Apr 092015

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has published its Mexico Peace Index. The following excerpts come from the Executive Summary of the Mexico Peace Index Report 2015:

The Mexico Peace Index provides a comprehensive measure of peacefulness in Mexico from 2003 to 2014. The 2015 report aims to deepen the understanding of the trends, patterns and drivers of peace in Mexico while highlighting the important economic benefits that will flow from a more peaceful society.

Mexico Peace Index, 2015

Mexico Peace Index, 2015. Credit: Institute for Economics and Peace.

The map above shows the relative values of the MPI by state, where dark blue means the most peaceful states and dark red the least peaceful (most violent) states.

Improvement since 2012

According to the report, Mexico’s peace has improved 10.5% since 2012, continuing the trend from 2011; however, 2014 saw very little improvement, improving only 0.7%. It is too early to determine whether this is a new trend. Mexico’s level of peace in 2014 approached 2007 levels, when homicide and violent crime began to increase rapidly.

The MPI indicators registering the largest improvements in the last two years were the homicide rate, which fell by 30%, and the level of organized crime, which improved by 25%. All three measures in the organized crime indicator (extortion, kidnapping and narcotics offenses) improved. There was also a significant reduction in the violent crime rate, which fell by 12%.

Furthermore, the recorded increase in peacefulness was widespread. In the last two years, 26 out of the 32 states saw improvements in peacefulness, with all of them recording reductions in the violent crime rate and 23 states recording reductions in the homicide rate. The biggest improvements were recorded in the least peaceful states; contrary to the overall trend, the most peaceful states became slightly less peaceful. These diverging trends resulted in a substantial narrowing of the gap between the least peaceful and the most peaceful states.

In contrast, during the same two-year period, weapons crime increased significantly and was up by 11%. The three other indicators that make up the MPI (justice efficiency, incarceration and police funding) have plateaued or slightly deteriorated and are now at record highs.

The justice efficiency indicator continued to decline, which is very concerning, with the number of homicides relative to the number of prosecutions doubling from 1.45 in 2006 to 3.43 in 2013. The justice efficiency indicator measures the ratio of homicide convictions to homicides in a given year and is used as a proxy for impunity.

Additionally, the rate at which people were sentenced to prison fell from 210 per 100,000 people to 104 from 2003 to 2014. Combined with the deterioration in the justice efficiency indicator, this is a troubling trend that highlights the urgent need to fully implement the current justice reforms.

It should be noted that the declines in homicides and gang-related violence do not necessarily mean that criminal organizations are less powerful; they may have become more circumspect in their activities. This reflects a paradox in Mexico: while indicators of peacefulness have greatly improved in the last four years, many Mexicans still report high perceptions of criminality. Additionally, officially recorded rates of homicide and violent crime are still very high by global standards.

Under-reporting of violent crime and other criminal activities is a serious issue in Mexico, with IEP estimating that rape is reported only eight percent of the time and assault only 23%. To create a more accurate index, IEP has adjusted all indicators for under-reporting rates.

For many, these concerns create doubt about the reliability of criminal justice statistics. To determine the veracity of the official data, IEP compared various alternative datasets and victimization surveys against the official data. The results tend to support the trend towards higher levels of peace, but with some qualifications.

Main findings of the Mexico Peace Index 2015

  • Mexico has experienced a large decrease in violence since 2011, with the national level of peace improving by 16%.
  • Progress in peace plateaued last year; it is too early to determine if this is the start of a new trend.
  • The level of peace as measured by the 2015 MPI is still 18% lower than in 2003.
  • The most peaceful state in Mexico is Hidalgo, followed by Yucatán, Querétaro, Campeche, Tlaxcala and Chiapas.
  • Of the 76 largest metropolitan areas of Mexico, the most peaceful is Orizaba in Veracruz, and the least peaceful is Culiacán in Sinaloa.
  • The eastern region remains the most peaceful in Mexico, while the northern region is still the most violent, although the gap between the north and the other regions is now at its lowest point since 2004.

