The impacts of the US border wall with Mexico

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Jan 162021
 
Judy King cover

This Guardian article – ‘My neighbourhood is being destroyed to pacify his supporters’: the race to complete Trump’s wall – highlights the problems created (not solved) by US efforts to build a wall along its southern border.

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Judy King coverFor what it’s worth, here is my own take on the wall, written a few years ago as a short chapter for Judy King’s book, Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants (Mexico Insights, 2019). The majority of King’s book is based on her one-on-one interviews with a varied and fascinating selection of Mexican migrants who at one time or another lived and/or worked in the US. King’s personal, in-depth approach was time consuming but was amply rewarded and she acquired some extraordinary individual accounts. The book also includes short “backgrounders” on the history of Mexican-US migration and the practicalities involved.

My chapter focused on the geography related to the wall building.

The Border Story: the effects of a barrier wall (written in 2018)

The U.S.-Mexico border is unique in terms of its geography. It is the longest land border in the world between a developed economy and an emerging economy. The continental U.S.-Mexico border (excluding offshore limits) is about 1990 miles (3200 km) long. At roughly the mid-point, the cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez face each other across the boundary line. East of these cities, the border follows the course of the Río Grande (Río Bravo as it is known to Mexicans) to the Gulf of Mexico; west of these cities, it crosses the Sonoran desert to reach the Pacific Ocean between San Diego and Tijuana.

Map of Mexico, 1824

Map of Mexico, 1824

This boundary was established in the middle of the 19th century. After 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 also transferred to the USA. This more or less established the current border between the two countries.

Minor disputes have occurred since due to the constantly migrating meanders of the Río Grande/Bravo. Flooding during the early 1860s moved the river channel south, shifting an area of about 2.6 square kilometers (1 square mile) from Ciudad Juárez in Mexico to El Paso in the U.S. Both countries claimed the area, giving rise to the El Chamizal dispute. This dispute went to international arbitration in 1911 and was only finally resolved in 1963 with the ratification of the Chamizal Treaty by President John F. Kennedy and his Mexican counterpart, Adolfo López Mateos.

A permanent memorial to Chamizal was established in El Paso in 1966 to commemorate the two nations’ laudable international cooperation, diplomacy and respect for cultural values in arriving at a mutually acceptable resolution to the conflict. A later dispute about changes in river meanders – the Ojinaga Cut – was amicably resolved in 1970.

There are about fifty places where people can legally cross the U.S.-Mexico States border but only one where the cities on either side of the border have the same name: Nogales. Historically, straddling the international border was not a drawback to residents of the “Two Nogales” (Ambos Nogales).

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

Postcard of Ambos Nogales, ca 1915

A century ago, one street in Nogales – International Avenue – actually ran east‑west along the border, with one side of the street in the U.S. and the other in Mexico. Even before a boundary fence was erected down the middle, residents were apparently still required to cross at one of two entry points: either the Morley Avenue crossing or the Grand Avenue crossing. The 60-foot-wide avenue had been created in 1897 after all buildings close to the border were razed to the ground as a way of limiting customs fraud. A permanent border fence was built in 1918 following the Battle of Ambos Nogales (La batalla del 27 de agosto).

During the prohibition years (1919-34) in the U.S., Mexican cities close to the border benefited from an influx of free-spending visitors. These years were boom times for the bars, casinos, brothels and race tracks of cities such as Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana. These cities also did well during World War II, when many of the large number of U.S. military personnel stationed near the border were able to circumvent wartime rationing at home by hopping south.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, physical barriers (fences, walls) were erected along some sections of the border to try and stem the flow of migrants from Mexico. Other sectors are closely monitored via electronic sensors, drones, cameras and mobile and satellite surveillance systems. In total, about 30% of the border already has some form of barrier, physical or virtual.

Existing barriers have already made life very difficult in many places. For example, it used to be a ten minute walk for residents of Ejido Jacume in Baja California to cross the border into Jacumba Hot Springs, California, to go to school, work, shop or attend the health clinic. With the barrier, it is now a two hour drive via Tecate.

