Mexico and USA sign agreement for development of Gulf of Mexico oil reserves

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Feb 272012
 

The USA and Mexico share the Gulf of Mexico, with periodic arguments about the precise offshore limits of each country’s jurisdiction. An earlier post includes a brief summary of the history of negotiations over this contentious maritime boundary:

The reason this boundary matters is because the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico are thought to have massive deep-water oil and gas fields. The USA has encouraged major oil multinationals such as Shell and BP to explore relatively deep parts of the Gulf, those lying more than 500 meters or 1,640 feet below sea level.

location of doughnut holesDeveloping these fields requires advanced, specialist deep-water drilling techniques, which only a small number of major international (multinational) oil firms currently have the expertise to undertake. As was seen not long ago, accidents in these fields can be very difficult to avoid and any resulting damage very difficult to clean up:

The legal battle connected to that spill has been postponed; it had been due to start today (27 February 2012) in a New Orleans court. The April 2010 accident killed 11 oil workers and released up to 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

In the Mexican sections of the Gulf of Mexico, very little oil exploration and development has yet been carried out. All oil exploration and development in Mexico is managed by state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), though they can contract other firms to undertake work on their behalf if or when needed. Pemex is the world’s third-largest oil producer and the largest contributor to Mexico’s federal budget. It is one of the very few oil companies worldwide that manages all aspects of the productive chain, from exploration to refining and marketing. Pemex has had more than its fair share of serious environmental issues:

Mexican experts believe that up to 29.5 billion barrels of oil might reside in Mexico’s share of the Gulf, but Pemex has little to show for almost a decade of deep-water drilling apart from some relatively minor gas finds.

A few days ago, Mexico and the USA finally signed an accord that, in the words of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, “ensures that each country can develop its corresponding oil and natural gas deposits in the trans-border area of the Gulf of Mexico.” In a joint formal statement, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs and Energy Secretariats said that the “historic” agreement “will generate the necessary legal certainty for the long-term development of resources that may be found in that area.” It remains to be seen just how quickly and efficiently Pemex can actually take advantage of the deep-water drilling opportunities that the new agreement is designed to safeguard.

Related posts:

Drug war impacts extend to child arrests, border tunnels and stressed zoos

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Feb 252012
 

More children being arrested

One extremely unwelcome development in the war on drugs is that an increasing number of young adolescents (aged 11 to 17) are involved in drug smuggling and related activities, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most of the children are Hispanic, and many hold US citizenship. They are enticed by the lure of “easy” money and know they that, if caught, they can be tried only as juveniles. The Gulf cartel and the Zetas reportedly pay adolescents an average of $500 to smuggle drugs, and $1,000 to guard a kidnap victim for a month. In southern California, the number of arrests of adolescents has risen sharply, with charges ranging from drug trafficking to extortion and kidnapping.

Where are most drug tunnels?

Several major cross-border drug tunnels have been unearthed in the past few months, including one linking warehouses in Tijuana and San Diego which contained 32 tons of marijuana. This tunnel, 600 meters long, was particularly sophisticated and used electric rail cars. More than 70 cross-border tunnels have been found since October 2008.

Significant clusters of tunnels have been found in three main areas:

  • San Diego,
  • California’s Imperial Valley, where the clay soil makes for easy excavation
  • Nogales (Arizona), a city underlain by a network of existing underground drainage canals

Mexico’s zoos struggle to cope with unexpected influx of exotic animals

Press reports such as Captured Drug Kingpin’s Pets Strain Mexican Zoos have highlighted the problems resulting when rare and dangerous animals are confiscated from drugs cartel leaders. Several major cartel figures have amassed extensive private collections of exotic animals, from ostriches and parrots to monkeys, tigers, lions and giraffes. For example, when Jesús “The King” Zambada, a powerful member of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in mid-2011, authorities had to find new homes for several hundred animals, many of them exotic species. The nation’s zoos are struggling to cope with the influx of so many unexpected new arrivals.

