The annual total of remittances sent back to families in Mexico by migrant workers in the USA increased year-on-year to 22.731 billion dollars in 2011, and looks set to rise again this year.
Mexico’s central bank (the Bank of Mexico) recently released figures showing that remittances to Mexico increased in April 2012 by more than 8% compared to the same month a year earlier, bringing the cumulative total for the first four months of this year to 7.4 billion dollars, 6% higher than in the same period in 2011.
What does it matter where places are? Well, as I geographer, I have to admit that I have always thought it quite important, especially for a business exchanging one currency for another. However, apparently ForexTicket is unconcerned about such details of geography, since its website, which incidentally has a nice design and includes a flag of Mexico, gets its basic world geography all mixed up:
iso 4217: MXN
Mexico (South America)
Enough said! Now that you’re made it into our Hall of Shame, please consider checking an atlas and revising your website,
The Peña de Bernal, in the central state of Querétaro, is one of Mexico’s most distinctive geomorphosites. Geomorphosites are “landforms that have acquired a scientific, cultural/historical, aesthetic and/or social/economic value due to human perception or exploitation” (Panizza M., 2001). See Geotourism and geomorphosites in Mexico for a brief introduction to the topic.
The Peña de Bernal is a dramatic sight, which only gets more imposing the closer you get. How high is the Peña de Bernal? We are unable to give you a definitive answer (it depends where you start measuring from) but claims of 350 meters (1150 feet) sound about right, assuming we start from the town.
The Peña de Bernal. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.
According to its Wikipedia entry, this is the “third tallest monolith in the world”, apparently only exceeded by the Rock of Gibralter and Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. Others, including Melville King, have described it as the “third largest rock in the world”. These claims may (or may not) be exaggerated, but in reality it is definitely a very steep and tiring climb, even to reach the small chapel that has been built half-way up! The photo below is taken from this chapel, looking out over Bernal and the local farmland and vineyards.
View from the Peña de Bernal over the small town of Bernal. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.
How was the Peña de Bernal formed?
The most likely explanation is that this monolith represents the hardened magma (molten rock) from the central vent of a former volcano. This rock was much more resistant to erosion that the layers of ash and/or lava that formed the volcano’s flanks. Centuries of erosion removed the sides, leaving the resistant core of the volcano exposed as a volcanic neck. We will examine this idea in slightly more detail in a future post.
The town of Bernal
The town of San Sebastián Bernal is also well worth visiting. Having become a magnet for New Age types, it now boasts several decent restaurants, good stores and a range of hotels including high quality “boutique” hotels. Bernal was designated one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns” in 2005. To learn more about the town of Bernal and see some fine photos, we highly recommend Jane Ammeson’s article “The magic of Bernal, Querétaro: wine, opals and historic charm.”
At the Spring Equinox (March 21), the town is invaded by visitors “dressed in long, white robes or gowns, and red neckerchiefs” who come seeking “wisdom, unity, energy and new beginnings”. (Loretta Scott Miller writing in El Ojo del Lago, July 1997).
How to get there:
From Mexico City, take the Querétaro highway (Hwy 57D) north-west to San Juan del Río. Then take Highway 120 past Tequisquiapan as far as the small cross-roads town of Ezequiel Montes. Turn left for about 11 kilometers, then right… and you’re there! Taking this route gives you glimpses of the Peña de Bernal from afar. Allow 2.0 to 2.5 hours for the drive.
Other geomorphosites worth visiting:
Mexico has literally thousands of geomorphosites. Among those described in previous posts are:
A previous post—How “complex” is the Mexican economy?—discussed The Atlas of Economic Complexity and noted that Mexico’s Economic Complexity Index (ECI) of 1.145 ranked it 20th among 128 countries. ECI indicates a wide range of complex knowledge capabilities related to productive enterprises. Mexico has a very high ECI given its income level; all other countries in the top 20 have significantly higher incomes than Mexico.