Trends in Peace

Peace improved in the majority of states in Mexico in the last two years, with 26 out of 32 states improving. The largest improvements were in the northern region, which improved 17.8%. The gap in the levels of peace between the least and most peaceful states is now at its lowest point since 2006.

Over the last two years, the largest decreases in violence have been in the homicide rate, which fell almost 30%, and the level of organized crime, which fell by 25%.

The only indicator that recorded a significant deterioration in the last two years is weapons crime, which increased by 11%. The police funding indicator and the justice efficiency indicator recorded very slight deteriorations, reaching their worst levels in 2014.

The fall in the homicide rate is mainly due to a reduction in homicides related to organized crime, as the biggest reductions were recorded in the states with the worst levels of drug cartel activity.

While there is some doubt about the accuracy of government crime statistics, multiple data sources do support a decline in the homicide rate over the last two years. This strongly suggests the progress in peace is real.

On an international comparison, Mexico fell 45 places in the Global Peace Index between 2008 and 2013. It remains the least peaceful country in Central America and the Caribbean.

Economic Value of Peace in Mexico

The total economic impact of violence in Mexico in 2014 is estimated to be $3 trillion pesos or US$233 billion, equivalent to 17.3% of GDP. This represents $24,844 pesos, or almost US$1,946, per citizen. This is a 16.7% decrease from 2012, when the total economic impact of violence in Mexico was $3.57 trillion pesos.

The states with the highest per capita economic impact from violence are Guerrero, Morelos, Baja California and Tamaulipas, with the economic impact in Guerrero at $43,666 pesos/person. If the 16 least peaceful states in 2003 had experienced the same economic growth as the 16 most peaceful states in 2003, then the Mexican economy in 2014 would be $140 billion pesos or 13% larger.

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Cueva Cheve, Oaxaca, is one of the world’s deepest cave systems

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Apr 062015

Even though most people have never heard of it, Cueva Chevé is one of the deepest cave systems in the world. In 2003, a team led by American speleologist Bill Stone, explored Cueva Chevé, located in the mountainous, pine-clad Sierra de Juárez region of Oaxaca, to a depth of 1484 m (4869 ft). The Cueva Chevé system is thought to have some tunnels (as yet unexplored) that extend even further, to depths beyond 2000 m (6500 ft). By way of comparison, at present the world’s deepest known cave is the Krubera Cave, in the Republic of Georgia, which has a maximum explored depth of 2197 m (7208 ft).

Profile of Cueva Cheve

Profile of Cueva Cheve

How deep might the Cueva Chevé be?

In 1990, colored dye trace experiments showed that there was a hydrological connection between the Chevé Cave and a distant spring (resurgence). This shows that the Cueva Chevé system (including parts not yet explored) has a total vertical fall of 2525 m (8284 ft) over a distance of (north to south) of almost 19 km (11.8 mi).

Because the major risks in exploring any cave system include the possibility of sudden rises in water level, or unexpected water flows through the caves, expeditions to this region are limited to the middle of the dry season (ie February-April). When an expedition gets underway, staging camps are set up underground at intervals, but only in locations believed to be well above flood stage water levels.

Cueva Chevé (see cross section) is shaped like a giant L. The vertical shaft is about 910 m (3000 ft) deep and roughly 3.2 km (2.0 mi) of passages are required to get to the bottom. The remainder is a long, gradually sloping passage that goes on for another 3.2 km and drops roughly 605 m (2000 ft). The cave’s deepest known point is about 11 km (7 mi) from the entrance, where explorers have so far failed to get past a terminal sump.

The air in the cave is relatively warm, with temperatures ranging from 47-52̊ F (8-11̊ C).

Chambers so far explored have been given prosaic names such as “Cuarto de las Canastas” (the Basket Room), “Cuarto del Elefante Negro” (the Black Elephant Room), and “Cañon Fresco” (Fresh Canyon), while named cave formations include the “Taller de Santa Claus” (Santa Claus Workshop). Several parts of the cave system have been found to contain human artifacts, the earliest dating back at least several hundred years.

How to get there

Cueva Chevé is about 140 km (86 mi) north of Oaxaca City via highways 190 and 131.