Drug capos do not view animals only as a status symbol. They are also a means to hide drug shipments. Animals have also regularly been used in drugs trafficking. In recent years, grisly finds have included frozen sharks stuffed with cocaine, cocaine-fed snakes, and even liquid cocaine in shipping containers used for tropical fish.

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Which Mexican communities have the highest drug war death rates?

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Feb 232012
 

In a previous post we noted that big Mexican cities with populations of over 500,000 have drug war death rates about 40% higher than the rest of Mexico. However the highest rates of all are in small northern municipalities which have experienced very high levels of drug violence.

Mier, Tamaulipas was the most dangerous municipality in 2011 as it was in 2010. Though the number of drug war deaths in the town of 4,768 (2010) decreased from 93 in 2010 [note 1] to 50 in the first nine months of 2011 [note 2], it still led the country with 1,398 drug war deaths per 100,000/yr [note 3]. This is 91 times the rate for all of Mexico which was 15.3 in 2011 and also over ten times as dangerous as Acapulco, the large city with the highest rate of drug violence. Actually the death rate per population for Mier is probably higher because the mayor estimates that a third of the population may have fled the violence-prone town [note 4]. Mier is only about eight kilometers (five miles) from the Texas border and roughly midway between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. The municipality may be a bit more peaceful now that the Mexican military has occupied the town.

Guerrero, Mier’s immediate neighbor to the northwest with a population of 4,468, ranked second with a death rate of 1,045 or roughly 68 times the average. Both Guerrero and Mier are located between two warring drug cartels, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. Mier’s other neighbor along the Rio Grande, Miguel Alemán, fared somewhat better. Its death rate dropped from 407 in 2010 to 114 in 2011; but its 2011 rate was still over seven times the national average. The data reveal that municipalities along the border between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa are among the most dangerous in all of Mexico. Interestingly, the rate for Reynosa itself was only 11 or about 27% below the average.

In third place is San Fernando, also in Tamaulipas, with a death rate of 680, about 44 times the average. This community of 57,220 suffered 292 deaths in 2011. Over half of these deaths were discovered in mass graves of Central Americans who were trying to immigrate to the US, but were kidnapped and murdered by drug cartels.

Next on the list are three small municipalities in Chihuahua – Guadalupe (rate of 496), Gran Morelos (373) and Cusihuiriachi (369). The 2011 death rates in these towns were 24 to 32 times the national average. While the rate for Guadalupe declined 42% since 2010, the rates for Gran Morelos and Cusihuiriachi were up 50% and 150% respectively. As mentioned in an earlier post, the State of Chihuahua had the highest 2011 drug war death rate among Mexico’s 32 states.

Drug war death totals in small communities can change dramatically from year to year. For example, Saric, Sonora with a population of 2,703 had 30 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011. General Bravo, Nuevo Leon had 18 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011 while Yecora, Sonora had 18 deaths in 2010 and only one in 2011. The number in General Treviño, Nuevo León went from 21 down to only two, but it still had the 8th highest rate among Mexico’s municipalities.

On the other hand, drug war deaths in Boca del Rio, Veracruz went from 2 in 2010 to an alarming 94 in 2011. This resulted in a rate increase of 6,167% and a rate six times the average. The rate for Zihuatanejo de Azueta, Guerrero increased by 650%; that of Yurécuaro, Michoacán went up by 452% while that for Cosalá, Sinaloa was up 317%, giving it a rate 13 times the average.

Zihuatanejo de Azueta is different than many of the other communities with very high drug war death rates because it has a rather large population of 104,609 and includes the famous international resort of Ixtapa. The number of drug war deaths in the municipality went from 16 in 2010 to a very disturbing 90 in 2011, giving it a death rate of 115, almost as high as Acapulco’s rate of 134. Certainly, the high drug war death rates in Zihuatanejo and Acapulco have damaged their tourism industries.

Twenty municipalities had drug war death rate in 2011 higher than 100 per 100,000/yr or about seven times the national average (see table). Two of these are the large municipalities of Ciudad Juárez and Acapulco. The 20 communities are spread across six northern and western states: six in Chihuahua, five in Tamaulipas, three in Guerrero, two in Sinaloa and Michoacán, and one each in Sonora and Nuevo León. Before randomly traveling in areas of these states, it would be a good idea to check local media and bulletin boards for indications of recent drug violence.