According to the Atlas, during the rest of the decade Mexico’s GDP should grow relatively rapidly to catch up with its ECI. Analyses in the Atlas indicate that during the last few decades countries with higher than expected ECIs compared to their income levels experience more rapid economic growth. While this relationship is empirically true, it should be noted that it does not explicitly include other factors thought to be important to economic growth (see Section 4 of the Atlas). Some of these other factors are governance and institutional quality, corruption, political stability, measures of human capital and competitiveness indicators. The Atlas implies that these other factors contribute to and thus are indirectly part of the Economic Complexity Index.
The analysis in the Atlas predicts that Mexico’s annual growth in real per capita GDP will be 3.5% from 2009 to 2020, ranking it 10th in the world in growth rate (see table). (The growth rates for some other countries are given in footnote 1 below.) Mexico’s annual growth in real per capita GDP is impressive given that its growth was only 0.8% per year for 1999 to 2009, the same as that for the USA. Growth in these two countries was slowed significantly during this period as a result of the very severe recession, the worst since the great depression. This rather slow growth is surprising given that Mexico’s ECI increased from 1998 to 2008 was ranked 30th worldwide. Though the Mexican economy suffered significantly during this period, it continued to develop new productive capabilities and become more complex. This added complexity is expected to generate accelerated economic growth in the current decade.
% growth in GDP/person, 1999-2009
Expected % growth in GDP/person, 2009-2020,
Expected income/person, 2020
3.8 - 6.2
The low growth rate of 0.8% per year for 1999 to 2009 represents “real” per capita growth corrected for inflation and population growth. In nominal terms, Mexico’s total GDP growth from 1998 to 2008 was 1.8% per year. It is expected to grow 4.8% per year for 2009 to 2020, which ranks its 22nd in the world, behind numerous poor African countries with rapidly growing populations. Of large or populous world countries, the only ones ranked ahead of Mexico are India (ranked 8th), the Philippines (12th), Egypt (14th), Pakistan (18th) and China (20th).
In summary, the Atlas of Economic Complexity predicts that the Mexican economy will grow very rapidly during the rest of this decade and beyond. Let’s hope that this prediction becomes a reality.
For comparison: Indonesia ranked 21st at 3.3%, Pakistan 27th at 3.1%, Guatemala 35th at 3.0%, South Africa 41st at 2.9%, Turkey 43rd at 2.8%, Brazil 48th at 2.7%, Argentina 54th at 2.6%, Russia 59th at 2.6%, USA 91st at 2.0%, Canada 104th at 1.7% and Nigeria 118th at 1.1%.
Ricardo Hausmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. “The Atlas of Economic Complexity“, The Observatory of Economic Complexity (Harvard HKS/CDI – MIT Media Lab). Retrieved 19 May 2012.
Mexico’s Tourism Secretariat has designated four more Magic Towns, bringing the total number to fifty-four. The latest Magic Towns are:
51. Angangueo (Michoacán)
Angangueo is an attractive former silver-mining town. At the entrance to the town are strange, step-sided earth mounds; these are not pre-Columbian pyramids but twentieth century spoil-tips.
Angangueo’s pretty single-story buildings with red roofs and flower-filled porches line a narrow main street which gradually meanders up to the head of the valley and the town plaza. There are two large churches on this plaza, an obvious sign of the town’s former wealth. Worth visiting, one block uphill from the plaza, is the former residence of Bill Parker, 1930s mine superintendent, and his wife Joyce, a keen photographer. Mining in Angangueo declined after a serious accident in 1953, said to have been caused by the company’s foreign management in response to a threatened strike. The miners who lost their lives in this accident are commemorated by a huge statue which overlooks the town.
Angangueo, c 1980. Sketch by Mark Eager; all rights reserved.
The hustle and bustle of industrial activity has been replaced by a slower, more leisurely approach to life. In Angangueo, afternoon siestas are still the norm; don’t expect the small stores to reopen at any particular time in the afternoon. Railway enthusiasts will appreciate not only the standard-gauge mainline and its end-of-the-line station which squeezes the town’s main street against the valley side but also the narrow-gauge mining track which burrows deep into the hillsides.
From 1980-2010, Angangueo acquired a new lease of life as a tourist town, taking advantage of its location close to two major Monarch Butterfly sanctuaries. However, in February 2010, the town suffered extensive flood damage when landslides and mudflows swept away dozens of homes, killing at least 30 residents.
