generating capacity is from hydroelectric plants. The largest hydroelectric plants are on the Grijalva River in Chiapas. Other rivers providing significant hydropower are the Balsas, Santiago, Fuerte, Papaloapan and Moctezuma.

Mexico has one nuclear power plant at Laguna Verde in Veracruz, which provides about 2.6% of the nation’s generating capacity. No additional nuclear plants are planned.

Mexico has the world’s second largest geothermal electrical potential, after Indonesia. This resource might be more important in the future but at present it accounts for less than 2.4% of Mexico’s electricity capacity.

The region of Mexico with most potential for wind power is the low-lying and flat Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico where annual wind speeds, at a height of 30m (100 ft) above the ground (the height of modern windmills), average more than 30 kph (19 mph). Despite the success of the windfarms already operating in La Venta (Oaxaca) and Guerrero Negro (Baja California Sur), wind power is responsible for less than 0.05% of all electricity. The government hopes to boost wind power capacity significantly within the next five to ten years.

Most solar power interest is focused not on large scale plants but on small-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems providing electricity in remote rural areas. About 3 million people (3% of the population) live in small or remote settlements not yet connected to the national electricity grid. More than 60,000 PV systems have been installed nationwide, benefiting 250,000 rural inhabitants.

This is an excerpt from chapter 16 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy (Print or ebook) today!

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Jun 092016
 

Remittances (the funds sent by migrant workers back to their families) are a major international financial flow into Mexico. Remittances brought more than 24 billion dollars a year into the economy in 2015, an amount equivalent to about 2.5% of Mexico’s GDP.

For an introduction, with links to some of the key pages on this blog, see

Causes and trends:

How do remittances work?

Impacts of Mexican migrants on the USA and Canada:

Links between communities – “migration channels”.

The five major “states of origin”—Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas:

What happens to migrants who are deported back to Mexico?

Changes in Mexico that may impact migration:

Internal migration:

Foreign migrants living in Mexico:

Practical Exercise (Mapwork):

This index page was last updated 30 May 2016. Other index pages include:

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Jun 062016
 

On Mexico’s Pacific coast, the endemic Green Turtle or tortuga verde (Chelonia mydas) has been taken off the “endangered” list and had its status reclassified as “threatened”. Despite the success of conservation efforts in Mexico, green turtle remains on the worldwide endangered list, to which it was first added in 1978.

For details of Mexico’s conservation efforts with respect to sea turtles, see Protecting Mexico’s endangered marine turtles.

The global population of green turtles, which can wiegh up to 200 kg and live as long as 80 years, has now been divided by wildlife experts into 11 distinct sub-populations, allowing some flexibility in approaches to their management.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico.

Meanwhile, in Mexico’s arid northern interior in the Chihuahuan desert, biologists have reported a marked upsurge in the numbers of the very much smaller Bolson tortoise. The Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), native to this part of Mexico, is often referred to as the Mexican giant tortoise, but grows only to about 50 cm in length, with a weight of around 18 kg. It had been under threat due to local people hunting it for food, and due to shifting weather patterns. The tortoise is one of the various endangered species inhabiting the Bolsón de Mapimi, the desert basin that straddles the borders of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.

Conservation efforts in the area have focused on ensuring that local people have an alternative source of meat (cattle in this case) and appreciate the value of preserving their native tortoises. Local communities have been given grants to help with reforestation projects, environmental monitoring and maintaining a small museum for visitors.

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Jun 022016
 

Following on from our look at the potentially disastrous environmental consequences of publicizing Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”), one of Mexico’s most beautiful small beaches, we take a look at how this extraordinary beach was formed.

Playa Escondida. Source: Google Earth. Scale: The beach is about 30 m (100 ft) long.

Playa Escondida. Source: Google Earth. Scale: The beach is about 30 m (100 ft) long.

Playa Escondida is on one of the small, uninhabited Marieta Islands, in the Marieta Islands National Park, off the west coast of Mexico, and relatively close to Puerto Vallarta.

playa-escondida

The beach is an “eye to the sky” and is aptly described by travel writer Brandon Presser, as follows:

At the center of Isla Redonda [is] a quirk of nature seen only on the pages of a fantasy novel—a sandy beach carved into the rounded core of the island like the hole of donut. Although completely invisible from the shoreline, a bird’s eye view reveals lapping crystal waters and an empty dune like dazzling colors at the end of kaleidoscope’s funnel.”

