Two specific events helped stimulate the rapid growth of Mexico’s green movement in the 1980s:
- the government’s role in the giant 1984 Pemex explosion
- its ineffective response to the disastrous 1985 earthquake
These motivated many citizens to take direct action. Membership in Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) surged, as “green brigades” aided the victims. Two months after the earthquake, representatives from 300 regional groups met and formed a coalition of green groups focused on issues such as deforestation, pollution, and opposition to nuclear power. The 1992 Rio UN Environmental Summit and opposition to NAFTA (because it neglected environmental issues) provided additional stimulus to the movement.
The number of ENGOs increased from fewer than 30 in 1985 to about 500 by 1997 when about one in twenty Mexicans was a member of an ENGO. The ENGOs had highly professional staffs and were well funded from Mexican and international sources. Through demonstrations and militant actions they successfully stopped the construction of a half billion dollar tourism complex south of Mexico City and the proposed world’s largest salt mine in Baja California. They also were significant in the passage of new laws for environmental protection, reducing deforestation, protecting wildlife, and establishing protected areas.
Vicente Fox, the PAN/Green Party candidate, won the Presidency in 2000. His Minister of the Environment, Víctor Lichtinger, brought scores of highly qualified fellow key ENGO leaders into the administration. While this put the nation’s leading environmentalists on the inside, it also essentially “decapitated” and deflated the ENGO movement, especially its more militant members. Despite these key appointments, Fox’s administration gave relatively low priority to environmental issues. When Fox sided with tourism investors, and decided against issuing a detailed analytical report on beach pollution, Lichtinger and many of his senior staff resigned. They mostly moved to international or academic positions and consequently did not rejuvenate the leadership of the ENGOs they had left.
For the 2006 election, the Green Party formed an alliance with PRI and came in a weak third. The party, which has suffered from despotism, bribery and violation of election laws, managed to elect 22 diputados in the 2009 election. The Calderón Presidency has obtained good environmental marks for its leadership in global warming; however its comprehensive tree-planting program has received some criticism. Current ENGO activity is focused less on high profile mass mobilizations and protests, and more on specific issues such as legislative lobbying, public awareness, climate change, energy issues, water, deforestation, biodiversity, recycling and local tree=planting and clean-up campaigns.
Main source: Jordi Díez, “The Rise and Fall of Mexico’s Green Movement”, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 85, October 2008, 81-99.
Mexico’s environmental issues are analyzed in many chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, including chapter 30. Explore the book using Amazon.com’s Look Inside feature and buy your copy today!