Cuatro Ciénegas (“Four marshes”) is a city and municipality in the northern border state of Coahuila. Situated in an arid region (part of the Chihuahuan desert), its name derives from the proximity of several natural springs that feed more than 200 small ponds and wetlands. These are an integral part of the UNESCO-designated Cuatro Ciénegas biosphere reserve. The city, founded in 1800, has some historical significance, since it was the birthplace of Venustiano Carranza, Mexico’s president from 1915 to 1920.
“Water in the Desert“, 9-minute video about the ecology of this fascinating area from the University of Texas at Austin
Magdalena de Kino is a city (and municipality) in an agricultural area in the northern state of Sonora, about 80 km (50 mi) from the Mexico-USA border. The earliest mission was established here by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino (“Padre Kino”), whose remains are now interred in a crypt near the mission. Father Kino was a tireless evangelist and educator, who led explorations of the virtually unknown areas that are, today, the states of Sinaloa, Sonora and Arizona, founding numerous missions as he went.
Magdalena de Kino has several stone buildings of historic or tourist interest, including the Padre Kino Museum and the Temple of Santa María Magdalena, a place of pilgrimage. The city’s main religious festival is held to coincide with 4 October each year.
54. Pahuatlán (Puebla)
Pahuatlán (“place of the fruits”) is a town and municipality in the state of Puebla. In early times, the town, in the mountainous northern region of the state, was a zone of conflict between several indigenous groups. The area has retained many traditions, including that of making paper by hand from tree bark. The Otomí village of San Pablito, in the Pahuatlán municipality, is by far the best-known center of production for this bark paper or amate. The word amate derives from amatl, the Nahuatl word for paper.
Besides being used as a kind of rough paper for records and correspondence, amate was also cut into human or animal forms as part of witchcraft rituals after which it would be buried in front of the person’s house or animal enclosure. Colorful paintings on papel amate or bark paper are sold throughout central Mexico, virtually anywhere there are tourists. The tradition is an ancient one.
In the village of San Pablito (see video), villagers (mainly women and children because many of the menfolk have left to work in the USA) wash the bark, boil it with a solution of lime juice for several hours, and then lay it in strips on a wooden board. They then beat these pulpy strips with stones called muintos or aplanadores until they fuse together to form the desired texture of paper, which is then allowed to dry in the sun.
Centuries of practice enable them to produce amate paper of any thickness, from the equivalent of crepe-paper to poster-board. Visitors to San Pablito quickly discover that the constant sound of pounding is a distinctive reminder of the village’s main industry.
In his classic book, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith proposed that division of labor and economic specialization were the keys to increases in productivity and the wealth of nations. While Smith was primarily talking about the degree of specialization within nations, specialization among nations and comparative advantage were also important. Obviously, in the 21st century there is specialization within and among all nations, but some are more specialized or more complex than others. But how can economic complexity be measured?
Fortunately this question is addressed head-on by Ricardo Hausmann, Cesar Hidalgo and their co-researchers in “The Atlas of Economic Complexity“ (Harvard HKS/CDI – MIT Media Lab, 2011). They argue that highly complex economies produce sophisticated products that require a very wide and diverse set of knowledge capabilities. Very few countries have the capabilities to produce such sophisticated products which might include the very specialized equipment and very precise measuring instruments needed to produce highly complex chemicals or pharmaceuticals. Other examples might include the range of knowledge capabilities needed to build a nuclear power plant or space station. Obviously very few nations with very complex economies have these capabilities.
At the other end, a very large number of countries with less complex economies have the range of capabilities needed to produce simple products like basic foods, mineral ores, lumber, garments, shoes, glass, kitchen utensils, candles and furniture.
In producing an atlas that covered a large number of countries, the authors were limited by the availability of data. They decided to use information on exports because the data were available and the range of exports reveal the complexity of an economy. Unfortunately, accurate data are only available on the trade of physical products; they are not available for services which are the dominant sector for modern economies. On the other hand, the sophistication of product exports does a good job of capturing the complexity of economies.
