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Cinco de Mayo – The Battle of Puebla, 1862

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May 052013

Note: This is a copy of an article by an unknown author (publication date also unknown) as found originally at and cached on

Author’s Note: This article was drawn from a set of notes created during a trip to Mexico City, most of which were destroyed in a subsequent flood. Details on the Republican forces – and the Mexican’s movements during the battle – are drawn from Mexican books which are presumably accurate, but for which I cannot vouch. (This type of legendary event is prone to some distortion.) Information regarding the French forces is much easier to find. This article should be taken as a best effort to document the battle, according to what sources I could find. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Painting of Battle of PueblaThe most celebrated battle of the French invasion of Mexico occurred at the town of Puebla, on the road to Mexico City from the landing sites at Vera Cruz. The French, in the Convention of La Soledad, had agreed to withdraw to the coast before resuming hostilities, having moved their men inland under the Convention’s protection to avoid the diseases of the coastal areas. When negotiations between Mexico and France broke down, the French, with Mexican permission, left some sick soldiers in the healthier highlands, on the condition that no fit soldiers remained. When the Mexicans saw Frenchmen walking and carrying their small arms, after all the fit soldiers had ostensibly gone, they protested to the French commander, Lorencz. Lorencz overreacted, deciding that the complaint indicated the impending murder of his sick troops, despite the fact that the Mexicans were satisfied as to the status of the suspects.

Consequently, the French did not complete their retreat to the coast, instead occupying Orizaba. This denied the Mexicans the ability to defend the passes between Orizaba and Vera Cruz. Zaragoza, the Mexican commander, fell back on his second line of defense, the steep pass of Aculzingo. Here, on April 28, the French and Mexicans fought a sharp engagement in which the Mexicans were easily beaten.

Zaragosa retreated to the fortified town of Puebla, which had been both defended and taken during the Wars of Reform (1857-1860), and was protected by five forts arranged on the hills outside the town. He had some 12,000 effectives in the Army of the East, not all of whom were deployed in the town. Lorencz’s Conservative Mexican advisers had fought at Puebla during the recent conflict, and advised him to attack it from the east, instead of the north, which was the French line of approach. Lorencz ignored the advice, advancing straight on the city. (He had heard that the population was friendly to the French, and was only kept in line by the Republican garrison. Thus, he thought a show of strength would cause the population to rise up, and the Republicans to crumble. This was to be proven badly wrong.) He established himself in the town of Amozoc on May 4.

Map of Battle of Puebla(The map here represents a 5′ x 9′ wargames table at approximately 1″ = 25 yards. Note that the arrow labelled “North” is actually pointing east!)

The French formed up at the Garita de Peaje early the next morning, after a brief skirmish with the Mexican cavalry and a reconnaissance of the area. The troops were drawn up in three columns: the first to attack Fort Guadalupe directly, was supported by the fire of the three batteries of French artillery, and contained the two battalions of the 2nd Zouaves. The second column, to the right of the first, contained only the Naval Infantry battalion. It was to act as a flank guard against mexican attacks from that quarter. The third column, consisting of only the 1st battalion of the 3rd Marine Fusiliers, was deployed to the left of the first column and assigned the role of supporting the attack on Guadalupe. The two battalions of the 99th Line infantry, the 2nd battalion of the Marine Fusiliers, the 1st Chasseurs a Pied, and the Chasseurs de Vincennes were held in reserve under the command of Colonel L’Heriller. The single squadron of Chasseurs d’Afrique was assigned to guard the flanks of the advance against the Mexican cavalry. A small party of engineers was assigned to each column.

To the north of Puebla, the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe crowned the tops of two heights, connected by a fortified road running just over the peak of the hill. Zaragoza drew up his army to the east of Fort Guadalupe (the easternmost of the two), facing north, so that he could maneuver to face an attack from north or east as necessary. He sent out a skirmisher screen, with his cavalry deployed all the way to his right (60 troopers were initially detached to observe the French), and the Zappadores were deployed on the slope between his left flank and the fort. The end of his infantry line (Diaz’ brigade)was deployed in a brickworks (“La Ladrillera”).

At 11:00 AM, the French bombarded Fort Guadalupe from a distance of about 2,500 yards, causing some damage and casualties. Lorencz advanced his batteries a few hundred yards and resumed the bombardment, this time to no effect. After an hour and a half of bombardment, with half his shells gone, he ordered his troops forward in an assault on the fort.

