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Oct 012012
 

Mexico currently has 65 Magic Towns (Pueblos Mágicos), some of which we have described in previous posts. Regular readers will know we have some reservations about the program, especially about the inclusion on the list of some places that have relatively little to attract the average tourist.

Are Magic Towns distributed evenly across the country?

The map shows the distribution of the 57 Magic Towns, by state, as of 1 October 2012. Magic Towns are clearly not evenly distributed across Mexico. Two states – the State of México and Michoacán– each have five Magic Towns, while Jalisco has four. It is no surprise that the Federal District (México D.F.) is not designated a Magic Town, but it is a surprise that there are no Magic Towns in Baja California, Durango or Nayarit. Mexcaltitán, an island town in Nayarit, was one of the first towns in Mexico to be designated a Magic Town, but had this status revoked in 2009.

Mexico's Magic Towns, by state (September 2012)

Mexico’s Magic Towns, by state (September 2012)

Southern Mexican states appear to be drastically underrepresented, especially when area of state, population and indigenous groups are taken into account.

Population density map

Mexico’s population density in 2010

Larger states (in area and/or population) would surely  be more likely to have more Magic Town candidates. However, it is clear from comparing the maps of Magic Towns and population density (above) that the number of Magic Towns does not appear to be related to either the area of states, or to their population density.

The major indigenous groups in Mexico

The major indigenous groups in Mexico

Indigenous groups are relevant because they tend to live in relatively remote areas of great natural beauty, such as the Copper Canyon region or the Huasteca, and they also exhibit many distinctive cultural traits, giving them a head-start in the race to demonstrate their attractiveness for tourism. Again, though, there is little common ground between the map of indigenous groups and the map of Magic Towns. In particular, the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Campeche all seem to have fewer Magic Towns than might be expected.

Voting patterns in presidential elections, 2006 and 2012

Voting patterns in presidential elections, 2006 and 2012. All rights reserved.

Even politics does not appear to help explain the distribution of Magic Towns, though it must be pointed out that the pattern of voting for presidential elections (maps) may not match the pattern of municipal voting which would be more relevant to applications for Magic Town status.

If and when more towns are added to the Magic Towns list, perhaps the reasons for their distribution will become more obvious.

This post examined the distribution of Mexico’s Magic Towns, as of 1 October 2012, at which point there were only 57 in total. Since this post was written, additional Magic Towns include:

There is no doubt that Mexico has many other places that would be very worthy additions to the list. Which places would you add?

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Sep 292012
 

Industrial exports from Mexico are growing rapidly and diversifying. Some of this growth is coming at the expense of China and other Asian countries. For example, as Adam Thompson reported in the Financial Times, Siemens of Germany recently moved its facilities for assembling high voltage electrical equipment for power substations from China and India to Querétero, Mexico. By next year, most of the 160 parts for this equipment will also be produced in Mexico. Siemens has eight other factories in Mexico and over 6,000 employees. As a result of investments like this, Mexico now exports more manufactured products than the rest of Latin America combined.

It is well known that the USA imports a great deal of manufactured goods from China including toys, electronics, clothing, shoes, etc. But China’s market share of US imports has declined recently, from 29.3% in 2009 to 26.4% to day. On the other hand, Mexico’s market share has increased from 11.0% in 2005 to 14.2%. According to The Economist, “HSBC reckons that by 2018 Mexico will overtake Canada and China to become America’s main source of imports”.

Mexico’s location next to the giant US consumer market is a big factor (see “US firms are near-shoring jobs from China to Mexico”.

It is much faster and cheaper to ship goods from Mexico to the USA rather than from Asia. For example, it usually takes two to seven days from Mexico versus 20 to 60 days from China. Mexico’s locational advantage is particularly important for trendy time-sensitive goods and bulky items. For example, in 2009 Mexico became the world’s leading exporter of flat-screen TVs, surpassing South Korea and China. Mexico is also the leading supplier of smartphones for the US market. Furthermore, as Itizar Gomez Jimenez reports in “Beyond the Refrigerator Door: Success of the Electric Home Appliance industry in Mexico”, most of the large household appliances sold in the USA come from Mexico, including refrigerators, kitchen ranges, dishwashers, microwave ovens, washers and dryers.