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Mar 302015

In a departure from our usual style, this post considers some of the more striking gifts available on the web that would surely please any Geo-Mexico fanatic. (Sadly, we do not receive any commission or recompense for making these recommendations, though we are always open to offers!)

First up is this framed, 5″ x 7″ stainless steel laser-cut map street map of Guadalajara:

Stainless steel, laser-cut map of Guadalajara

Stainless steel, laser-cut map of Guadalajara

Next is this stunning Mexico City Map, by modern artist Jazzberry Blue, reproduced as a Giclée Fine Art Print:

Mexico City street map by Jazzberry Blue

Mexico City street map by Jazzberry Blue

This map is available in four sizes, 13″x13″ (includes a 1″white  border); 17″x17″ (includes a 2″ border); 22″x22″ (includes a 2″ border); and 28″x28″ (includes a 2″ border). There is a similar, though less colorful, map of Guadalajara.

Alternatively, how about this Mexico typography map?

Mexico typography map

Mexico typography map

This more conventional Landform Map of Mexico, drawn by Erwin Raisz, is an absolute classic. Erwin J. Raisz (1893-1968) was an internationally renowned cartographer. The map is a hand drawn, pen and ink map, based on field observations and aerial photography.

raisz-map-mexicoThis incredibly detailed map is a bargain at $12 plus shipping, but is 28″ by 41″ in size and will cost you several times that to frame.

The online gifts site Etsy has many other arts and crafts maps related to Mexico. Which is your favorite?

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Mexico’s vulnerability and readiness to adapt to climate change and other global challenges

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Mar 262015

The ND-GAIN Index, a project of the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), aims to help businesses and the public sector better prioritize investments for a more efficient response to the immediate global challenges ahead.

The ND-Gain Index summarizes two key characteristics of a country:

  • its vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges, and
  • its readiness to improve resilience.

Both characteristics are compound indices, based on numerous indicators, scored on a scale of 0 to 1. For vulnerability, lower scores are better; for readiness, higher scores are better.

Vulnerability measures a country’s exposure, sensitivity and ability to adapt to the negative impact of climate change. ND-GAIN measures the overall vulnerability by considering vulnerability in six life-supporting sectors – food, water, health, ecosystem service, human habitat and infrastructure.

Three vulnerability components are considered (each has several indicators):

  • Exposure: The degree to which a system is exposed to significant climate change from a biophysical perspective. It is a component of vulnerability independent of socio-economic context. Exposure indicators are projected impacts for the coming decades.
  • Sensitivity: The extent to which a country is dependent upon a sector negatively affected by climate hazard, or the proportion of the population particularly susceptible to a climate change hazard. A country’s sensitivity can vary over time.
  • Adaptive Capacity: The availability of social resources for sector-specific adaptation. In some cases, these capacities reflect sustainable adaptation solutions. In other cases, they reflect capacities to put newer, more sustainable adaptations into place. Adaptive capacity also varies over time.

Readiness targets those portions of the economy, governance and society that affect the speed and efficiency of absorption and implementation of Adaptation projects.

Three Readiness components are taken into account:

  • Economic Readiness: Economic readiness captures the ability of a country’s business environment to accept investment that could be applied to adaptation that reduces vulnerability (reduces sensitivity and improves adaptive capacity).
  • Governance Readiness: Governance readiness captures the institutional factors that enhance application of investment for adaptation.
  • Social Readiness: Social readiness captures the factors such as social inequality, ICT infrastructure, education and innovation, that enhance the mobility of investment and promote adaptation actions.
ND-Gain Index: Trends in Mexico's vulnearablity and readiness

ND-Gain Index: Trends in Mexico’s vulnerablity and readiness

In the case of Mexico (see image), from 1995 to 2013, vulnerability has steadily improved, from a high of 0.362 in 1996 to 0.315 in 2013. Mexico’s vulnerability has decreased for each of the six sectors except infrastructure.

Over the same period of time, readiness in Mexico has also improved, from a low of 0.387 in 1995 to a high of 0.464 in 2013.