Most of the physical barriers already built are along the western half of the border (where California, Arizona and New Mexico meet Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua), They aim to prevent undocumented crossings into the major cities, especially San Diego and El Paso. They have forced would-be migrants to take on crossing the border somewhere in the largely unpopulated Sonoran Desert west of Nogales. The arduousness of this trip has cost the lives of many, many migrants, with the number of deaths of border-crossers since 2004, in this section alone, averaging more than 200 a year.

One of the many ironies associated with demands to build more and higher barriers between the two countries, given their extremely close social and economic ties, is that there is a simultaneous demand (in other quarters) to ease the movement of people and goods across the border in order to boost tourism and facilitate trade. For instance, in December 2015, a 120-million-dollar pedestrian bridge, known as The Cross Border Xpress (CBX), opened to allow passengers living in California to walk across the border into Tijuana International Airport. This helped ease border congestion at the existing land crossings into Tijuana.

Similarly, U.S. and Mexican border officials have piloted joint customs inspection procedures to cut border-crossing times for freight by up to 80%. Trade between the two countries is worth 1.4 billion dollars a day. The first tests of the new joint system were at Laredo international airport in Texas (for vehicle, electronic and aerospace components being flown to eight cities in Mexico), the 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). The project has been warmly welcomed by business representatives on both sides of the border.

Finding the right location to build any barrier/wall may prove harder than many would anticipate. While most existing sections of barriers along the western half of the border are located very close to the true boundary line, this is not possible east of El Paso where the boundary runs (theoretically) down the deepest channel of the Río Grande/Río Bravo. Here, a wall or barrier along the boundary is impracticable.

Several protected National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) areas sit on or astride the boundary. They include the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR and the Santa Ana NWR in Texas, the the Tijuana Slough NWR in California, and the Cabeza Prieta NWR in Arizona (the 3rd largest national wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states) which is contiguous to the UNESCO-designated World Heritage site of El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Sonora. In west Texas, Big Bend National Park extends to the border where it meets the Cañon de Santa Elena National Park in Chihuahua.

Ecologists have grave concerns about animal migration corridors and the future of numerous trans-border species. Up to now, only rudimentary and superficial Environmental Stewardship Plans (ESPs) have been prepared for the border areas where barriers have been constructed. These ESPs almost invariably claim that any adverse impacts on plant and animal populations will be only short-term, even in the absence of any scientific studies assessing existing populations.

Barriers such as walls prevent some species from crossing the border and can separate existing cross-border populations into two distinct groups, reducing their viability and increasing the risks of in-breeding, reducing their resilience to changes in climate or food sources. One major study identified 93 currently endangered species likely to be affected by a wall, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican gray wolves and Quino checkerspot butterflies. Black bears in Texas that currently migrate across the border annually will have their natural territory sliced in half, as will the pronghorn antelope herds further west. Several species, including the jaguar, arroyo toad, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl (which flies close to the ground) and Peninsular bighorn sheep, have critical habitats either side of the border.

People, too, have cross-border territories. Spare a thought for Native American groups such as the Tohono O’odham people whose ancestral lands now lie on either side of the Arizona-Sonora border. Their divided territory originated in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase. Most of the estimated 25,000 Tohono O’odham alive today reside in Arizona but about 1500 live in northern Sonora. For decades, the two groups of Tohono O’odham, never granted dual citizenship, kept in regular contact for work, religious ceremonies and festivals, crossing the border as needed without any problem. Stricter border controls have made this impossible today.

Repeated efforts to solve the “one people‑two country” problem by granting U.S. citizenship to all registered members of the Tohono O’odham, regardless of their residence, have so far not succeeded. Ironically, because of its relatively remote location, the Tohono O’odham Nation has often been called upon to provide emergency assistance to undocumented workers (and drug traffickers) attempting to cross the border who have underestimated the severe challenges of crossing this section of the harsh Sonora desert.

Land ownership along any wall-building line is another issue. Building it on federal land is relatively easy, especially if the U.S. administration continues to utilize mechanisms that ignore, or they claim trump, dozens of existing environmental and cultural laws. Costs and protests rise where the planned barrier is located on privately-owned land.