They were fired on by artillery from both forts, and came under a good deal of musketry; during the French approach, Zaragosa had countermarched the brigades of Lamadrid and Berriozabal and half of the cavalry under Alvarez to protected positions between the forts. The French advanced three times, each assault coming closer than the last. The reserves were slowly committed, until the entire French force was engaged. For the second assault, a double attack was made, not just on Fort Guadalupe, but also towards the town, on the east. This diversionary attack resulted in fierce hand-to-hand combat involving the Zappadores and some other Republican troops, and the Chasseurs de Vincennes, the squadron of Chasseurs d’Afrique, and the 1st battalion of the 99th Line. The Chasseurs a Pied and the zouaves made a final push on Fort Guadalupe, one soldier scaling the walls to plant the Tricolor there, but the man was killed and the flag torn down. The third assault found the French artillery out of ammunition, so the attacks were unsupported. At one point the Morelia battalion in Fort Guadalupe broke and fled, but Arriate rallied the men and they returned to their positions before the fort, defended only by the gunners, could be captured.

After the final assault was repulsed, Zaragoza ordered his cavalry on the right, under Felix Diaz, to charge the French; this worked admirably, accompanied by a simultaneous cavalry movement on the left. At the same time, the troops concealed along the road between the forts wheeled out toward the retreating French, pivoting on their right flank. The Chasseurs a Pied formed square to cover their army’s withdrawal from the Mexican cavalry.

At 3:00 PM it began to rain, the afternoon thunderstorm having been a daily occurrence for a week and more. The ground in front of the forts became very slippery, and at 4:00 PM Lorencz withdrew to positions further back from the town, to await the Mexican counter-attack. His casualties were 462 killed and 8 captured. The Mexicans lost 83 killed and 131 wounded, with 12 captured or missing.

Zaragoza, knowing both the political effects of the French repulse and the improbability of defeating the French in the open field, held his ground. After two days of waiting, Lorencz withdrew to Orizaba. News of the battle was received in France as a challenge to the national honor, and an additional 29,000 men (and a new overall commander – Forey) were sent to Mexico. The French later returned to besiege and take the town, but the victory in 1862 became the holiday we know – Cinco de Mayo – a symbol of the victory of the people over the agents of foreign imperialism.

Orders of Battle


  • Major-General de Lorencz
  • 1st Chasseurs a Pied – 1 battalion (720)
  • Chasseurs de Vincennes – 1 battalion (700)*
  • 99th Line Infantry – 2 battalions (1544)
  • 2nd Zouaves – 2 battalions (1143)
  • 2nd Squadron, 2nd Chasseurs d’Afrique (173)
  • 2nd Marine (Colonial) Infantry Regt. – 2 battalions (1280)
  • Naval Infantry – 1 battalion (480)
  • 1st Battery, 9th Artillery Regt. (six 12#)
  • 2nd Battery, Marine Artillery (six 4#)
  • Marine Mountain Howitzer Battery (six 4#)

* This unit was a volunteer (foot) chasseur unit, mostly made up of veterans recently discharged from disbanded Chasseur a Pied battalions. It would be exactly like the regular chasseurs, and probably wore a similar uniform.

Notes: Numbers in parenthesis were French strengths at landing in Vera Cruz. Note that a portion of the French would have succumbed to illness (only 6,000 out of around 7,000 took the field). The strengths given here may thus be slightly high. French artillery was rifled muzzle-loaders. The French infantry all carried the Minie rifle, and the Chasseurs d’Afrique were equipped with the 1842 percussion musket (dragoon pattern). French infantry was generally quite good, especially the zouaves. Note that the Naval Infantry are in fact sailors, dressed much as they were during the defense of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War (although they may have worn the tropical white uniforms instead of blue). The Marine Infantry are not sailors, but marines, dressed in a fashion similar to the line infantry, but with dark blue (some sources say light blue-grey) trousers with a red stripe down the leg.