In developing their Economic Complexity Index or ECI, the authors developed a product complexity index based on the number of countries capable of making and exporting specific products as well as the diversity of products exported by specific countries. The Atlas presents ECIs for the 128 countries that had reliable data, populations over 1.2 million and trade over $1 billion.
Economic Complexity Index
Income/person (2009 US$)
The 20 countries with the highest Economic Complexity Indices are presented in the table, along with their 2009 per capita income. Japan is clearly the most complex economy followed by Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria. The USA is ranked 13th and Canada is 41st. Fourteen of the top 20 countries are European; most are high income, highly industrialized countries. Countries with large natural resource exports tend to rank low in economic complexity. Norway is 33rd, Russia 46th, New Zealand 48th, Brazil 52nd, Saudi Arabia 68th, Australia 79th.
Mexico is ranked 20th which is very impressive since all others in the top 20 have significantly higher incomes. Mexico does very well compared to other large emerging economies: China is 29th; Turkey is 43rd, Russia is 46th, India is 51st, Brazil is 52nd, South Africa is 55th, Argentina is 57th and Indonesia is 61st.Mexico’s economic complexity has grown significantly in the past 50 years. It grew from 0.39 in 1964 to 1.14 in 2008; this increase ranked it 14th of 99 countries. (Countries improving faster than Mexico include: Thailand 2nd, Indonesia 5th, Brazil 7th, and Turkey 10th.) Over 60% of Mexico’s growth occurred between 1998 and 2008 when its ECI jumped from 0.80 to 1.14.
The Atlas argues that countries such as Mexico, with high levels of complexity given their income level, are expected to grow more rapidly in future years. We will explore this topic further in a future post.
The fishing industry now accounts for only 0.24% of gross national product. The relatively shallow waters off the Pacific coast and abundance of plankton in waters cooled by the Californian current make for particularly good fishing in the north-west. Together, Sinaloa (23%) and Sonora (22%) account for about 45% of the national total. Fishing is also economically important in Veracruz (8%), Baja California Sur (6%), Campeche and Baja California (5% each) and Yucatán.
Mexico's fishing fleet
Almost three quarters (72%) of the total annual catch of 1.5 million metric tons is landed at Pacific coast ports such as Guaymas, Mazatlán and Manzanillo. Gulf coast ports like Tampico, Veracruz and Campeche, together with Caribbean coast ports such as Puerto Morelos and Progreso, account for a further 25% of the catch. The remaining 3% comes from inland lakes, rivers and fish farms.
In terms of value, the most important species are shrimp, tuna and sardines. Fresh-water fish farms are becoming more common, with many of them specializing in the production of high value species such as trout and indigenous white fish. Mexicans consume only 13 kg (29 lbs) of fish per person per year on average, considerably less than the equivalent figures for the USA (21 kg), Canada (24 kg) or Spain (44 kg).
On 1 July 2012 Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new six year president, a new senate and chamber of deputies. At the same time, voters in some states–Jalisco, Nuevo León, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Sonora, San Luis Potosí, Morelos, Federal District, Campeche and Colima– will cast their ballots in elections for state and local officials.
How free and fair are Mexican elections compared to those in other countries?
Before addressing this question, it is useful to acknowledge that elections in Mexico have improved dramatically in the past two decades, largely as a result of progressive reforms including the establishment of a strong and independent National Elections Commission (Instituto Federal Electoral, IFE). Prior to the late 1990’s one party, PRI (Partido Revolucionario Insititucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party) dominated most elections at the national, state and local level. Starting in 2000, when an opposition party, PAN (PAN or Partido Acción Nacional, National Action Party), won the presidency, elections in Mexico have been quite competitive. In 2006 a third party, PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Party of the Democratic Revolution), lost the presidency to PAN by less than 0.6% (35.89% to 35.31%). Since 1994 the winner of the presidency has not garnered 50% of the votes, leading some to argue that Mexico should conduct runoffs between the two highest vote-getters.