Some sections of barrier have already been built in the wrong place. In 2008, for instance, one Native American human rights delegation reported that the official International Boundary obelisks marking the Arizona/Sonora boundary had been moved about 20 meters south during barrier construction, a clear violation of international law. Costs escalate still further whenever the barrier needs to be relocated.

The effective implementation of many cross-border agreements will be adversely affected by a barrier. For instance, the U.S. Forest Service and Mexico’s National Forestry Commission have a co-operation agreement, the Bi‑national Convention on Forest Fires, for dealing with cross-border wildfires on the Arizona/Sonora border. It aims to increase public safety on both sides of the border, reduce habitat loss, and facilitate the fighting of wildfires. It allows for a united bi‑national command to be established and for firefighting brigades, together with supporting vehicles and aircraft, to cross the border by up to 16 km (10 miles) in either direction in order to battle ongoing wildfires, provided advance notice is given. With a wall, this is clearly impossible.

Quite apart from the cost implications and the potential adverse impacts for people, communities, trade and fauna in the border regions, building a wall is not the answer. Animals may not have a viable choice after a wall is built but if people still want to cross, and can’t do so by land, they will surely turn to the air, the oceans, or (as has already happened repeatedly with smugglers in both directions) underground tunnels.

In fact, despite fear-mongering news reports in the U.S. press, the flow of migrants over the past decade has actually reversed: the number of people now crossing the border from the U.S. to live in Mexico is higher than the number of Mexicans moving north. While some of the migrants moving south are Mexicans returning home, others are estadoudienses preferring to retire, live or work in Mexico.

Judy King’s Echoes from the Wall: Real Stories of Mexican Migrants (Mexico Insights, 2019) is available worldwide via Amazon. The case studies of individual migrants are excellent starting-points for geography classes about international migration in high schools and colleges.

Review of “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”

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Oct 292019
 

In honor of the award of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty, we republish this post from five years ago in which we highlighted the significance of the pioneering work of Banerjee and Duflo:

Every so often a book comes along that shakes up established wisdom and forces us to rethink our viewpoints and beliefs. The latest such book to cross my desk is Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, published by PublicAffairs in 2011.

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poor-economicsThis is a worthy read for anyone interested in development theory, policy, practice and economics. The authors are professors of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Their book reports on the effectiveness of solutions to global poverty using an evidence-based randomized control trial approach.

Banerjee and Duflo argue that many anti-poverty policies have failed over the years because of an inadequate understanding of poverty. They conclude that the battle against poverty can be won, but it will take patience, careful thinking and a willingness to learn from evidence.

The authors look at some of the unexpected questions related to poverty that empirical studies have thrown up, such as :

  • Why do the poor (those living on less than 99 cents a day) need to borrow in order to save?
  • Why do the poor miss out on free life-saving immunizations but pay for drugs that they do not need?
  • Why do the poor start many businesses but do not grow any of them?

The book was supported by an outstanding website that included:

  • Introductions to each chapter
  • Maps showing cited studies with links to original sources
  • Data and figures used with interactive data tools
  • A “What Can You Do” page with links to major organizations working in the field or for the problem discussed in the chapter

The website’s links to research papers mentioned in the book included four studies related to Mexico:

1. Do Conditional Cash Transfers Affect Electoral Behavior? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Mexico, by Ana L. De La O.

The evidence comes from the pioneering Progresa, the original Mexican conditional cash transfer (CCT) program (since repackaged as Oportunidades).  This CCT program led to a 7% increase in turnout and a 16% increase in the  incumbent vote share, with clear implications for politicians in areas where CCT programs reach a large percentage of voters.

2 School Subsidies for the Poor: Evaluating the Mexican Progresa Poverty Program, by T. Paul Schultz of Yale University (August 2001).

This study considered how a CCT program affected school enrollment. The CCT program increased enrollment in school in grades 3 through 9, with the increase often greater for girls than boys. The cumulative effect was estimated to add 0.66 years to the baseline level of 6.80 years of schooling.