Notes:

[1] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mexico-drug-war-murders-map. For data see: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=393962.

[2] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/822078.html.

[3] The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.

[4] Christopher Sherman (AP), “Drug War: Despite army takeover, fear grips Mexican town”, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA, Dec 7, 2011. http://www.presstelegram.com/breakingnews/ci_19488405

Drug war deaths in Mexico’s biggest cities

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Feb 182012
 

Drug war deaths occur in communities of all sizes, but they are a bit more likely in the biggest cities. However, there are gigantic geographic variations. For example, Acapulco, with a population of about 790,000, had 795 drug war deaths in 2011 (Jan–Sept) [note 1] while there were zero drug war deaths in Mérida, with 828,000 residents. Clearly drug cartel battles are very geographically concentrated.

Compared to the rest of the country, Mexico’s 37 largest municipalities with populations of over 500,000 experience about 40% more drug war deaths per 100,000 population than the rest of the country. These big cities account for about 36.5% of Mexico’s population and 44% of the drug war deaths in both 2010 and 2011.

In 2010, Ciudad Juárez was the drug war hotspot with 2,736 deaths for a rate of 206 per 100,000/yr compared to the national rate of 13.6 [note 2]. This dropped by a surprising 41% in 2011 to a rate of 121 [note 3]; but  Ciudad Juárez still led the nation’s death toll with 1,206 deaths. Acapulco’s 795 deaths gave it the highest rate among big cities of 134, up a frightening 186% over 2010. Other dangerous big cities with high drug war death rates include Torreón with a rate 99 (up 100%), Durango with 89 (up 244%), Chihuahua with 65 (down 20%) and Culiacán with 57 (down 17%).

Tijuana used to be a major center of drug violence, but not anymore. Between December 2006 and December 2009, it experienced 1,195 drug war deaths, behind only Ciudad Juárez with 3,699 and Culiacán with 1,303. Its death rate for that period was over four times the national average. But the number of deaths dropped from 472 in 2010 to 183 in 2011 bringing the rate down to 15.6, just above the national average of 15.3. In nearby Mexicali, the rate was only 4.1 in 2011, about a quarter of the average. The state of Baja California is no longer a key battleground in the Mexican drug war.

Drug violence deteriorated most rapidly in Veracruz City which went from 9 deaths in 2010 to 155 in 2011 resulting in a rate increase of almost 2,200%. This increased the rate to 37, nearly two and a half times the national average. Smaller cities in Veracruz State also experienced rapid increases. For example, Jalapa went up 1,066% and Bocas del Rio was up 6,167%. For the state as a whole, the rate was up over 300%. Clearly, the drug war has reached Veracruz.

Drug war violence has also increased rapidly in Monterrey where the number of deaths increased from 179 in 2010 to 399 in 2011, more than doubling its death rate. Deaths in Monterrey’s two large suburbs of Guadalupe and Apodaca also went from 91 to 220. While the rate in Monterrey was just above the national average in 2010, in 2011 it was up to 47, three times the average. Deaths in nearby Saltillo also went up rapidly, from 15 to 50, pushing its rate up by 344%.

Guadalajara also experienced an upsurge in drug violence. While its death rate went up 61% to 7.3 in 2011, this is still less than half the national average. However, the 2011 data do not include the 26 bodies dumped in the city in November 2011. Death rates were also up nearly 50% in Guadalajara’s two big suburbs of Zapopan and Tlaquepaque.

Surprisingly the Mexico City Federal District has been relatively free of drug violence. Total drug war deaths dropped from 191 to 122 pushing its 2011 rate down to only 1.8 deaths per 100,000/yr. This is only about one eighth the national rate. A future post will provide a more detailed analysis of drug violence in Mexico City.

In addition to Mérida, Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas also had zero deaths in 2011. Other big cities with very low drug war death rates include Puebla (0.6), Querétaro (0.8), León (1.9), Toluca (2.1) and Villahermosa (2.5). Apparently drug cartels and their enemies have not been very active in these cities.

