Jul 252016
 

We drew attention a few years ago to the issue of Empty houses in Mexico, a problem due in part to on-going rural-urban migration, and in part to the construction of millions of new homes across Mexico. Thirty years ago, there were only 15 recognized metropolitan areas in Mexico, today there are 59.

Poor coordination between the various government departments responsible for housing, services and land development has led to some settlements being authorized even in areas where ownership was disputed or that lacked adequate access to highways or basic services.

Three years ago, a Mexico City news report entitled Desorden urbano dejó en el país millones de viviendas fantasmas claimed that as many as 4 million houses, many of them newly built, were standing empty. Other houses have been abandoned for a variety of reasons, ranging from the death of former owners, or owners moving to other areas, or being unable to keep up with mortgage and loan payments.

Infonavit Housing. Credit: Habitat D.F.

Infonavit Housing. Credit: Habitat D.F.

News reports claim that as many as 14 houses in a single street are abandoned in some areas, such as the Mineral de la Reforma district of the rapidly-growing city of Pachuca in the state of Hidalgo, causing problems for neighbors.

Now, the Mexican Workers’ Housing Fund, Infonavit, has set itself the target of reclaiming 30,000 abandoned houses this year. Infonavit has funded hundreds of developments with small, cookie-cutter houses, across Mexico. Members of Infonavit can access a series of housing-related mortgage products, to buy or remodel a new or existing home.

Starting last year, Infonavit began to rescue abandoned houses, renovate them and then auction them off to its members. Initial success was limited, with only about half of the repossessed homes being sold on, but in the first few months of this year, Infonavit has successfully sold off 92% of the first 3,000 houses it has recovered.

This year, Infonavit plans to auction off homes in Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Hidalgo and the State of México.

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Mexican business association tries to counter rhetoric of U.S. political campaigns

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Mexican business association tries to counter rhetoric of U.S. political campaigns
Jul 142016
 

Mexico’s Business Coordination Council (Consejo Coordinador Empresarial, CCE) has launched a publicity drive to counter the disinformation and anti-Mexican rhetoric emerging in U.S. political campaigns. The details of the publicity drive remain unclear.

Juan Pablo Castañón, CCE’s president, says the aim is to emphasize the true strength and importance of good Mexico-U.S. relations. In particular, the NAFTA trade zone accounts for 15% of global trade, 28% of global GDP and 14% of FDI flows. Trade between the three partners has quadrupled since 1993 and exceeded a trillion dollars in 2015, half of which is attributable to U.S.-Mexico trade.

Mexico is the second most important destination for U.S. exports and the main market for exports from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Goods worth 500 million dollars cross the border daily.

According to Castañón, if U.S. politics puts a brake on this trade, more than six million U.S. workers could lose their jobs. Proposed tariffs on imports of flat screens and vehicles would raise prices significantly in the USA. In addition, 80% of avocados and 50% of tomatoes sold in the USA come from Mexico.

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World’s smallest porpoise on brink of extinction

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on World’s smallest porpoise on brink of extinction
Jul 112016
 

One year on from when we last reported on the desperate plight of Mexico’s “little sea cow”, the endangered vaquita marina, where are we now?

According to the World Wildlife Fund, “The vaquita is at the edge of extinction”. The latest population estimate suggests that the number of vaquita in the wild has fallen from about 100 in 2014 to just 60 today, despite a much-publicized ban on fishing in the main area where the little sea cows are found.

As we reported in Mexico’s “little sea cow” on the verge of extinction two years ago, the sea cow’s fate is inextricably tied to fishing for the (also endangered) totoaba, a fish in demand in China for its swim bladder, which is believed to have medicinal properties. Fishermen in Mexico’s Gulf of California (Sea of Cortés) are reported to have been offered more than $4,000 for a single totoaba bladder, which weighs only 500 grams. The price in China is reported to be between $10,000 and $20,000 each.

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

In April 2015, federal authorities imposed a two-year ban on gillnets and expanded the vaquita protection area to cover 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) of the upper Gulf of California . Some 600 gill nets (each of which can be up to # meters long) were seized by the Mexican Navy in 2015 (and 77 individuals detained), and navy personnel claim they are still confiscating nets every day.

The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) is trying to make a difference. Among the options being considered by Mexico’s Environment Secretariat (Semarnat) is assisted breeding, though a vaquita expert, Barbara Taylor of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is quoted in The Guardian as claiming that “We have no idea whether it is feasible to find, capture and maintain vaquitas in captivity much less whether they will reproduce. The uncertainties are large.” The World Wildlife Fund Mexico is currently opposed to such a strategy, given the very low number remaining.

Mexico has had conservation successes in the past, allowing the populations of other marine animals, including the Guadalupe fur seal and the northern elephant seal, to recover.