3 Experimental Evidence on Returns to Capital and Access to Finance in Mexico, by David McKenzie and Christopher Woodruff (March 2008)

Microenterprises are often unable to access suitable financing, even though they are responsible for employing a large portion of the total workforce. This experiment, which gave cash and in-kind grants to small retail firms, demonstrated that this additional capital generated large increases in profits, with the effects concentrated on those firms which were more financially constrained. The estimated return to capital was found to be at least 20 to 33 percent per month, three to five times higher than market interest rates.

4 Working for the Future: Female Factory Work and Child Health in Mexico, by David Atkin (April 2009)

Atkins’ paper found that children whose mothers lived in a town where a maquiladora (export factory) opened when the women were sixteen years old were much taller than those children born to mothers who did not have a similar opportunity. The effect was so large that “it can bridge the entire gap in height between a poor Mexican child and the “norm” for a well-fed American child.” (Poor Economics, 229)

The increase in height could not be fully explained by the changes in family income resulting from employment in a maquiladora. As Bannerjee and Duflo suggest, “Perhaps the sense of control over the future that people get from knowing that there will be an income coming in every month -and not just the income itself- is what allows these women to focus on building their own careers and those of their children. Perhaps this idea that there is a future is what makes the difference between the poor and the middle class.” (Poor Economics, 229)

Conclusion

Banerjee and Duflo’s positive message is that poverty can indeed be alleviated, but we need to take one small measurable step at a time with constant evaluation of whether or not particular policies are successful, based on evidence, not just on belief systems.

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” deserves its place of honor alongside other such genuine classics as E.F. Schumaker’s “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered” (1973). It is a must-read for geographers, regardless of your political persuasion.

Note: this is a lightly edited version of a post first published 27 January 2014.

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Video of the Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California)

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Aug 232016
 

This PostandFly video explores the islands of San Jose, San Francisco and Espiritu Santo. The Sea of Cortés (Gulf of California) is the body of water that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. The Sea of Cortés is thought to be one of the most diverse seas on the planet, and is home to more than 5,000 species of micro-invertebrates. A large part of the Sea of Cortés is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Several rivers feed the Sea of Cortés, including the Colorado, Fuerte and Yaqui. The Sea of Cortés has more than 300 estuaries and other wetlands on its shores, of which the delta of the Colorado River is especially important. The vast reduction in the Colorado’s flow has negatively impacted wetlands and fisheries.

Previous Geo-Mexico posts on this area of Mexico include:

Photos of Mexico’s indigenous peoples

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Jul 212016
 

Mexican photographer Diego Huerta has spent the past four years on a quest to photograph all of the indigenous groups in the country. He publishes select images on his website and on his instagram account and the collection of images makes for compelling viewing, hence articles about him in the press, including one entitled “Photographer Captures The Breathtaking Beauty Of Mexico’s Indigenous Communities” in the Huffington Post.

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For an introduction to Mexico’s indigenous peoples see An overview of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. Recent research has shown that the indigenous groups are more genetically diverse than was previously thought. They add a very significant diversity to the languages spoken in Mexico. See, for example, The geography of languages in Mexico: Spanish and 62 indigenous languages, and Is the number of speakers of indigenous languages in Mexico increasing? The many indigenous languages have resulted in some very distinctive place names.

At least one of the indigenous languages in Mexico is very unusual – Whistling your way from A to B: the whistled language of the Chinantec people in Oaxaca – and some have no words for “left” or “right”, while others are now spoken by only a very small number of people. The extreme example of this is Only two native speakers remain of Ayapaneco, an indigenous language in Tabasco.

Geo-Mexico has dozens of posts about specific indigenous groups in Mexico. The tag system and the site search engine will locate short articles related to the Huichol, Tarahumara, Aztecs, Maya and several other groups.

“Huichol Women, Weavers, and Shamans” by Stacy B. Schaefer

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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.

Related posts:

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.

