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Aug 202014
 

Wildlife groups from around the world are urging the Mexican government to take urgent action to prevent the extinction of the “little sea cow”, the world’s smallest porpoise, known in Spanish as the vaquita marina, currently the most endangered cetacean in the world.

This particular porpoise is only found in the upper sections of the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California), and fewer than 100 are thought to exist.

Scientists say that gill-net fishing must be eliminated in the little sea cow’s native habitat for its population to have any hope of recovering to a sustainable level. Mature females will usually only give birth to one calf every two years. Even with a total ban, it would therefore take several years for natural increase to boost the population. In the port of El Golfo de Santa Clara studies have suggested that gillnet fishing is responsible for approximately 39 vaquita deaths a year.

Map of sightings and acoustic detection spots. Adapted from North American Conservation Action Plan for the vaquita

Map of sightings and acoustic detection spots. Adapted from North American Conservation Action Plan for the vaquita

According to Jo Tuckman, writing in The Guardian, environmental groups blame the decline of the popoise population on a “booming illegal trade in the totoaba fish (mistakenly called “toboada” in The Guardian), driven by Chinese demand for its swim bladder, which is believed to have medicinal properties.” Chinese fishermen are alleged to have overfished a similar fish in their own waters, leading to a sharp increase in demand for imports of totoaba. Fishermen in the Sea of Cortés are reported to have been offered more than $4,000 for the single bladder (which weighs 500 grams) of a mature fish.

There have been numerous reported instances of illegal cross-border trade in totoaba bladders, including, Man Admits to Smuggling Swim Bladders of Endangered Fish. The fish has been listed as “endangered” since 1979 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Between February and May 2013, border inspectors in Calexico, Arizona, seized the swim bladders of more than 500 endangered Totoaba.

In 2008, Mexico, the USA and Canada launched the North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP) for the vaquita, under the jurisdiction of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), a NAFTA environmental organization. Mexico has also established a program known as PACE-VAQUITA, which compensates fishermen who choose one of three alternatives to commercial fishing: rent-out (payments to avoid fishing in specific areas which are known to have resident vaquitas), switch-out (compensation and inducement to switch technology to vaquita-safe methods), and buy-out (compensation for permanently relinquishing their fishing permits and gear).

Clearly, these efforts have not yet paid off and more stringent controls and enforcement are desperately needed if the vaquita marina is to be brought back from the brink of extinction.

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Aug 182014
 

Updated post: There are at least seven cable cars (teleféricos) operating in Mexico, as well as one whose construction was so controversial it was halted earlier this year:

  • Durango City, Durango
  • Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre), Chihuahua
  • García Caves (Grutas de García), Nuevo León
  • Zacatecas City, Zacatecas
  • Hotel Montetaxco, Taxco, Guerrero
  • Hotel Vida en el Lago, Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero
  • Orizaba, Veracruz
  • Puebla City, Puebla (currently halted)

All these cable cars are primarily designed for sightseeing and tourism, rather than as a means of regular transport for local inhabitants.

Durango City

The Durango teleférico, inaugurated in 2010, is 750 meters long. It links Cerro del Calvario in the historic center of the city with the viewpoint of Cerro de Los Remedios. It cost about $70 million to build and its two gondola cars can carry up to 5000 people a day. Parts of the ride are some 80 meters above the city. The system was built by a Swiss firm and is one of only a handful of cable cars that start from a historic city center anywhere in the world. (The Zacatecas City cable car is another).

Copper Canyon (Barracas del Cobre) in the state of Chihuahua

The Copper Canyon teleférico starts alongside Divisadero railway station in Mexico’s famous Copper Canyon region, and runs 2.8 km across a section of canyon, up to 400 meters above the ground level. Inaugurated in 2010, it is the longeset cable car in Mexico, cost $25 million and can carry 500 passengers an hour, using two cabins (one traveling in each direction), each able to hold 60 people. It is a 10-minute ride each way to the Mesa de Bacajipare, a viewpoint which offers a magnificent view of several canyons.

