Search Results : 20 » Geo-Mexico, the geography of Mexico » Page 42

Jul 122012
 

An earlier post discussed the north-south divide apparent in the 2006 presidential election. That year Felipe Calderón of PAN got the most votes in 14 of 17 northern states (blue on the map), while in 13 of 15 southern states Andrés López Obrador of PRD (green) got the most votes. Roberto Madrazo of PRI (pink) did not get the most votes in a single state.

Voting patterns in presidential elections, 2006 and 2012

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

The voting pattern changed considerably in the 2012 presidential election, but a north-south pattern still emerged. What was somewhat similar in both elections is that López Obrador of PRD retained much of his strength in southern Mexico. In both elections, PRD got most votes in seven southern states: Federal District, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Quintana Roo. In 2012 PRD won in one other state, Puebla, which favored PAN in the 2006 election. Six southern states switched from PRD to PRI:  Michoacán, México, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Chiapas and Campeche. Puebla switched from PAN to PRD, while Yucatán went from PAN to PRI.

In the north, the pattern changed completely with the PRI replacing PAN as the highest presidential vote-getter. A total of 11 northern states switched from PAN to PRI: Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosí, Jalisco, Colima and Querétaro. In 10 of these states PAN came second while PRD took second place in Baja California. In 2012 PAN got most votes in only three states–Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Guanajuato–compared to 16 in 2006.

PRD appears to have lost much of its relatively weak following in northern Mexico. The three northern states PRD won in 2006 all switched to PRI: Baja California Sur, Nayarit and Zacatecas. In 2012, PRD could only manage second place finishes in three states: Baja California, Nayarit and Zacatecas.

While the north-south pattern is still somewhat apparent, the main pattern of the 2012 presidential election is a strong victory for PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto. PRI was victorious in 22 of 32 states and came in second in the other ten.

However, PRI fell just short of controlling Mexico’s Congress so it will need support from some other parties to pass needed legislation and reforms. Together with minority coalition partner PVEM (Mexico’s Green Party), PRI won 240 of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 62 of the 128 seats in the Senate. On the other hand, PRI has recently indicated support for many reforms similar to those previously proposed by PAN. This implies that needed reforms may have a decent chance of passing.

Further reading, with state by state analysis:

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 Posted by at 8:19 am  Tagged with:
Jul 092012
 

A recent post noted that net migration from Mexico to the USA has dropped to essentially zero. Does this mean that Mexicans no longer have any interest in moving to the USA? The answer to this question is complicated. Obviously, many Mexicans living in Mexico would like to join their family members in the USA if it were legally possible. Others might feel that their career ambitions or the aspirations of their children might be better served by living in the USA. On the other hand, many Mexicans in the USA might feel that their lives would be better if they lived in Mexico.

A face-to-face survey in April 2012 by the Pew Research Center of 1,200 Mexicans in Mexico sheds light on this issue. According to the survey, 56% had a favorable view of the USA, compared to 52% in 2011. Only 34% had an unfavorable view of the USA, down from 41% in 2011. The views varied significantly by age and education. Sixty percent of 18 to 29-year-olds had a positive view compared to only half of those over age 50. Fully 66% of those with a post-secondary education had a favorable view compared to less than half (48%) of those with less education.

Over half (53%) think that Mexicans who move to the USA have a better life, up sharply from 44% in 2011. This suggests that there is still considerable interest in migration. Only 14% indicated they had a worse life, down from 22% a year earlier. However, 61% said they would not move to the USA if they had the means and opportunity. On the other hand, 37% said they would move to the USA and of these 19% indicated they would move even without legal documentation. Not surprisingly, younger Mexicans and those with more education were more interested in moving to the USA.

The survey data indicate that when/if US unemployment declines and there are again ample job opportunities in the USA, many Mexicans may migrate legally or illegally to fill those jobs. Of course, employment opportunities in Mexico will be a very important factor affecting decisions about migration. While the Mexican economy has recovered from the severe recession far better than the USA, still 62% of surveyed Mexicans described the economy as “bad”, down from 75% in 2010 and 68% in 2011. But Mexicans remain optimistic, 51% say the economy will improve in the next year compared to 32% who think it will remain the same, and only 16% who believe it will be worse. The Mexicans more willing to migrate, those with higher educations and incomes, are more optimistic about Mexico’s economic future. If the gap between US and Mexican economic opportunities continues to shrink in the decades ahead, we can expect Mexicans to become less interested in moving to the USA.

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Jul 052012
 

By virtue of its geography, the Gulf coast state of Veracruz is one of the best places in the world to see the annual migration of birds of prey (raptors) from North America to Central and South America.

