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]

May 022016
 

This little 77-page gem only recently came to my attention, but is sufficiently interesting, for lots of different reasons, to make it well worth reading if you have the chance.

Written in straightforward, non-academic language, Stanislawski sets about unpacking the factors explaining the land use patterns for eleven towns in the western Mexico state of Michoacán. Stanislawski knows the land use patterns of these town, because he painstakingly compiled them, with the help of multiple informants in each town, in the 1940s.

Aria de Rosales. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Aria de Rosales. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Stanislawski explains that his purpose was to find a method that would reliably identify the “personality differences” that he had intuitively recognized, during earlier fieldwork, for towns in Michoacán. He set out to map the four distinct categories of land use – stores, crafts, administrative offices and services – that he thought would likely reveal the “distributional aspects that might indicate differences between towns.”

Pichátaro. (Stanislawski, 1950)

Pichátaro. (Stanislawski, 1950)

He assumed that each town would be influenced by its geographic area, and therefore chose eleven towns that he thought would be a systematic sample: one in the coastal lowlands, three in the low Balsas valley, two in the upper Balsas valley (close to the temperate slopes), four within the mountain ranges of the volcanic area of Michoacán, and one at an elevation of 2400 m (8000 ft).

The maps he produced revealed that “the geographical region could not explain the differences between the towns except in part.” At least as important, Stanislawski decided, was which of the two basic cultural groups – Hispanic or Indian – was predominant in the town. He proposed a threefold classification: Hispanic, Indian or dual-character.

On this basis, Aria de Rosales (upper map), with its imposing plaza the focus of most commercial activity, is an Hispanic town. On the other hand, Pichátaro (lower map), where the plaza is unimportant, is Indian. Of course, these differences, identified by Stanislawski in the 1940s, do not necessarily apply today. Since the 1940s, transport systems have changed, there have been waves of migration out of many Michoacán towns, and the range of economic activities in towns has increased significantly, with a trend away from primary activities and a sharp rise in tertiary 9service) activities.

In the 1980s (sadly ignorant at the time of Stanislawski’s work), I employed a small army of geography students to undertake a somewhat similar mapping exercise in various Michoacán settlements, ranging in size from the small village of Jungapeo to the mining town of Angangueo and the large city of Zitácuaro. For an example of this kind of work, see The distribution of retail activities in the city of Zitácuaro, Michoácan, Mexico. Sadly, those 1980s maps were later discarded during a clean-out of the department map cabinet by a well-intentioned, if ill-informed, successor.

Source:

  • The Anatomy of Eleven Towns in Michoacán (review) by Dan Stanislawski (University of Texas, Institute of Latin American Studies, Latin American Studies X, 1950); reprinted by Greenwood Press, New York, 1969.

Apr 282016
 

Like most geographers, I collect maps and information wherever I travel; you never know what surprises await. Tourism publications are especially interesting since they are specifically designed (one assumes) to show the best side of the places described.

My collection of tourist brochures associated with Jalisco and the Lake Chapala area dates back more than thirty years. Many early versions had stylized maps, drawn by graphic designers, not cartographers, with sound (if uninspiring) text in Spanish. English translations were often unintelligible. In the 1980s, several bilingual members of the now-defunct Association of Travel Reporters, based in Guadalajara, offered to help the Jalisco State Tourism Department improve its translations, but the offer was politely declined.

chapala-brochure-2016

As this latest brochure relating to Lake Chapala shows, translation standards have not improved significantly since then, and remain a long way off “native speaker” level. This is particularly unfortunate, given that this area of Mexico has the largest concentration of English-speakers in the country.

Here, for example, is the English translation of the attractions of San Juan Cosalá:

One has to closely experience San Juan Cosalá in order to feel and enjoy it to the most, so come and discover a place you will never want to leave, for every happy moment can be lived here, as just by visiting you feel enveloped in an affluent of joy and vitality.

In getting to know it, just stroll across its Pier, or admire the harmonious architecture in San Juan Evangelista Church, or enjoy the exquisite aromas of seafood, bouncing from restaurants enlivened with fine music while walking over the Piedra Barrenada (Drilled Stone); or the rest;  freshness and fun offered in thermal waterparks and world level spas.

Undated tourism brochure, collected April 2016

Undated tourism brochure, collected April 2016

The cartography (above) also leaves a lot to be desired. A key (not shown in this post) is provided but the Jalisco Tourism department clearly needs to hire a geographer if they want to publish useful and meaningful maps. Details worth noting include:

  • No symbol in the key for the “gas station” signs shown on the map. The map shows only four gas stations in this area (and none in Chapala or Ajijic); there are dozens of others not shown on the map, including several in Chapala and Ajijic.
  • The map has no scale.
  • The Isla de los Alacranes, a short boat-ride from Chapala, is shown a long way south of its true position, and a lot further from Chapala than it really is.
  • The dark blue area is, according to the key, the Chapala Lakeshore. I have absolutely no idea what it really represents! Lake Chapala’s catchment area is a completely different shape to the dark blue area. The “Chapala Lakeshore” should, obviously, also include the south-east section of the lake around Las Palmas and Cojumatlán. Much of the area colored dark blue is out of view of the lake, and drains towards the Santiago River, not the lake.
  • Placing the word “CHAPALA” in the north-east section of the dark blue area is totally misleading. The area where the word is written is NOT in the lake basin, not in view of the lake, and is not even in the municipality of Chapala. Again, I have no idea why the artist responsible for this map chose to ignore geography.