García Caves (Grutas de García) in Nuevo León

The Garcia Caves are located in the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, 9 km from the small town of García, and about 30 km from the city of Monterrey. The caves are deep inside the imposing Cerro del Fraile, a mountain whose summit rises to an elevation of 1080 meters above sea level, more than 700 meters above the main access road. The entrance to the caves is usually accessed via a short ride on the 625-meter teleférico, which was built to replace a funicular railway.

zacatecas-teleferico

Zacatecas City

The Zacatecas teleférico, opened in 1979, is 650 meters long and links the Cerro del Grillo, near the entrance to the El Eden mine on the edge of the city’s historic center, with the Cerro de la Bufa. It carries 300,000 people a year high over the city, affording splendid views of church domes, homes, narrow streets and plazas during a trip that lasts about ten minutes. On top of Cerro de la Bufa is an equestrian statue of General Doroteo Arango (aka “Pancho” Villa), commemorating 23 June 1914, when he and his troops successfully captured the city after a nine-hour battle.

La Bufa is also the setting for a curious children’s New Year legend involving a giant cave housing a great palace with silver floors, gold walls, and lights of precious stones. This palace is inhabited by thousands of gnomes, whose job is to look after the future “New Years”. Each December the gnomes choose which “New Year” will be given to the world outside… (For the full story, see chapter 21 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury)

Hotel Montetaxco, in Taxco, Guerrero

This hotel teleférico is a convenient link between the hotel, set high above the city, and the downtown area of this important tourist destination, best known for its silver workshops.

Hotel Vida en el Lago, in Tepecoacuilco, Guerrero

A second hotel in Guerrero also has its own teleférico, running from the hotel to a viewpoint atop the Cerro del Titicuilchi.

Orizaba, Veracruz

Cable car in Orizaba, Mexico

A 950-meter-long cable car, using 6-person cabins (see image), began operations in the city of Orizaba in Veracruz in December 2013. The cable car goes from Pichucalco Park, next to the City Hall in downtown Orizaba, to the summit of Cerro del Borrego. which overlooks the city. The 8-minute ride affords outstanding views over the city center.

Puebla City (construction resumed)

Construction of a teleférico in the city of Puebla, in central Mexico, had been halted in 2013, amidst considerable controversy about its route and the demolition of a protected, historic building (the Casona de Torno) in this UNESCO World Heritage city. (For details, see here and here). The proposed route was 2 kilometers long and linked the historic center of Puebla with a nearby hill, home to the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. In 1862, these forts were the site of the famous Battle of Puebla, at which Mexican forces proved victorious over the French, a victory celebrated each year on 5 May (Cinco de Mayo).

It had originally been hoped to inaugurate the Puebla City cable car in March 2013, in time for Mexico’s 2013 Tourist Tianguis, the largest tourism trade fair in Latin America, but this was not to happen. Instead, authorities boarded up the partially-completed structures (3 metal towers and 2 concrete bases) to completely hide them from public view.

Construction has now resumed, but only of a 600-meter-long stretch which will cost $11 million to build. This section is due to be completed by CEMS Constructora by December 2014. The contract includes the landscaping of a park and the construction of two towers, including one  in Centro Expositor, the city’s main exhibition center.

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Aug 162014
 

Tourism associated with rivers and lakes

So far as tourism is concerned, Lake Chapala is far more important than the other bodies of water within the basin. Only limited recreational activities are practiced in the various man-made reservoirs and in lakes Yuriria and Cuitzeo. Tourism is locally important in Zirahuén the most pristine of the basins lakes, but its small area restricts development prospects. Tourism, including ecotourism, is also locally important in Lake Pátzcuaro, with pronounced seasonal peaks corresponding to school vacations and the annual Night of the Dead. Surprisingly, there are no specialized ecotourism services at Lake Chapala.

Lerma-Chapala Basin

Lerma-Chapala Basin. Cartography: Tony Burton/Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved

The map shows areas of soil degradation in the Lerma-Chapala basin, as well as the locations where agriculture is a major source of water contamination. The environmental impacts of tourism in the basin are concentrated in the major cities such as Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and León, as well as in the smaller communities where tourism is of particular importance, such as Chapala and Pátzcuaro.