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:

Acclaimed biography of Alexander von Humboldt completely ignores his time in Mexico

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Feb 292016
 

The English language press has lavished dollops of praise on The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science, the biography of Humboldt written by Andrea Wulf, a design historian at the Royal College of Art in London.

wulf-humboldt

Cover of U.S. edition

According to a review in the New Scientist, “Historian Andrea Wulf calls Humboldt the lost hero of science. It is extraordinary that a man once so revered is now largely forgotten.” This claim is gross exaggeration. It has limited validity in the English-speaking world and even less validity in the German-, French- and Spanish-speaking worlds.

There have been several previous English-language biographies of Humboldt, some better than others. The earliest that immediately comes to mind, and one of the best illustrated, is Douglas Botting’s Humboldt and the Cosmos (1973). More recent works include Humboldt’s Cosmos by Gerard Helferich (2004); The Humboldt Current (2006), by Aaron Sachs (2006); and The Passage to Cosmos, by Laura Dassow Walls (2011). Generations of geographers have grown up learning about Humboldt’s explorations and his revolutionary ideas.

There is no question that Humboldt’s life and work are worthy of numerous biographies. There is no question, either, that Wulf’s biography is an interesting read, and contains lots of valuable ideas. The author clearly went to great lengths to visit many of the important locales in Humboldt’s writing, and to read dozens of his books in their original German, and much of his voluminous correspondence, as well as examining Darwin’s copies of Humboldt’s works, etc., etc.

However, Wulf misses the mark in this biography in two main regards. First, too much of the book is taken up with accounts of the sometimes tenuous links between Humboldt and later thinkers about environmental and other matters.

The second concern, and the one that most concerns Geo-Mexico, is that Wulf completely ignores Humboldt’s time in Mexico, despite providing detailed accounts of his explorations elsewhere. It is arguably his year-long visit to Mexico that gave Humboldt not only the opportunity to collect yet more data and information, but also to reflect on the significance of his discoveries in South America.

Surely, Humboldt’s views about volcanoes, for example, were shaped by the opportunity he had in Mexico to study Jorullo, the volcano (in present-day Michoacán) that had erupted a few years previously? Equally, Humboldt’s observations in the “Mexican Andes” (Sierra Madre Occidental and Volcanic Axis) undoubtedly helped Humboldt arrive at the conclusion that vegetation zonation with altitude had general applicability and was not confined to South America. Furthermore, it was Humboldt who first remarked on the fact that Mexican volcanoes lie in an East-west belt (Volcanic Axis) and were not arranged parallel to the main mountain ranges, as in South America. (The alignment of the Volcanic Axis is still something of a geological puzzle, since it does not appear to fit the general model of plate tectonics).

The omission of Mexico and the large number of pages devoted to later thinkers detract from the quality of Wulf’s biography, making it an interesting and readable, but unbalanced, and ultimately unsatisfying, portrait of one of the world’s greatest ever thinkers.

For a definitive account of Humboldt’s time in Mexico, see, La Obra de Alexander Von Humboldt en Mexico, Fundamento de la Geografía Moderna. by Rayfred Lionel Stevens-Middleton (Instituto Panamericano de Geografía y Historia, 1956).

Related posts:

A 1902 travel account, and unexpected link between Mexico and a Swiss castle

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Feb 252016
 

Dr Carl Wilhelm Schiess (1869-1929) is the unexpected link between Mexico and a Swiss castle. Schiess wrote a travel account, first published in 1902, of a two-month trip in Mexico in the winter of 1899-1900. The account, only ever published in German, is Quer durch Mexiko vom Atlantischen zum Stillen Ocean (“Across Mexico from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean”), published in Berlin by Dietrich Reimer.

Early travel accounts of Mexico are a valuable source of information for historical geographers, as well as for armchair travelers. Schiess’s account is no exception.

Who was Carl Wilhelm Schiess?

Carl Wilhelm Schiess of Basel and Herisau was born on 12 July 1869. His father was Prof. Dr. Heinrich Schiess, a well-known ophthalmologist in Basel, and his mother Rosalie Gemuseus. After completing his medical studies, the young doctor traveled abroad. These travels included  a trip with his brother to Mexico over the winter of 1899-1900.