The trends of lower vulnerability scores and higher readiness score for Mexico mean that while adaptation challenges still exist, Mexico is well positioned to adapt to future challenges. On the overall ND-Gain Index, Mexico is the 47th least vulnerable country and the 91st most ready country, for an overall rank of #74, of the 190+ countries in the rankings.

Good news for Mexico’s little sea cow, the vaquita marina

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Mar 232015

Good news for Mexico’s “little sea cow”, the world’s smallest porpoise, known in Spanish as the vaquita marina, currently the most endangered cetacean in the world.

The federal government has approved a compensation plan designed to protect the vaquita marina, with a budget of 69 million dollars, spread over two years. Most of the funds will be used to pay 1,300 fishermen in San Felipe and Santa Clara in the upper Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California) not to fish.

There are thought to be fewer than 100 vaquitas remaining in the wild. Banning fishing in the main area where the little sea cows are found will eliminate the loss of further vaquitas as bycatch.

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

Besides paying compensation to fishermen in return for not fishing, some funds will be allocated to finance annual inspections and introduce surveillance drones to ensure compliance with the conservation plan and detect any illegal fishing. The unmanned drones will be managed by Mexico’s Environmental Protection Agency (Profepa).

Some funds will also go to research, with an emphasis on trying to develop a vaquita-safe shrimp net that can safely be used in the area.

Banning fishing for the 860 holders of fishing licenses in Santa Clara and the 494 licensed fishermen in San Felipe, may help the vaquita marina, but will bring some adverse consequences to the local economy since there no compensation is on offer for those workers, including many women, who are involved in fish processing and other parts of the production chain.

Not long enough

As Luis Fueyo, the head of Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) has said in recent press interviews, the vaquita marina cannot possibly recover in two years because they only reproduce every two years and only 25 of those remaining are of reproducing age. Fueyo says that the plan needs to look ahead 20 to 30 years in order to create a viable population of 5,000 vaquita.

So, while a two year ban is nowhere near long enough to achieve any measurable increase in the vaquita marina population, it is a good first step in the right direction. Hopefully, the federal government will allocate additional funding in future years to ensure that the world does not lose this critically endangered porpoise.

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An update on the Human Development Index in Mexico

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Mar 192015

The latest United National Development Program (UNDP) report about the Human Development Index (HDI) in Mexico gives scores and ranks for each state. The full report, in Spanish, entitled “Índice de Desarrollo Humano para las entidades federativas, México 2015: Avance continuo, diferencias persistentes“, is readily available online, and is based on data up to and including 2012.

The HDI is a compound index based on several aspects of three major criteria: health, education and income.

HDI improved between 2008 and 2012 in all states except Baja California Sur. The greatest percentage increases in HDI were in Puebla (where HDI rose 3.7%), Chiapas (3.6%) and Campeche (3.6%). HDI in Baja California Sur fell 0.8%, mainly due to a lower score for education.

HDI in Mexico, with comparison countries for each state

HDI in Mexico, with comparison countries for each state. Click map to enlarge.

The pattern of HDI in Mexico, by state, is shown on the map. The highest HDI values in 2012 were for the Federal District with a score of 0.830, Nuevo León (0.790) and Sonora (0.779). At the other end of the spectrum, Chiapas had the lowest HDI (0.667), below Guerrero (0.679) and Oaxaca (0.681).

As noted previously on Geo-Mexico, the north-south divide in Mexico persists. In general, northern states, together with the Yucatán Peninsula states (Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo) all have HDI values considered “medium” or higher, while southern Mexico (plus some other states, including Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Veracruz) all have “low” values.

The map includes international comparisons. For example, Oaxaca, one of most deprived states in Mexico, had a level of HDI in 2012 comparable to that of Botswana in Africa, even though that nation’s HDI is actually 38 positions below that of Mexico in the world rankings.

The report highlights the extent of disparities by calculating the number of years it will take each state, at the rates of change experienced from 2008 to 2012 to reach the HDI level of Mexico City. Interestingly, while it will apparently take Chihuahua 200 years to reach the HDI level of Mexico City, it will take Chiapas only 20 years to reach the same point.