The lakes in the basin, especially Chapala, have always had more significance than the rivers for recreation and tourism activities. In the nineteenth century, sail canoes plied the waters of Lake Chapala. Fluctuating lake levels since the 1950s have prevented any concerted effort to establish modern water sports (yachting, water-skiing, windsurfing) on the lake, though casual users can be seen sporadically, mainly at weekends and during school holidays. Recreational fishing is virtually non-existent in the basin. Boatmen and fishermen often have conflicting demands.

Potential for ecotourism

Environmental degradation throughout the basin has reduced the number of potential ecotourism locations. The few remaining natural habitats are in urgent need of effective conservation. None of the few small areas of the basin currently protected at a federal level is associated directly with the River Lerma or Lake Chapala. Several tourism hot spots are under extreme pressure, operating at close to carrying capacity (defined as the maximum number of visitors they can handle without adverse environmental impacts). They include the Monarch butterfly reserves, Lake Camécuaro National Park, and the island of Janitzio in Lake Pátzcuaro. Well managed tourism could help finance habitat restoration and protection. Successful planning will require considerable local participation.

Lovers of flora and fauna want to see native and endemic species, rather than imported exotics. Bird-watching is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the U.S., a huge niche tourism market in a wildlife watching industry worth 10 billion dollars in North America (Stap, 2002). In the basin, bird-watchers have the opportunity to see several endemics, as well as spectacular flocks of the White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), which can be better viewed on the relatively undeveloped southern shore of Lake Chapala than in its breeding grounds far to the north.

The development of horse-back riding, hiking and walking trails holds considerable potential for the future. Niche markets, such as cultural, shopping and eco-tours could all be further developed. Most tourists prefer a mix of experiences; the basin offers numerous, varied tourism possibilities.

Historically, hunting was an important activity in certain areas, particularly in the marshes at the eastern end of Lake Chapala (the ciénega). One ecological issue here, aside from any need to manage wildlife numbers, is the gradual decomposition of the lead-rich cartridges used a century ago. While this needs further study, this is gradually leaching lead into the environment, but is not the only source of the elevated levels of lead that have been reported in fish and lirio samples (Jay & Ford in Hansen & Van Afferden, 127). Careful monitoring is needed to ensure that no health risk is posed to humans.

Tourism exacerbates existing demands for limited supplies of water. This needs to be recognized in tourist-oriented cities such as San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Pátzcuaro. Some recreational and tourism developments are more water demanding than others. Large expanses of grass cause high losses of water through evapo-transpiration especially during the dry season when watering is needed if grass is to be kept green. However, in the rainy season, grass promotes higher infiltration rates, enhancing groundwater recharge. Pressure from public and private gardens for water could be significantly reduced by xeriscaping.

Management is also needed to ensure that chemicals used in gardens, hotel grounds, and hotels do not cause pollution. The misuse of fertilizers and pesticides can have serious deleterious environmental effects. Overfertilization, for example, can increase nitrogen and phosphorus loads on watercourses, promoting eutrophication.

Golf can be one of the least environmentally sound of all recreational activities (Elkington & Hailes 1992). Constructing a golf course may involve habitat destruction and loss of wildlife; its maintenance may require copious quantities of water and agro-chemicals. A single course may use 330,000 cubic meters of water a year, as much as 4,500 people (Walsh, 2004) Aside from the ethical issue of whether water should be allocated to the playgrounds of the rich while the poor go without, golf courses can greatly reduce water consumption with careful design and management. Of Mexico’s 200+ golf courses, at least 23 are located in the basin. Several were built in the past twenty years. Several others are still in the planning stages. More golf courses may attract more retirees and tourists, but decision makers need to consider the possible social and environmental effects of constructing more courses.