Where he travel in Mexico?

They entered Mexico (and returned) via New Orleans. The brothers traveled by rail to Torreón, and then to Durango, before crossing the Western Sierra Madre to Mazatlán. From Mazatlán, they took a steamer to San Blas, and then proceeded to cross the country from west to east, via Tepic, Tequila, Guadalajara, Chapala, Zamora, Uruapan, Pátzcuaro, Morelia, Mexico City, Amecameca, to Veracruz, before returning north via Orizaba, Cordoba, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and Zacatecas. Quite the itinerary to complete in just two months!

They were very impressed by the grandeur of the Juanacatlan Falls and the book includes several photographs of that area, including the falls themselves, women washing clothes below the falls, and this photo of an unpolluted River Santiago (aka Rio Grande) immediately before the falls.

Wilhelm Schiess: Rio Grande, Juanacatlan (December 1899)

Wilhelm Schiess: Rio Grande, Juanacatlan (December 1899)

Schiess and his brother had plenty of adventures along the way. Like most other early travelers in Mexico, they made a point of climbing Popocatepetl Volcano, but the brothers went one better than most and photographed the interior of its crater. The two men made several trips to places, such as mines, that were well off the beaten track. In central Mexico, they took the time to explore the ruins of Xochicalco, an archaeological site that even today is often ignored by passing tourists. The main pyramid at that time (photo) had not been restored.

Wilhelm Schiess: Xochicalco (December 1899)

Wilhelm Schiess: Xochicalco (December 1899)

Schiess’ account of their travels in Mexico is essentially a factual, straightforward account of their impressions and what they did, with few digressions, more of a journal than a modern-day travel book. It was well received at the time as an accurate, first-hand account of several little-known parts of Mexico.

A review in the Bulletin of the American Geographical Society claimed that, “His route from Durango across the Sierra Madre to Mazatlan has perhaps never been described before, and the interesting regions he crossed between San Blas and Lake Chapala are not well-known.” It probably is unlikely that the Durango-Mazatlan route had been described in detail prior to Schiess, though (by coincidence) Carl Lumholtz’s Unknown Mexico, which covers some of the same ground, and was based on travels between 1890 and 1900, was also first published, like Schiess’s book, in 1902.

However, the reviewer’s claim that the “regions” between San Blas and Lake Chapala were not well known is a clear exaggeration, since there had been several earlier, detailed, first-hand descriptions of the route from San Blas via Tepic to Guadalajara (and Lake Chapala) on account of this being a major trading and smuggling route during the nineteenth century.

Wilhelm Schiess: Street in Patzcuaro (December 1899)

Wilhelm Schiess: Street in Pátzcuaro (December 1899)

While one reviewer of Schiess’ book lamented the lack of reference to any earlier writers, all agreed that the inclusion of 71 photographs, many of high quality, made the book a valuable addition to the existing literature about Mexico.

Sadly, and presumably because the book was never translated into any other language, Schiess’s work has never received very wide attention. [If any German-speaking reader has time on their hands, and wants to undertake a worthwhile project,… then get in touch!]

Schiess’s account of Mexico is interesting in its own right, but his personal story after the trip to Mexico is just as interesting.

Scheiss’s connection to a Swiss castle

In 1900, shortly after his return to Switzerland, Schiess’s aunt, Mrs. Rosina Magdalena Gemuseus, bought Spiez Castle, on Lake Thun in the Swiss canton of Bern. Parts of the castle date back to the tenth century.

On 28 July 1900, Schiess opened his medical practice – in the castle. Announcing in a local newspaper that his practice was now open at Spiez Castle, with office hours daily in the morning to 11 clock, and with a clinic for eye diseases on Tuesday and Friday mornings, Schiess practiced and lived in the castle for many years, though it is not known which living spaces were used by either his aunt, or the doctor and his wife.