Attractive wage rates in Mexico are also a consideration. A decade ago wages in Mexico were roughly four times those in China, but now they are only about 30% higher and the gap is closing (see, “Rising Chinese labor costs: good news for Mexico”). Less red tape under NAFTA also gives Mexico an advantage (see, “Can Mexico’s industry compete with China?”). Mexico is fully committed to globalization. It has free trade agreements with 44 other countries, twice as many as China and four times as many as Brazil. To date, drug war violence has not been a serious constraint to Mexico’s growing manufactured exports.

logo-made-in-mexicoMexico’s maquiladora export industries used to assemble mostly imported parts into finished products for export to the USA. Now, most of the parts are manufactured in Mexico for such industries as electronics, automobiles, appliances and airplanes. (see: “Mexico’s vibrant autoparts sector” and “The reasons why Mexico is fast becoming a key player in aerospace manufacturing). Mexico is also broadening its export market. In 2000, about 90% of Mexico’s exports went to the USA, but now it is down to 80%. Mexico is even exporting manufactured items to China such as the new Chrysler Fiat-500 micro automobile.

While Mexico manufactures products under the names of many foreign brands, it also has its own brands and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) companies that design and build products that are incorporated into foreign branded products. For example, Mexico’s Mabe designs and builds two-thirds of the gas ranges and refrigerators imported into the USA. Furthermore, most of the appliances sold under the General Electric brand in North and South America are manufactured by Mabe. LANIX, Mexico’s largest domestic electronics company, makes desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets, LCD and LED TV and monitors and smartphones for a range of brand names.

A careful look around a typical household in the USA would reveal that many, perhaps a majority, of the durable manufactured goods would carry a “Made in Mexico” label, including automobiles, flat panel TVs, smartphones, all types of appliances, garden and small power tools, etc. etc.

Sources:

  • Adam Thomson, “Mexico: China’s unlikely challenger.The Financial Times, September 19, 2012 (registration required).
  • Itizar Gomez Jimenez, “Beyond the Refrigerator Door: Success of the Electric Home Appliance industry in Mexico” (pdf file). Cover Feature: Domestic Consume.

Related posts (specific industries):

Sep 272012
 

It is getting just as hard to keep up with Mexico’s Magic Towns program as it is to understand why some of the places deserve to be included on the list. Since our last post about Magic Towns, three more places have been added:

#55 Loreto (Baja California Sur)

The attractive town of Loreto [ed: deservedly on the list], is built on the coast around a centuries-old mission. The town has a full range of tourist services, from expensive and ultra-luxurious to budget.

The first colonial Jesuit mission in this region was at San Bruno, 25 kilometers north of Loreto; it was founded in 1683, but lasted only two years. In February 1697, the Spanish Viceroy granted Jesuit priests Juan María de Salvatierra and Eusebio Francisco Kino permission to go to the “California Province“. This is apparently the earliest recorded mention of California as a geographic entity.

The Loreto mission, founded later that year, became extremely successful. Jesuit priests set out from Loreto to found missions throughout the Baja California Peninsula, most of them established by about 1720. Loreto was sufficiently important to function as the capital of the Californias (including the present-day U.S. state) until 1777.

#56 Valladolid (Yucatán)

Valladolid, located about half-way between Mérida and Cancún, is well worthy of Magic Town status. Founded in 1543, it is an attractive colonial city, with wide streets and considerable historical importance. The city has become increasingly popular among discerning tourists in recent years.

There are many attractions, including the numerous superb colonial buildings, such as the Cathedral in the center, and the Franciscan mission of San Bernardino de Siena, in the Sisal district of the city. The local Maya people, in traditional attire, bustle about the central square as they carry out their daily tasks. Valladolid is small enough to explore on foot, by strolling through the different districts of the city.

Coupled with excellent traditional Yucatecan cuisine, natural wonders like Cenote Zaci (a landscaped limestone sinkhole or cenote), pastel-colored walls, friendly handicraft stores, and historical murals in the government palace, what more could a visitor want?

#57 Metepec (State of México)

Metepec is a somewhat nondescript city of 160,000, located near the state capital of Toluca. The earliest Spanish settlers arrived in 1526. Metepec has numerous historic religious buildings, including the Ex-convento de San Juan and the Parish Church of San Mateo. The city’s major claim to fame in terms of handicrafts are ceramic “trees of life” and similar objects. Since 1990, the city has celebrated an annual international arts and culture festival, Quimera, every October.