Republican Mexican

Army of the East: General Zaragoza

  • Commander of the Interior Lines: General Miguel Negrete (in charge of forts Guadalupe and Loreto)
  • Fort Loreto: General Rojo
    “Reforma” battalion from Brigade of Morelia (600)
  • Fort Guadalupe: General Arriata
    One battalion from Brigade of Morelia (600)
  • Reserve: Colonel Juan N. Mendez (300)
    60th Battalion Nacional of Puebla, plus companies of Tetela, Xochapulco, Zacapoaxtla, and Apulco

Field Army

  • Infantry Brigade: General Felipe Berriozabal (1082)
  • 1st Battalion of Toluca
  • 3rd Battalion of Toluca
  • Fijo de Vera Cruz Battalion
  • Infantry Brigade: Colonel Francisco LaMadrid (1020)
  • Rifles of San Luis (initially deployed in front of the Mexican position as a skirmish line)
  • Zapadores Battalion (Colonel Miguel Balcazar)
  • Reforma Battalion of San Luis Potosí
  • Infantry Brigade: General Porfirio Diaz (1000)
  • Guerrero Battalion (Lt. Colonel Mariano Jimenez)
  • Rifle Battalion
  • Cavalry: General Antonio Alvarez (610)
  • Provisional Regiment (under Alvarez’ command)
  • Regt. Carabineros a Caballo, 2 squadrons (?)
  • Regt. Lancers of Toluca, 2 squadrons
  • Provisional Regiment: Lieutenant Felix Diaz (Porfirio’s brother)
  • Trujano Squadron (Major Casimiro Ramirez)
  • Regt. Lancers of Toluca, 1 squadron
  • Regt. Lancers of Oaxaca, 2 squadrons (?)

“?” indicates uncertainty about how many squadrons were present

  • Artillery

18 guns in three batteries, all smoothbore muzzle-loaders, probably 12#. One battery (“Vera Cruz”) is in Fort Guadalupe; one battery is in Fort Loreto, and one is deployed with P. Diaz’ brigade.

Notes: The Mexican infantry were equipped with smoothbore percussion muskets. The Zapadores battalion was one of the elite formations of the Republican army, designated an “engineer unit (and thus probably with black facings instead of thye infantry’s red or the rifles’ green), but fighting (I believe) as infantry in this battle. This army was made up of veterans from the Wars of Reform, and would possibly retain the older grey uniforms of that force. It should be noted that Mexican cavalry almost always carried the lance, despite designations, and would have smoothbore percussion carbines if any firearms were carried at all.

Notes on the Map: The rivers shown on the map are fordable at all points, although paintings of the period show them as flowing through ravines. The hills are gentle slopes, which the Mexicans advanced across in line formation at the end of the battle. The woods would be very light scrub brush, this basically being arid farmland. Two black rectangles toward the bottom of the map represent “La Ladrillera”, a brickworks, just south of Fort Guadalupe, and the “Garita de Amozoc”, a train station, further east. The town of Puebla, while walled, was open in the areas shown on this map, if period paintings can be believed.

 Posted by at 11:32 am

Will Mexico City add cable cars to its mass transit system?

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Apr 292013

Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities, and the metropolitan area of Greater Mexico City (population about 22 million) extends well beyond the borders of the Federal District (Mexico City proper) into neighboring states. The city is ringed by hills. Homes have sprawled up the hillsides, often in a haphazard or unplanned way, gradually becoming established, densely-packed settlements of low cost housing, but often lacking adequate access by road for the number of people now living there. This is a particularly serious problem where settlements have been built on marginal land, in hazardous locations where the slopes are too steep or where the land is dissected by canyons. Given the terrain, it would be very expensive to improve road access sufficiently to ensure a smooth daily flow of commuters.

Unfortunately, many of these areas of the city are not reached by the city’s metro system, so the only public transport is by using microbuses, colectivos or peseros (so-called because the fare was originally one peso).

Similar cable car system in a South American city. Credit: unknown

Similar cable car system in a South American city. Credit: unknown

Earlier this year, officials from both the Federal District and the State of Mexico suggested that the answer to the transport problems of some of these marginal zones could be resolved by adding cable cars to the city’s transit system. Similar systems are already used in some cities in South America, including Medellín (Colombia).

The State of Mexico is considering installing five cable cars (teleféricos) in different parts of Greater Mexico City. The proposed system, christened “Mexicable”, would have several lines between 5 and 7 km in length. Feasibility studies for the first two lines are already underway. The first line, in the Ecatepc municipality (see map), would link San Andrés de la Cañada and la Sierra de Guadalupe, while the second line in Naucalpan would run between El Molinito and Chamapa. If approved, the state would help the municipalities concerned finance the construction of the cable car system, which would probably then be operated on a concession basis by a private operator.