The village of Spiez grew rapidly after 1900. Roads were improved and villagers added a new stone church and many new homes. In about 1906, Dr. Schiess commissioned a firm of Basel architects to build him a large home in the village, to house both his family and his medical office. In other respects, Schiess lived quite modestly, continuing to make his rounds to visit patients by bicycle. Contemporaries described Schiess as a friendly, helpful and keen doctor, who, during the terrible 1918 flu epidemic, worked tirelessly, with no breaks, for several months.

In 1907, Schiess’s aunt sold him some of the outlying castle properties, including the old church, rectory, manager’s house, cherry orchard, vineyards and an area of forest. After his aunt’s death on 3 February 1919, the castle itself passed to Schiess. However, the upkeep was costly, and Schiess soon found himself having to sell valuable objects from the castle to pay for its ongoing maintenance.

By 1922, Schiess was actively looking for potential purchasers. A group of villagers established a foundation with the idea of preserving the castle for future generations. On 1 August 1929, the Spiez Castle Foundation and Schiess agreed terms for the sale of the castle. Barely two weeks later, on 14 August 1929, Schiess died unexpectedly of heart failure.

The castle and gardens first opened to the public in June 1930. The castle rooms are now used for conferences, concerts, exhibitions and other events.

Source:

  • Alfred Stettler. 2004. “75 Jahre Stiftung Schloss Spiez: Die Anfänge” (“75 years of the Spiez Castle Foundation: The beginnings”) in Jahrbuch: vom Thuner und Brienzersee, 2004 (“Yearbook of the lakes Thun and Brienz, 2004). Uferschutzverband Thuner- und Brienzersee.

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 one, showing all of North America, at giphy.com. Sadly, it is no longer active.

The graphic covered 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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Video of Mexico in the 1930s

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Feb 082016
 

Early video of Mexico is rare, but always interesting to watch. This post features early examples of home movie footage, some of which was taken more than eighty years ago. The Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo papers, in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution, include nine short reels of film shot in Mexico between 1935 and 1941.

Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo, ca. 1930 / unidentified photographer. Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo papers, 1926-1985. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo, ca. 1930 / unidentified photographer. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Stefan Hirsch (1899-1964) and his wife Elsa Rogo (1901-1996) were artists then living in Taxco, Guerrero. The movies (no sound, and most in black and white) were clearly shot by amateur photographers, rather than professionals, but still offer a revealing glimpse into some aspects of life in Mexico in the 1930s.

The nine short reels of film show scenes from Taxco, the mid-sized former silver mining town where Hirsch and Rogo lived, and from Tehuantepec, the large market town in Oaxaca, on the southern side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Rogo developed close connections with Taxco; she started an art school there for local children in 1931. In 1937, she published a book entitled Walls and Volcanos: The Creative Impulse of the Mexican People.

The films show festival procession, dancing, markets, and people going about their daily lives. The last two of the nine films (beginning at 26:18) are very early examples of color home movies. The artistic vocation of both filmmakers is evident in the composition and subject matter.

Source:

Dec 172015
 

Is mass tourism a form of colonialism or imperialism? This, essentially, is the question thoughtfully considered by Denise Fay Brown of the University of Calgary in her article, “Tourists as colonizers in Quintana Roo, Mexico”, published in the Summer 2014 issue of The Canadian Geographer.

Map of Quintana Roo. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Map of Quintana Roo. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Brown draws on decades of personal ethnographic fieldwork related to Maya spatiality and sociospatial organization in the Yucatec Maya zone, Quintana Roo. She argues that tourists, albeit unwittingly, are increasingly able (financially and in terms of ready access) to engage with “exotic landscapes”, but that their presence in such landscapes “results in the reterritorialization of the destinations that mimics the colonial enterprise.” In particular, in Quintana Roo, she claims that “an important segment of the landscape of the Yucatec Maya people has been appropriated and reterritorialized.” (How many tourists visiting Cancún and the so-called Riviera Maya region realize that this coast was largely terra incognita fifty years ago?)