The main conclusion that can be drawn is that the overall quality of life continues to improve in Mexico though not at equal rates throughout  the country. Disparities persist and current patterns of public spending have failed to make significant inroads into diminishing these disparities. The UN report considers it a priority to close the development gaps in Mexico, especially in the two southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

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Mar 122015

If you really want to learn more about Mexico’s economy and have a few hours to spare, then the free, open, online video course entitled Mexico’s Economy: Current Prospects and History by MRUniversity is the place to go. The lead instructor is Dr. Robin Grier of the University of Oklahoma. In a series of 51 short videos, she provides an outstanding analysis of Mexico’s economic history and current economic issues.

The course summary reads:

Is Mexico the most dynamic economy in Latin America?  After some tough times in the 1980s and 90s, Mexico has emerged as one of the economic leaders of the region.  Where does it stand among other emerging markets and what are its prospects for the future? In this four-week course, we will study the modern Mexican economy, some of the unique elements of development in a one-party, authoritarian regime, and some of the challenges the country faced in getting to this point.

No prior knowledge of economics (or of Mexico’s geography) is needed to follow the clear and concise min-lectures given by Dr. Grier, though many of her main lines of inquiry will be more than familiar to readers of Geo-Mexico.

There is lots of interesting material in these videos. For example, a short lecture under “Social Issues” entitled “Is There A Height Premium in Mexico?” looks at the evidence that taller people in Mexico earn more and have better economic opportunities than shorter Mexicans, before concluding that “each centimeter of height above the average is equivalent to 2% higher wages”. (Note: This video is a great follow-up to our April 2013 post, How tall is the average Mexican?)

The full list of videos in Mexico’s Economy: Current Prospects and History is

  • 1 An Overview of the Mexican Economy
    • Achievements
    • Challenges & prospects for reform
  • 2 Colonial Legacies: Obstacles to Growth after Independence
    • A reversal of fortune
    • Colonial Transportation Part I
    • Colonial Transportation Part II
    • Political Instability After Independence
    • The Economic Effects of the War of Independence
    • Transportation & Infrastructure in the 19th century
    • Slow Financial Development in Early Mexico
    • Law and Economic Development in Early Mexico
  • 3 Development Strategies
    • State-led development: an overview from 1917-1982
    • Commodity Driven Growth before the 1930s
    • Turning Inward: Industrial Policy after the Great Depression
    • Labor Unions and the PRI until democratization
    • What is a maquiladora?    An overview of Pemex
    • The problems of Pemex
    • Pemex’s poor performance
  • 4 Social Issues
    • Fertility and Demographic Change in Mexico
    • Is There A Height Premium in Mexico?
    • Conditional Cash Transfers
    • Migration and its Wage Effects in the US
    • Migration and Remittances
    • Economics of the Drug War
    • Finance, Law & Trust (Mexico)
    • Education Quality in Mexico
    • Education Inequality in Mexico
    • Why is Teaching Quality so Low?
  • 5 Land & Agriculture
    • Land Reform in an Authoritarian State
    • The Economic Life of the Tortilla
    • A Tomato Border Crossing
    • Watermelon Scale Economies
  • 6 The Debt Crisis of the 1980s
    • External Factors of the Debt Crisis
    • Domestic Factors of the Debt Crisis
    • Resolving the Debt Crisis
  • 7 The State Retreats: Reform in the 1980s & 1990s
    • External Factors Behind Reform
    • Privatization Part I: The state loosens its grip
    • Privatization Part 1a: Charges of Cronyism and Corruption
    • Privatization 2: Dealing with the Opposition
    • Privatization 3: Results
  • 8 The Peso Crisis
    • The Mexican Miracle? The Lead-Up to the Tequila Crisis
    • Tequila crisis
  • 9 NAFTA & the Mexican Economy
    • An Introduction to NAFTA
    • The effects of NAFTA on the Mexican economy
    • NAFTA and Mexican Agriculture
    • FDI & NAFTA
  • 10 Modern Mexico
    • Mexico & the Brics
    • Is Mexico the new China?
    • La Reconquista: Mexican direct investment in the US
    • Mexico as an open economy
    • Mexico and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis

The course is an outstanding resource for teachers and students of geography and economics, and worthy of wide use in a range of high-school A-level and IB courses as well as college and university programs.

