Mar 242016
 

A recent National Geographic piece about the U.S.-Mexico border wall has some stunning photos of exactly what the wall looks like in various different places.

U.S. business magnate, and would-be politician Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to completely seal the U.S.-Mexico border with a wall if he is elected President, and has vowed that he would make Mexico pay for the expense. At present, the parts of the border not already walled or fenced off have security via border guards, drones and scanners.

Border fence near Campo, California. Credit: Fred Greaves/Reuters

Border fence near Campo, California. Credit: Fred Greaves/Reuters

The National Geographic article has photographs taken by James Whitlow Delano, who has visited the border several times in the past decades as the walls have gone up.

One photo shows the border wall separating Jacumba, California, from Jacume, Mexico, in the high desert. Until September 2001, several years after the first border barricade was built here in the mid-1990s, “residents of Jacume could cross freely into Jacumba to buy groceries or to work, and children would be brought across to go to school or to the health clinic.” Now, what was formerly a 10-minute walk has become a 2-hour drive through the official border crossing at Tecate.

Another photo shows the infamous Smuggler’s Gulch fence, part of a 60-million-dollar project to ensure security between San Diego and Tijuana by completing a triple line of fencing.

The photos are thought-provoking images of one of the world’s most significant land borders. The situation along the border has changed dramatically in recent years. When the first fences were built, Mexican migration to the U.S. was on the rise. Now, however, the net flow of people between the two countries each year is close to zero:

For more about the U.S.-Mexico border zone, see these related Geo-Mexico posts:

The evolution of Mexico as a nation

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Feb 182016
 

What better way to describe Mexico’s territorial evolution as a nation than via an animated graphic? Fortunately, we didn’t have to do the work ourselves, but found this one, showing all of North America, over at giphy.com:

The graphic covers the period 1750-2000. Mexico appeared in 1821, when it became formally independent from Spain. The Mexico of 1821 was much larger than today’s Mexico. Its northern border in the 1820s and 1830s reached deep into the modern-day U.S. states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah and Colorado. These areas remained part of Mexico until after the disastrous 1846-48 Mexico-U.S. war.

At the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded over half of Mexico’s territory to the USA. A few years later, under the 1853 Gadsden Purchase (Treaty of La Mesilla), northern portions of Sonora and Chihuahua were transferred to the USA. With minor exceptions since, to take account of changes in the meanders of the Río Bravo/Río Grande, this established the current border between the two countries.

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Federal District is renamed Mexico City

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Feb 012016
 

The name “Distrito Federal” (Federal District) has been replaced by “Ciudad de México” (Mexico City). This is bad news for cartographers who need to relabel all those maps that say “Mexico D.F.”! The abbreviated form for the city’s name in Spanish will be CDMX.

The constitution for the new administrative entity, which will eventually enjoy full status as a state, will be drawn up by a group of 100 citizens (to be elected in June), expected to include some members of the federal Chamber of Deputies.

Among other advantages, the change of status means that Mexico City will no longer need federal approval when selecting its police chief and attorney general. Administration of Mexico City’s 16 delegaciones (boroughs) will change from borough chiefs and regidores to mayors and councils.

Mexico City will remain Mexico’s capital city and the seat of the federal administration. No changes are planned for the neighboring Estado de México (State of Mexico). The Mexico City Metropolitan Area (MCMA) includes Mexico City, but also extends well into adjacent areas of the State of Mexico.

Want to learn more?

For access to more than sixty articles about all aspects of the geography of Mexico City, see The geography of Mexico City: index page.

Water in Mexico: a human right that is currently subsidized and wasted

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Aug 172015
 

Two recent articles in OOSKAnews, a publication dedicated to news in the water industry, have profound implications for Mexico’s water supply situation. The first (10 July 2015) is a report of a meeting in Guanajuato of national water and water treatment specialists (Segundo Encuentro Nacional de Áreas Técnicas  de las Empresas de Agua y Saneamiento de México).

Selected quotes from the report include,

Mexico’s legal framework for water is out of date and does not reflect the country’s current reality…

Nationwide, water users only pay about 20% of the cost of production; 80% of water costs are subsidized, a situation that is not sustainable…

Legal reforms aimed at protecting human rights with regard to water had harmed service providers, who cannot cut off service to customers who fail to pay their bills.”

The report also comments on the on-going El Zapotillo dam project on the Rio Verde in Jalisco state, saying that it,

is a priority for President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration, despite ongoing delays and legal conflicts. The $1.24 billion dollar project was approved in 2005 and is more than 80% complete. However, residents of Temacapulín, Acasico and Palmarejo have been fighting construction of the dam, which would flood their villages.”

sacmex

The second report focuses on Mexico City and the estimate by Ramón Aguirre Díaz, the head of Mexico City’s Water System (SACMEX), that fixing leaks in the city’s potable water distribution network would cost around US$430 million. This is a huge cost when compared to the system’s annual budget for maintenance and improvement of infrastructure of about US$135 million.

Aguirre claims that 40% of available water is lost because of leaks in the network. SACMEX is launching a program in 2016 to provide a long-term solution to the problem. In a press interview, the official said that, “A city like ours should be able to supply every citizen by producing 26 cubic meters/second, but currently our system requires 30.5 cubic meters/second”.

The sections of the city with the most severe losses are those like Coyoacán and Tlalpan built on the soft sediments of the former lake-bed, as well as those such as Miguel Hidalgo, Cuauhtémoc, and Benito Juárez, where the supply pipes are more than 70 years old. Combined, these areas house over 2.5 million people.

Aguirre also outlined the progress made in bringing reliable access to potable water to all 1.8 million inhabitants of Iztapalapa, one of the poorest and most densely populated sections of the city. Some 72,000 residents in Iztapalapa lack piped water supply to their homes, and therefore have to depend on provision from tanker trucks. Even those who do have access to piped water have to cope with inadequate pressure, poor water quality and frequent supply outages.

According to Aguirre, the city administration will meet its goal of reliable access to piped water for all of Iztapalapa by 2018. Reaching this point requires the construction of 22 water treatment plants and various other major infrastructure modernization projects.

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The abduction and presumed murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero

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Nov 182014
 

The disappearance several weeks ago, and presumed murder, of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero has shocked the nation and sent shock-waves around the world. The isolated mountainous parts of the state of Guerrero have long been home to some of the worst violence and most severe poverty in Mexico. The students went missing in the town of Iguala on 26 September 2014.

We appreciate that many of our readers will already be well informed about recent events, but hope that the following summary, with its links to English-language sources, will be useful.

Mexico’s attorney general has announced that a drug cartel, operating in tandem with the mayor of Iguala and the mayor’s wife, had kidnapped and killed the students, before burning their bodies beyond recognition and dumping the remains in plastic bags in a river. According to some versions, local police were not only aware of the events, but complicit in them.

mexico-kidnapping-horizontal-gallerySoon after the disappearance of the students, several mass graves were located on the outskirts of Iguala, but none of the remains has yet been positively identified as belonging to any of the missing students. However, the remains did include the body of a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda, missing since May 2014. John Ssenyondo, who had been serving in the region since 2010, was allegedly abducted by armed men for refusing to baptize the daughter of a suspected narco.

Earlier this month, security experts searching the landfill site near the town of Cocula (where gang members allegedly killed and burned the students) found rubbish bags with human remains. The charred remains have been sent to a specialized laboratory in Innsbruck, Austria, for testing, but results will not be known for several weeks.

A judge in Guerrero has since charged the city’s former mayor, Jose Luis Abarca, with being the mastermind behind the students’ disappearance, and of responsibility for the murder of six people killed in clashes between the trainees, police and masked gunmen on the night of 26 September 2014. The government has detained more than 70 people in connection with the disappearance of the students. Maria de los Angeles Piñeda, the wife of the local mayor is alleged to be the head of the area’s major drug cartel. Abarca and his wife have both been arrested. The small town of Iguala, site of the murders, installed a new mayor, Luis Mazon, after the incumbent was arrested for ordering the massacre, but he resigned in disgust after only a few hours in office, to be replaced by Silviano Mendiola.

Bloody demonstrations are taking place across the country, threatening tourism and denting the carefully-crafted public relations image of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

In Chilpancingo, the state capital of Guerrero, 600 protestors set fire to cars, a congressional office and the city hall.

The tourist resort of Acapulco has also been the scene of demonstrations. For a short time protestors prevented flights from taking off from the city’s airport, and have also blocked highways. The hotel occupancy rates plummeted to 20% for a time, before beginning to rise again in recent days.

In Mexico City, protestors set fire to one of the wooden doors of the Presidential Palace on the zocalo, Mexico City’s main square. The president has an office in the building but was leading a trade mission to China at the time.

Speaking to Fox News Latino recently, a student leader from the Ayotzinapa school said that, “It’s a national movement that’s launching. People are really upset in Mexico. It’s a movement for all citizens that is sparking protests across the country. That’s what happening now. We’re sending caravans to Chihuahua, Zacatecas, all the states from north to south. It’s family members [of the victims] and student-teachers.” The students also accept fire-bombings as a valid form of political expression.

Reactions in the USA have been mixed. For example, see:

UNESCO appoints Mexico to oversee its International Hydrological Program

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Jul 102014
 

Mexico has been chosen to head the inter-governmental council that oversees UNESCO’s International Hydrological Program (IHP). The IHP is the only inter-governmental program of the U.N. system devoted to water research, water-resources management, and education and capacity building.

A joint statement issued by Mexico’s Environment Secretariat and Foreign Relations Secretariat says that David Korenfeld, the director of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua) has been named the council’s president for the next two years. In his acceptance speech, Korenfeld called for “greater synergy between decision makers and specialists to combine theory and practice” and stated that “significant challenges remain [in the water sector], including integral basin management, application of the human right to water and water security and sustainability in the context of climate change.

Korenfeld said that one of the IHP’s main objectives must by to strengthen “a confluence of science, technology and public policy aimed at reducing the social and environmental vulnerability of emerging and developing countries amid the challenges of climate change.”

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Dec 122013
 

Today is 12 December, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the beloved indigenous patron saint of Mexico and much of the Americas. This seems like a good excuse, if ever one was needed, to revisit the “Gender Gap” in Mexico. The gender gap assesses the “gap” between females and males for a number of variables, but should not be taken as reflecting the quality of life of females in different countries.  For example, the gender gap between women in Japan and Japanese men is very large, even though Japanese women enjoy a relatively high quality of life.

In “The Global Gender Gap Report 2013″, the World Economic Forum (WEF), based in Geneva, Switzerland, placed Mexico 68th of the 136 nations included in the study. Between them, the 136 nations house 93% of the world population. Mexico has risen 16 places in the rankings since 2012, meaning that the gender gap in Mexico is narrowing, even if there is still a long way to go to reach gender equality. (It is worth noting that Mexico has been climbing steadily up the rankings for several years, from #98 in 2009, to #91 in 201, #89 in 2011 and #84 in 2012).

Of the 136 countries studied for the 2013 report, Iceland had the smallest gender gap, for the 5th year running, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Among Latin American nations, Nicaragua had the smallest gender gap (placing 10th in the world), with Cuba, which has the highest female participation in government, coming in 15th and Brazil remaining 62nd. Other notable placings were Germany 14th, and South Africa 17th.

gender gap graph for Mexico

How Mexico (country score) compares to other countries (sample average). Source: Gender Gap Report 2013

The Gender Gap Index is a composite index comprised of a number of variables grouped into four key areas:

  • health and survival
  • educational attainment
  • political empowerment
  • economic participation

As noted in our summary of the 2012 Gender Gap Report, Mexico ranks #1 in the world, tying with several other countries, for the health and survival subindex. This means that Mexican females are unsurpassed with respect to sex ratio at birth (female/male) combined with female life expectancy (female/male).

For the other subindexes, in 2013 Mexico ranked #36 for political empowerment and #70 for educational attainment, but a lowly #111 for economic participation.

Geo-Mexico agrees wholeheartedly with Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, who called for renewed efforts to ensure gender equality, saying that, “Countries will need to start thinking of human capital very differently – including how they integrate women into leadership roles. This shift in mindset and practice is not a goal for the future, it is an imperative today.”

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How can Mexico City find sufficient water?

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May 202013
 

What happens if or when Mexico City needs more water than it is using at present? There are several options, depending on whether authorities choose to modify demand, supply, or both in order to improve the future situation.

In terms of managing (reducing) demand, conservation measures are one possibility. Changing consumer habits may require not only educational programs, but also usage tariffs that reflect the true costs of supply, and that encourage consumers to install water-saving devices and introduce water-saving practices in their daily lives. Demand would also be reduced if less water was lost through leakage. As mentioned in a previous post, 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.

Managing demand may be easier to achieve than managing supply, given that recent efforts to increase supply have met with concerted opposition from environmentalists and the people living in the areas from which water would be transferred to the city. In the last half of the twentieth century, while one political party (PRI) held power, it was possible for politicians to largely ignore the conflicts resulting from inter-basin transfers, arguing that their “solutions” served a national need. Now that local, state and federal politics are more contested, that approach is potential political suicide.

From a political perspective, the most acceptable source of additional water for Mexico City would probably be the recently identified deep aquifer described in Mexico’s major cities confront serious water supply issues. However, that discovery requires further research before its maximum sustainable yield can be determined or it can be brought into service.

Less politically acceptable are the various proposals to bring water from elsewhere to satisfy the thirst of Mexico City. One of the most frequently voiced suggestions is to add a fourth phase to the Cutzamala scheme (see Where does Mexico City get its water from?) to increase the amount of water it supplies by more than 25% to 24 m³/s. In addition, the plan would provide treatment for 42 m3/s of wastewater. This fourth phase, known as the Temascaltepec project (see map), would require the construction of a 120-meter-high, 740-meter-long dam on the Temascaltepec River to create a reservoir with a capacity of 65 million m³.

Map of the Cutzamala project

Map of the Cutzamala project. Click to enlarge.

Aqueducts and a 19-km-long tunnel would carry the water to the Valle de Bravo reservoir. The estimated cost would be $500 million. The Temascaltepec project is opposed by environmentalists and locals and is not likely to get under way any time soon. The residents of the villages near the proposed dam site are afraid that the project would cause their local springs to dry up and would adversely impact their farming of maize, sugar cane, banana, tomato, melon and peas.

To the south of Mexico City, an entirely different proposal is to bring water from the Amacuzac, Tecolutla and Atoyac Rivers, by damming the Amacuzac River, creating a 67 km2 reservoir (between the states of Morelos, Guerrero and Puebla) capable of storing 4,000 million cubic meters. Supplying Mexico City would require a 160 km long aqueduct, and would involve pumping water to a height of 1825 meters, requiring up to 5% of Mexico’s annual national electricity production. On the plus side, this could reduce the future abstraction of groundwater by as much as 50 m³/s.

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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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President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Pact for Mexico”

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Mar 182013
 

President Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed a 34-page “Pact for Mexico” which addresses 95 important issues in five broad categories:

  • reducing violence
  • combating poverty
  • boosting economic growth
  • reforming education
  • fostering social responsibility

Though there are few details, the Pact specifically calls for:

  • Universal Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and Health Care Systems
  • Providing every public school student with a computer
  • Opening petroleum exploration to foreign investment
  • Creating a single national penal code, abolishing all the state penal codes.

Obviously, many of his objectives are very ambitious. For example, opening petroleum exploration to foreign investment could increase future production significantly but violates national sovereignty in the eyes of many Mexicans. Replacing all state penal codes with a national code could be messy; for example, abortion is legal in Mexico City but a crime in most other states. Several previous presidents have tried and failed to unify the criminal codes.

While most Mexicans enthusiastically support the reform package, many argue that, almost by definition, any 95-point plan lacks real focus and priority. Others say it will be nearly impossible to implement. On the other hand, as governor of the State of Mexico, Peña Nieto established a record of making ambitious promises and implementing them. For example, he was one of the first three governors to implement former President Calderón’s new legal reform program. In addition, he has already obtained the formal agreement of Mexico’s two other major parties, PRD and PAN, both of which have three members on the 14 member “Pact for Mexico” implementation team.

Investors seem impressed. When the Pact was announced, the Mexican stock market (Bolsa Mexicana de Valores, BMV) went up 1.2%, while markets in New York declined. Furthermore, Peña Nieto’s Party, PRI, has a strong plurality in both the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies. He already has pushed through a Constitutional amendment on education reform and arrested the leader of the powerful teacher’s union on embezzlement charges.

We will have to wait and see how well Peña Nieto does with his very ambitious “Pact for Mexico”. If he achieves only a third of his objectives, he may replace Benito Juárez as Mexico’s “best president ever”. If he fails, Mexico will have to wait for future administrations to address the serious issues that face the country.

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