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Mar 052012

In a previous post–The development of Huatulco, the tourist resort in southern Oaxaca–we looked at how the tourist resort of Huatulco was created by Mexico’s National Tourism Development Fund (Fonatur) on a series of small bays in the state of Oaxaca. Clearly, this development was very much “top-down” and it has been widely criticized from many distinct points of view. From a geographical perspective, the most important criticisms have arisen from researchers such as Evelinda Santiago Jiménez and David Barkin, co-authors of a short article entitled “Local Participation and Sustainability: a study of three rural communities in Oaxaca, Southern Mexico.”

Their view is that government programs, such as Huatulco, “are generally conceived for areas where there are resources that can be transformed into commodities”. In the case of Huatulco, this means that “access to public services, such as potable water, is designed to satisfy the demands of the visitors and affluent local service providers, while the majority suffer from inadequate supplies and must accept the conditions imposed on them.” Santiago Jiménez and Barkin see this as “a new form of colonization, implemented in the name of modernity to expropriate communal lands with minimal guarantees and compensation; a process of excluding local peoples; a way to subordinate the local inhabitants…; and a process than causes harm to the environment.”

The article by Santiago Jiménez and Barkin appears in a book entitled Nature’s Revenge: Reclaiming Sustainability in an Age of Corporate Globalization (University of Toronto Press/Garamond 2006). This book, which in its own words, “proposes a radical definition of sustainability, reclaiming the word from the rhetoric typically used by corporations and governments to facilitate unrelenting economic growth and the notion of ‘business as usual’”, is well worth reading.

The authors argue for adopting a “commons”-based approach, where the term “commons” is understood to include not only the idea of commonly-held or shared rights and property (such as water, air, soil) but also the “social commons” comprised of community knowledge and culture. In stressing “the complex interrelations that exist at local, regional, national, continental, and global levels of human organization”, the authors critique advocates of “localism” and argue that “there can be no simple solution confined to one particular scale of action.”

A table in Chapter Two (Who cares about the Commons? by Josée Johnston) summarizes the key differences between sustainable development (as used by corporations and governments) and the commons-based approach favored by the book’s authors:

Table 2.1 of "Who cares about the Commons" by Josée Johnston.
Table 2.1 of “Who cares about the Commons” by Josée Johnston.

It is an example of this commons-based approach that Santiago Jiménez and Barkin examine in their chapter. They analyze an alternative, locally initiated project, based on the Integrated Development of Natural Resources (Administración Integral de los Recursos Naturales, AIRN), which stands in sharp contrast to Fonatur’s “top-down” development model. The AIRN approach recognizes that local communities have a symbiotic relationship with their surrounding natural environment that is “crucial for mutual survival”. It also recognizes that the community-environment links are dynamic, not static, and will change or evolve with time as the community develops.

AIRN proposals aim, essentially, to speed up this development process, helping to find new productive projects for the communities while managing ecosystems effectively and sustainably. The success of AIRN development projects relies on an active participation by the local community to identify issues, opportunities and ways to progress. It is crucial that the local people are equal partners in the decision-making process.

In the Huatulco area, the Center for Ecological Support (Centro de Suporte Ecológico, CSE), an NGO, adopted an AIRN approach to devise appropriate strategies to reverse the damage done to water resources by the construction and expansion of Huatulco tourist resort, which had destroyed forest cover, reduced infiltration and abstracted water from the aquifer that underlies the Copalita River. The CSE proposed a reforestation program to actively regenerate (not just protect) the forests throughout the basin, including parts of the Southern Sierra Madre (Sierra Madre del Sur). At the same time, the CSE helped local inhabitants to explore new (alternative) sources of employment and income based in their communities, which offered them a viable option to abandoning their land and accepting menial low-paid  jobs in the tourist resort or elsewhere.

Santiago Jiménez and Barkin looked at three small villages that had participated in the AIRN proposals made by the CSE: Santa María Xadani, Santa María Petatengo and El Achiote. Each village had participated in different ways, and with varying degrees of success. Close familial ties in Petatengo, for example, ensured more community support than in Xadani where internal divisions reduce social cohesion. El Achiote is a small “rancho” of 14 families, all of whom participated in the reforestation project. The families also combine to carve and paint the colorful Oaxacan whimsical wooden figures known as “alebrijes”. The settlement gained electricity service in 2000 and telephone service in 2001. Sadly, a combination of circumstances led to many local inhabitants migrating away from the area in search of better incomes and the CSE was forced to suspend its operations.

The authors point out that development plans have to take account of three very different concepts of time. The local communities in this region view time as somewhat flexible, preferring to make decisions by consensus, rather than in order to meet any deadline. Organizations providing funding for projects see time in terms of deadlines and financial commitments. Local and state governments view time in terms of political cycles, with a project having more chance of success if it is launched early on in an administration’s term. Santiago Jiménez and Barkin also emphasize the importance of projects having an effective mediator (as the CSE proved to be) “capable of balancing the rhythms of Western culture, of nature, and of traditional culture”.