Mar 092015

How much geography can you learn from a novel? In some cases, plenty! Robert Richter’s latest novel, Something for Nothing, is a case in point. Set in the swampy lowlands of coastal Nayarit, it is not only a fun read but provides armchair travelers with an easy introduction to the geography of western Mexico.

The book’s author has known this area intimately for more than forty years and his extensive knowledge and deep appreciation for the varied landscapes of this region are evident throughout. The novel is the third in a series of mysteries starring a small-time hustler named Cotton Walters. This particular tale revolves around archaeologists, drug smugglers and a motley crew of colorful local characters.

The history in this novel is entirely believable, and the plot entertaining, but it is the descriptions of the area’s geography that we focus on here.

richter-something-for-nothing-2015Early on, Richter offers an excellent overview of the landscapes in this region of Mexico:

“From the highway Mex-15 to the coast, between the San Blas turn on the south and the Tuxpan turn on the north, something was going on in that country of streams and gorges and farmers’ fields. Mex-15 wound through breakneck sierra jungle country where a spur of the Sierra Madre Occidental plunges to the coastal lowlands of mangrove estuaries and shrimp-spawning lagoons, banana plantations and  fishermen’s river-edge villages. Between Nayarit’s two major rivers, Río San Pedro on the north, and Río Santiago on the south, this was rugged backcountry known only by the farmers and jungle scroungers who carved an agricultural living from the wilds. From sierra peak plots to fertile lowland fields, from scattered wild fruit groves hacked from the jungle to smooth, cultivated fields and orchards, from blacktop roads to machete-hacked trails, it’s a country of explosive green growth and extreme geography, a native ground of small towns caught in colonial time warp and hidden bayou settlements as primitive as mythic Aztlan.” (Something for Nothing, 9)

The following paragraph provides the likely human and economic geography background to the “something was going on” phrase used earlier, neatly combining comments about accessibility (or lack thereof), drug smuggling routes, the economic importance of marijuana-growing and questions the possible links between the military and the drugs business:

This was October, end of the rain and hurricane season, and the engorged rivers were running full, impassable except at the few major bridges. The army was stationed at each traffic artery coming out of that country to the main highway. Area contained. It had to be a sweep for marijuana growers or a hunt for major harvest warehouses. Sinaloa to the north was known for its poppy fields and cartel trafficking, Michoacán and Guerrero farther south for Sinsemilla and Acapulco Gold. But the barrancas and jungle milpas of Nayarit were starting to contribute their share of quality pot to the Gross National Product and to the local economies. This year’s harvest had been coming in for some time, and this military presence all along the highway had the feel of maneuvers to eradicate or to confiscate. On the other hand, it could be to expedite the flow of product, too. Quién sabe? [Something for Nothing, 10]

Similarly, this extract from a later chapter links tourism to the volcanic landscapes and appraently laments the loss of wilderness that has accompanied tourism growth, before offering an evocative description of the lowland jungle:

We took an oyster shell road out a back street of Sayulita, not headed out toward the highway, but around a jungle-covered lava spill south into the bosque toward Punta Mita and the northern point of Banderas Bay. Today, that road is driven by Vallarta tourist families in rented Chevy Blazers to luxury hotels. In the winter of ‘72, it was a deer trail that died in an arroyo somewhere in the heart of darkness. Under old growth rain forest canopy we pried boulders out of the way, chopped through windfall palm trunks, and pushed on into an ever-closing tropical wilderness.

… Then suddenly, we entered a clearing under giant iguerra blanca trees and towering palms, draped with vines like decoration and full of grackle cries and parrot song, warblers answering and magpies chattering. Beneath the cathedral-like canopy, a village of stick and thatch huts appeared in the mist and smoke of kitchen fires. Dogs and naked children paused in mid-play to stare at the strange metal monster wheeling in from the twentieth century.