This map from the Tourism Secretariat (Sectur) shows Mexico’s 57 Magic Towns (as of September 2012):

Map of Mexico's 57 Magic Towns (September 2012). Credit: Sectur

Map of Mexico’s 57 Magic Towns (September 2012). Credit: Sectur

How many more Magic Towns will there be? Will the program continue after the new President takes office later this year? Watch this space!

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Sep 222012
 

If many of the press reports about the tragic events that led to the death of 29 Pemex workers in Reynosa (Tamaulipas) are to be believed, the problem was an explosion in a Pemex oil refinery. There is just one small “detail” in these statements: there is no Pemex oil refinery in or near Reynosa!

The accident occurred during maintenance at a gas pipeline distribution center, which is a very different industrial installation to an oil refinery.

For the record, Pemex currently has six oil refineries in Mexico, shown on the map below, and listed here by their 2007 production in barrels/day (b/d):

  • Tula Refinery, Hidalgo (289,000 b/d)
  • Salina Cruz Refinery, Oaxaca (272,000 b/d)
  • Cadereyta Refinery, Nuevo León (217,000 b/d)
  • Salamanca Refinery, Guanajuato (188,000 b/d)
  • Minatitlan Refinery, Veracruz  (170,000 b/d)
  • Ciudad Madero Refinery,  Tamaulipas (141,000 b/d)
Pemex installations in Mexico. (Adapted from Fig 15.5 of Geo-Mexico). All rights reserved.

Pemex installations in Mexico (adapted from Fig 15.5 of Geo-Mexico). All rights reserved.

The six Pemex refineries produce liquid gas, gasoline, diesel, kerosene and other fuels. The state oil giant is expanding its refining capacity by building a second oil refinery, Refinería Bicentenario, in Tula (Hidalgo). Expected to cost around 10 billion dollars in total, it will have the capacity to process 300,000 barrels of crude a day and is expected to be operational sometime in 2016.

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Sep 202012
 

Mexico is rapidly becoming a world leader in vehicle production, which includes cars, commercial vehicles such as large trucks, pick-ups and SUVs (sports utility vehicles). Back in 1995, Mexico produced fewer than a million vehicles and ranked 12th globally. By 2011 it was making 2.68 million, placing it 8th in the world (see table). During the 16 year period, Mexico surpassed France, Canada, the U.K., Russia, Italy and Spain. China and India moved ahead of Mexico during the period.

Mexico’s impressive 1995 to 2011 growth of 185% was third among top vehicle producers, but trailed way behind the amazing growth of China at 1170% and India at 515%. Others experiencing significant growth include Brazil up 109%, Russia up 101%, South Korea up 84% and Germany up 35%. Except for Spain, which edged up less than 1%, all the other other major vehicle producers experienced significant declines in the number of vehicles produced: USA (- 28%), Japan (-18%), U.K. (-17%), France (-15%) and Canada (-12%). The data clearly indicate that vehicle production is shifting rather quickly from the major producers of past decades to a number of emerging economies with lower labor costs. Germany appears to be the only exception to this shift. In North America, production has shifted from the USA and Canada to Mexico, largely as a result of NAFTA.

2011 Production Statistics (Source: International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers)

Country Cars Commercial vehicles
Total Change from 2010
(millions of vehicles)
China 14.5 3.9 18.4 0.8%
USA 3.0 5.7 8.7 11.5%
Japan 7.2 1.2 8.4 –12.8%
Germany 5.9 0.4 6.3 6.9%
South Korea 4.2 0.4 4.7 9.0%
India 3.0 0.9 3.9 10.4%
Brazil 2.5 0.9 3.4 0.7%
MEXICO 1.7 1.0 2.7 14.4%
Spain 1.8 0.5 2.4 –1.4%
France 1.9 0.4 2.3 2.9%
Canada 1.0 1.1 2.1 3.2%
Russia 1.7 0.2 2.0 41.7%
TOTAL 59.9 20.2 80.1 3.1%

 

Mexico vehicle production grew by over 14% from 2010 to 2011, the fastest among all major producers except Russia, which advanced at a very impressive 42% (see table). Available data indicate that Mexico’s rapid growth has continued into 2012. Interestingly, the USA’s growth of 12% over its lackluster 2010 total placed it 3rd, ahead of India (10%), South Korea (9%) and Germany (7%). Surprisingly, Brazil and China grew by less than 1%, though China’s 2011 production level of over 18 million vehicles was over twice as many as its nearest rivals, the USA and Japan.