The initial proposal claims that between 50 and 60 cabins, each holding 8-12 people, would leave every 12 seconds or so, allowing for the movement of up to 2800 people an hour at peak times, and up to 20,000 people each day. The system is likely to cost around $5 million (dollars) a kilometer and could be operation before the end of 2014. The government of the State of Mexico has already committed $80 million towards the preparatory studies needed for the Ecatepec cable car system.

Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

In the Federal District, a similar system, known as “Cablebús”, is being touted an an integral part of a city-wide mobility program for the next five years. The first Cablebús would run from the Sierra de Santa Catarina to Iztapalapa metro station, in the south-eastern borough (delegación) of Iztapalapa, one of the lowest-income parts of the city.

Unlike Mexico’s existing cable cars, in cities like Durango and Zacatecas, these systems are definitely aimed to serve the local people in their daily lives, and are not designed as tourist attractions. Commuting by cable car could soon become the accepted way to get to work for some residents of Mexico City, a more rapid and less-polluting alternative to existing transport options.

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Several Mexican cities rank among the American Cities of the Future

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Apr 272013

The American Cities of the Future 2013/14 rankings were published recently by the fDi Intelligence division of the U.K. Financial Times. The rankings are designed to identify the most promising destinations around the world for future inward investment.

Data were collected for 422 cities relating to more than 70 criteria, grouped into five main categories: Economic Potential, Human Resources, Cost Effectiveness, Infrastructure and Business Friendliness. Each city was awarded a score out of 10 for each criterion, with the criteria weighted by their importance to the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) decision-making process.

  • Economic Potential eg GDP growth, Unemployment rate, Number of patents per 100,000 people
  • Human Resources eg Number of students,  Labor force with tertiary education (%), Number of international baccalaureate schools
  • Cost Effectiveness eg Rent for prime grade office space, Global grade 14 (middle manager) salary, Energy prices, Cost of establishing a business
  • Infrastructure eg Internet speed, Distance to nearest airport, Environmental performance index
  • Business Friendliness eg Number of companies in the knowledge-based sector, Corporation tax rate, Corruption perception

The top ranked city in the Americas overall (for attractiveness for inward investment) remained New York City (which attracts 1% of global FDI), followed by Sao Paulo, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In Latin America, Sao Paulo was followed by Santiago (Chile), Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. The top-ranked Mexican cities were Monterrey in 6th place and Mexico City which ranked #8 of the top ten.

The cities were categorized by population size:

  • Major (49 cities) – cities with a population of more than 750,000 people plus a metropolitan area of more than 2 million, or that are the center of a metropolitan area of more than 4 million.
  • Large (52 cities) – cities with a population of more than 500,000 plus a metropolitan area of more than 1 million, or the focus of a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people.
  • Mid-sized (80 cities) – cities with a population of more than 350,000 people or of more than 200,000 people plus a metropolitan area population of more than 750,000.
  • Small (196 cities) – Cities with a population of between 100,000 and 350,000.
  • Micro (43 cities) – cities with a population of fewer than 100,000.


Mexico’s cities performed very strongly in the “cost effectiveness” sub-rankings, mainly due to their favorable wage rates. The top ten in the major city cost effectiveness rankings (with rank in brackets) included Puebla (4), Guadalajara (6), Monterrey (7) and Mexico City (10). Of these four cities, only Mexico City made the top ten for Business Friendliness.

Mexico dominated the cost effectiveness rankings for large cities, taking eight of the top ten with San Luis Potosí (3), Cd. Juárez (4), Aguascalientes (5), Zapopan (6), Torreón (7), León (8), Tijuana (9) and Ecatepec (10) and did almost as well in the mid-sized cities category, with Mazatlán (5), Durango (6), Morelia (7), Tuztla Gutiérrez (8), Mérida (9) and Saltillo (10). Saltillo was the the top-performing mid-sized city for economic potential in the Americas, with strong GDP growth helping to entice investments, especially those related to vehicle parts and manufacture.

In the cost effectiveness rankings for small cities, Guaymas (2), Colima (3) and Nogales (4) all made the top ten, while in the comparable listings for micro cities, Atlacomulco (in the State of Mexico) was the number 1 ranked city in the Americas.

Apr 262013

An amendment to Mexico’s constitution in 2011 made access to potable water a basic human right, but Mexico’s major cities face unprecedented challenges in meeting future demands for drinking water. In this post we look at some of the water supply issues relating to Mexico City and Guadalajara.