Our modern intrusion rent a momentary silence in the tapestry of village routine. Sunlight pierced the jungle crown with spears of silver light. A prehistoric dust hovered in the air. A rooster crowed. A jay answered. Time warped. As we opened our pickup doors kids scurried or stumbled forward, captured by a spell of awe. My own senses reeled under overload reception. I couldn’t tell the century or the hour of the day in the perpetual jungle shade. I simply absorbed the surroundings, only vaguely conscious and aware. (Something for Nothing, 25-26)

The swamps of lowland, coastal Nayarit comprise a region known in Spanish as the Marismas Nacionales. The area is one of the most distinctive of Mexico’s many extraordinary ecosystems, difficult to explore, teeming with insects, birds and aquatic life, and so far relatively untouched by tourism. Cotton Walters, the book’s main character, and his friend Miguel are navigating their way through the swamps when they are spotted by the Mexican Navy:

I crawled back to Miguel in the stern, pointing and screaming, “Navy! Navy! Ándale! We have to reach the first islands!” Miguel opened it up and cut sharply for shore and the first open passage of river between delta sand spits and jungle-covered islands.

The mouth of the Río San Pedro is more a maze of passages through lowland marshes than a distinctive channel of fast flowing current–except now at the height of the rainy season. The San Pedro oozes into the Pacific rather than runs, and the coast from there north to Mazatlan is an ever changing labyrinth of lagoons and meandering rivulets choked with water lilies and low islands thick with marsh grasses and crawling vines. The lowland character changes with the seasons of dryness and deluge, a seething cauldron of crustacean larvae, breeding shrimp, prawn, oyster, and fish during the rainy season, and arid scrub brush pasture for roaming herds of Cebu cattle and their retinue of herons in the dry months. (Something for Nothing, 31)

Richter’s less-than-flattering description of the town of San Blas nevertheless offers an astute summary of its historical significance:

Yeah, San Blas. The seediest backwater port town on Mexico’s west coast. A town as old as the first buccaneers and as ravaged by time as an old hag. An outpost town on the fringe of four or five different cultures, a smugglers’ town since the first Spanish customs house ran up a flag and started squeezing the citizens for coin of the realm. A place where four centuries of highwaymen have bought and sold their stock in trade, their particular treasure or scheme. (Something for Nothing, 53)

Much later in the novel, Cotton Walters breakfasts at McDonald’s restaurant in San Blas. But this particular McDonald’s has nothing to do with golden arches or globalization:

Breakfast at McDonald’s isn’t what you think if it’s in San Blas. No golden arches. No Happy Meal with a movie toy inside. Just a standard Mexican tile-floor, stucco-wall, wooden-tabled restaurant with the ceiling fan trying to cut its way through the thick October air; the waiter Jorge as grim-faced and slow-paced as ever; and Señora Tinzón de McDonald, long-time widow of some American-Scot refugee of the fifties, waiting to make huevos al gusto or hotcakes. The only restaurant near the plaza that served an early breakfast, by 8 a.m. most of McDonald’s tables were full when I arrived. A couple of expats tried to steady their morning shakes with that first cup of coffee, a few of the soccer-fan tourists in shorts and necklaces of long-nosed cameras were chowing down before a jungle trek chasing bright-colored birds, and a few local shop owners and municipal bureaucrats were hanging out over morning cups of caffeine conversation. An empty small table leaned against the far left wall, (Something for Nothing, 92)

I’ve had the pleasure of eating in the Restaurante McDonad’s of San Blas on several occasions, and, as always, Richter’s powers of observation and description are spot-on.

How much geography can you learn from a novel? Plenty, especially if it written by an observer such as Robert Richter who has such an obvious love for, and deep knowledge of, the locales described.

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Mar 052015

The Nava brewery, which started operations in May 2010, was built by Grupo Modelo but subsequently sold in 2013 to Constellation Brands, the U.S. company that holds the rights to import Modelo products into the U.S.

Nava brewery

Nava brewery. Credit: Constellation Brands

Constellation Brands (founded in 1945 and based in Victor, New York) is a leading international producer and marketer of beer, wine and spirits with operations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and Italy.