Just looking at commercial vehicles, which include pick-ups and SUVs, Mexico ranks a very impressive 5th in the world with over a million vehicles, behind only the USA, China, Japan and Canada. On this list, Germany and South Korea drop back to 11th and 12th behind Thailand, India, Brazil, Turkey and Spain.

Source of data:

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Sep 172012
 

The 1991-96 cholera epidemic in Mexico originated in Peru in January 1991. It quickly spread northwards, reaching Central America by March and Mexico by July (see map). The cholera epidemic then spread slowly across Mexico before abating.

The spread of cholera in Mexico, 1991-1996

The spread of cholera in Mexico, 1991-1996 (Geo-Mexico Fig 18-6)

The incidence of cholera was much higher in the Gulf coast states than either inland or along the Pacific coast. By the time the epidemic was over in 1996, more than 43,500 cases had been reported in Mexico and 524 people had died.

Main Source:

PAHO 1997 (Pan American Health Organization) Cholera Situation in the Americas 1996, Epidemiological Bulletin, vol 18 (1)

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Sep 152012
 

The production and export of tequila has been one of Mexico’s major agro-industrial success stories of recent times. In this post, we look at some of the related trends and issues.

Rapid rise in production

For the period 2009-2011, Mexico produced about 250 million liters of tequila a year. Of this total, 60% was “100% agave tequila“, where all the sugars are directly derived from the Agave tequilana weber azul, and the remaining 40% was “mixed tequila” (tequila mixto) where at least 51% of the sugars are from Agave tequilana weber azul, but the remaining sugars come from other non-agave sources.

Tequila production, 1995-2011. Data: Tequila Regulatory Council.

Tequila production, 1995-2011. Data: Tequila Regulatory Council.

This is a dramatic increase compared to the period 2001-2003, when the average production was about 140 million liters a year. During that period, 100% agave tequila contributed only about 20% of the total. The relative importance of 100% agave tequila has clearly increased very rapidly in the past decade.

Agave supply: from shortage to glut

While there is a clear upward trend in total production, there are periods where production has fallen, most recently from 2008 to 2009, when production fell by 60 million liters. One of the possible reasons for a short-term blip in tequila production is if there is a shortage of agave. Agaves take about 10 years to mature, so there is a lengthy time lag between planting and the first harvest of newly planted areas.

As demand for tequila has risen, some of the major producers have experienced temporary shortfalls and been unable to source as much agave as they would have liked. One of the consequences was that independent agave producers entered the market, seeking to profit from such periods. Such independent producers could do well, provided they were able to predict agave shortages a decade in advance. During the 1990s, hillsides all over Jalisco were planted with agave, many for the first time, providing a significant boost to agave supply a decade later.

Not all independents came out of this on top. The supply of agave now exceeds demand. Many of the major tequila companies have increased their own acreage of agave, or have signed forward-looking contracts with major independent growers in other areas of the designation of origin zone. Many independent agave farmers are losing out; they planted agave a decade ago, but failed to forecast the current glut.

Tequila makers currently consume about 1 million metric tons of agave a year. The Agriculture Secretariat estimates that there are about 20,000 independent growers who have no contracts, and 223 million agave plants of diverse ages for which there is no current or short-term market. As many as 30 million agave plants were considered “very mature” in 2009 and a total loss in 2010. It is likely to be several years before the production of agave falls back to a level sustainable with demand.

Exports continue to rise

Tequila exports have risen very rapidly since 2001, with only minor anomalies along the way. Mexico currently exports about 160 million liters a year. Tequila exports have performed well despite the now lengthy economic woes being experienced by the major importing countries.

Foreign ownership

Mexico’s tequila makers have undergone a similar experience to the country’s major brewing companies, in that all but one of the major tequila firms are now owned by foreign corporations. A proposed deal in which the last of the big Mexican tequila companies, José Cuervo, would also have been taken over by British firm Diageo (which owns Baileys, Johnnie Walker, J&B, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan and Guinness) was called off in December 2012.