References:

  • Hansen, Anne M. & van Afferden, Manfred (ed). The Lerma-Lake Chapala Watershed: Evaluation and Management. New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers. 2001.
  • Elkington, John & Julia Hailes. Holidays that don’t cost the earth. The guide to greener holidays. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd. 1992.
  • Stap, Don. “Great Florida Birding Trail” in Audubon Magazine September, 2002.
  • Walsh, J. “War over water”. Golf Course News, October 2004. G.I.Media. 2004

Source:

This post is based on my contribution (on tourism) to the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta, published by Semarnat-UNAM-IE, Mexico, in 2006. (The link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas).

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Aug 142014
 

The National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, CONABIO), has identified 81 distinct areas in Mexico that have mangroves with “biological significance and in need of varying degrees of ecological rehabilitation” (see summary map). These regions are distributed as follows:

  • 10 on the northern Pacific Coast
  • 6 on the central Pacific Coast
  • 13 on the southern Pacific Coast
  • 27 on the Gulf of Mexico and
  • 25 on the Yucatán Peninsula.

A national inventory has now been compiled by CONABIO. All areas have been surveyed and preliminary descriptions published including details of their location, size, physical characteristics, socioeconomic conditions, local uses of mangrove, biological details, including vegetation structure, and an assessment of local impacts and risks, management and existing conservation measures.

Map of distribution of mangroves in MexicoThe areas of mangroves have been mapped at a scale of 1:50,000 and satellite photos from 2005-2006 have been used in conjunction with fieldwork to calculate the areas of mangroves. The final map is believed to be more than 90% accurate, a reasonable baseline for future comparisons. CONABIO is planning to resurvey the mangrove areas every 5 years following the same methodology.

According to preliminary comparisons with previous attempts to quantify the extent of mangroves in Mexico (the subject of a future post), the loss of mangroves was greatest in the period 1970-1980, and in 2000-2005, but then diminished in the period 2005-2010.

Between 2005 and 2010, the states where mangrove loss remained high (as a percentage of the total area of mangroves in the state) included Chiapas, Baja Californa Sur and Sonora. However, the states losing the largest areas of mangroves in absolute terms were Quintana Roo, Campeche and Nayarit. Jalisco has the unfortunate distinction of being the state where coastal mangrove loss was highest (in terms of the proportion of its total coastline length bordered by mangroves).

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Aug 112014
 

Earlier this year, a slew of press reports discussed the possibility of a Mexico-USA high speed rail link from the industrial powerhouse of Monterrey in Nuevo León state to San Antonio in Texas. (For one example, see Fast train to Monterrey on the horizon).

The reports say that Mexican transport officials and their U.S. counterparts believe that this international high speed rail link could be in operation within a decade. The new line would move passengers between the two cities in about two hours, saving almost three hours compared to highway travel.

Route of proposed high speed train from Monterrey to San Antonio. Credit: Daily Mail.

Route of proposed high speed train from Monterrey to San Antonio. Credit: Daily Mail.

A key part of the plan would be a system to pre-clear U.S. Customs which sometimes delays northbound motorists at border crossings for several hours. (Such a pre-clearance system would be analogous to that already operating in several Canadian airports, where U.S.-bound passengers clear U.S. immigration and customs prior to boarding their flights).

Mexican officials have already secured the rights of way for the rail line from Monterrey to the U.S. border and say that this section of the line, likely to cost around 1.5 billion dollars, could be up and running as early as 2018. The U.S. section, from the border northwards, is unlikely to be completed before 2022 at the earliest, though a $5.6 million study of potential high-speed rail lines stretching from Laredo to Oklahoma City is already underway.

The first high speed rail links in North America are likely to be in Mexico, where planning is well advanced and the first construction contracts are being awarded for building high speed links from Mexico City to Toluca and Querétaro. Plans for a high speed train in the Yucatán Peninsula have also been announced.

For more details of the Mexico City-Toluca high speed rail project, see Plans to improve the Mexico City-Toluca transport corridor.

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Aug 092014
 

Popocatepetl Volcano, near Mexico City continues to be very active, with smoke and ashes belching up to 1000 meters above the crater rim. Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Agency Cenapred, reports that the volcano had 82 “low intensity” exhalations on 7 August 2014, four of which contained “explosive material”.