It is 2016, and Jalisco State tourism officials still need to improve the quality of their brochures and maps. Come on guys! Time to up your game!

Apr 252016
 

Cuatro Ciénegas (“Four Marshes”) is a city and municipality in the northern border state of Coahuila. Founded in 1800, it has some historical significance, since it was the birthplace of Venustiano Carranza, Mexico’s president from 1915 to 1920.

The natural nearby “marshes” are highly unusual. Situated in an arid region (part of the Chihuahuan desert), they include several natural springs that feed more than 200 small ponds and wetlands. Some of the water supporting these unique wetlands, which cover an area of 84,400 hectares, is believed to be more than 200 million years old. The wetlands are an integral part of the UNESCO-designated Cuatro Ciénegas biosphere reserve. The reserve is home to several endemic organisms, including microorganisms such as cyanobacteria that historically helped produce oxygen for the Earth’s atmosphere. The area is considered “a living laboratory of evolution and the origin of life”.

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect)

Cuatro Ciénegas. Credit: Nancy T. Wilson (MexConnect.com)

Human activities in the surrounding area have led to severe water stress on the Cuatro Ciénegas marshes. The basin’s average natural recharge rate (replenishment rate) is about  25 million cubic meters a year, but the average yearly extraction rate, almost all for agricultural use, is close to 49 million cubic meters.

Water stress may be exacerbated in coming years by climate change, which may reduce rainfall while simultaneously increasing evapotranspiration.

Scientists have also identified five particular exotic (introduced) species that pose a significant risk to the long-term quality of the Cuatro Ciénegas wetlands. Whether naturally or deliberately introduced, these five species – African jewelfish, blue tilapia, giant cane (giant reed), Guatemalan fir and tamarisk (salt cedar) – threaten to displace endemic species and change natural nutrient flows and food chains. Guatemalan fir and tamarisk soak up water as they grow, further drying out the marshes (though, eventually, when little water is left, they will die off). The blue tilapia carries parasites that can jump to local species that have no resistance to them. The African jewelfish occupies the same ecological niche as the endemic mojarra and gradually replaces it.

Mexico’s Comision Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONAMP), is now working with the Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation (FNCN) and the Canadian government agency Parks Canada to develop and implement a control and eradication program to tackle these five invasive species. The long-term survival of this highly unusual ecosystem may well depend on this program’s success.

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Apr 212016
 

Mexico is by far the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of avocados. Production topped 1.3 million metric tons last year, well ahead of the USA (240,000 tons) and Chile (205,000 tons). Mexico’s avocado exports have risen by a staggering 414% over the past eight years to more than 600,000 metric tons in 2015, worth close to US$2 billion.

logo_brands_avocados-from-mexicoThe state of Michoacán is by far the most important single state in Mexico for avocado farms and accounts for 8 out of very 10 avocados sold in the USA, according to the Association of Avocado Producers, Packers and Exporters of Michoacán (APEAM). APEAM says that more than 50% of all the avocados consumed in the world come from Michoacán. In the town of Tancítaro, one of the main centers for avocado-growing, APEAM estimates that nine out of every 10 pesos can be traced back to avocado production. Mexico’s avocado industry employs more than 300,000 people in total, 100,000 directly and over 200,000 indirectly.

Many avocado farms are quite small. Mexico has more than 12,000 avocado producers with individual farms under five hectares in size. As noted in this previous post, the clearance of land for avocado cultivation can barely keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

Problems with drug cartel activity continue. As we noted a few years ago, narcos insist on their cut of the profitable avocado business and have made life difficult for growers, traders and truck drivers. The Wall Street Journal has reported that this makes Michoacán avocados the equivalent of African blood diamonds. Avocado producers reportedly have to pay cartels up to 1,000 pesos (US$60) a hectare to avoid problems.

Cartels aside, export success looks set to continue for a while longer, since China and South Korea have now opened their markets to receive Michoacán avocados.

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Apr 182016
 

Only weeks after the suspension of hotel construction work in the Malecón Tajamar area of Cancún due to the wanton destruction of mangroves, work on another major hotel project in Cancón has also been stopped.

This time, it is the building of Riu Hotel’s 95-million-dollar, 530-room, Hotel Riviera Cancún, with two 70-story towers, that has been halted. The project is in the Punta Nizuc area of Cancún’s Hotel Zone, off Boulevard Kukulcán. A judge has now ordered that the project be permanently suspended because it infringes a federally-protected zone that extends 100 meters from nearby mangroves in the Nichupté protected area.

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

Cancún by Arthur Gonoretzky (Flickr)

The judge also ruled that Fonatur (the National Tourism Development Fund) had illegally sold a beach access road to benefit the Riu development. In addition, the municipal government of Cancún had approved a change of land use category (zoning) for the area in order for the hotel construction to begin. The original zoning limited construction to a height of only three stories.

According to press reports, Luis Riu, the president of the Riu hotel chain, claims the issue has nothing to do with mangroves but is about political influence, and because the wealthy owner of a neighboring hotel had been upset at not acquiring the land himself.

Despite these local successes, it is unlikely that this latest setback to hotel construction on the coast really signals a sea-change in Mexico’s attitude to unbridled development of its shoreline. There are still numerous other projects underway in other parts of the country that endanger local habitats, as well as many more major projects on the drawing board. Even so, it is encouraging that the judicial process is showing signs of siding with environmentalists and those seeking to ensure that Mexico’s magnificent coastline and scenery survive its grandiose tourism development plans.

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