In 2009, the National Water Commission (Conagua) estimated that a staggering 40% of potable water nationwide was being lost through leaks in city and municipal systems, with a further 20% not properly accounted for due to billing errors and clandestine connections. Conagua recently announced a new plan for Mexico City, that it hopes will safeguard that city’s water supply for the next 25 years. (OOSKAnews 18 April 2013)

The plan creates a new metropolitan decision-making body, which will be empowered to choose which sources of water will be used, set timelines and commitments, and monitor all activities carried out under the plan. Conagua head David Korenfeld said that establishing a single water management body for the entire metropolitan zone in the Valley of Mexico means that, “there exists no possibility of misinterpretation in collaboration”. At present, several different water management bodies have responsibility for different parts of the Metropolitan Area, which extends well beyond the boundaries of the Federal District (México D.F.) into the neighboring State of México (Estado de México).

Korenfeld argues that potable water prices must be related to the real costs of water production, system maintenance and service delivery, and that subsidies must be cut in order to achieve efficient, sustainable and equitable water management. According to Conagua data, water tariffs in the Valley of Mexico cover only  51% of the true costs of service provision.The new plan calls for the existing Cutzamala water system to be completely restructured, with an alternative channel created to bring water to the city.

sacm officeRamón Aguirre Díaz, the director of the Mexico City Water System (SACM) which would come under the new decision-making body, says that one of the main challenges is to ensure adequate water supply to the municipality of Iztapalapa. Iztapalapa is the most populous and fastest growing of the city districts, with over 90% of its territory urbanized. The SACM is suggesting a six-year, 150-million-dollar plan to resolve the situation, which would include waiving water charges for some areas where service has been poor and sporadic. Aguirre stressed the need for the government and society “to succeed in reducing water consumption and improve their habits”, saying that consumption needs to be cut by at least 30%.

Coincidentally, it is in Iztapalapa where the findings from several deep wells allowed Mexico City engineers and geologists to announce earlier this year that a 40-million-dollar study conducted over 18 months had identified a major new aquifer under Mexico City. The city has an average elevation of 2240 meters above sea level; the new aquifer, which could become a major new source of potable water, is located 2000 meters beneath the surface. The initial announcement claimed that the aquifer could supply as much as 80,000 liters of water a second.

Conagua officials cautioned that the potential usable flow of this aquifer still has to be confirmed and that it may take a further three years of research to establish the maximum sustainable yield.  The aquifer might indeed relieve Mexico City’s physical water scarcity (volumes of supply) at some point in the future, but it would not necessarily overcome the economic water scarcity (cost of supply) faced by many of its residents. (For more about economic water scarcity, see How fast is the ground sinking in Mexico City and what can be done about it?).

Frederick Mooser, arguably Mexico’s most distinguished geologist, was quoted in the press as saying that the indication of very large reserves of water below a depth of 1500 meters might well alleviate the continued need to extract water from aquifers closer to the surface, extraction that has caused so many problems for the city’s infrastructure. The major aquifer used currently lies at a depth of between 60 and 400 meters. There are about 630 wells in the Federal District alone; all are overexploited and have an average life expectancy of 30 years.

Mooser also pointed out that the results from the wells used to locate the new aquifer show that the area has considerable potential for geothermal power generation in the future.

Mexico’s second city, Guadalajara, also faces sever water management issues. According to a recent press report (OOSKAnews, 11 April 2013), Metropolitan Guadalajara loses 18% of its water through leaks in the supply system (a loss of around 41 million dollars in economic terms)

siapaAccording to an official from the city’s water utility, SIAPA, repairing ailing parts of the network (154 locations have been identified as “vulnerable”) could save most of the 4 million dollars a year currently being spent dealing with emergency repairs. However, the precise location of leaks is difficult to pinpoint because of a lack of metering equipment. In addition to the 18% lost through leaks, SIAPA believes another 12% goes unaccounted for as a result of clandestine connections and incorrect billing.

The biggest reason for leaks is the age of the system. Parts of the water supply networks in Mexico’s major cities are now over 70 years old. For example, in Guadalajara, more than 70% of the city’s 3458 km of main water supply lines is over 70 years old. Replacing the 2544 km of pipes older than 70 years would require investing around 300 million dollars, with a further 500 million dollars needed to upgrade the drainage system. SIAPA’s total investment in renewing and expanding systems is currently about 45 million dollars a year. The water firm is already said to be the most indebted decentralized public agency in the country, with debts of 240 million dollars.