Notes:

[1] All the references for 2011 are for January through September based on the data released by Mexican Government

[2] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mexico-drug-war-murders-map. For data see: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=393962.

[3] The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.

Can Mexico’s decline in cacao production be reversed?

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Feb 162012
 

In a previous post, we looked at The geography of cacao production in Mexico. and saw how the area under cultivation and production have both fallen sharply since 2003. This post examines two recent projects that aim to reverse this recent trend of a steep decline in Mexico’s cacao production.

Major organic cacao project

The Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) has several projects designed to rejuvenate Mexico’s cacao-growing sector. These include the production of young plants of high-yielding varieties, primarily in Tabasco for use in several southern states. Propagation method is either via grafting or via cuttings. (Tabasco is a leading centre for the development of tropical crops such as cacao, coconut palm and oil palm.)

In addition, Sagarpa is introducing improved methods of cultivation, harvesting and processing. The Secretariat is supporting a multi-phase plan to turn Mexico into the leading producer of organic cacao in the Americas. In the early phases, Maya Biosana will plant one million cacao trees to create 500 hectares (1200 acres) of irrigated orchards in 12 communities near Chetumal in Quintana Roo. The plan is to follow-up with similar numbers of new trees on additional land annually for another three years. The trees are expected to yield 2.4 metric tons of cacao per hectare (destined for high quality chocolates) and provide up to 2,000 additional jobs. [Note that the project is not without its critics, and we intend to write more about this in a future post].

NGO support for cacao producer cooperatives in Tabasco

One specific example of a project helping cacao farmers is the Chontalpa Cacao Presidium, a project initiated by the Slow Food Foundation. Tabasco’s most productive region for cacao is Chontalpa, which has ideal conditions for cacao cultivation and is the area where the criolla variety of cacao is thought to have originated.

Traditionally, farmers in the Chontalpa area have sold their cacao to intermediaries, who then market it. However, in recent years, groups (co-operatives) of farmers have been formed, enabling farmers to cut out the intermediaries and get higher prices for their harvest. The cooperatives allow joint purchasing and other economies of scale.

Serious flooding of cacao-growing regions in 2007 made it difficult for farmers to harvest and trade the cacao they had grown, and also helped spread the fungus Monilia roreri in their plantations. Many farmers gave up, sold their land and left for a new life elsewhere.

The Chontalpa Cacao Presidium was launched in September 2008 to help farmers rebuild the sector and introduce organic certification and other modern developments. Organic certification was obtained, which led to higher prices on the local market. The quality of beans was improved by using better post-harvest fermentation and drying methods.

This Chontalpa project currently benefits 18 producers, members of cooperatives in the Cárdenas and Centro municipalities. It helps farmers market the cacao directly in Mexico (and more recently in Italy) without the need for any intermediaries. The long-term objective is to establish a facility to produce semi-processed cocoa products.

 

Mexico’s crime statistics: fishing for the facts

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Feb 152012
 

Diego Valle-Jones’s blog, “Food and Fishing“, is actually more about Mexican crime rates than food and fishing! The blog, described by the author as “mainly about data analysis, programming and statistics, with the occasional interspersed post about food” has numerous posts analyzing the drug war in Mexico. These posts focus partly on geographic patterns of where most activity has occurred but mainly on the quality of the data available and its many deficiencies.

Valle-Jones’ analysis of drug war data is especially enlightening for anyone not familiar with the vagueries of crime-related data in Mexico. Most of his posts are illustrated by well-conceived and well-executed graphics, worthy of close examination in their own right. Posts in the past twelve months on “Food and Fishing” have included:

All are worth reading. It is unfortunate that, unlike Valle-Jones, so many mainstream  journalists have simply repeated facts and figures without any real understanding of where they came from, or what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Food and fishing?  Fishing among the statistics should give them food for thought…

Feb 132012
 

No one doubts the need for reforestation in Mexico. Since colonial times, huge swatches of the country have been denuded of their native vegetation. Recent figures from INEGI suggest that Mexico has lost almost 50% of its native forests due to logging and clearance for farming and settlement. The majority of this loss is in the Volcanic Axis belt that stretches west-east across the center of Mexico at an average height of 3000 m above sea level, but tropical rainforest areas much further south have also been decimated.