Environmental concern

The major environmental problem associated with tequila making is wastewater. For every liter of tequila, 10 liters of wastewater (viñazas) are produced. The viñazas are nitrogen-rich, and contain high concentrations of chemicals, including heavy metals and salt.

The National Chamber of the Tequila Industry recognizes that only about 60% of viñazas are disposed of properly. Most of the remaining 40% (about 2.5 billion liters in 2008) are thought to be pumped untreated into local streams and ponds, damaging the ecosystem and destroying stream life.

The Mexican government fines distilleries that do not have adequate treatment plants for the viñazas they produce, but in the past many companies have opted to pay the fines rather than solve the problem at source.

The viñazas problem was one of the reasons why UNESCO recently considered revoking the Tequila region’s World Heritage status, awarded in 2006. Another issue that made UNESCO unhappy was a recent decision to locate a landfill site in Amatitán in the center of the World Heritage zone. In the end, UNESCO officials agreed that progress was being made; the area kept its heritage status.

There is hope on the horizon. A new cost-effective option for tequila firms seeking to dispose of viñazas has been developed by a local corporation Tecnología Nacional de Aguas. Called Proshiemex, it uses the viñazas to produce methane-rich biogas which can contribute to heating the boilers of the tequila distilleries. The remaining sludge can be easily treated in accordance with all applicable environmental norms.

Source of data:

  • Tequila Regulatory Council Statistics

Related posts:

Sep 132012
 

In the first part of this two-part article – Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part one – we looked at the threats to traditional Tarahumara life posed by alcohol, deforestation and the construction of new or improved roads in the Sierra Tarahumara (Copper Canyon) area.

In this part, we consider the impacts of drug cultivation, mining and tourism.

Drug cultivators and drug cartels

The incursion of drug cultivators seeking land for growing marijuana and opium poppies into the Canyon country has further marginalized the Tarahumara, sometimes labelled “Cimarones” (“Wild Ones”) by the newcomers. Drug cultivators have sometimes registered parcels of land as theirs and then ejected the Indians by force. Obviously, they choose the best available land, and their cultivation methods are designed to produce quick results, rather than sustainability.

Alvarado (1996) divides anti-drug policy into various time periods. First came an emphasis on catching those responsible, then came exhaustive efforts to eradicate the crops. Crop eradication has its own serious environmental downside, since it involves the widespread and indiscriminate use of aerially-applied herbicides, alleged to include Agent Orange, Napalm and Paraquat.

Alvarado’s study is an interesting analysis of the incredible, quickly-acquired wealth (and accompanying violence and corruption) that characterizes some settlements on the fringes of the Sierra Tarahumara. In some towns, for example, there are few visible means of economic support but the inhabitants are able to purchase far more late-model pick-ups than can their counterparts in major cities. Murder rates in these towns are up to seven times the Chihuahua state average. Violence even has a distinct, seasonal pattern, with peaks in May-June (planting time) and October-November (harvest time).

The levels of violence and injustice led Edwin Bustillos (winner of the 1996 Goldman Prize for Ecology) to change the focus of CASMAC, the NGO he directed, from environmental conservation to the protection of Tarahumara lives. In 1994, CASMAC was instrumental in stopping a 90-million-dollar World Bank road-building project that would have opened up still more of the Sierra Tarahumara to timber companies.

Mining

Besides deforestation and its resultant impacts, mining has had several other adverse effects on the Tarahumara and the local landscape. Mining activity has increased in the past decade as metal prices have been high and the federal government has encouraged foreign investment in the sector. Mining leads to a reduction in wildlife and to the contamination of water resources. The most damaging pollutants are heavy metals.

Tourism

Even tourism poses a potential threat. In the past decade, investments totaling 75 million dollars have been made to improve infrastructure (highways, runways, drainage systems, water treatment facilities, electricity) in the Copper Canyon region so that the area has the hotels, restaurants and recreational activities to handle six times the current number of visitors. The plan includes three remodeled train stations and a cable car that is already in operation. Sadly, the Tarahumara were not consulted. The plan essentially deprives them of some communal land with nothing being offered in exchange. Clearly, they are in danger of losing control over even more of their natural resources, especially since improved highways will benefit other groups such as drugs growers.