Between 4 and 6 million birds (eagles, hawks, vultures, falcons, and kites) make this trip each way each year to trade the harsh winter and scarce food in one hemisphere for better conditions in the other hemisphere. The migration south takes place September-November, and the return migration passes overhead in March-April.

Since most raptors are relatively large birds, and they are accompanied by other species such as storks, white pelicans and anhingas, this annual migration is one of the most awesome birding spectacles anywhere in the world. Each passing flock contains tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands, of individuals.

The raptors fly during daylight and rest overnight. Their New World songbird cousins, who also migrate in vast numbers, prefer to feed and rest during the day and then fly at night. Most songbirds take a direct migration route from the eastern USA to Central and South America, flying directly over the Gulf of Mexico in a “single, epic 18-hour flight”. Raptors, on the other hand, prefer a more leisurely approach, leap-frogging along the coastal plain.

Why do they fly through Veracruz?

The main reasons are:

1. Relief: Mexico’s mountain ranges, especially the Sierra Madre Oriental {Eastern Sierra Madre) and Volcanic Axis, funnel the birds towards the east coast, but the Gulf of Mexico provides a natural barrier preventing the birds from attempting routes further to the east. At its narrowest, this funnel is only 25 km (15 miles) wide.

2. Climate: The wide coastal plain warms up sufficiently to provide ascending thermal “bubbles” which help keep these large birds aloft and minimize  the energy expenditure required to soar and fly large distances. Raptors use the thermals to soar to about 1000 meters (3000 feet) above the ground, before gliding in their desired direction of travel gradually losing height until they pick up another thermal at a height of about 300 meters (1000 feet), repeating the process as often as needed. On a good day, they will cover more than 320 km (200 miles) in this fashion before resting for the night.

3. Biogeography: The varied landscape, vegetation and animal life in habitats ranging from tropical wetlands to temperature forests, offers plenty of potential food sources for the raptors.

This massive migration has been studied since the early 1990s and scientists continue to tag birds today in order to update their estimates of bird populations and of the precise timing and routes involved. An official counts is held each year from 20 August to 20 November, organized by Pronatura Veracruz. The count is held in two locations: Cardel and Chichicaxtle (see map).

The counts have confirmed that Veracruz hosts the most concentrated raptor migration in the world.

This short video clip highlights Mexico’s leading role in studying the population and routes of these annual international raptor migrations:

One of the major long-term threats to this migration is habitat change in central Veracruz. Pronatura Veracruz sponsors an environmental education program known as “Rivers of Raptors” which tries to address this issue, helping local landowners appreciate the need for watershed protection and for an end to deforestation.

Pronatura’s work with raptors and the local communities is partially funded by ecotourism, and hawk-watching has become an important component of Mexico’s fledgling “ornithological tourism” market. Other key sites in Mexico for birding tourism include the tropical forests of the Yucatán Peninsula and Chiapas, and the San Blas wetlands in the western state of Nayarit.

Map of Central Veracruz

Map of Central Veracruz; all rights reserved. Click map to enlarge

In fact, Mexico is one of the world’s most important countries for birds, home to 1054 species of birds, 98 of them endemic, including 55 globally threatened species. Mexico has no fewer than 145 recognized “Important Bird Areas” (IBAs) of global significance, which between them cover 12% of the national land area (see summary map below).

Important Bird Areas in Mexico [Birdlife.org]

Important Bird Areas in Mexico [Birdlife.org]

Want to read more about the raptors?

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Jul 022012
 

One would think that with satellite imagery there would be no question concerning the land area of countries. However, when talking about area there are some definitional issues. Are we talking about “land area” or “total area” which includes land area and inland water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs and rivers? This can be important when talking about the relative size of countries.

Without question Russia is the largest with nearly twice the area of the second place country. What are the second, third and fourth place countries? If we are talking about “land area”, excluding inland waters, then China is second (9.570 million square kilometers), the USA is third (9.162m sq km) and Canada is fourth (9.094m sq km). However, when inland waters are included to get “total area” then Canada is second (9.985m sq km), China is third (9.597m sq km) and the USA is fourth (9.526m sq km). Generally “total area” is the measure used to compare the geographic areas of countries (see table).

Total area of the world’s largest countries (millions of square kilometers)

RankCountryArea (millions of sq. km)RankCountryArea (millions of sq. km)
1Russia17.09811Congo2.345
2Canada9.98512Saudi Arabia2.150
3China9.59713Mexico1.964
4USA9.52614Indonesia1.911
5Brazil8.51515Sudan (post 2011)1.861
6Australia7.69216Libya1.759
7India3.16617Iran1.648
8Argentina2.78018Mongolia1.564
9Kazakhstan2.72519Peru1.285
10Algeria2.381

Generally we might expect a country’s geographic area rank to stay the same from year to year and even decade to decade. However, this is not the case. Prior to 1991 Mexico was considered the world’s 13th largest country. However with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 2011, Kazakhstan became an independent country ranked 9th in total area. This pushed Mexico down to 14th.