The Marieta Islands are formed of volcanic rocks and are an extension of Mexico’s Volcanic Axis.

Just how was this beach formed? Prosser describes two alternative suggestions. The first is that the volcanic rocks were not uniform in composition and hardness but had differences in resistance to subaerial weathering and erosion. According to this theory, the weaker, less consolidated rocks were eroded more quickly than the surrounding rocks to leave a giant chasm in the ground. This chasm was then breached on one side by marine action.

The alternative theory mentioned by Prosser, and the only one mentioned (though without citation) by wikipedia, is that the chasm was formed by human activity, specifically by the Mexican military who undertook bombing practice in and around the islands prior to when the area was given National Park status.

Coastal geomorphologists might argue the case for considering a third theory, involving the formation, first, of the cove on the outer coast of the island, followed by a combination of marine and subaerial action to exploit a line of weakness in the volcanic rocks to create a landform known as a geo (a narrow, deep, cleft extending inland from the coast). This geo may have gradually lengthened over time, by continued cave formation at the head of the geo, with marine erosion at the back of the cave opening up a blowhole, a small opening to the sky. A sequence of collapses and blowhole formation, over time, may have created Playa Escondida, where the interior beach is the base of a former blowhole, where the roof has collapsed and the material subsequently removed by marine action or pounded into beach sand.

Whatever the explanation, this particular geomorphosite is one of Mexico’s many natural treasures, and one well worth preserving for future generations.

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May 302016
 

American author Charles Fleming Embree‘s A dream of a throne, the story of a Mexican revolt, published in 1900, is, I believe, the earliest novel in any language about the Lake Chapala area. It is an historical novel, set in the area during the nineteenth century, but Embree reveals an extraordinary depth of knowledge, not only of the history of this area, but also of its geography.

Embree was only 24 years of age when he and his wife Virginia, newly-weds at the time, arrived in Chapala in 1898. Embree had dropped out of Wabash College in his native Indiana, without completing his degree, to devote himself to his writing and his first book, a collections of stories entitled For the Love of Tonita, and other tales of the Mesas (1897) had proved successful.

The Embrees lived in Chapala for eight months in 1898, before traveling to other parts of Mexico, including Guanajauto, Xalapa, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca. Embree’s publishers described A dream of a throne as, “A powerful and highly dramatic romance, dealing with a popular Mexican uprising half a century ago. It is a novel of adventure and of war, and its strongly contrasted characters glow with life and realism. The writer’s thorough knowledge of Mexican life gives him a wealth of new material; and the descriptions of scenery at Lake Chapala are vivid, full of color, and alive with mountain air”.A Dream of a Throne by Charles F. Embree

The book is indeed a remarkable achievement. Despite only living at Lake Chapala for a few months, Embree acquired and demonstrates, from a geographical perspective, an extraordinarily accurate and astute knowledge of all his lakeside locales. The spelling of all place-names, with the exception of Ajicjic and Tuxcueco, is exactly as it is today. Details of clothing, habits and customs all ring true. Embree’s knowledge of the region’s nineteenth century history is equally impressive. As one small example, the story begins in the shadow of St. Michael’s hill in Chapala in May 1833, amidst fear of an epidemic of smallpox. In real life, the nearby city of Guadalajara suffered a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1833.

From a human geography perspective, this novel offers us one of the earliest descriptions of everyday indigenous life in the region. As Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara has pointed out, even by the 1920s (twenty years after Embree’s novel), virtually no-one was observing or writing about this area from an indigenous point of view. Embree’s novel has particular value since it examines the conflicts between Indians and Spaniards, anticipating the themes explored by D. H. Lawrence when he visited Chapala for a couple of months in 1923 and penned the first draft of The Plumed Serpent.