Popocatapetl, 8 August 2014. Credit: Cenapred.

Popocatapetl, 8 August 2014. Credit: Cenapred.

The agency also reported that many mionr tremors hd been recorded, including one harmonic tremor lasting 56 minutes. Geologists believe that the volcano is currently destroying dome number 50 even as dome number 51 begins to form. Dome #51 is currently about 70 meters in diameter. Renewed explosions, together with some ash fall is predicted for the coming days.

The Volcanic Traffic Light remains at Yellow Phase 2.

For a series of images dated 8 August 2014, see Images of 8 of ago of 2014

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Aug 072014
 

An earlier post looked at the significant impacts of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 residential tourists (non-working, non-Mexicans) living part or full-time in the Lerma-Chapala basin. These residential tourists are concentrated in San Miguel de Allende and in the Chapala-Ajijic area on Lake Chapala:

Day trips and regular tourism are also important activities in the Lerma-Chapala basin. Both day trippers and tourists bring economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits, but may also create adverse impacts. Conflicts between tourism and other activities are increasing as demographic and environmental pressures rise.

Day trips

By definition, day trips last less than 24 hours. Most day trips are to a single destination, usually only a relatively short distance from home. Within the Lerma-Chapala basin, certain day trip flows stand out. The strong flow of day-trippers from Guadalajara to Chapala-Ajijic peaks on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Day trippers account for about two-thirds of the total number of visitors to Chapala-Ajijic. Day trip flows linking San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato, and between Morelia and Pátzcuaro are also important. Elsewhere, the Monarch butterfly reserves have seasonal importance as day trip destinations; for example, El Rosario, the most visited reserve, attracts up to 5,000 visitors a day between early December and late March.

Tourism

Tourism, on the other hand, involves overnight stays. A typical tourist trip lasts between 3 and 8 days. Tourism may involve multiple destinations, further away from home. In Mexico, national tourists are more numerous, but, on average, earn less, spend less, and stay a shorter time, than international tourists.

In the Lerma-Chapala basin, tourism began to flourish at the end of the nineteenth century, alongside improvements in transportation, especially the building of railways. The shores of Lake Chapala were an early magnet for the wealthy. Developers redesigned the unplanned fishing villages, attracting visitors from all over Mexico. Even today, the Chapala landscape reflects the historical and cultural influences which have influenced it.

Other parts of the basin also became important tourist destinations. The colonial cities route, taking in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Morelia, Pátzcuaro and Querétaro, is a prime example, which has been very successfully marketed.

Quantifying tourism in the basin is difficult. Official tourism statistics are based on surveys, but these data have their limitations. The size of the circles on the map below represents the total number of tourists visiting each location in 2005, according to Tourism Secretariat figures. The yellow segment represents the percentage of tourists that are international. atlas-tourist-numbers-2The map shows that tourism is heavily concentrated at a small number of locations close to the boundary of the basin: Morelia, Toluca, Querétaro, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and Chapala-Ajijic. Foreign tourists are particularly important in Toluca, San Miguel de Allende and Chapala-Ajijic. The precise numbers should be treated with caution. Many tourists visiting San Miguel and Chapala-Ajijic (but not Toluca) do not stay in hotels but in “Bed and Breakfasts” or with friends or relatives.

Tourism planning needs to consider strategies which:

  • preserve existing and potential natural attractions and historic sites.
  • increase the number and variety of locations visited by tourists.
  • reduce the pronounced seasonality of existing tourism.
  • increase the average length of stay and expenditure of tourists.

Source:

This post is based on my contribution (on tourism) to the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta, published by Semarnat-UNAM-IE, Mexico, in 2006. (The link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas).

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Aug 042014
 

Mabe is one of Mexico’s largest multinational companies (2013 sales: $3.3 billion) with a total workforce of 21,000. The company designs, produces, and distributes domestic appliances (stoves, refrigerators, etc) to more than 70 countries.

mabe-plantThe company was founded in 1946, in Mexico City, by two Spanish immigrants: Egon Mabardi and Francisco Berrondo. It started by making kitchen furniture but quickly added gas ranges and refrigerators. By 1960, Mabe had already become Mexico’s single largest exporter of home appliances.

