Jun 062016
 

On Mexico’s Pacific coast, the endemic Green Turtle or tortuga verde (Chelonia mydas) has been taken off the “endangered” list and had its status reclassified as “threatened”. Despite the success of conservation efforts in Mexico, green turtle remains on the worldwide endangered list, to which it was first added in 1978.

For details of Mexico’s conservation efforts with respect to sea turtles, see Protecting Mexico’s endangered marine turtles.

The global population of green turtles, which can wiegh up to 200 kg and live as long as 80 years, has now been divided by wildlife experts into 11 distinct sub-populations, allowing some flexibility in approaches to their management.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico.

Selected marine turtle nesting beaches in Mexico.

Meanwhile, in Mexico’s arid northern interior in the Chihuahuan desert, biologists have reported a marked upsurge in the numbers of the very much smaller Bolson tortoise. The Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus), native to this part of Mexico, is often referred to as the Mexican giant tortoise, but grows only to about 50 cm in length, with a weight of around 18 kg. It had been under threat due to local people hunting it for food, and due to shifting weather patterns. The tortoise is one of the various endangered species inhabiting the Bolsón de Mapimi, the desert basin that straddles the borders of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua.

Conservation efforts in the area have focused on ensuring that local people have an alternative source of meat (cattle in this case) and appreciate the value of preserving their native tortoises. Local communities have been given grants to help with reforestation projects, environmental monitoring and maintaining a small museum for visitors.

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Jun 022016
 

Following on from our look at the potentially disastrous environmental consequences of publicizing Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”), one of Mexico’s most beautiful small beaches, we take a look at how this extraordinary beach was formed.

Playa Escondida. Source: Google Earth. Scale: The beach is about 30 m (100 ft) long.

Playa Escondida. Source: Google Earth. Scale: The beach is about 30 m (100 ft) long.

Playa Escondida is on one of the small, uninhabited Marieta Islands, in the Marieta Islands National Park, off the west coast of Mexico, and relatively close to Puerto Vallarta.

playa-escondida

The beach is an “eye to the sky” and is aptly described by travel writer Brandon Presser, as follows:

At the center of Isla Redonda [is] a quirk of nature seen only on the pages of a fantasy novel—a sandy beach carved into the rounded core of the island like the hole of donut. Although completely invisible from the shoreline, a bird’s eye view reveals lapping crystal waters and an empty dune like dazzling colors at the end of kaleidoscope’s funnel.”

The Marieta Islands are formed of volcanic rocks and are an extension of Mexico’s Volcanic Axis.

Just how was this beach formed? Prosser describes two alternative suggestions. The first is that the volcanic rocks were not uniform in composition and hardness but had differences in resistance to subaerial weathering and erosion. According to this theory, the weaker, less consolidated rocks were eroded more quickly than the surrounding rocks to leave a giant chasm in the ground. This chasm was then breached on one side by marine action.

The alternative theory mentioned by Prosser, and the only one mentioned (though without citation) by wikipedia, is that the chasm was formed by human activity, specifically by the Mexican military who undertook bombing practice in and around the islands prior to when the area was given National Park status.

Coastal geomorphologists might argue the case for considering a third theory, involving the formation, first, of the cove on the outer coast of the island, followed by a combination of marine and subaerial action to exploit a line of weakness in the volcanic rocks to create a landform known as a geo (a narrow, deep, cleft extending inland from the coast). This geo may have gradually lengthened over time, by continued cave formation at the head of the geo, with marine erosion at the back of the cave opening up a blowhole, a small opening to the sky. A sequence of collapses and blowhole formation, over time, may have created Playa Escondida, where the interior beach is the base of a former blowhole, where the roof has collapsed and the material subsequently removed by marine action or pounded into beach sand.

Whatever the explanation, this particular geomorphosite is one of Mexico’s many natural treasures, and one well worth preserving for future generations.

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May 302016
 

American author Charles Fleming Embree‘s A dream of a throne, the story of a Mexican revolt, published in 1900, is, I believe, the earliest novel in any language about the Lake Chapala area. It is an historical novel, set in the area during the nineteenth century, but Embree reveals an extraordinary depth of knowledge, not only of the history of this area, but also of its geography.