There is, however, some encouraging news.

Data released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) puts Mexico in a lofty 4th place worldwide for the number of trees planted since UNEP began its “Billion Trees Campaign”  in 2007. According to the UNEP figures, only China, India and Ethiopia have planted more trees than Mexico.

The “Billion Trees Campaign, inspired by the work of the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, recognizes that trees bring multiple benefits to people, ranging from carbon sequestration and the provision of timber to soil erosion control, enhanced aesthetic value and opportunities for recreation. UNEP claims that 12 billion trees have been planted worldwide since the program began.

The short Youtube video – Taking Root The Vision of Wangari Maathai –”tells the dramatic story of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy—a movement for which this charismatic woman became an iconic inspiration.” (http://takingrootfilm.com)

Poster prepared by Reforestamos México A.C.

Poster prepared by Reforestamos México A.C. (Mexican NGO) Visit www.reforestamosmexico.org for more information

But are the UNEP figures all they appear to be? Certainly, Mexico’s Environment Secretariat has organized, for many years, on-going programs of reforestation and conservation designed to stem the tide of logging that decimated Mexico’s natural forests over the past century. Official figures show that the pace of this effort has accelerated in the past few years. For example, between 2007 and 2011, Mexico’s National Forestry Commission protected, restored or reforested 21,000 square kilometers  (8100 sq. mi) across the country, an area equivalent to the state of Hidalgo. The total area reforested in those five years amounts to more than 3500 square kilometers  (1350 sq. mi).

On the other hand, critics of Mexico’s forestry policies, such as Greenpeace claim that up to 70% of all lumber sold in Mexico has been illegally harvested, and that less than 60% of trees planted in national campaigns survive their first few critical years.

Deforestation in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve

One of the most critical areas, one where continued deforestation could be a real “game-changer”, is the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve which straddles the boundary between Michoacán and the state of Mexico. This is where millions of Monarch butterflies arrive each year from as far north as Canada to spend their winter. The butterfly itself is not endangered (there are non-migratory populations in many countries, and a year-round resident population in Mexico) but what assuredly is endangered is the “migratory phenomenon” of the Monarchs. Adequate forest cover at an altitude where winter weather is consistently within a narrow temperature band is absolutely crucial to the survival of this spectacular annual migration.

According to the National University (UNAM)’s Environmental Geography Research Center, at current rates of deforestation, the area of overwintering sites for the Monarch butterflies could be reduced by 75% in the next 18 years, leaving just 12,000 ha of suitable habitat. The protected area, established in 2000, covers 560 square kilometers (56,000 ha. or 216 sq. mi) but includes land cleared for pasture, settlement and cultivation. Researcher José López García claims the reserve is losing 3% of its forest each year. He blames clearance and changes of land use more than illegal logging. The rate of forest clearance has been exacerbated by a rapid rise in the population of the El Rosario ejido. El Rosario is the gateway to the most-visited part of the reserve, attracting thousands of tourists annually. The ejido’s population rose by an average of 5.65%/year between 2005 and 2010.

How will climate change affect Mexico’s forests?

Climate change is predicted to have several effects on Mexico’s forests. These include:

  • tropical rainforests (in both Mexico and Brazil) will gradually decline in extent, rainforest soils will have reduced fertility and some parts will become tropical grasslands.
  • the semi-arid areas in central and northern Mexico will become drier, and the total area of arid areas will increase

Globally, deforestation is believed to account for 17.4% of greenhouse gas emissions, so forest protection and reforestation are key strategies in efforts to mitigate the effects of further cliamte change.

Recent geographic trends in Mexico’s drug violence

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Feb 112012
 

Drug related violent deaths during the first nine months of 2011 increased by about 13% compared to 2010.  Data released by the Office of the President  in January 2012 indicate that from January through September 2011 Mexico had a total of 12,903 drug war deaths. This is a rate of about 15.3 per 100,000 people per year [2011 rates were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year] compared to 13.6 in 2010 and 7.55 in 2009 [“Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”]. While the rate of increase declined significantly in the past two years, still drug violence is increasing rapidly.