All the action in Embree’s novel takes place on and around Lake Chapala. The major locales are Mezcala Island, Chapala, Ajijic and Tizapan. The following extracts have been chosen to highlight his depictions of the local landscapes. Lake Chapala was significantly larger in 1898 than it is today (see The eastern end of Mexico’s largest lake, Lake Chapala, is amputated):

Lake Chapala, showing area drained at start of 20th century. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Lake Chapala, showing area drained at start of 20th century. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Here is Embree’s description of Ajijic:

They were riding over a rough trail with cacti and stones about, and here and there a flock of goats. To the right was a seemingly endless chain of mountains, to the left, more distant, rose St. Michael, low and round (behind whose bulk lay Chapala and the water), and the larger head, called Angostura, lying between that town and Ajicjic on the lake’s edge. Between Angostura and the opposite mountain chain the road led, rising to a hill, to whose summit the little army came. They looked down on the lake and, nearer, small irregular fields, scores of them, checkering a level stretch from mountains to water. Out of these, Ajicjic’s church thrust up a single gleaming tower of white. Three o’clock found the troop sweeping into the barren plaza of that fishing village.

To this day Ajicjic can claim no more than some two thousand souls. It has, even yet, no railroad, no stage; rarely has a vehicle been seen in that primitive place other than the awkward oxcart. Its low, unplastered adobe walls stand close together. The streets are alleys of extreme narrowness wherein there is mud when it rains, dust when it is dry, rocks and swine forever. Nigh every alley twists and turns, is for a block no more than a gutter, for another block a public stable for burros. Yet one may find some better quarters. The plaza, though it is only a bare, brown waste, is wide. The open court before the church, though it too is bare and dirty, with lonely, crumbling walls and pillars about it, yet has in its center a weather-beaten cross that speaks of service to the Lord.

The troop filled the plaza. It was halted, and the inhabitants of the town, struck with amazement, either shut themselves up or gathered in silence round about. Groups of brown children, absolutely naked, sat down in the dirt, thumbs in mouth, to wonder in comfort. Rodrigo and Bonavidas began the inquiries, prefacing them with jocularly expressed friendship to certain storekeepers and a toss of tequila here and there down a willing throat. Boats? There hadn’t come but one boat to Ajicjic the blessed day. Ajicjic was losing importance in these times. On market days everybody went to the bigger market at Chapala, where the news was dispersed. And this one boat? It had come from Tizapan with a load of wood for the lime burners.

His landscape descriptions are equally adept:

The town of Tizapan lies at a short distance from the lake. The shore in that region is no such distinctly marked line of beach and rock as it is at Chapala. It is not even always easy to tell where the shore is. Between water and land there is a stretch of marsh for several hundred yards, watery, pierced by the spears of a million reeds that rise thick and green to a height of some feet. Here flock ducks in great numbers. The marsh is flat, bewildering, and dreary. Through its middle a stream, called the Tizapan River, cuts out more than one course, having formed a delta. The main course of this river, not over twenty yards at its widest part, usually much narrower, is navigable for canoas for half a mile to a point where the land is dry and from which the town lies yet another mile distant. The stream being crooked and the curves sharp, the progress from the open lake to the inner landing is usually made by poles. The lake approach to the town could be easily blocked by blocking the river. Only the one course is navigable. Nobody could cross the marshes. This fact was recognized more than a century ago.

The town itself is like the greater part of Mexican towns, narrow and crooked streets with the low houses (joined together) shutting those streets in and making them seem even narrower, and the central plaza of considerable size left vacant. That plaza is today filled with flowers and fruit and contains a bandstand. In former times it was bare. The mountains rise only a little way behind the town, jagged and huge. Before them is a stretch of rolling green fields. The river, coming from the peaks, dashes down through this pastoral scene with a vivacity that has laid bare a rough and rocky bed whereon the water boils till it passes through the town. At the time when the two small armies were approaching Tizapan, much of the summer green was still on field and mountain. The unclouded sun poured his light over an emerald gem of the lake’s border.

After their time in Mexico, the Embrees settled in Santa Ana, California. Embree published his second novel A Heart of Flame: the Story of a Master Passion in 1901, and supplied a steady stream of short stories to major magazines, including McClure’s, the San Francisco Argonaut and Sunset Magazine. Sadly, the couple had not long celebrated the birth of their only daughter Elinor in 1905 when Embree was taken seriously ill. He died on July 3, not yet 31 years old.