Embree was only 24 years of age when he and his wife Virginia, newly-weds at the time, arrived in Chapala in 1898. Embree had dropped out of Wabash College in his native Indiana, without completing his degree, to devote himself to his writing and his first book, a collections of stories entitled For the Love of Tonita, and other tales of the Mesas (1897) had proved successful.

The Embrees lived in Chapala for eight months in 1898, before traveling to other parts of Mexico, including Guanajauto, Xalapa, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca. Embree’s publishers described A dream of a throne as, “A powerful and highly dramatic romance, dealing with a popular Mexican uprising half a century ago. It is a novel of adventure and of war, and its strongly contrasted characters glow with life and realism. The writer’s thorough knowledge of Mexican life gives him a wealth of new material; and the descriptions of scenery at Lake Chapala are vivid, full of color, and alive with mountain air”.A Dream of a Throne by Charles F. Embree

The book is indeed a remarkable achievement. Despite only living at Lake Chapala for a few months, Embree acquired and demonstrates, from a geographical perspective, an extraordinarily accurate and astute knowledge of all his lakeside locales. The spelling of all place-names, with the exception of Ajicjic and Tuxcueco, is exactly as it is today. Details of clothing, habits and customs all ring true. Embree’s knowledge of the region’s nineteenth century history is equally impressive. As one small example, the story begins in the shadow of St. Michael’s hill in Chapala in May 1833, amidst fear of an epidemic of smallpox. In real life, the nearby city of Guadalajara suffered a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1833.

From a human geography perspective, this novel offers us one of the earliest descriptions of everyday indigenous life in the region. As Dr. Wolfgang Vogt of the University of Guadalajara has pointed out, even by the 1920s (twenty years after Embree’s novel), virtually no-one was observing or writing about this area from an indigenous point of view. Embree’s novel has particular value since it examines the conflicts between Indians and Spaniards, anticipating the themes explored by D. H. Lawrence when he visited Chapala for a couple of months in 1923 and penned the first draft of The Plumed Serpent.

All the action in Embree’s novel takes place on and around Lake Chapala. The major locales are Mezcala Island, Chapala, Ajijic and Tizapan. The following extracts have been chosen to highlight his depictions of the local landscapes. Lake Chapala was significantly larger in 1898 than it is today (see The eastern end of Mexico’s largest lake, Lake Chapala, is amputated):

Lake Chapala, showing area drained at start of 20th century. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Lake Chapala, showing area drained at start of 20th century. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Here is Embree’s description of Ajijic:

They were riding over a rough trail with cacti and stones about, and here and there a flock of goats. To the right was a seemingly endless chain of mountains, to the left, more distant, rose St. Michael, low and round (behind whose bulk lay Chapala and the water), and the larger head, called Angostura, lying between that town and Ajicjic on the lake’s edge. Between Angostura and the opposite mountain chain the road led, rising to a hill, to whose summit the little army came. They looked down on the lake and, nearer, small irregular fields, scores of them, checkering a level stretch from mountains to water. Out of these, Ajicjic’s church thrust up a single gleaming tower of white. Three o’clock found the troop sweeping into the barren plaza of that fishing village.

To this day Ajicjic can claim no more than some two thousand souls. It has, even yet, no railroad, no stage; rarely has a vehicle been seen in that primitive place other than the awkward oxcart. Its low, unplastered adobe walls stand close together. The streets are alleys of extreme narrowness wherein there is mud when it rains, dust when it is dry, rocks and swine forever. Nigh every alley twists and turns, is for a block no more than a gutter, for another block a public stable for burros. Yet one may find some better quarters. The plaza, though it is only a bare, brown waste, is wide. The open court before the church, though it too is bare and dirty, with lonely, crumbling walls and pillars about it, yet has in its center a weather-beaten cross that speaks of service to the Lord.

The troop filled the plaza. It was halted, and the inhabitants of the town, struck with amazement, either shut themselves up or gathered in silence round about. Groups of brown children, absolutely naked, sat down in the dirt, thumbs in mouth, to wonder in comfort. Rodrigo and Bonavidas began the inquiries, prefacing them with jocularly expressed friendship to certain storekeepers and a toss of tequila here and there down a willing throat. Boats? There hadn’t come but one boat to Ajicjic the blessed day. Ajicjic was losing importance in these times. On market days everybody went to the bigger market at Chapala, where the news was dispersed. And this one boat? It had come from Tizapan with a load of wood for the lime burners.