The Nava brewery is the world’s largest brewery of its kind (see this video overview from company webpage), with about 2000 employees and a brewing capacity of 20 million hectoliters of beer a year. A planned expansion (see 26-second video) will increase capacity to 30 million hectoliters.The plant produces Grupo Modelo brands such as Corona, Corona Light, Negra Modelo and Modelo Especial, under license for export to the U.S.

Where is it?

The beer brewery and bottling plant is located in the Nava municipality in the northern state of Coahuila, about 21 km (13 mi) from the border town of Piedras Negras. It is built alongside highway 57 and spreads over 334 hectares (825 acres) of a greenfield site.

Why is it located in Nava?

The major advantages of this location include:

  • the availability of good quality water
  • proximity to the U.S. border and the U.S. beer market
  • presence of good road, rail and power infrastructure

How does the brewery work?

The brewery is a three-story brewhouse with large metal silos, about 1.6 km (1 mi) of conveyors and four pasteurizers. The facility consists of two brewhouses with malt intake, vacuum evaporation and energy recovery systems, 70 cylindro-conical fermentation and storage tanks, seven clean-in-place (CIP) stations, a yeast cellar with 16 tanks and continuous microfiltration (CMF), 30 pressure tanks and three filtration lines with 1,200 hectoliters/hour capacity each, and a Siemens automated process control system.

The brewery uses rice, barley malt, corn grits and water to produce beer. The feedstock is transported by trains to the plant and stored in silos. A 60 km (37 mi) pipeline connects the brewery to a mountain aquifer supplying about 20 million cubic meters of water a year. The site includes its own wastewater treatment plant.

A raw materials supply system handles the raw materials in bulk and conveys them to the brewhouse, where they first enter a collection bin, and then a mash tun, where water is added. The mixture is then pumped along a pipeline to the cereal cooker of the brewhouse.

Two brew systems consisting of mash tuns and cereal cookers are designed to efficiently use the internal heat. These heaters can also clean them automatically by CIP (clean-in-place) technology. Fermentation takes place in unitanks configured with automated clarification, purging systems and turbidity monitoring. The brewery consumes less than 3 liters of water for each liter of beer. The carbon dioxide reclamation capacity of the brewhouse is about 4,000 kg/hour.

The three bottling lines have the capacity to handle 144,000 bottles/hour, while a canning line outputs up to 66,000 cans/hour.

Filling, pasteurizing and cap feeding is handled by 37 robotic machines. Output is linked to the warehouse by automated trolleys. The automated warehouse is equipped with digisat satellite, a state-of-the-art warehouse management system, and can store about 63,000 pallets.

The high level of automation means that this beer manufacturing and bottling plant has operational costs about 40% lower than the seven older breweries that still belong to Grupo Modelo.

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Beach replenishment needed in Quintana Roo

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Beach replenishment needed in Quintana Roo
Mar 022015

Officials in Quintana Roo claim that beach replenishment in the state requires the investment of at least 500 million pesos (about 35 million dollars) in the next few years, and are asking for federal help.

After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, many beaches in Quintana Roo were badly damaged. Following the hurricane, initial beach restoration efforts were funded by the federal Tourism Secretariat, with maintenance then passed over to local (municipal) authorities and the state government. The restoration program included the planting of more than 8,000 palm trees in an effort to help stabilize the coast. However, storms in late 2014 caused considerable damage to beaches, especially the Gaviota Azul beach in Punta Cancún, prompting tourism representatives to call for renewed investment in restoration.

State officials have singled out five areas where the beaches are of particular concern:

  • Cancún
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Cozumel
  • Holbox Island

Quintana Roo has budgeted 5 million pesos in this year’s budget to complete the five Environmental Impact studies needed prior to applying for federal funding.

In related news, four Quintana Roo towns have applied for Magic Town status:

  • Tulum
  • Holbox
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Quintana Roo currently has only one Magic Town: Bacalar.

The Tourism Secretariat has previously announced that it plans to add 17 towns to the list this year, bringing the total by year-end to 100. Towns that have applied for Magic Town status will be evaluated in June this year, with decisions expected to be announced in July. Given the number of towns submitting applications, some locations are clearly going to be disappointed in this round of nominations.

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