The geographic pattern of drug violence is still mainly concentrated in northern border states and some western states. Chihuahua was still the most violent state with 2,289 deaths in 2011 (Jan-Sept) for a rate of 90 deaths per 100,000 per year.  Other states with high rates were Guerrero (61), Durango (58), Sinaloa (53), Tamaulipas (45), Nayarit (42), Nuevo León (33), and Coahuila (28). Note that four of these states are along the border and four are in western Mexico.

At the other end, Yucatán had only one death for a rate of 0.07. Other states with low rates were Tlaxcala, 0.8; Puebla, 1.22; Querétaro, 1.24; Campeche, 1.62; Chiapas, 1.73; Hidalgo, 1.75; and the Federal District (Mexico City), 1.83. It is very interesting that the drug war death rate in the capital city was one of the lowest in the country and less than one eighth the national. A future post will investigate drug war death rates in Mexico City.

Among border states, drug war death rates decreased significantly for the western states. Baja California was down 38%; Sonora down 36%, and Chihuahua down 31%. Before 2010, Baja California and Sonora had death rates over twice the national average largely because of high death totals in Tijuana and Nogales. However for 2011 the rates for Baja California and Sonora were 31% and 22% below the national average. The worst drug violence in these two northwestern states might be a thing of the past.

The eastern border states all suffered increases. Coahuila was up 99% and Nuevo Leon was up 143%. Both now have death rates over twice the national average. Tamaulipas’ already high rate of 37 in 2010 increased 22% to 45, almost three times the average. Clearly the battleground of drug cartel clashes along the border has shifting to the east.

Violence is up in some western states where it already was quite high. The rate in Guerrero increased 80% to 60 deaths per 100,000 people, four times the national average. Nayarit suffered an increase of 21% to a rate 42, almost three times the average. Smaller, but still significant, increases were registered in Colima, up 24%, and Michoacán, up 40% putting these two states above the average. On the other hand, the some of the violent non-border states experienced declines. The rate in Sinaloa declined 19%; but with a 2011 rate of 53 it is still three and half times the average. Morelos was down 18% putting it just above the average.

Drug violence increased very rapidly in some non-border states that were relatively peaceful through 2010. The drug war death rate in Zacatecas increased 361% while that in Veracruz was up 302%. While these increases are alarming, these two states still had rates below the national average in 2011. Jalisco suffered an increase of 40%, but its 2011 death rate of 11 was still less than three-fourths of the average. The State of México was up 24%, but its rate was still less than a third the average.

In conclusion, drug violence in Mexico continued to increase in 2011. The violence appears to be mostly concentrated in a wide geographic arc formed by the border states and those in western Mexico. Within this region some areas are suffering rapid increases while drug violence is declining in other places.  It is not clear how this pattern will change in the years ahead. To get a clearer picture of the current pattern, in future posts we will investigate trends in drug violence among Mexico’s 2,458 municipalities.

Eco-tortillas: an environmentally friendly way to make Mexico’s staple food

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Feb 092012
 

Mexican scientists continue to find ways to improve the humble tortilla, one of the essential components of Mexican cuisine and a major source of calcium for many Mexicans. We described two years ago how researchers at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico (UAM) had reduced pollution from the making of corn tortillas. This month, a press release from Cinvestav (Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional) reveals that researchers have developed a way to reduce the amount of lime required in the making of tortillas, while enhancing their dietary value. This will further reduce the pollution and ecological footprint associated with tortilla making:

Researchers have developed “environmentally friendly tortillas” that are more nutritious, help prevent osteoporosis, slow the aging process and help fight obesity. A team led by Juan de Dios Figueroa Cárdenas, of Cinvestav’s unit in Queretaro, developed an environmentally-friendly method to turn gourmet corn into tortillas that have a high nutritional content and double the shelf life, without increasing the price of the final product.