His landscape descriptions are equally adept:

The town of Tizapan lies at a short distance from the lake. The shore in that region is no such distinctly marked line of beach and rock as it is at Chapala. It is not even always easy to tell where the shore is. Between water and land there is a stretch of marsh for several hundred yards, watery, pierced by the spears of a million reeds that rise thick and green to a height of some feet. Here flock ducks in great numbers. The marsh is flat, bewildering, and dreary. Through its middle a stream, called the Tizapan River, cuts out more than one course, having formed a delta. The main course of this river, not over twenty yards at its widest part, usually much narrower, is navigable for canoas for half a mile to a point where the land is dry and from which the town lies yet another mile distant. The stream being crooked and the curves sharp, the progress from the open lake to the inner landing is usually made by poles. The lake approach to the town could be easily blocked by blocking the river. Only the one course is navigable. Nobody could cross the marshes. This fact was recognized more than a century ago.

The town itself is like the greater part of Mexican towns, narrow and crooked streets with the low houses (joined together) shutting those streets in and making them seem even narrower, and the central plaza of considerable size left vacant. That plaza is today filled with flowers and fruit and contains a bandstand. In former times it was bare. The mountains rise only a little way behind the town, jagged and huge. Before them is a stretch of rolling green fields. The river, coming from the peaks, dashes down through this pastoral scene with a vivacity that has laid bare a rough and rocky bed whereon the water boils till it passes through the town. At the time when the two small armies were approaching Tizapan, much of the summer green was still on field and mountain. The unclouded sun poured his light over an emerald gem of the lake’s border.

After their time in Mexico, the Embrees settled in Santa Ana, California. Embree published his second novel A Heart of Flame: the Story of a Master Passion in 1901, and supplied a steady stream of short stories to major magazines, including McClure’s, the San Francisco Argonaut and Sunset Magazine. Sadly, the couple had not long celebrated the birth of their only daughter Elinor in 1905 when Embree was taken seriously ill. He died on July 3, not yet 31 years old.

It is tragic that someone who had produced work of this magnitude, should have died so terribly young. In his short time in Chapala, Charles Embree had acquired an excellent historical and geographical knowledge of the region at a time when American travelers to the lake were few and far between. Geo-Mexico believes that Charles Fleming Embree full deserves to be declared an Honorary Geographer.

Note: The post is based on chapter 43 of Lake Chapala through the ages; an anthology of travellers’ tales (Sombrero Books, 2008) and on American novelist Charles Fleming Embree set his first novel at Lake Chapala” (MexConnect, 2009).

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May 262016
 

Mexico’s largest mining company, Grupo México plans to mine copper from its mine in Angangueo, Michoacán, according to the town’s mayor, Leonel Martínez Maya, who says it would revitalize the local economy. Large-scale mining in the town declined after a serious accident in 1953, said to have been attributable to the company’s then-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. Sketch by Mark Eager; all rights reserved.

Angangueo. Sketch by Mark Eager; all rights reserved.

The mayor is adamant that the renewal of active mining in the town would have no adverse consequences for the annual migration of Monarch butterflies (who overwinter in their tens of millions in the pine-fir forests above the town)  or on their habitat.

The town is one of Mexico’s “Magic Towns” and the area is a protected natural reserve, but apparently the mining company is taking advantage of a legal loophole and arguing that the mine predates the establishment of the Monarch reserve, and that the mine was never technically closed, even though it was inactive in recent years. The Michoacán state government is said to support the Grupo México initiative.

Despite boom times in the past, the town of Angangueo currently has only limited sources of revenue other than seasonal tourism.

The illustration and parts of the description come from chapter 30 of my Western Mexico, a Traveller’s Treasury (4th edition, 2013).