It continued to expand via an aggressive series of acquisitions, including the purchase of companies in Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Canada.

To boost its presence in the USA and Canada, in 1986 Mabe created a joint venture with General Electric to produce appliances for the US market.

mabe-sales

Mabe sales, by region

GE held a 48% minority stake in the new venture and hoped to gain access to Mexico’s low cost labor pool, while Mabe was able to use GE’s existing distribution network to gain wider access to markets throughout the USA. Within a decade, two out of every three gas ranges and refrigerators imported into the USA were designed and manufactured by Mabe in Mexico. Almost all (95%) of the ranges and refrigerators sold as General Electric brands were designed in Mabe’s San Luis Potosi plant, the biggest kitchens plant in the world.

The implementation of NAFTA in 1994 led to further opportunities for Mabe. Since NAFTA, Mexico has become the leading supplier of household appliances, such as stoves, refrigerators, dryers and washing machines to the USA and Canada. In 2005, Mabe continued its expansion by acquiring Canadian firm Camco.

NAFTA also led to the firms competitors, including Whirlpool, Electrolux, Samsung and LG all establishing factories in Mexico.

The company, which is still headquartered in Mexico City, is a major purchaser of steel on the North American market, consuming steel worth around $500,000 each year. Its products include microwaves, washing machines and dryers, wine storage systems, air conditioning, motor-compressors, plastic injection and die-casting machinery.

It has about 15 manufacturing facilities in Latin America. The company’s factories in Mexico –located in Mexico City, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Nuevo León, Querétaro and San Luis Potosí– account for half its total output. In addition, refrigerators and ranges are manufactured in Colombia; freezers, refrigerators and ranges in Ecuador, and refrigerators, washing machines and ranges in Argentina and Brazil.

Mabe’s business practices incorporate a degree of “glocalization” in which the company’s designs are modified to be specific to particular regions, based on the consumer preferences and tastes in each country or region.

In 2014, Mabe announced that it was spending $80 million to repatriate its only Canadian plant from Montreal to Ramos Arizpe, Coahuila. The plant makes washing machines, driers and dishwashers. Together with Mabe’s existing plant in Ramos Arizpe, the two plants have the capacity to turn out about one million washing machines annually.

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Aug 022014
 

The many stupendous images of Mexico City in “HA!!!, And You Thought We Were Riding Donkeys” on the “Lost in My Little World” blog undoubtedly only portray one side of Mexico City (the nice side), but that does not make them any the less worth viewing.

As the blog’s author puts it, “People are always asking me what living in Mexico City is like. Most people either think its dirt, sombreros and donkeys, or they think that drug dealers and kidnapers are waiting for you to get out of your car to kill you at anytime. None of these speculations are real!! It is one of the greatest cities on earth and this article is here to prove it...”

Sadly, the images lack captions, though many of the places are readily identifiable if you have ever visited Mexico’s premier cultural and social center.

Looking for balance? Some of the comments below the images offer links to the many alternative, less attractive sides of the city.

Jul 312014
 

Consultancy firm Interbrand México recently published its annual survey (2014) of the world’s 500 most valuable brands. The Mexican firms in the list are:

  • Telcel – cell phone service, valued at $5.8 billion (dollars),
  • Corona – principal product beer, valued at $4.3 billion
  • Telmex – fixed line telephone and internet service, valued at 3.6 billion
  • Oxxo – convenience stores, valued at 2.6 billion
  • Bimbo – bread and pastry products, valued at 2.4 billion

Compared to four years ago – Mexico’s most valuable brands (2010) -Banorte (finance and banking) and Claro (cell phone service) have dropped back, out of the top five, and have been replaced by Telmex and Oxxo

Note that these firms are not necessarily the largest firms in Mexico in terms of sales. Table 16.2 of chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico lists the ten largest Mexican private enterprises in 2008. Important aspects of several of these major firms are discussed in the chapters about manufacturing, construction and services, transportation, communications, etc.

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