It is tragic that someone who had produced work of this magnitude, should have died so terribly young. In his short time in Chapala, Charles Embree had acquired an excellent historical and geographical knowledge of the region at a time when American travelers to the lake were few and far between. Geo-Mexico believes that Charles Fleming Embree full deserves to be declared an Honorary Geographer.

Note: The post is based on chapter 43 of Lake Chapala through the ages; an anthology of travellers’ tales (Sombrero Books, 2008) and on American novelist Charles Fleming Embree set his first novel at Lake Chapala” (MexConnect, 2009).

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May 262016
 

Mexico’s largest mining company, Grupo México plans to mine copper from its mine in Angangueo, Michoacán, according to the town’s mayor, Leonel Martínez Maya, who says it would revitalize the local economy. Large-scale mining in the town declined after a serious accident in 1953, said to have been attributable to the company’s then-foreign management in response to a threatened strike. The miners who lost their lives in this accident are commemorated by a huge statue which overlooks the town.

Angangueo. Sketch by Mark Eager; all rights reserved.

Angangueo. Sketch by Mark Eager; all rights reserved.

The mayor is adamant that the renewal of active mining in the town would have no adverse consequences for the annual migration of Monarch butterflies (who overwinter in their tens of millions in the pine-fir forests above the town)  or on their habitat.

The town is one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns” and the area is a protected natural reserve, but apparently the mining company is taking advantage of a legal loophole and arguing that the mine predates the establishment of the Monarch reserve, and that the mine was never technically closed, even though it was inactive in recent years. The Michoacán state government is said to support the Grupo México initiative.

Despite boom times in the past, the town of Angangueo currently has only limited sources of revenue other than seasonal tourism.

The illustration and parts of the description come from chapter 30 of my Western Mexico, a Traveller’s Treasury (4th edition, 2013).

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May 232016
 

In the past couple of years, Mexico’s federal tourism department has included a truly magnificent beach on some of its publicity posters. It is one of those advertising posters that really catches the eye. I first saw a poster featuring Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”) in a departure lounge at Vancouver’s International Airport and spent the next hour watching people’s reactions as they passed it. Several people paused and studied the photo, demonstrating its success in capturing people’s attention.

playa-escondida-tourism-poster-2The beach concerned, also known as the “Beach of Love”) is on one of the small, uninhabited Marieta Islands, in the Marieta Islands National Park, off the west coast of Mexico, and relatively close to Puerto Vallarta.

The posters, and resulting publicity, have led to so many tourists wanting to experience the beach for themselves – more than 2500 visitors a day during Easter Week this year – that Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) has ordered the beach closed for at least three months due to concerns about environmental damage. Conanp has indicated that the local coral reef has already been adversely impacted by tourism.

Conanp’s decision follows a study by scientists at the University of Guadalajara which concluded that tourism has led to the death of coral, accumulation of garbage, and to pollution from hydrocarbons. The study estimated the beach’s environmental carrying capacity (the number of people that could visit the beach without causing lasting environmental damage) to be 625 visitors a day. Given the secluded nature of this beach, its perceptual carrying capacity (the maximum number of visitors that other visitors can tolerate, based on such impacts as noise) may be even lower.

To assuage some of the economic concerns of tour operators, Conanp is making plans to open a different beach on another of the Marieta Islands for tourism at some point in the near future.

During Easter week, there were numerous press reports that boats ferrying people to the Marieta Islands from El Anclote, Nayarit, were often overcrowded and carrying more passengers than their permits allowed. Boat owners, not surprisingly, deny this, and claim that this is yet another attempt to dislodge them from their remaining toehold on Punta de Mita, where a major upscale tourism development forced many fishermen out of their homes about thirty years ago. For details, see the text accompanying our Map of the Beaches of Jalisco.

islas-marietas-playa-excondida

The number of tourists traveling to Playa Escondida increased from 27,500 in 2012 to 127,372 in 2015. While the federal tourism poster was not the only publicity given the beach, it certainly appears to have played a part in increasing public awareness of this scenic geotourism location, ultimately resulting in the need to make it off limits for tourism, at least for now.

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We discuss the consequences of tourism, good, bad and neutral, at length, in chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy (Print or ebook) today!