Anthrologist María Fernanda Paz, a researcher in socio-environmental conflicts at UNAM’s Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, argues that these recent conflicts in the Copper Canyon region have stemmed from the federal government’s support for inflows of foreign capital, helped by modifications to the land ownership provisions enshrined in article 27 of the Constitution, changes made in 1992 during the administration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. In her view, the developers behind contentious projects first do everything possible to hide the project from public view until it is well advanced. Once people start to object, they then identify the community leaders and do everything possible to get them on their side. Before long, they have succeeded in creating a massive rift in the community, paying some very well indeed for their land, and others next to nothing.

Finally, the good news

The  Tarahumara recently (12 March 2012) won one of the greatest victories to date for indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Tarahumara (rarámuri) community of Huetosachi in the state of Chihuahua has now been recognized by Mexico’s Supreme Court as having long-standing indigenous territorial rights (but not formal ownership) that must be respected by the Copper Canyon Development Fund (Fideicomiso Barrancas del Cobre). This is truly a landmark victory. The Tarahumara have been guaranteed the right to be consulted over all Development Plans, and to select the benefits they will receive in exchange for any loss of ancestral territory. Finally, this juggernaut of a tourist development plan must respect the territories and natural resources of the Tarahumara.

This was truly David against Goliath. Huetosachi is a tiny settlement of only 16 families, about 10 km from where the main tourist complex is being built near the Divisadero railway station. The village has no water, electricity or health services.

The Copper Canyon Development Fund is now obligated to create a Regional Consultative Council allowing the villagers of Huetosachi and other settlements a say in the negotiations to decide what level of development is acceptable, and what the villagers expect in return. This council is expected to include representatives of 27 indigenous communities in the immediate area between Creel and Divisadero.

This landmark court decision could well be the first of many as indigenous groups elsewhere in Mexico fight their own battles against developers of various kinds. There could still be more court cases concerning the Copper Canyon region since it is widely expected that this initial success will lead to a legal challenge against the siting of the cable car. The villagers are also reported to be discussing how best to deal with water contamination allegedly resulting from existing hotels, and the possibility of a golf course being built on the canyon rim.

Sources:

  1. Alvarado, C.M. (1996) La Tarahumara: una tierra herida. Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua. Somewhat repetitive academic analysis of the violence of the drug-producing zones in the state of Chihuahua, based in part on interviews with convicted felons.
  2. Merrill, W.L. (1988) Raramuri Souls – Knowledge and Social Progress in North Mexico. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  3. Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.
  4. Plancarte, F. (1954) El problema indígena tarahumara. INI. Mexico. Spanish language description published by National Indigenous Institute.
  5. Shoumatoff, A. (1995) “The Hero of the Sierra Madre” pp 90 – 99 of Utne Reader (July-August, 1995), reprinted from Outside (March 1995). An account of the determined efforts by Edwin Bustillos to prevent further environmental destruction in the Copper Canyon region.

Related posts:

Sep 102012
 

The extreme isolation of the Tarahumara (until recent years) and their adaptation of some elements of the alien Spanish/Mexican culture have enabled them to survive in what most observers would regard as an extraordinarily hostile natural environment. The effects of this isolation are reflected in their culture, in their relatively equal gender roles in terms of their economy, their flexibility of work schedule, lack of economic specialization and their willingness to share available food when necessary to ensure survival.

Their isolation has also hindered the emergence of any well‑defined leadership system. A lack of any “official” hierarchy make it much more difficult to resolve any serious disputes. It has also meant that the shy and politically naive Tarahumara have found it difficult to counteract intruders, whether they are government officials or drug‑dealers. As more roads are improved, even the furthest, most remote sanctuaries, of the Tarahumara come under threat.

Some Tarahumara have adopted more mestizo culture than others; the “gentile/baptized” distinction, first recognized by Lumholtz, with all its associated differences in settlement patters and lifestyle arose from the resistance of many Tarahumara to the imposition of a Spanish/mestizo culture that they considered “alien”. The more traditional Tarahumara still prefer to live in relative isolation and not to resettle into fixed villages where there would be insurmountable pressure on their culture.  The mestizos in the Copper Canyon region, who occupied the best land by force and formed villages in the European‑derived tradition, have far more links with modern Mexico, and have preserved their economic dominance over the Indians.