Mexico badly needs more examples of successful mediators, particularly where large scale tourism projects are concerned.

Related posts:

Mar 022012

Non-Mexicans are far more interested in some parts of Mexico than others. These areas of interest may be well-known tourist destinations, have thousands of expatriate residents or are located on major expatriate travel routes. Mexico’s major cities, which are also of interest to foreigners, were discussed in a previous post. This post focuses on 24 municipalities of less than 500,000 population. (These are listed alphabetically in the table linked to at the end of the post.)

Drug war death rates vary enormously among the 24 communities. Data released by the Office of the President [note 1] indicate that some of these municipalities have extremely high drug war death rates. The number of deaths in Zihuatanejo went from 16 in 2010 [note 2] to a startling 90 in the first nine months of 2011. This results in a rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 population/yr or over seven times the national average of 15.3 [note 3]. This places Zihuatanejo among the 20 most dangerous communities in Mexico (see earlier post) along with the other famous Guerrero beach resort of Acapulco.

Other dangerous municipalities listed in the table are Tepic, Nayarit at 69 (4.5 times the average); Mazatlán at 58 (3.8 times the average) and Nuevo Laredo at 50 (3.3 times the average). Thousands of expatriates live in Mazatlán while thousands drive through Tepic and Nuevo Laredo. The temporal trends in these dangerous cities vary widely. Between 2010 and 2011, the rate for Zihuatanejo went up 650% while Nuevo Laredo’s increased by 67% and Tepic edged up 14%. The rate for Mazatlán was down 20%.

The most worrisome trend is the very rapid drug violence increase in Veracruz State. From 2010 to 2011 the death rate for Xalapa went up 1,066%. In 2010 there were a total of 15 drug war deaths in Xalapa, Boca del Río and Veracruz City combined; but in the first nine months of 2011 this went up to 284. It remains to be seen if this dreadful trend will continue into 2012 and beyond.

Other cities in the table with rates significantly above the national average include Nogales with a rate of 28, down 68% from 2009. The rate for Playas de Rosarito (Baja California) was up 41% to 28, nearly double the average of 15.3. Matamoros’ rate increased 13% to 20 while Cuernavaca’s was down 49% to 19.

The death rates in towns near Lake Chapala varied markedly. The rate for Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos dropped from 34 in 2010 to 16 in 2010, but was still above the national average and twice the rate of neighboring Chapala. The rate for nearby Jocotepec of 13 was between the other two. Though local media suggest a growing drug violence problem in these three communities, the actual number of deaths dropped from 24 in 2010 to 12 in 2011. The death rate for the three communities dropped from 34% above average in 2010 to 33% below average in 2011.

The great news is that three of communities in the table—Bahia de Banderas, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende—had zero drug war deaths in the first nine months of 2011, compared to 27 in 2010. Bahia de Banderas, in Nayarit just north of Puerto Vallarta, is of particular interest because it had 19 deaths in 2010. If this precipitous drop is not a statistical anomaly it represents a major anomaly because the number of deaths in the adjoining community of Puerto Vallarta almost doubled from 15 in 2010 to 28 in 2011; furthermore there were 196 deaths in nearby Tepic.

Several tourist areas had drug war death rates less than a sixth the national average. These include Ensenada, La Paz and Los Cabos on the Baja Peninsula as well as Oaxaca City. Not far behind was Playa del Carmen with a rate about one quarter of the average. These data suggest that tourists worried about drug violence and seeking a beach resort vacation might lean toward Baja California Sur or the Maya Riviera instead of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo or Mazatlán.


[1] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012,

[2] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, Theguradian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. For data see:

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

Feb 292012

Huatulco is best known as one of Mexico’s leading tourist resorts, one of several similar large-scale, purpose-built developments partially funded by federal funds.

In 1967, responding to bullish predictions of US demand for beach vacations, Mexico’s central bank identified the five best places for completely new, purpose-built tourist resorts. Top of the list, as part of a 30-year plan, was the uninhabited barrier island now known as Cancún (see The growth of Cancún, Mexico leading tourist resort). The other choice locations were Ixtapa, Los Cabos, Loreto and Huatulco. The National Fund for Tourism Infrastructure (renamed the National Tourism Development Fund, Fonatur, in 1974) began building Cancún in 1970 and Ixtapa in 1971.

Huatulco’s site on the coast of Oaxaca had been initially identified in 1969 but the area lacked adequate transportation infrastructure until the regional highways were improved in 1982. Legal land expropriations followed; by 1984 Fonatur controlled more than 21,000 hectares (50,000 acres). In 1985 Fonatur began construction of an airport and a service town, La Crucecita, a few kilometers back from the coast. In 1986 the villagers of the coastal community of Santa Cruz were resettled in La Crucecita. Most of Huatulco’s nine bays were linked by paved road by 1987 (see map).