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May 232016
 

In the past couple of years, Mexico’s federal tourism department has included a truly magnificent beach on some of its publicity posters. It is one of those advertising posters that really catches the eye. I first saw a poster featuring Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”) in a departure lounge at Vancouver’s International Airport and spent the next hour watching people’s reactions as they passed it. Several people paused and studied the photo, demonstrating its success in capturing people’s attention.

playa-escondida-tourism-poster-2The beach concerned, also known as the “Beach of Love”) is on one of the small, uninhabited Marieta Islands, in the Marieta Islands National Park, off the west coast of Mexico, and relatively close to Puerto Vallarta.

The posters, and resulting publicity, have led to so many tourists wanting to experience the beach for themselves – more than 2500 visitors a day during Easter Week this year – that Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission (Conanp) has ordered the beach closed for at least three months due to concerns about environmental damage. Conanp has indicated that the local coral reef has already been adversely impacted by tourism.

Conanp’s decision follows a study by scientists at the University of Guadalajara which concluded that tourism has led to the death of coral, accumulation of garbage, and to pollution from hydrocarbons. The study estimated the beach’s environmental carrying capacity (the number of people that could visit the beach without causing lasting environmental damage) to be 625 visitors a day. Given the secluded nature of this beach, its perceptual carrying capacity (the maximum number of visitors that other visitors can tolerate, based on such impacts as noise) may be even lower.

To assuage some of the economic concerns of tour operators, Conanp is making plans to open a different beach on another of the Marieta Islands for tourism at some point in the near future.

During Easter week, there were numerous press reports that boats ferrying people to the Marieta Islands from El Anclote, Nayarit, were often overcrowded and carrying more passengers than their permits allowed. Boat owners, not surprisingly, deny this, and claim that this is yet another attempt to dislodge them from their remaining toehold on Punta de Mita, where a major upscale tourism development forced many fishermen out of their homes about thirty years ago. For details, see the text accompanying our Map of the Beaches of Jalisco.

islas-marietas-playa-excondida

The number of tourists traveling to Playa Escondida increased from 27,500 in 2012 to 127,372 in 2015. While the federal tourism poster was not the only publicity given the beach, it certainly appears to have played a part in increasing public awareness of this scenic geotourism location, ultimately resulting in the need to make it off limits for tourism, at least for now.

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We discuss the consequences of tourism, good, bad and neutral, at length, in chapter 19 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy (Print or ebook) today!

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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May 162016
 

Stacy B. Schaefer is professor emeritus of anthropology at California State University, Chico, and has worked in research and education at a number of California museums. Schaefer has a long-standing interest in Mexico, with particular interest in the Huichol Indians. She is the author of To Think With a Good Heart: Wixarika Women, Weavers, and Shamans (University of Utah Press, 2002) and the co-editor, with Peter Furst, of People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival (University of New Mexico, 1997).

In 2015, the University of New Mexico issued a revised reprint of To Think With a Good Heart with the new title, Huichol Women, Weavers, and Shamans. (We are pleased to say that Geo-Mexico produced a map for this new version, though a production glitch makes the numbers on the scale look like meaningless boxes!)

schafer-coverThe unique aspect of this book is that the author not only lived among the Huichol for extended periods of time over two decades, but committed herself to a long apprenticeship to become a weaver.

Schaefer’s account is a masterful interweaving of personal experiences and  ethnographic research. Her interest in weaving enabled her to become a trusted member of the community, affording her valuable insights into their lives, beliefs and customs.

The book considers the significance of weaving in relation to every aspect of Huichol life, from food gathering and farming to pregnancy, birth, shrines and goddesses. Schaeffer’s eventual success in becoming a master weaver opened yet more doors into the community, with fresh insights into local shamanism.

Schaeffer lived experiences that most of us can only hope to read about. Fortunately, her descriptions are captivating and detailed, as, for example, when she writes about her trip accompanying Huichol “family” on their pilgrimage to collect sacred peyote cactus.

As the back cover blurb states, “For centuries the Huichol (Wixárika) Indian women of Jalisco, Mexico, have been weaving textiles on backstrap looms. This West Mexican tradition has been passed down from mothers to daughters since pre-Columbian times. Weaving is a part of each woman’s identity – allowing them to express their ancient religious beliefs as well as to reflect the personal transformations they have undergone throughout their lives.”