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Acapulco airport to get a new terminal building

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Acapulco airport to get a new terminal building
Jul 072016
 

Acapulco international airport (ACA), in Guerrero state, currently handles about 800,000 passenger movements each year. The airport is operated by Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro-Norte (GACN), which also manages airports in another 12 cities. With suitable fanfare in 2014, GACN announced plans to replace the terminal building.

Acapulco, Mexico's first major resort. Photograph by Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Acapulco, Mexico’s first major resort. Photograph by Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Last month, GACN reiterated it is investing $30.5 million to build a new terminal building for Acapulco capable of handling 1.3 million passengers a year. The group claims that the new terminal, which will be more than 18,000 square meters in area, will have a state-of-the-art design that will reduce the risks associated with natural hazards and provide much greater space for passengers, airlines and all other supporting services. In addition, it will adopt a range of electricity-saving measures, lowering the airport’s regular operating costs.

Now scheduled to be completed by mid-2018, the Acapulco terminal is the most significant single investment that GACN plans to make in the next five years, and comes at a time when city authorities are busy revitalizing the famous resort. An improved public transit system known as Acabús was officially inaugurated in the city in June 2016.

The new terminal will, however, no longer be ready in time for 2017, when Acapulco will once again host Mexico’s massive annual tourism trade fair, the Tianguis Turístico.

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Yet another tourism megaproject, this time in Nayarit

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Yet another tourism megaproject, this time in Nayarit
Jun 272016
 

Despite some recent setbacks to hotel projects planned for the Caribbean side of Mexico, hotel building continues to gather pace elsewhere in the country, seemingly regardless of the long-term advantages and ecological value of retaining an undisturbed, or minimally-disturbed, coastline

In April, at Mexico’s major tourism trade fair, the Tianguis Turistico, in Guadalajara, authorities announced the go-ahead for Costa Canuva, a $1.8 billion tourism project in the state of Nayarit. The project is a joint venture between the federal tourism development agency, Fonatur, and Portuguese construction firm Mota Engil.

Costa Canuva is in the municipality of Compostela, and is situated about 65 km (40 mi) north of Puerto Vallarta international airport and will be under three hours driving time from Guadalajara once the new Guadalajara-Puerto Vallarta road is completed.

Costa-Canuva

The 255 hectares (630 acres) of beach, estuary and mountains involved in Costa Canuva has 7 kilometers (4.3 mi) of beachfront, and was designated by Fonatur several years ago as the site for a purpose-built resort. The original version of the project, which never got off the ground, was known as Costa Capomo.

The revamped project, Costa Canuva, will add five hotels and more than 2,500 homes to this stretch of coast known as Riviera Nayarit. The first phase, expected to take three years and create more than 2,000 direct jobs, includes a luxury Fairmont Hotel, residential areas, and a golf course designed jointly by golf supertars Greg Norman and Lorena Ochoa.

The master plan for the project includes a beachfront village with 2,500 residential units, more than 20 kilometers of cycling tracks designed by the International Mountain Bicycling Association and an adventure park featuring canopy rides and ziplines.

The centerpiece Fairmont hotel will have 250 guestrooms and suites, more than 22,000 square feet of meeting and event space, six restaurants and bars, an expansive outdoor swimming pool and a massive spa, as well as a center for children and young adults.

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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.

Good news for Mexico’s marine turtles and terrestrial tortoises

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Good news for Mexico’s marine turtles and terrestrial tortoises
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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Grupo México plans to mine copper in Monarch Butterfly reserve

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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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The downside to publicizing one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Other  Comments Off on The downside to publicizing one of Mexico’s most beautiful beaches
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!

The race is on to expand 4G-LTE services in Mexico

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The race is on to expand 4G-LTE services in Mexico
May 092016
 

AT&T and Telcel are competing for the concession of 80 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum for the provision of 4G-LTE mobile broadband service in Mexico. The winner is expected to have to pay somewhere in the region of 700 million dollars to the government in order to acquire the rights.

Movistar coverage, 2G, 3G, 4G - 2016

Movistar coverage, 2G, 3G, 4G – 2016

The three major competitors currently in the 4G-LTE market in Mexico are Movistar (Telefonica), Telcel (America Movil), and AT&T.

Telcel is the dominant player and reaches 65 million users nationwide. Movistar serves about 50 cities (see map). AT&T’s 4G-LTE network currently reaches 40 million people in 36 cities, but the firm is investing aggressively, with plans to reach 75 million people by the end of 2016 and 100 million by 2018. Under construction is AT&T’s new 300-million-dollar operations center in Guadalajara, which will benefit from that city’s well-qualified workforce and enhance its importance as Mexico’s tech sector hub.

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