None of this means that the traditional Tarahumara way of life has remained unchanged or will not continue to undergo modifications in the future. Any changes to the environment can have serious adverse impacts on their abilities to find sufficient food. The main drivers of environmental change have been drug-growing, forestry, mining and tourism.

In addition, they have to manage changes which, to some extent, have been thrust upon them by some of the government and other efforts aimed at helping them. For example, modern medicine and education threaten to change the Tarahumara population balance. Today, more infants survive to adulthood and fewer adults die as a result of accidents. The problem for the Tarahumara is how to feed and support an ever‑growing population using existing methods of cultivation and herding.

Alcohol

Equally important is the transformation of the traditional Tarahumara system of wants by contact with mestizos. Prior to these contacts, the Tarahumara had little or no access to commercially-made alcohol. Tarahumara tesgüino took considerable time and effort to make and had to be consumed rapidly, meaning that Tarahumara could get drunk occasionally, but could not remain drunk for long. The ready availability of commercial alcohol has completely changed this dynamic.

Slightly over a decade ago, an innovative, women-led project reportedly changed the 3500-inhabitant community of Arareco (8 km from the town of Creel) for the better. Kari Igomari Niwara, a 200-member women’s organization, began in 1992, and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It has often been quoted as an outstanding example of what the Raramuri (Tarahumara) can do if left to their own devices and allowed to control their own resources. In this project, they have sought encouragement and support, rather than direction and dependence. By 1997, Kari Igomari Niwara had organized a health center, primary school, bilingual literacy program, drinking water system, bakery, three small food supply stores, a handicrafts business, a restaurant and collective transportation for the village.

One of the first collective efforts of the Kari Igomari Niwara group was to get the cantinas (bars) of Creel closed at 4pm in the afternoon, so that their husbands wouldn’t get so drunk. Almost 70% of Arareco women reported having been beaten by their husbands, the vast majority of attacks coming when their husbands were drunk. After the initial cantina victory, the men became even more repressive, but the women persisted and four years later managed to persuade the church to build them a small health center despite the objections of their local male-dominated council. The women have already reduced nutrition-related infant mortality to 25% of its former level and have brought birth rates down by 50%  (Nauman, 1997).

Deforestation

The deforestation of the Copper Canyon region has a long history and has significantly changed the resource base of the Tarahumara to the point where their traditional way of life in the canyons is probably impossible to sustain in the future. Deforestation was started by mining companies who cut trees to make pit props and burn as fuel. In the 1890s, the region started to supply timber to the USA, via concessions given by Chihuahua state governor Enrique Creel to companies such as the Sierra Madre Land and Lumber Company, owned by William Randolph Hearst. Today, many of the local ejidos continue to cut more timber than they can ever replant, and there are more sawmills in operation than could ever be sustainable.

In many places, there are clear signs of the immense environmental destruction wrought by timber cutting, often on slopes so steep that there is little chance of reforesting them in the future. Soil erosion is rampant in some areas and satellite imagery reveals huge areas that are no longer forested.

Recent droughts have not helped, and one NGO, Alternative Training and Community Development (ALCADECO) has explored their links with deforestation and migration. The NGO’s director, Laura Frade, argues that the long-term effects of drought go far beyond the obvious. Poor crops in times of drought results in the abandonment of traditional lands. Families become dependent on poorly-paid jobs in the timber industry, or on drug plantations, or dependent on the sale of handicrafts to tourists. Many of those that fail to make ends meet then become the unwilling recipients of blankets and food from charity organizations. Others move to cities like Chihuahua, where they try to survive by begging or turn to alcohol.

New and improved roads

The development of forestry required the development of roads and vehicle tracks. Road development continues to this day and is not necessarily a beneficial thing. Improved road access has opened up new areas for lumbering, mining and tourism. In turn, small stores spring up, even in remote areas, selling mestizo items such as radios, carbonated drinks, cigarettes, and manufactured clothing. The use of money has become more widespread. Better roads have enabled traders to build a credit relationship with Tarahumara Indians, offering them non-traditional goods in exchange for a share of the next maize harvest. This has led to typical problems of indebtedness and exploitation.