While this is an academic work, Stacy Schaefer does an outstanding job in explaining all this in a way which is easily accessible to the general reader.

Schaefer also wrote Amada’s Blessings from the Peyote Gardens of South Texas (University of New Mexico, 2015), which tells the story (based on 13 years of fieldwork) of Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman, and her pivotal role in the little-known history of the peyote trade, which began in the 1930s.

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May 122016
 

The 2016 hurricane season in Mexico for Pacific coast storms starts on 15 May and lasts until 30 November. For Atlantic storms, the hurricane season extends from 1 June to 30 November, though most hurricane activity is concentrated in the months from July to September. Hurricanes are also known as typhoons or tropical cyclones.

The table shows the World Meteorological Organization’s official list of 2016 tropical storm and hurricane names. Note that male and female names alternate. Names are often reused in future years, with the exception of the names of any particularly violent storms, which are officially “retired” from the list for a long time.

2016 Hurricane Names for the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean
AlexGastonLisaRichard
BonnieHermineMatthewShary
ColinIanNicoleTobias
DanielleJuliaOttoVirginia
EarlKarlPaulaWalter
Fiona

2016 Hurricane Names for the Eastern Pacific
AgathaGeorgetteMadelineTina
BlasHowardNewtonVirgil
CeliaIvetteOrleneWinifred
DarbyJavierPaineXavier
EstelleKayRoslynYolanda
FrankLesterSeymourZeke

saffir-simpson-scale

In their early season forecast for this year, Philip Klotzbach and William Gray, researchers at Colorado State University,  expect hurricane activity in the Atlantic to be near-normal (ie close to the 30-year average). They predict that in the 2016 season 13 named storms will form in the Atlantic: 5 tropical storms, 6 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 2 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). These forecasts will be updated on 2 June and 31 July.

Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was slightly below average in activity with 11 named storms: 5 tropical storms, 4 moderate hurricanes and 2 severe hurricanes. On the other hand, the 2015 Pacific hurricane season was the second most active on record, with 26 named storms, including 11 severe hurricanes.

In 2016, for the Pacific coast, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (Servicio Metrológico Nacional, SMN) is expecting 17 named storms: 8 tropical storms, 5 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 4 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale).

For the Atlantic coast, SMN) is expecting 13 named storms: 7 tropical storms, 4 moderate hurricanes and 2 severe hurricanes. On both coasts, these predictions indicate a slight increase in storm activity compared to long-term averages. The SNM publishes regular updates on hurricane activity (in Spanish) on its webpage and via its Twitter account: @huracanconagua.

Hurricanes and other climatological phenomena are analyzed in chapters 4 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, so you have a handy reference guide available whenever you need it.

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May 092016
 

AT&T and Telcel are competing for the concession of 80 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum for the provision of 4G-LTE mobile broadband service in Mexico. The winner is expected to have to pay somewhere in the region of 700 million dollars to the government in order to acquire the rights.

Movistar coverage, 2G, 3G, 4G - 2016

Movistar coverage, 2G, 3G, 4G – 2016

The three major competitors currently in the 4G-LTE market in Mexico are Movistar (Telefonica), Telcel (America Movil), and AT&T.

Telcel is the dominant player and reaches 65 million users nationwide. Movistar serves about 50 cities (see map). AT&T’s 4G-LTE network currently reaches 40 million people in 36 cities, but the firm is investing aggressively, with plans to reach 75 million people by the end of 2016 and 100 million by 2018. Under construction is AT&T’s new 300-million-dollar operations center in Guadalajara, which will benefit from that city’s well-qualified workforce and enhance its importance as Mexico’s tech sector hub.

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May 052016
 

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has started the process of consultation with the Conference of Parties through its Bureau, and announced his intention to appoint Patricia Espinosa Cantellano of Mexico as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Espinosa

Espinosa. Credit: UN Photo: Devra Berkowitz

Ms. Espinosa Cantellano has more than 30 years of experience at highest levels in international relations, specializing in climate change, global governance, sustainable development and protection of human rights.

Since 2012, she has been serving as Ambassador of Mexico to Germany, a position she also held from 2001 to 2002. She previously served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico from 2006 to 2012.

[Text of UN press release, 3 May 2016]