Sketch map of Huatulco (not to scale)

Sketch map of Huatulco (not to scale)

Fonatur took a number of steps to help the original residents adapt to the massive changes taking place around them. It built schools, held public meetings, provided medical and police services, and offered job training programs. Most people gradually adapted; some are employed in Huatulco hotels and some started their own small businesses. By 1994 Huatulco had 1905 hotel rooms and attracted 170,000 tourists, 26% of them foreign. The average length of stay was 4.22 days.

Huatulco’s growth has not been as rapid as Cancún’s. By 2006, Huatulco had 2506 rooms and played host to 312,000 tourists (15% foreign). While Cancún first attracted Mexican tourists and then foreign tourists followed (and now dominate), in Huatulco the proportion of foreign tourists has fallen as the resort has developed. The master plan for Huatulco foresees 30,000 hotel rooms and a city with an eventual population of 600,000.

As for most of its other developments, Fonatur’s construction of La Crucecita established a clear spatial and visual divide between the tourist areas on the coast and the residential areas for tourism employees, in this case on the inland side of some low hills.

So far, so good, but critics of centrally-planned, “top-down” resorts like those built by Fonatur, and of Huatulco in particular, point to the tremendous strains placed on the local inhabitants and on the local environment. We will look at some of these in more detail in a future post.


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:

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.

Related posts:


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.


[1] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. For data see:

[2] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012,

[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.

Feb 212012

The largest salt-making facility on the planet is near Guerrero Negro on the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. The salt here is not mined, but extracted from ocean water by evaporation. The salt fields cover 33,000 hectares (acres), including 28,000 ha of collection ponds and 3,000 ha of crystallization ponds.

Satellite image of part of Guerrero Negro saltworks

Satellite image of part of Guerrero Negro saltworks

The major locational advantages are:

  • the large flat area close to the coast, a former marine floor
  • the dry climate; this is a desert region with very low precipitation
  • the high solar radiation (direct solar powered evaporation!)
  • regular strong winds blowing from the Pacific Ocean
  • the net result of the climate is a high evaporation index

Disadvantage? Since the salt working got underway around the saline Ojo de Liebre coastal lagoon, the entire area has been designated part of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve on account of its importance as a habitat for endangered species and breeding ground for gray whales. The salt lagoons are also located on major flight paths for migratory birds.

Brief history of salt-making in Guerrero Negro

Prior to the 1950s, salt extraction in this area was small-scale and methods were rudimentary. In the 1950s, San Francisco ceased supplying salt to the US west coast paper industry and an alternative source of salt was needed. Daniel Ludwig (who would later build the famed Acapulco Princess Hotel) set up a company at the saline Ojo de Liebre coastal lagoon near Guerrero Negro in 1954; three years later, salt was exported to the USA for the first time. Ludwig sold the company in 1973. Exportadora de Sal (Salt Exporter) is now jointly owned by the Mexican government (51%) and the Japanese Mitsubishi corporation (49%).

Plans to expand the company by building another evaporation plant for salt further south along the Baja California Sur coast were thwarted by officials after a lengthy and acrimonious campaign by environmentalists angered at the probably environmental consequences. (For discussion of some of the issues, see “Mitsubishi and Laguna San Ignacio“, “Mexico’s Friendly Whales” and “The Laguna San Ignacio Conservation Alliance conservation plan“).

The salt-making process

The salt-making process is fairly simple. Seawater is pumped into a series of collection ponds. About 700 million tons of seawater enters the system each year. As the water in the ponds evaporates, the salt concentration increases. The collection ponds are controlled by dikes and gates. At a critical level of salt concentration, the water is pumped into the next point, and so on.

Salt trucksEventually, more than a year later, the water becomes saturated with salt, and the mineral salt (almost entirely sodium chloride) begins to crystallize out. The pond is then drained and the salt collected. The harvesting of the salt is done by giant graders which scrape off only the uppermost layer, leaving a hard saltpan below as the future floor of the pond. Giant gondola trucks collect the mounds of salt and carry it to a cleaning plant. The salt is then washed with a salt water solution to purify it still further, before being shipped.

Initial shipping is from the Chaparrito Port (where the washing plant is located) near Guerrero Negro. This port can load barges carrying up to 10,500 metric tons, which take the salt to the much larger port of Morro Redondo, on the southern tip of Cedros Island, a short distance to the west and just inside the state of Baja California. The Morro Redondo facility has additional inspection, storage and packing facilities and handles ocean-going vessels.

Salt bargeEach year, Exportadora de Sal produces almost 7.5 million metric tons of salt of various grades. 60% of the output of industrial salt (for use in pulp and paper, and chemical industries) is exported to Japan. The company also exports salt to many other countries including USA, Canada, Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand. Almost all the 100,000 metric tons of table salt produced each year is sold on the domestic Mexican market or elsewhere in Latin America.


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.


[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. For data see:

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

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.


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…