When South Sudan split away from Sudan in mid 2011, the area of “new” Sudan was reduced by over 25%. This dropped Sudan from 10th to 15th on the list of the world’s largest countries. It also moved Mexico from 14th back up to 13th place on the list. Such political changes can have enormous impact on the size of countries. For example, prior to 1951 when Tibet was considered an independent country, the size of China was an eighth smaller than it is now. Mexico before 1846 was almost twice its current size and perhaps the fifth largest independent country behind only Russia, China, the USA and Brazil.

Another issue concerns whether Greenland (2.166m sq km)  is counted as a country. While Greenland is officially a dependency of Denmark it has been moving toward independence. In 1985 it left the European Economic Community (EEC) while Denmark remained in the EEC. Greenland has its own Parliament and Prime Minister; in June 2009 Greenland assumed self-determination with Greenlandic as its sole official language. If/when Greenland becomes officially an independent “country” it will be the world’s 12th largest, bumping Mexico back into 14th place. Until this happens, Mexico remains the world’s 13th largest country.

The changes in rank discussed above came about for political reasons. They did not involve any physical changes. With global warming and rising sea levels some countries will actually become geographically smaller. However these changes will not affect the area ranking of the 20 largest countries for at least the next hundred years.

Related posts:

 

Jun 302012
 

Comparing the historical sizes of national economies is extremely challenging. This post relies on data from Gapminder which has attempted to do this for all the countries in the world for the period since 1800. Gapminder’s approach relies on first obtaining for each country historical population size and Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPpc; for more details, see Standard of living in Mexico since 1800: some international comparisons) and then multiplying these to obtain the GDP. To obtain historical measures of population and GDPpc, Gapminder relies on quantitative and qualitative data from hundreds of official and unofficial documents and a number of carefully documented assumptions. In some cases they admit that some of their numbers for years before 1900 are essentially well-educated “guesstimates”. [Full details are given in the pdf file “Documentation for GDP per capita by purchasing power parities“.]

Though the Gapminder data have limitations, they are about the best source for comparing the GDP growth of Mexico since 1800 with that of other large economies. The Gapminder GDPpc data are adjusted for inflation by using constant 2005 US dollars. They are also based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which measures total goods and services produced by an economy independent of exchange rates.

During the 19th century Mexico’s total GDP grew at a relatively unimpressive 1.3% per year, which was only about 0.5% above population growth. In 1800, Mexico’s estimated GDP was just over $6 billion, ranking it second in the Americas. Though this was almost nine times the GDP of Canada, and 3.6 times that of Brazil, it was less than that of Nigeria and half that of the USA. China had by far the largest GDP in 1800 at about $290 billion, more than three times the GDP of second place India, over seven times that of Japan and the large European countries (France, Germany and the UK) and over 20 times that of the USA. The table below shows the estimated GDP levels from 1800 to 1900 for some of the world’s current largest economies.

Estimated total GDP of large economies, 1800 to 1900

(GDP in billions of constant 2005 US dollars based on Purchasing Power Parity)

Country1800182018701900Growth/yr, 1800-1900
Brazil1.72.47.010.31.8%
Canada0.71.19.323.13.6%
China286.9328.8279.1320.90.1%
France38.447.1113.5167.31.5%
Germany36.048.5113.2254.72.0%
India91.098.2118.8nana
Indonesia8.39.316.026.31.2%
Italy23.629.344.671.61.1%
Japan31.133.639.676.60.9%
MEXICO6.17.39.123.31.3%
Russia25.626.2nanana
UK34.945.4151.3240.12.0%
USA12.720.1261.3506.03.8%

From 1800 to 1820, just before gaining independence, the Mexican economy grew to $7.3 billion at a sluggish rate of about 0.9% per year. In contrast, Canada and the USA expanded at around 2.3% per year while Brazil’s GDP went up about 1.9% per year. Germany, France, UK and Italy grew at roughly 1.0% to 1.5% per year. The major Asian countries–China, India, Japan and Indonesia–only managed 0.4% to 0.7% per year. The Russian economy essentially stagnated during the 20 year period. China maintained the top position with over three times the GDP of India and over six times those of the large European economies.