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) annually develops a “democracy index” which includes a factor titled “electoral process and pluralism”. Scores on this factor are based on 12 questions concerning the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections open to all groups and all voters as well as the orderly transfer of power to those winning elections. Based on the EIU scores for 2011, countries with the perfect score of ten were Uruguay, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Australia and New Zealand. Mexico is tied with Argentina, Israel and South Africa, trails Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Peru but is much closer to the top than the bottom (see table). Mexico is a point and a quarter below a perfect ten and almost a point ahead of Guatemala, three ahead of Venezuela and almost five ahead of Russia. China is last with a score of zero along with Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, North Korea, and other authoritarian regimes.
It will be interesting to see how the EIU scores Mexico after the 2012 elections.
This is a very important year for Mexico’s democracy. On 1 July 2012 Mexicans will go to the polls to elect a new president, who will hold office for six years, a new Senate and new Chamber of Deputies as well as numerous state and local officials. How does Mexico’s democracy compare with that of other countries?
“Democracy” is a slippery concept; it is not at all easy to define and is very difficult to measure. In the abstract “democracy” is a form of government in which ultimate power is vested in the people or their freely elected representatives. In common usage, democracy implies active civil participation in free and fair elections, effective and efficient governance, basic human and minority rights as well as freedom of religion, expression and organization. Obviously these concepts are not easily measured.
The most widely used measures for international comparisons are provided by Freedom House which relies on experts to rate countries on “Political Rights” and “Civil Liberties” (Freedom in the World 2012). Assessing “political rights” is based on free and fair elections, effective political pluralism and participation as well as government properly functioning in the interest of the electorate. Measuring “civil liberties” investigates freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion, a fair and just legal system, personal autonomy and individual rights, as well as active participation of nongovernmental and labor organizations. The Freedom House process results in measures from one (the highest) to seven (the lowest).
The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has also developed a “Democracy Index” based on experts’ ratings and public opinion surveys on five components – electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. The EIU process gives each county a score from a high of ten to a low of one on overall democracy as well as the five components.
1 - 7
1 - 7
10 - 1
Mexican democracy is somewhere in the middle when compared to other countries. The table compares democracy in Mexico with that in selected other countries based on the measures used by Freedom House and the EIU. Mexico was designated as a “flawed democracy” [see note 1] by the EIU in 2011, along with 52 other countries including France, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia and Ghana. Mexico’s score of 6.93 out of ten ranked it 50th of 167 countries, one ahead of Argentina and a few places behind Brazil. It has made some relative progress since 2008 when it ranked 55th of 167.
In 2012 Freedom House placed Mexico in the highest level of the “partly free” category. In 2010 Mexico was at the bottom of the “free” category; it dropped out of this category because its “political rights” score went 2 to 3, with 1 being the highest. Mexico had maintained a score of 2 from 2000 to 2010, but went to 3 in 2011. Apparently the experts must have noticed deterioration in the electoral process, political pluralism and participation or the functioning of government. The downgrading was probably related in some way to Mexico’s Drug Wars.
In 2010 Freedom House placed Mexico among 35 “Countries at the Crossroads” that are on the way to becoming consolidated democracies, but still have several challenges to overcome. Among these are the legacy of authoritarian rule, a culture which tolerates corruption and impunity, the persistence of private and public monopolies, lack of political accountability and transparency, and perhaps most importantly the growing influence and violence of drug cartels. These all skew the political playing field and undercut democratic progress, the political morale of the electorate, and openness of the media. On the positive side, active participation in recent elections has led to peaceful transitions of power. Civil society is gaining strength. New institutions such as the Federal Electoral Institute and the Federal Institute for Access to Information are making a difference. Significant improvements to the overall political situation will require concentrated efforts over an extended period of time.
It is interesting that according to Freedom House democracy in Mexico has deteriorated since 2008, while the Economist (EIU) perceived an improvement. This difference indicates how difficult and subjective assessments of democracy can be. For example in the table below “partly free” Mexico scores higher on the EIU’s democracy index than either Argentina and Indonesia which are classified as “free” by Freedom House.
Given the very important election being held in Mexico this year, a future post will investigate how Mexico’s electoral processes compare with those in other countries.
 “Flawed democracies”: “These countries … have free and fair elections and even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties will be respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.” Economist Intelligence Unit, “Democracy index 2011: Democracy under stress”, p 31. Democracy Index 2011.