Further reading:

Sources:

  1. Lartigue, F. (1970) Indios y bosques. Políticas forestales y comunales en la Sierra Tarahumara. Edicions de la Casa Chata # 19, Mexico.
  2. Lumholtz, C. (1902) Unknown Mexico. 2 volumes. Scribner’s Sons, New York. Republished in both English and Spanish. Fascinating ethnographic account from the last century.
  3. Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.
  4. Vatant, Francoise. La explotación forestal y la producción doméstica tarahumara. Un estudio de caso: Cusárare, 1975-1976. INAH, Mexico.

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Sep 082012
 

The production of (genuine) tequila is tightly regulated because tequila has denomination of origin status. This status (sometimes called appellation of origin) sets specific standards for producers in terms of how a product is grown or produced, processed and presented. Equally importantly, it defines the geographic indication, the specific places or regions where the product has to be made. Other items having denomination of origin status include champagne, asiago cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Geographic indications are “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.” (World Trade Organization)

Mexico’s denomination of origin area for genuine tequila includes includes 180 municipalities in five states, a total area of about 11 million hectares (27 million acres).

Tequila producing areas of Jalisco and neighboring states.

Tequila producing areas of Jalisco and neighboring states. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved. Click to enlarge

The main area (see map above) is the state of Jalisco (all 124 municipalities), with extensions into three neighboring states:

  • Nayarit (8 municipalities): Ahuacatlán, Amatlán de Cañas, Ixtlán del Río, Jala, Xalisco, San Pedro Lagunillas, Santa María del Oro and Tepic.
  • Guanajuato (7 municipalities): Abasolo, Cd. Manuel Doblado, Cuerámaro, Huanimaro, Pénjamo, Purísima del Rincón and Romita.
  • Michoacán (30 municipalities): Briseñas de Matamoros, Chavinda, Chilchota, Churintzio, Cotija, Ecuandureo, Jacona, Jiquilpan, Maravatío, Marcos Castellanos, Nuevo Parangaricutiro, Numarán, Pajacuarán, Peribán, La Piedad, Régules, Los Reyes, Sahuayo, Tancítaro, Tangamandapio, Tangancicuaro, Tanhuato, Tinguindín, Tocumbo, Venustiano Carranza, Villa Mar, Vista Hermosa, Yurécuaro, Zamora, and Zináparo.
Tequila growing area in Tamaulipas.

Tequila growing area in Tamaulipas. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved. Click to enlarge.

About 80% of all blue agave is grown in Jalisco, and almost all tequila distilleries are located in the state.

The municipality of Maravatío in the eastern section of Michoacán is a tequila outlier, some distance away from the main producing area centered on Jalisco.

The other major outlier is a group of 11 municipalities in the northern border state of Tamaulipas (see second map) where 11 municipalities (Aldama, Altamira, Antiguo Morelos, Gómez Farías, González, Llera, Mante, Nuevo Morelos, Ocampo, Tula and Xicotencatl) are included in the denomination of origin for tequila.

The first denomination of origin for tequila was registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1978. Since that time every trade agreement signed by Mexico has contained a clause to ensure that tequila’s special status is fully protected by the other signatories. Mexico has signed free trade agreements with more countries than any other country in the world.

For example, the relevant NAFTA clause states that:

“Canada and the United States shall recognize Tequila and Mezcal as distinctive products of Mexico. Accordingly, Canada and the United States shall not permit the sale of any product as Tequila or Mezcal, unless it has been manufactured in Mexico in accordance with the laws and regulations of Mexico governing the manufacture of Tequila and Mezcal.”

In 1996, Mexico succeeded in getting the World Trade Organization to recognize tequila, and also mezcal, as denomination of origin products.

The following year, Mexico signed an agreement with the European Union whereby Mexico recognized 175 European spirits, including champagne, cognac, grappa and scotch, as having denomination of origin protection, in exchange for E.U. protection for tequila and mezcal. At that time, Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) estimated that some 3.5 million liters of “pseudo-tequilas” were sold annually in Europe under such names as “Blue Tarantula” in Italy and “Hot Tequila” in Finland (In search of the blue agave: Tequla’s denomination of origin).

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