By 1870, Mexico’s GDP had inched up over $9 billion growing rather slowly at just over 0.4% per year since 1820; this was slower than the population growth rate. While Mexico’s growth rate was better than the three biggest Asian economies, it severely lagged behind its northern neighbors which grew very rapidly based on industrialization and immigration. Canada’s economy expanded by an impressive 4.4% per year and edged past Mexico. The USA did almost as well at 4.2% per year to move into second place behind China, which declined by a surprising 0.3% per year over the fifty year period. (In China both GDPpc and population declined from 1820 to 1870.)

Brazil grew by a solid 2.1% per year and closed the gap with Mexico. The three largest European economies were also industrializing and grew by roughly 1.7% to 2.0% per year, but they were still overtaken by the USA. While Indonesia’s GDP expanded by about 1.1% per year, growth rates for Japan and India were less than 0.4% per year.

From 1870 to 1900, under the Porifiro Diaz regime, Mexico’s economy grew rapidly at about 3.2% per year up to $23.3 billion. This put Mexico just ahead of Canada which grew slightly more slowly at roughly 3.1% per year. Mexico’s estimated GDP in 1900 was just behind that of Indonesia but over twice that of Brazil which slowed to 1.3% per year. The USA sped ahead at 3.9%. In the early 1880s it became the world’s largest economy by overtaking China which grew slowly at less than 0.5% per year. In 1900 China’s estimated GDP was actually less than it had been 80 years earlier in 1820. By 1900 the USA’s estimated GDP was over $500 billion, about 22 times that of Mexico. Germany grew at an impressive 2.7% per year becoming Europe’s largest economy by moving past the UK which grew at 2.2%, about the same rate as Japan. Growth in France and Italy was significantly slower.

During the full 19th century, Mexico almost quadrupled its GDP but its overall economic performance was fair at best. Its growth rate of just over 1.3% per year was better than the Asian countries which performed poorly during the century. The USA registered a very impressive 3.8% growth per year resulting in a fortyfold GDP increase. Canada was a close second with 3.6% per year and a 34-fold increase. Germany and the UK had seven-fold increases with growth rates near 2.0%, followed by Brazil at 1.8% growth per year. France followed with growth averaging just under1.5% per year. Though these Gapminder GDP levels have some limitations, they do give a pretty good indication of relative historical economic sizes and growth rates.

Mexico’s economic performance was much better in the 20thcentury as was that of all major world countries. A future post will focus on economic growth since 1900.

 

Jun 282012
 

This account of the rope-making industry in the small village of Villa Progreso in the state of Querétaro, is based on information collected during numerous student interviews conducted in the village in the 1980s.

Villa Progreso in the 1980s

Preparing to start. Rope-maker starts to twist the strands.

Preparing to start. Rope-maker starts to twist the strands.

Villa Progreso is nestled in the hills at the end of a road, east of the town of Ezequiel Montes. The rocky soil is not very fertile, and water is in short supply, so agricultural production is limited, though maguey plants grow well here, even when neglected. The local maguey plants used to supply the raw material for rope-making, the main “secondary” occupation in the village.

However, as the village’s population increased, and as more and more families became dependent on rope-making, another maguey product, ixtle de henequen (henequen fibers), had to be trucked in as the raw material from other states, in particular from Yucatán and Tamaulipas.

The trucks are either rented by the villagers or supplied by the village “distributors” (who eventually buy the finished ropes from the village). About 40 metric tons of henequen are needed each week to keep the rope-makers supplied.

In the 1980s (all monetary figures are from that time), raw henequen was bought by the distributors for about 50 pesos a kilo, and then resold to the villagers at about 95 pesos a kilo. The distributors are “middle men” who, in the words of one student, “make a lot of money doing nothing” and “live in the largest, most expensive homes in the village.”

Once the villagers have purchased a supply of henequen, they perform the various tasks to turn it into ropes. The first step is to “comb” it to make fine fibers and to clean the henequen.

The fibers are then shaken in the wind to further separate them before being stored in a large sack. The ends of the top fibers are then tied onto three wires (see first photo). These wires are made to spin by a wheel.

This is often an old bicycle wheel. Some villagers turn the wheel themselves as they walk backwards feeding fibers onto the wires, via a rope that is wound over the wheel; others rely on children or family members to turn the wheel.

The rope gets longer... and thicker...

The rope gets longer… and thicker…

As the person carrying the sack walks backwards, they continue to feed the three strands of fiber, gradually creating three fine strands of rope. The spinning process is repeated, using the fine strands as the basis, and the rope can be made as thick as you like by successive spins.

The entire family helps

The entire family helps (note cloth tied as sunshade)

The main output from this system is strands of rope of various thicknesses, used for things such as clothes lines. Short strands of henequen are not wasted, but formed into natural cleaning pads.