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How tall is the average Mexican?

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Apr 232013

According to Mexico’s National Chamber for the Clothing Industry (Cámara Nacional de la Industria del Vestido, Conaive), this was an unanswered question prior to a randomized survey of 17,364 individuals carried out by INEGI in 2010-11 in four areas of the country. 49.3% of those measured were men, 50.7%  women.

The survey, limited to people over 18 years of age, found that the median height was 165 cm (5’4″) for Mexican males and 158 cm (5’2″) for females. The median weight was 74.8 kg (165 lb) for males and 68.7 kg (151 lb) for females.

Mexican soccer team at London Olympics

The height of success? Mexican soccer team at London Olympics

According to Conaive, Mexico was the first Latin American country to carry out a study of the average weight and height of its population.

The study entitled “¿Cuánto mide México? El tamaño sí importa” (“How big is Mexico? Size does matter”) found that among women 18-25 the average weight was 62.9 kg while men in that age group averaged 70.4 kg. The average height for young women was 161 cms versus 167 cms for young men. The heaviest men and women, on average, were in the 40-50 age range. Men in that age category weighed an average of 77.3 kg, while women averaged 72.2 kg.

On average, Mexicans are shorter than their counterparts in the USA and weigh about 10 kilos less.

A 2008 survey in the USA found males over age 20 averaged 176 cm in height and 88.3 kg in weight, compared to 162 cm and 74.7 kg for females. The same data show that those US residents of Mexican origin weigh more than their relatives back home, with men weighing (on average) about 7 kg more, and women 5 kg more.

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Apr 212013

One of the most curious of Mexico’s dozens of indigenous languages is the whistled language of one group of the Chinantec people who live in the state of Oaxaca. This group’s conventional spoken language is complemented by a language based entirely on whistles. Only a few people remain who speak this whistled language fluently. The language is whistled primarily by men (and much less fluently by children); female members of the group understand it but do not use it.

It is thought that whistled languages developed to enable communication between isolated settlements in areas that were too remote for conventional spoken languages to be effective. The Chinantec’s whistled language has three distinct subsets, designed to be used over different distances. The loudest enables effective communication over a distance of around 200 meters (650 ft).

Speaking in Whistles: The Whistles Language of Oaxaca, Mexico

The Chinantec whistled language is now largely confined to the mist- and fog-shrouded slopes of the eastern side of the Sierra Juárez in the northern part of Oaxaca state, a region of high rainfall totals and luxuriant vegetation.

This 27 minute documentary relates the field studies investigating the Chinantec whistling language conducted by Dr. Mark Sicoli, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University. The main center of population of speakers of the whistling language is San Pedro Sochiapam. Sicoli believes that the whistled language may become extinct in the next decade; he hopes that his work documenting the language may one day provide the basis for its reintroduction or restoration.

A transcription of a whistled conversation in Sochiapam Chinantec between two men in different fields is available on the Summer Institute of Linguistics website, which also includes this useful summary of the Chinantec people and language.

If you only have a few minutes to devote to this video, then look at the section around 16 minutes in, where in a controlled experiment, one experienced Chinantec whistler helps a friend “navigate” through a fictitious village. The men each have a copy of a made-up map of the village, but are out of sight and able to communicate only by whistling.

The astonishing whistled language of the Chinantec is yet another of Mexico’s many cultural wonders that currently appears to be headed for extinction.

Further reading:

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Several major Mexican companies among the “Global Challengers”

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Apr 192013

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) periodically identifies 100 companies from rapidly developing economies as “global challengers.” (Bcgperspectives, “Introducing the 2013 BCG Global Challengers“).

BCG has identified 100 companies for this list in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013. They focus on companies in developing Asia (excluding Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore), Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa. Companies considered for the list must have annual revenues of at least $1 billion, overseas revenues at least 10% of total revenues or $500 million, and be focused on building a truly global footprint.

The biggest emerging economies have dominated. In 2006 the list included 44 Chinese companies, 21 Indian companies and 12 from Brazil. Russia was next with seven followed by Mexico with six. The dominance of the big three declined from 77 in 2006 to 63 in 2013. One reason for this is that some of the countries on the list “graduated” from the challengers list to become full global competitors.