The current process used to make tortillas is “highly polluting” and “not very efficient,” resulting in tortillas that “in many cases do not contain the fiber or calcium” people need. Given the importance of tortillas in the Mexican diet since pre-Columbian times, researchers worked on developing a process that “does not produce pollutants” and replaces lime, a corrosive substance, with salts and other ingredients in the cooking process. The use of other salts retains the outer layers of corn kernels during cooking and preserves a large amount of nutrients that end up being lost in the existing process and generating an enormous amount of pollution and wasted water.

The tortillas are also useful in fighting obesity (a huge problem in Mexico) because they contain double the fiber of a traditional tortilla, Figueroa Cárdenas said, adding that the tortillas’ high calcium content will help prevent osteoporosis.

[This post is based on the text of the press release]

Tortilla-making. Photo: krebsmaus07 (Flickr)

Related posts:

Feb 082012
 

It is becoming harder and harder to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of drug cartel territories. As the government crack-down leads to more and more high-profile arrests, some cartels are struggling to reorganize and lose ground (literally) as rival groups step in to take control. This has resulted in drug-related violence in the past year spreading to new areas, accounting for the serious incidents reported in cities such as Guadalajara and Acapulco and in several parts of the state of Veracruz, even as violence diminishes in some areas where it was previously common. (The patterns of drug-related violence are analyzed in depth in several other posts tagged “drugs” on this site).

Who are the main players?  (February 2012)

According to security analysts Stratfor in their report entitled Polarization and Sustained Violence in Mexico’s Cartel War, polarization is under way among Mexico’s cartels. Smaller groups have been subsumed into either the Sinaloa Federation, which controls much of western Mexico, or Los Zetas, which controls much of eastern Mexico.

The major cartels are:

  1. Los Zetas, now operating in 17 states, control more territory than the Sinaloa Federation, and are more prone to extreme violence. They control much of eastern Mexico.
  2. Sinaloa Federation, formerly the largest cartel, currently in control of most of western Mexico. They have virtually encircled the Juárez Cartel in Cd. Juárez. Their production of methamphetamine has been disrupted by numerous significant seizures of precursor chemicals in west coast ports, including Los Mochis and Mazatlán (Sinaloa), Manzanillo (Colima), Puerto Vallarta (Jalisco) and Lázaro Cárdenas (Michoacán). As a result, the Sinaloa Federation appears to have moved some of its methamphetamine production to Guatemala.
  3. Juárez Cartel, now largely limited to Cd. Juárez
  4. Tijuana Cartel, now dismantled and effectively a subsidiary of the Sinaloa Federation
  5. Cartel del Pacífico Sur; weak, and competing with Zetas in central Mexico states of Guerrero and Michoacán
  6. Gulf Cartel, which still has important presence along Gulf coast, but weakened due to infighting and conflicts with Los Zetas.
  7. Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios) comprises remnants of La Familia Michoacana (LFM), which is now almost defunct. Other former LFM members joined the Zetas.
  8. Independent Cartel of Acapulco is small and apparently weakened.

Alongside these cartels, three “enforcer” groups of organized assassins have arisen: the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel), La Resistencia (Los Caballeros Templarios) and La Mano con Ojos (Beltrán Leyva).

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico. Copyright Stratfor. Click map for enlarged version

Turf wars

Drug violence is largely concentrated in areas of conflict between competing cartels. The major trouble spots are Tamaulipas (Gulf Cartel and Zetas); the states of Durango, Coahuila, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí (Sinaloa Cartel and Zetas); Chihuahua (Juarez Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel); Morelos, Guerrero, Michoacán and State of México (Cartel del Pacífico Sur, aided by Zetas, against Los Caballeros Templarios).

One possible strategy (for the government) would be to stamp out all smaller groups until a single major group controled almost all the trade in drugs. At this point, so the argument goes, incidental violence against third parties would drop dramatically. Such a simplistic approach, however, fails to tackle the economic, political and social roots of narco-trafficking.

Meanwhile, there are some signs that Los Caballeros Templarios, the breakaway faction of LFM, based in the western state of Michoacán, wants to transform itself into a social movement. This is presumably why it has distributed booklets in the region claiming it is fighting a war against poverty, tyranny and injustice.