The work is done by the entire family. One worker pointed out that “it is better to have a large family as like this all can work for each other”. Any workers who have no family have to hire extra workers and are unlikely to make any profit.

On a good day, one family can produce about 72 ropes, each about 5 meters long, which can be sold for around 1800 pesos. However, it takes about 1 kilo of henequen to make 7 or 8 ropes, so the family only makes about 800 pesos [about 5 dollars at the then exchange rate] a day after they have paid for the “raw” henequen. The average family size, including children, in the village was between 5 and 6 individuals. 800 pesos a day is not much income to support the entire family!

The finished ropes are bought by the distributors, who in turn sell it on to other distributors in other places, and so on. The main markets are Mexico City, where about 90% of these ropes are eventually sold.

The workers in the rope-making industry in Villa Progreso have tried to organize themselves, but with only limited success. For example, three years before the interviews, they had formed a cooperative, but decided to quit the group when they realized that the managers of the cooperative also wanted part of the profits. So, at the time of the interviews, they had returned to working independently without any outside help.

Sales of rope fluctuate with the economy, and also seasonally, with the highest demand during the rainy season, partly because these natural fiber ropes tend to disintegrate more quickly during damp conditions.

The final stage, with finished ropes

The final stage, with finished ropes

As one student concluded, “It is very visible here how the middle men (distributors) take advantage of the cheap labor available and make a large profit by only buying and selling raw materials and by buying and selling finished products. thus, the distributors are getting richer by exploiting the workers and the workers are remaining as poor or getting poorer than before. The workers have been pulled into a situation that they can not easily escape from.”

How have things changed since the 1980s?

Sadly, I haven’t had the chance to return to Villa Progreso since then, but things appear to have changed considerably. Newspaper accounts such as “Artesanos dan nuevo aire al ixtle” (“Artisans give new life to Ixtle”), which appeared in the national daily El Universal in 2008, suggest that the residents of Villa Progreso are now emerging from some very hard times.

The price of natural fiber ropes could not compete with cheaper plastic alternatives and the rope-making industry went into near-terminal decline. Many of the able-bodied young men left to look for work north of the border. A small number (mainly the older inhabitants) remained home and continued to make ropes by hand for the limited market that remained for their products.

Now, though, a new industry has arisen based on the henequen fibers (usually known simply as ixtle). Enterprising villagers have turned their hands to fashioning nativity scenes and decorative items out of ixtle. Isaías Mendoza Guzmán is described in the article as making pieces that are more than two meters tall and take three months to complete, clearly indicating a high level of sophistication in the final product.

Villa Progreso now holds an Ixtle and Nopal Fair (Feria del Ixtle y el Nopal) towards the end of April each year in the La Canoa “ecotourism park”.

Villa Progreso is by no means the only place in Mexico where rope-making is an important activity. Similar rope-making methods are used elsewhere in Mexico. For example, John Pint describes in “Mexican artisans of Lake Cajititlán” how rodeo-quality lariats are made in the village of San Miguel Cuyutlán, near Guadalajara. Demand for these high-end products apparently remains strong.

Photo credit:

All photos in this post are by Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

How to get there:

Villa Progreso is about 10 km east of the town of Ezequiel Montes in Querétaro. From Mexico City, take the Querétaro highway (Hwy 57D) north-west to San Juan del Río. Then take Highway 120 past Tequisquiapan to Ezequiel Montes. Once in the town, turn right for the road to Villa Progreso. Allow 2.0 to 2.5 hours for the drive.

Related posts about the same general area:

 

Jun 252012
 

Mexican environmentalist Martha “Pati” Isabel Ruíz Corzo has been awarded the 2012 National Geographic/Buffett Award for Conservation Leadership in Latin America.

The press release from the National Geographic summarizes a lifetime’s dedication to the Sierra Gorda region of the state of Querétaro:

Martha “Pati” Isabel Ruiz Corzo founded Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG), a local grassroots organization, with her husband and local residents in 1987 to rescue the Sierra Gorda bioregion in Mexico from the destruction of unregulated development. GESG has set the standard in Mexico for a “conservation economy,” establishing a new paradigm in natural protected area management with widespread local community participation.

GESG is a living model of community-based conservation management. Thanks largely to GESG’s efforts and Ruiz Corzo’s leadership, the Sierra Gorda — comprising a third of Mexico’s Querétaro State and considered the area with the most ecosystem diversity in Mexico — is now a UNESCO and federal Biosphere Reserve and is the largest federal protected area with participatory management in the world. It spans 1 million acres, and its 35,000 residents own 97 percent of the Reserve’s territory.

Ruiz Corzo’s efforts to include local communities in the management of the Reserve make her a pioneer in the conservation field. Her leadership has created opportunities for rural, low-income communities in the areas of ecotourism, reforestation, soil restoration, ecological livestock management and other profitable microenterprises.

Over the past 25 years, GESG has organized environmental education for the community members, who regularly take part in clean-up campaigns, solid waste management, soil restoration and other conservation activities. Community volunteers operate 115 recycling centers. Thanks to the residents’ stewardship of the Reserve, more than 13,000 hectares of regenerated forest and woodland has been recovered over 15 years.

Ruiz Corzo and her team have developed online and on-site courses that allow others to replicate the GESG model, which is now being applied beyond the borders of Mexico.

Ruiz Corzo also has pioneered the concept of valuing the “natural capital” of the region — the Sierra Gorda has been validated by the Rainforest Alliance and is the first forest carbon project to achieve this milestone in Mexico.

The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve covers 383,567 hectares of the state of Querétaro. Eleven core protected areas have a combined area of 24,803 hectares with 358,764-hectares of buffer zone surrounding them. The reserve is home to about 100,000 people (including cattle ranchers, seasonal farmers and forestry workers) living in 638 settlements in five municipalities:

  • Jalpan de Serra
  • Arroyo Seco
  • Landa de Matamoros
  • Pinal de Amoles
  • Peñamiller

The reserve is ecologically diverse, with a large number of distinct ecosystems; it is one of the most biodiverse areas in central Mexico. The major reason for such diversity is that the reserve straddles the Nearctic and Neotropical bio-regions. It ranges in altitude from 300 meters above sea level to more than 3,000 meters. The reserve has 14 distinct vegetation types, home to 6 feline species (including the jaguar) and 334 bird species.

Forestry is controlled, but illegal logging persists, especially on the fringes of the reserve.

Out-migration has reduced population pressures on the reserve, and remittances have helped raise household incomes, so decreasing local demand for wood as fuel in favor of gas.

Related posts:

Jun 232012
 

Comparing historical standards of living for different countries over long periods of time is extremely challenging. This post relies on data from Gapminder which has attempted to do this for all countries in the world since 1800. Their approach relies on quantitative and qualitative data from hundreds of references and a number of carefully documented assumptions. They obtained input from a very wide range of official and unofficial documents and combined these to come up with their best estimates. In some cases they admit that some of their numbers for years before 1950 are essentially well-educated “guesstimates”. [For more details, see “Documentation for GDP per capita by purchasing power parities” (pdf file).]

Though the Gapminder data have some limitations, they are about the best source for comparing standards of living in Mexico since 1800 with a number of other middle income countries. The measure of standard of living used in this post is the Gapminder indicator of Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPpc) at constant 2005 US dollars based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) which measures total goods and services produced by an economy independent of exchange rates.

The data indicate that Mexico’s GDPpc has grown over eleven-fold since 1800 from over $1,000 to almost $12,000. This increase sounds very impressive but actually represents an average annual increase of under 1.2% per year. The eleven-fold increase demonstrates the power of compounding. The growth has not been constant. During the 19thcentury Mexico’s GDPpc actually decreased slightly up until 1870, but then expanded relatively rapidly under the Porfirio Diaz regime, almost doubling between 1870 and 1900. For the century as a whole it increased an average of about 0.5% per year. The rate of increase more than doubled during the first half of the 20th century to 1.2%. It doubled again to 2.5% during the second half of the 20th century, which included the so-called “Mexican Miracle”, which started in the 1940s. After 2000, as a result of the very severe recession in the USA, Mexico’s growth slowed to 0.6% per year for the period 2000-2011. Growth is expected to increase significantly during the present decade.

Income growth in Mexico since 1800 (Gapminder data) 

(Incomes values are at constant 2005 US dollars based on Purchasing Power Parity)

Country18001900195020002011Growth/yr, 1800-2011
Argentina8724,0116,32310,77114,5951.3%
Brazil5095981,9047,81910,1921.4%
Chile7022,3063,61210,10613,6111.4%
China9868024272,7847,9311.0%
Cuba1,124na4,9585,8249,4691.0%
India5635855881,6072,9720.8%
Indonesia5146046662,6273,9991.0%
Iran7501,3472,8168,26011,6661.3%
South Korea59667070815,69225,2561.8%
MEXICO1,0541,7223,07410,35911,7541.2%
Peru6979963,2895,7058,4201.2%
Russia824nana7,79214,3181.4%
South Africa759na4,7667,3349,2841.2%

The table compares the 1800 to 2011 GDPpc of Mexico with 12 other middle and low income countries. In 1800, Mexico was ahead of all other countries in the table except Cuba. By 1900, Argentina had moved past and its GDPpc was more than double that of Mexico. Argentina’s GDPpc growth rate for the 19thcentury was over three times that of Mexico. Chile also moved ahead of Mexico. On the other hand, Brazil grew very slowly at only about 0.2% per year during the century; it actually declined between 1870 and 2000. By 1900, its GDPpc was about equal to that of India and a third that of Mexico.

In 1800, China’s GDPpc trailed Mexico by only about 6.5%; but declined by about 0.2% per year during the 19thcentury when China’s economy seriously stagnated as a result of opium wars and numerous internal rebellions which took from 20 to 40 million lives. By 1900, China’s GDPpc was less than half that of Mexico. India, South Korea and Indonesia also grew very slowly during the century. Their GDPpcs went from about half that of Mexico to about a third. There was no Asian economic miracle during the 19th century.

By 1950, Mexico trailed Argentina, Chile, Peru, Cuba and South Africa. From 1900 to 1950, the GDPpc of Mexico grew by a respectable 1.2% per year; however Peru and Brazil grew twice as fast. At the other end, the Asian countries did rather poorly. For example, China’s GDPpc declined by an amazing 1.2% per year from 1900 to 1950, when the country suffered from competing warlords, a protracted civil war, and Japanese invasion. By 1950, China’s GDPpc was less than half of what it had been in 1800 and also was behind India and less than a seventh that of Mexico. From 1900 to 1950, India’s GDPpc grew by only 0.01% per year while Indonesia and South Korea did only marginally better. The mid 20thcentury wars were very damaging to the Asian economies.

By 2000, Mexico had almost caught up with Argentina and had surpassed Chile, Peru, Cuba and South Africa. While Mexico’s growth from 1950 to 2000 of about 2.5% per year was very impressive, Brazil grew even faster at 2.9% per year. South Korea’s GDPpc surged ahead by an amazing 6.4% per year during the second half of the 20th century; it increased over twenty-fold from about $700 to over $15,000. China also grew at a very impressive 3.8% per year posting over a six fold increase. These two countries recovered briskly after their numerous wars and kept moving ahead at a rapid clip.

During the years between 2000 and 2011, Mexico had the worst performance of the countries in the table, growing at only 1.6% per year. China grew over eight times faster than Mexico; India and Russia grew almost five times faster. The growth rates of the other Latin American countries in the table – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Peru – were over twice that of Mexico. However, the Mexican economy is closely tied to the USA where GDPpc grew less than half as fast as Mexico. As mentioned previously, Mexico is expected to grow briskly during the rest of this decade.

It is interesting to look over the full 211 year period from 1800 to 2011. Interestingly throughout the whole period the GDPpc of Iran slightly trailed that of Mexico. The gap between these two countries closed a bit during the 211 year period. As a result of its rapid surge in recent decades, South Korea grew the fastest at 1.8% per year; it moved from one of the poorest in 1800 to the richest in the table. Other solid growth rates were posted by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Iran and Russia. The slowest growth occurred in India, at only 0.8% per year, followed by Indonesia and China at slightly less than 1.0% per year. However, these Asian countries are now growing considerably faster than the other countries in the table. Looking at income growth over the last two hundred years puts the current situation in perspective. It is interesting to speculate on what the next two hundred years will bring, something we will return to in future posts.

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Jun 212012
 

There is a close connection between geology and relief in many parts of Mexico. In this post we describe a one-day fieldwork excursion in the Tequisquiapan area of the central state of Querétaro that looks at this connection. The fieldwork is suitable for high school students but could easily be extended to provide challenges for college/university students.

The fieldwork starts with a fieldsketch from near Tequisquiapan. Any suitable vantage point will do, provided it offers a clear view northwards to the very distinctive Peña de Bernal (seen in the background of the photo below). At this point, a simple line sketch should suffice to help students identify the following four different kinds of terrain:

  • flat or gently sloping plain, used for cultivation
  • low hills, with gently sloping sides, which look to be covered in bushes and cacti [scrub vegetation]
  • high mountains, with steeper slopes, also with no obvious signs of cultivation
  • the Peña de Bernal itself, a distinctive monolith with exceptionally steep sides

There is no need to identify any rocks or use any geological terms (students can add appropriate labels later!). Engage the students in a discussion about why there might be four different kinds of relief visible in this area, and how their ideas or hypotheses could be investigated further. Conclude the discussion by explaining that they are now going to look for evidence related to the idea that these four different kinds of relief are connected to significant differences in geology.

View looking north from "Las Cruces" near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

View looking north from "Las Cruces" near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

The next stop is a small roadside quarry on the flat area. The most accessible quarry many years ago was located a short distance south of Tequisquiapan on the east side of the highway, but any quarry on the flat land will serve to reveal the rocks that form the plain.