In 2013, China led with 30 companies, followed by India with 20 and Brazil with 13. Mexico was 4th with seven companies, followed by Russia with six, South Africa with five, Thailand with four and Turkey with three. Countries with two companies on the list are Chile, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. Those with one company on the list are Argentina, Colombia, Egypt, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.

The seven Mexican companies in the group are Alfa, American Movil, FEMSA, Gruma, Grupo Bimbo, Mabe, and Mexichem. One Mexican company, Cemex, has “graduated” from the “challengers” list. It is the world’s largest building materials supplier and 3rd largest cement maker. Cemex now operates in 50 countries on six continents and is the leading cement seller in the USA. Revenues in 2012 were $15 billion.

ALFA is the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech aluminum engine heads and blocks through its subsidiary Nemak. Its other major subsidiaries are Alpek (petrochemicals), Sigma Alimntos (foods) and Alestra (electronics and telecommunications). Revenues in 2012 were $15 billion.

América Móvil. operates Telmex and Telcel, the world’s fourth largest cell phone operator with 160,000 employees and over 250 million subscribers mostly in Latin America and the USA. Its revenues in 2012 were $59 billion. It is a candidate to graduate from this “challengers” group in the near future.

Gruma is the world’s largest producer of corn flour and tortillas. It has subsidiaries in the USA, China, UK, and Latin America. Revenues in 2012 were $5 billion.

FEMSA, based in Monterrey, is the world’s largest bottler of Coca-Cola. FEMSA also operates OXXO, the largest convenience store chain in Latin America. Revenues in 2012 were $18 billion.

Grupo Bimbo is the world’s largest bread maker and the biggest bread seller in the USA. Among its 100 brands are Arnold’s, Entenmann’s, Thomas’s English Muffins, and Sara Lee fresh baked products. Bimbo is the world’s 4th largest food company behind only Nestle, Kraft, and Unilever. Revenues in 2012 were $13 billion.

Mabe. is a leader in the production of large household appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers, etc. These are sold in 70 countries under the General Electric and Mabe brand names. It controls 70% of the market in Latin America. Revenues in 2012 were $4 billion.

Mexichem is a chemical company that operates throughout the Americas as well as in Europe and Asia. It exports to more than 50 countries, has over 10,000 employees, and earns over $4 billion annually.

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Striking photographs of Oaxaca by Cynthia Roderick

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Apr 162013

Cynthia Roderick is an award-winning photographer whose work has been widely published in major newspapers, magazines and TV news programs. However, I had not realized until recently that Roderick has a strong affection for Oaxaca. Several portfolios of work related to Oaxaca can be accessed via her website:

  • San Mateo Rio Hondo (40 images) San Mateo Río Hondo, a town and municipality in Oaxaca, is situated in the Miahuatlán District in the south of the Sierra Sur.
Credit: Copyright held by Cynthia Roderick

Credit: Copyright held by Cynthia Roderick

Festival Our Lady of Guadalupe – Image by Cynthia Roderick

Her informal images capture the personalities and sights of these events, warts and all. Roderick has a keen eye for subject matter, color and detail. Her fine photographs bring these events and the magic of Oaxaca to life for her viewers.

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Implementing President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Pact for Mexico”: a lesson in Mexican Civics

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Apr 132013

In an earlier post, we described President Enrique Peña Nieto’s very ambitious “Pact for Mexico”. Very briefly, the Pact addresses 95 important issues in five broad categories: reducing violence, combating poverty, boosting economic growth, reforming education, and fostering social responsibility.

Achieving these reforms will require passage of new legislation by a majority in both houses and signed into law by the President. Many of the reforms will require passage of Constitutional amendments which require two-thirds majority in each house as well as approval by at least half of the states.

Passing the reforms will be a real challenge because the President’s party, PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party), holds only 41.4% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (207 of 500) and 40.6% of the seats in the Senate (52 of 128). If they join forces with their natural ally PVEM (Partido Verde Ecologísta de México, Green Party), they still fall short of a majority: 48.2% in the Chamber and 47.7% in the Senate. While some important leaders of PAN (Partido Acción Nacional, National Action Party) and PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Party of the Democratic Revolution), Mexico’s two other major parties, have “signed” on to the Pact and are serving on the Pact Implementation Committee, many PAN and PRD members have not formally supported it.

If PRI gets complete support from the PRD and the other two leftist parties PT (Partido del Trabajo, Labor Party) and MC (Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens’ Movement, formerly known as Convergencia or Convergence) they can pass reform legislation. But they still would be unable to pass Constitutional amendments because while they would have a two-thirds majority (68.4%) in the Chamber they would not in the Senate (62.5%). Furthermore, to get all legislators from these leftist parties to agree, they might have to make the reforms so radical that they might lose some support from some PRI and PVEM legislators.

If all PRI and PAN legislators agreed, they would have a 70.3% majority in the Senate, but would still have only 64.2% in the Chamber, less than the two-thirds majority needed to pass Constitutional amendments.

In conclusion, the only way the major “Pact for Mexico” reforms which require Constitutional amendments can be implemented is through serious bargaining and coalitions. One possible successful coalition would be PRI, PAN and PVEM; it would have 71.0% in the Chamber and 77.3% in the Senate. Such a group would probably have to opt for a more neo-liberal approach to gain PAN votes. Another, more radical coalition would be PRI, PRD, PT, CV and PVEM, which would have 75.2% in the Chamber and 69.5% in the Senate. In any case, to get reforms passed, the legislation might have to be so watered down that it would not significantly change the status quo. On the other hand, there appears to be such a groundswell of support for the “Pact for Mexico” that the existing parties may feel great pressure to move forward with meaningful reforms. Only time will tell.

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Mexico’s geomorphosites: El Sótano de las Golondrinas (Cave of the Swallows)

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Apr 112013

El Sótano de las Golondrinas, in the municipality of Aquismón in the state of San Luis Potosí, is a massive limestone sinkhole (pit cave), one of the largest known in the world. In terms of depth, it is thought to be the second deepest sinkhole in Mexico and is probably in the world’s top 20.

The depth of sinkholes can be difficult to determine. For example, in the case of El Sótano de las Golondrinas, its surface opening is about 50 meters by 60 meters (160 by 200 ft) in size, but is on a slope. The depth on the high side is about 376 meters (1220 ft); the depth on the low side is about 330 meters (1090 ft).


Below the surface (see profile) the sinkhole is roughly bottle-shaped. The floor of the sinkhole is about 300 x 135 meters (990 by 440 ft) in area. However, the sinkhole is believed to have formed from the collapse of the roof of an underground cave. As a result, the floor of the sinkhole is not solid rock but rubble that presumably came from the walls and former roof. A shaft on one side extends down at least another 100 m, suggesting that the true floor of the original cave lies at least that far beneath the current rubble-strewn floor.

US photographer Amy Hinkle shot some spectacular images earlier this year in this cave.  The accompanying article highlights the “secret garden” that “nestles 300 meters beneath the surface of the earth”.

The cave’s name (literally “basement of the swallows”) derives from the thousands of white-collared swifts that inhabit the overhanging walls of its interior. They spiral out of the cave every morning over a period of 25-30 minutes and return to their cave homes close to sunset. Large numbers of green parakeets also live in the cave.

The floor of the sinkhole is home to a rich plant life, as well as a diverse selection of  fungi, millipedes, insects, snakes, and scorpions.

The original cave is thought to have been formed by a lengthy period of water erosion along a major fault line in the lower Cretaceous limestone in the Sierra Huasteca (part of Mexico’s Eastern Sierra Madre). Over time, the cave became larger as a consequence of both the water erosion and due to mass movements (landslides, rockfalls) on its walls. Eventually, the size of the cave was so large that its walls could no longer support its roof which then collapsed into the cave, leaving the open air sinkhole seen today. Following heavy rain, short-lived waterfalls cascade down the sides of the sinkhole.

The first documented exploration of El Sótano de las Golondrinas was apparently in 1966. Since that time, the cave has become a popular destination for various adventure sports including rappelling, abseiling and base jumping (no longer allowed).

There are several other very deep sinkholes in the same general area, including Hoya de las Guasguas (with a 202 m deep entrance shaft) and Sótano del Barro (402 m in depth).

Some ornithological studies have found that the bird population of El Sótano de las Golondrinas is decreasing, perhaps due to the disturbance caused by the increasing number of human visitors. To limit disturbance, access and activities are more tightly controlled. For instance, descents into the cave are now strictly limited to daylight hours when the birds are absent, and a no-fly zone has been established around the cave, primarily to avoid helicopter disturbance.

El Sótano de las Golondrinas is yet another outstanding example of a geomorphosite in Mexico. Mexico has literally thousands of geomorphosites. Among those described in previous Geo-Mexico posts are:


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