One of the more beautiful, unusual and useful map projections ever devised was created by cartographer Bernard Cahill. The butterfly projection was first published in the Scottish Geographical Magazine in 1909. Cahill (1866-1944) later applied for a US patent to protect his creation.
I first came across Cahill’s projection on a stamp issued in Mexico in 1964. The design of the stamp (see image) shows his world map, an octahedral whose eight faces have been flattened into a shape resembling a butterfly. Ever since then I have wondered why such an unusual map would be chosen for a Mexican stamp that commemorated the 10th Conference of the International Bar Association (IBA), held that year in Mexico City. Coming some 20 years after the cartographer’s death, it seems an unlikely choice. So far, all my efforts to find a link between Cahill, the IBA and Mexico have drawn a blank. (Note to readers: Help needed!)
Cahill’s butterfly map, like Buckminster Fuller’s later Dymaxion Maps (1943 and 1954) enabled all the continents to appear linked, and with reasonable fidelity to a globe. Cahill demonstrated this principle by also inventing a rubber ball globe which could be placed under a pane of glass and flattened into the “Butterfly” form. When removed, the map/globe reverted to its original shape.
The original Cahill projection (1909). Credit: Gene Keyes
Largely in honor of his cartographic innovation, Cahill was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1913 he started the Cahill World Map Company, but this company was not successful and his map has since been largely forgotten by most people.
But not by cartographer Gene Keyes! Except for Cahill himself, no follower of Cahill’s projection has ever been as dedicated as Gene Keyes, a former student of Buckminster Fuller. Keyes’ website is a mine of information about Cahill and his map projection, and is well worth reading.
Born in the UK, Bernard Joseph Stanislaus Cahill (18661944) was an architect, town planner and cartographer who moved to San Francisco, California, in 1888. He was an early proponent of the San Francisco Civic Center and designed that city’s Neptune Society Columbarium.
Cahill encountered some stiff obstacles in the many years it took him to develop his butterfly projection. For example, he lost all his initial drawings and papers in the disastrous San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. At least one major publisher signed a contract to publish the butterfly map as a wall map and in an atlas, but then failed to follow through.
Cahill’s world map used for world tours
Soon after its creation, Cahill’s butterfly map was used to illustrate a flying trip around the world, or circumaviation, proposed for the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. The map was exhibited at this exposition and won a gold medal for cartography. Some time later, the map was used by both the State of California and the City of Charleston to illustrate shipping routes. In 1924, the American Express Company chose the map for use during a world tour aboard the Cunard ocean liner Laconia. According to Keyes, the map was prominently displayed on the Palm Deck of the ship and seen by Robert Ripley, a participant on the world tour, who later featured it in his Believe it or Not series.
Perhaps the closest Cahill came to seeing his map in more general use came in 1937, when the International Meteorological Committee apparently came within a single vote of adopting a version of his projection for all world weather charting.
No wonder, then, that in Keyes’ words, “Cahill should be seen in company with other pioneers such as Charles Babbage or Gregor Mendel, who died long before their efforts gained wider appreciation. As well, he antedates Buckminster Fuller, prophet of Spaceship Earth.”
Keyes goes on to note that, “Cahill was not merely an astute architect and cartographer, but, that like Fuller, his map expressed an underlying whole-earth philosophy much like themes which emerged 60 years later. Cahill used the term “geosophy” in that regard….” (And used it as early as 1912, well before the geographer J.K. Wright, commonly credited for having coined the term in 1947).
Will Cahill’s map ever catch on? The latest sign of renewed interest in Cahill’s projection comes from its adaptation by the New York Times as the basis for a series of 10 maps published in December 2011 illustrating the changing world of computing, communications and technology.
Keyes closes his account of Cahill’s map by quoting Ambrose Bierce, who in a letter to Cahill, wrote that, “The Butterfly Map is indubitably the right one, but it will be a long time before it gets into general use….”
Sadly, that has proved to be all too true, despite its inclusion in the design of a Mexican postage stamp.
Related posts using Mexican stamps for illustration: