Feb 232017
 

There are almost fifty places where people can legally cross the Mexico–United States border, but only one where the cities on either side of the border have the same name: Nogales.

transnational-metropolitan-areas

The fascinating history of the two Nogales (Ambos Nogales), twin cities on either side of the border, is related in this detailed 2010 blog post by Robert Lucas: Ambos Nogales Face Across the Border.

The geographic curiosities of the border between Nogales (Sonora) and Nogales (Arizona) included, historically, a street that ran east-west along the border, with one half of the street in Mexico and the other half in the USA:

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

This postcard from about one hundred years ago shows International Avenue, Nogales. The boundary line on the postcard was added by the publisher to indicate that the border ran down the middle of the street. Even in the absence of any boundary fence, residents were apparently still required to cross at one of two entry points: either the Morley Avenue crossing (shown in the postcard) or the Grand Avenue crossing further to the west.

Prior to the building of the International Avenue, which created a clear separation between Mexico and the USA, there had been some interesting consequences of having a bi-national city straddling the international border. For example, after Arizona introduced prohibition, outlawing the production and sale of alcohol in that state, some publicans took advantage of the unusual geography of Nogales to build saloons that straddled the border. Patrons tired of sipping their tea who wanted to enjoy duty-free mescal could simply move to the south end of the bar…

In 1897, the U.S. Congress ordered that a 60-foot strip along the border in downtown Nogales be cleared of all structures as a measure to suppress customs fraud. Mexico soon followed suit, creating the International Avenue. The International Avenue did not look like the view in the postcard for for very long. By 1916, a temporary fence had been erected down the middle.

Two years later, on 27 August 1918, this area was the scene of the Battle of Ambos Nogales (La batalla del 27 de agosto), which led to a permanent fence being built, forever separating Ambos Nogales into two distinct cities.

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Oct 032016
 

This proposal sounds a lot more 21st century than Trump’s plan for a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border. Will either proposal ever actually happen? Most likely not. But that does not prevent us from considering the former project one more than worthy of mention here.

Young Mexican architect Fernando Romero has long believed that “building bridges” is preferable to creating obstacles and that conventional boundaries “are just becoming symbolic limits.”Romero was named a “Global Leader of Tomorrow” at the World Economic Forum in 2002.

Masterplan for trans-border city. (Fernando Romero Enterprise)

Masterplan for trans-border city. (Fernando Romero Enterprise)

To illustrate his viewpoint, Romero recently released a master plan for a walkable, super-connected metropolis straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. More than a decade ago, Romero’s architecture firm proposed a tunnel-like “Bridging Museum” crossing the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley. His more recent suggestion of a utopian border city, presented at the London Design Biennale, is far more ambitious and would take advantage of the concept of special economic zones (employed earlier this year by Mexico’s federal government to stimulate development in several southern states).

To read more about this exciting proposal, with numerous stunning images of what it might look like, see “Instead of Trump’s Wall, Why Not a Binational Border City?

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

Jul 142016
 

Mexico’s Business Coordination Council (Consejo Coordinador Empresarial, CCE) has launched a publicity drive to counter the disinformation and anti-Mexican rhetoric emerging in U.S. political campaigns. The details of the publicity drive remain unclear.

Juan Pablo Castañón, CCE’s president, says the aim is to emphasize the true strength and importance of good Mexico-U.S. relations. In particular, the NAFTA trade zone accounts for 15% of global trade, 28% of global GDP and 14% of FDI flows. Trade between the three partners has quadrupled since 1993 and exceeded a trillion dollars in 2015, half of which is attributable to U.S.-Mexico trade.

Mexico is the second most important destination for U.S. exports and the main market for exports from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Goods worth 500 million dollars cross the border daily.

According to Castañón, if U.S. politics puts a brake on this trade, more than six million U.S. workers could lose their jobs. Proposed tariffs on imports of flat screens and vehicles would raise prices significantly in the USA. In addition, 80% of avocados and 50% of tomatoes sold in the USA come from Mexico.

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May 192016
 

An unclassified DEA Intelligence Report from a year ago has just resurfaced on my desk. Entitled United States: Areas of Influence of Major Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations, it includes two particularly interesting maps.

The report states that “Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) pose the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them. These Mexican poly-drug organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks. They control drug trafficking across the Southwest Border and are moving to expand their share, particularly in the heroin and methamphetamine markets.”

As of May 2015, the DEA identified the following cartels that operate cells within the USA: the Sinaloa Cartel, Gulf Cartel, Juarez Cartel, Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios or LCT), Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO), Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion or CJNG), Los Zetas, and Las Moicas.

The maps reflect “data from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT) program to depict the areas of influence in the United States for major Mexican cartels.”

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

Figure 1 (click map to enlarge) shows the distribution of DEA Field Offices. The pie chart for each office shows “the percentage of cases attributed to specific Mexican cartels in an individual DEA office area of responsibility”.

“Since 2014, the Arellano-Felix Organization, LCT, and the Michoacán Family (La Familia Michoacán LFM) cartels have been severely disrupted, which subsequently led to the development of splinter groups, such as, “La Empresa Nueva” (New Business) and “Cartel Independiente de Michoacan” (Independent Cartel of Michoacan) representing the remnants of these organizations.”

Figure 2 (below) shows the dominant transnational criminal organization (TCO) in each domestic DEA Field Division, relative to other active TCOs in the same geographic territory. The map includes population density shading which “is intended to depict potential high density drug markets that TCOs will look to exploit through the street-level drug distribution activities of urban organized crime groups/street gangs.”

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

“The Sinaloa Cartel maintains the most significant presence in the United States. They are the dominant TCO along the West Coast, through the Midwest, and into the Northeast. While CJNG’s presence appears limited to the West Coast, it is a cartel of significant concern, as it is quickly becoming one of the most powerful organizations in Mexico, and DEA projects its presence to grow in the United States over the next year. In contrast, Mexican cartels such as the Gulf, Juarez, and Los Zetas hold more significant influence closer to the Southwest Border, but as shown on the map, their operational capacity decreases with distance from the border.”

Other, smaller, “splinter groups from the disrupted LCT organization continue to traffic drugs from the Michoacán, Mexico area into the United States. The BLO, former transportation experts for the Sinaloa Cartel, is most active along the East Coast and is also responsible for the majority of heroin in the DEA Denver area of responsibility. Las Moicas is a Michoacán-based organization with former LFM links, but remains a regional supplier in California and operate on a smaller scale relative to other major Mexican TCOs.”

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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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Is the Mexico-USA tuna war finally over?

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Jan 042016
 

The World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a final ruling at the end of 2015 favoring Mexico in its long-running trade dispute with the U.S. over the labeling of tuna products. The acrimonious dispute began, more than 20 years ago, because the USA refused to allow Mexican fishermen to use the coveted “dolphin‑safe” label.  The “dolphin safe” labels certify that tuna fishing is in compliance with the International Dolphin Protection Program.

The USA is the world’s largest importer of tuna, imported tuna worth more than one billion dollars in 2014, only 2.1% of which (about 20,000 metric tons) came from Mexico.

Dolphin-safe-logoWhen the dispute began, there is no doubt that Mexican fishermen were catching many dolphins as by-catch. Part of the conflict revolved around the very different methods of fishing employed in the two countries. USA tuna fishermen use long‑line fishing in which every species hooked is killed. Mexican tuna fishermen, on the other hand, use the encirclement method which involves locating tuna by tracking the dolphins that swim with the tuna schools. Large nets are then employed. Any dolphins trapped in the nets are released by hand and returned (alive) to the ocean.

Mexico has introduced far more stringent restrictions on tuna fishing methods since the dispute began, including professional observers on every ship to record each tuna catch; conservation measures over the past two decades have reduced dolphin by-catch by 99%. Mexican fishing methods are now recognized as fully sustainable by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Mexico is one of the world’s ten leading tuna producers. Mexico’s tuna catch (mainly yellowfin tuna) rose to 166,000 metric tons in 2013. Domestic demand exceeds 190,000 metric tons a year, so Mexico currently has to import some tuna.

Mexico’s leading producer of canned tuna for the domestic market, worth close to a billion dollars a year, is Pinsa Comercial. Its three main brands – Dolores, El Dorado and Mazatún – account for more than half of the local market. Consumption of tuna has been rising steadily in Mexico, and Pinsa has introduced various new presentations of canned tuna in order to boost it still further from its current level of around eight cans/person/year. Pinsa is a vertically-integrated firm with its own fleet of tuna boats and freezing plants. (The firm also has Mexico’s largest fishing fleet for sardines, used to make fish flour, sold to agricultural and pharmaceutical industries.)

Mexico’s tuna fishing quota, set by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Fishing Commission, is about 35% higher than its current annual catch. Modernizing the tuna fleet is one way to raise catches and reduce tuna imports.

About 20,000 families in Mexico depend on tuna fishing for their livelihood. This figure includes not only fishermen but also those working in associated processing and packing plants. Mexico’s 130-vessel tuna fleet is the largest in Latin America.

The WTO ruling means that Mexico may now seek compensation for its trade losses.

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The West Rail Bypass International Bridge, a new USA-Mexico rail link

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The West Rail Bypass International Bridge, a new USA-Mexico rail link
Nov 032015
 

The flow of bilateral Mexico-USA trade has increased six-fold in value in the past 20 years to nearly 1.5 billion dollars a day; 80% of it moves by truck or rail. A new rail bridge, the West Rail Bypass International Bridge (WBR), opened in late August, capable of carrying up to 24 million metric tons of freight a year, which should help reduce delays in trans-border trade.

West Rail Bypass International Bridge.

West Rail Bypass International Bridge. Credit: Cameron County

The WBR links Matamoros (Tamaulipas) to Brownsville (Texas). It took four years to build and is the first new rail link between Mexico and the USA for more than a century. The bridge can be used by 14 trains a day and replaces a rail line that previously wound its way, with frequent delays, through a heavily congested urban area.

In an unrelated effort to speed up trans-border shipments, Mexican and U.S. officials are testing a single, joint customs inspection procedure that could cut border-crossing times for freight by up to 80%.

The program is being tested at three locations:

  • Laredo international airport in Texas (for vehicle, electronic and aerospace components being flown to eight cities in Mexico),
  • Mesa de Otay in Baja California (for Mexican farm products entering the U.S.) and
  • San Jerónimo in Chihuahua (for computers and other electronic exports from Mexico).

Assuming the six month pilot project is successful, costly border delays for some trans-border shipments could soon be a thing of the past. The project has been warmly welcomed by AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, which represents more than 1,400 companies.

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May 182015
 

We have frequently commented on the importance of migration channels linking specific towns in Mexico to particular places in the USA.

quinonesIn his latest book, Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, journalist Sam Quinones, one of our favorite writers about Mexico, describes the fascinating details of how one particular migration channel – from the small, nondescript town of Xalisco in the western state of Nayarit, to the city of Denver – has fueled an innovative delivery network for black tar heroin, a network that now spreads its tentacles across much of the USA.

Quinones relates the work of narcotics officer Dennis Chavez, who joined the narcotics unit of the Denver Police Department, and was determined to understand the reasons behind the escalation of black tar heroin dealing. Chavez listened carefully to his informants and a key breakthrough came when one particular informant told Chavez that while “the dealers, the couriers with backpacks of heroin, the drivers with balloons of heroin”, all looked very random and scattered, they were not. They were all connected. “They’re all from a town called Xalisco.”

Indeed they were, and the system they had set up was enterprising, innovative, and designed to avoid undue attention.

Read an excerpt:

This excerpt from Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, published on Daily Beast, explains how “in the 1990s, innovative drug traffickers from Mexico figured out that white kids cared most about service and convenience.”

Sam Quinones’ latest book is a gripping account of many previously murky aspects of the U.S. drug scene. It should interest anyone who wants to understand the human stories behind drug trafficking, international migration and globalization. A must-read!

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Nov 162013
 

In an alliance with the Sonoran Institute, the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations helped the region’s communities create the first transborder Geotourism MapGuide, covering northern Sonora and southern Arizona. The mapguide was published in 2007:

The maps  have vignettes of information about history, culture, geology and many other aspects of the region, making it a useful guide for geo-tourists. While some might argue about the choice of locations and attractions described on the maps, this is a useful addition to the background reading for anyone thinking of traveling to this region with some time on their hands to explore.

Surprisingly, the map has only a very brief and somewhat dismissive mention of the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de  Altar Biosphere Reserve:

“Stand at the rim of this mile-wide volcanic crater and you may feel as if you’re on the moon. This land of ancient lava, sand, and cinder cones is sacred to the O’Odham people. Today, those on the Sonora side of the border call themselves “Pápago.”

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