Roadside quarry, near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Roadside quarry, near Tequisquiapan. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

[Warning: Ensure that you park off the highway; when examining the rock in the quarry, avoid any overhanging sections, and do not do anything to cause slope instability or collapse].

The rocks in the quarry are in layers (sedimentary) and very distinctive. The individual particles of the rock are rough to the touch and sand-sized, so this is some kind of sandstone.

Some layers are more or less horizontal, but in places successive layers are laid down at a much steeper angle. This is “current bedding” and indicates that the rocks were formed by water, perhaps where a river entered a lake. The individual particles in the rock are not well-rounded, so have not traveled all that far.

Within each major layer, the material shows signs of sorting, with fine material sitting on top of coarse material. In some places, the sandstone contains small pebbles, so this rock is a sandstone conglomerate. Small casts of fossil shells can be seen in places, further suggesting it is a sedimentary rock deposited in a former lake.

A very thin white layer is present (at about head height in the photo). This layer is totally different to the sandstone conglomerate. It is fine material that has been compacted. Given the volcanic history of central Mexico, this is almost certainly a thin layer of volcanic ash that covered older rocks before being covered in turn by the next layer of sediments.

With some guidance, students should be able to work most of this out for themselves! The last stage at this stop is to ask why this rock forms the flat land in the area, rather than the hills. (Answer: softer, weaker, less resistant, easier to erode, etc).

The next stop is to take a look at the rock forming the low hills. The highway between Tequisquiapan and Ezequiel Montes (see map) conveniently cuts through a low ridge at San Agustín. This affords an opportunity to take a close look at the rock forming that ridge. [Warning: Ensure that you find a safe parking spot, and take every precaution, since traffic along this highway can be heavy and very fast-moving]

The rock at San Agustín is darker and much harder than the rock in the quarry. It has clear crystals in it, apparently arranged haphazardly. From its color (grey) and grainsize (fine), it is a rhyolite [a fine grained, acid igneous rock].  It is far more difficult to erode than the sandstone on the plain, so it forms upstanding ridges and low hills in the landscape.

From San Agustín, drive through Ezequiel Montes and on to the town of Bernal, one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns“. The next part is the most physically-challenging part of the excursion since it is necessary to climb at least part-way up the Peña de Bernal! [Warning: this is very steep in places, and climbing beyond the mid-way “chapel” is definitely not recommended]. Examining the rocks of the Peña de Bernal reveals that they are lighter in color than the rhyolite and fine-grained, but with larger crystals (phenocrysts) in some places. This rock must have cooled very slowly (or the phenocrysts would not have had chance to form) and this is an intrusive igneous rock known as microgranite. Eagle-eyed students should also find some other rocks while climbing the Peña de Bernal. In places, it is possible to find good specimens of a very hard, banded metamorphic rock that was formed when heat and/or pressure transformed pre-existing rocks. The banded rock is a gneiss [pronounced “nice”].

The presence of intrusive igneous rocks (formed underground) together with metamorphic rocks strongly suggest that the Peña de Bernal is an example of a volcanic plug. It represents the central part (and all that now remains) of a former volcano, whose sides, presumably composed of ashes and lava, have long since eroded away.

Conclusion:

After students have had chance to work most of this out for themselves, a look at the local geological map should confirm that their deductions are reasonable. As can be seen on the map below, the flat area is indeed an alluvial plain (sandstone), with low rhyolite hills and ridges in places, and higher rhyolite mountains in the background, with the distinctive Peña de Bernal made of igneous and metamorphic rocks at the northern edge of the map.

In this particular part of Mexico, as in many other areas, the link between geology and relief is very strong! Happy exploring!

Sketch map, Geology of the Tequisquiapan area

Sketch map, Geology of the Tequisquiapan area; click to enlarge

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Jun 172012
 

Good news for Mexico’s coastline! The controversial Cabo Cortés mega-resort project in Baja California Sur, Mexico, has been cancelled, with President Felipe Calderón announcing that in “such an important area for the Gulf of California and the country … we should all be absolutely certain that [the project] will not cause irreversible harm”. However, Calderón did not rule out the possibility that a revised, more sustainable project might meet government approval.

As detailed in several previous geo-mexico.com posts, the Cabo Cortés project had been opposed by local residents, fishermen, environmental groups including Greenpeace and many academics:

The president of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, Gustavo Alanis, hailed the government’s decision as “a triumph for conservation, environmental protection and nature.” He said that it is “a message in favor of legality and the rule of law in the environmental sphere” that would make clear to potential investors that they are welcomed as long as they respect nature and comply with existing environmental laws.