One of the classic indicators of colonialism is spatial appropriation. Maya infighting aside, the earliest attempts at spatial appropriation in Quintana Roo were by Spain during early colonial times in the early sixteenth century. Even after independence in 1821, the Yucatán Peninsula resisted integration with the rest of the (new) nation. This resistance was not only due to cultural differences, but also to the Yucatán Peninsula’s location in the periphery, a long way from the seat of power in Mexico City. Indeed, despite the massive program of railway building that helped consolidate other parts of Mexico during the late nineteenth century, a rail link from central Mexico to the Yucatán Peninsula was only finally put in place in the 1950s.

Brown makes the case that the assault on Maya territory has continued into recent times, even if, “Today, it is not the conventional notion of nation state colonialism but a much more subtle invasion brought about by the ability of tourists from richer nations to travel south.”

She makes a strong argument that the growth of tourism in the Yucatán Peninsula has been “predatory” and that foreign tourists, especially those engaging in mass tourism, are, in fact, unwitting colonizers.

Brown concludes that, “The case of Quintana Roo, Mexico illustrates how the tourist can be seen as a pawn in a larger political project. Exposure of this predatory nature of tourism reveals processes that have implications for other Native regions of the Americas and beyond that are suffering similar “invasions.””

Thinking about the extent to which tourism is just one more manifestation of colonialism adds a whole new dimension to traditional tourism studies looking at economic, social and environmental advantages and disadvantages. Brown’s argument is persuasive, and, clearly, the political and cultural impacts of tourism deserve equal consideration.

Reference:

  • Denise Fay Brown. 2014. “Tourists as colonizers in Quintana Roo, Mexico”, The Canadian Geographer, vol 57, #2, Summer 2014, pp 186-205.

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Mexico’s scenery: spectacular aerial views

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Dec 102015
 

The award-winning video team at PostandFly.com.mx continue to produce some powerfully-evocative short videos focusing on Mexico’s extraordinary scenery.

Many of the individual clips in this video were filmed in Baja California Sur, with occasional forays into Chihuahua and central and southern Mexico:

For those that like to match names with places (that’s what makes you a geographer, right?), here is the list of places in order of their appearance in the video, with a few clues to act as “landmarks” along the way:

1Bacalar, Quintana Roo21Puerta del Cielo, Queretaro
2Isla Partida, Baja California Sur22Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
3Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur23Playa Escondida, Nayarit
4Isla San José, Baja California Sur24Acapulco, Guerrero
5Bacalar, Quintana Roo25Isla San Francisquito, Baja California Sur
6San Ignacio, Baja California Sur26Isla Partida, Baja California Sur
7El Cielo, Tamaulipas27Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]
8Isla Partida, Baja California Sur28Xicotepec, Puebla
9Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]29Caleta y Caletilla, Acapulco, Guerrero
10Isla Coronado, Baja California Sur30Islas Marietas, Nayarit
11Isla Partida, Baja California Sur31Angel de la Independencia, Mexico City
12Basaseachi, Chihuahua [waterfall]32Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
13Punta Colorada, Baja California Sur33Estrella de Puebla, Puebla
14Bacalar, Quintana Roo34Guadalajara, Jalisco
15Cholula, Puebla [church on hill]35Arco, Los Cabos, Baja California Sur [marine arch]
16Laguna ojo de liebre, Baja California Sur36Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala
17Laguna ojo de liebre, Baja California Sur37Taxco, Guerrero
18Loreto, Baja California Sur38Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur
19Loreto, Baja California Sur39La Paz, Baja California Sur
20Tequila, Jalisco [railway track at 1:49]40Isla San Francisquito, Baja California Sur

Want to learn more about some of these places? Before resorting to Sr. Google, try our site search function.

Enjoy!

Other video resources on this site:

Will UNESCO give World Heritage status to Lake Chapala?

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Sep 072015
 

We don’t often champion causes in these pages, but are more than willing to lend our support to a campaign hoping to persuade UNESCO to declare Lake Chapala a “World Heritage” site. The campaign appears to have stalled, and deserves more support.

The following 6-minute video (English subtitles) from 2008 sets the scene for those unfamiliar with the area:

Where is Lake Chapala?

Map of Lake Chapala

Map of Lake Chapala. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

Why should Lake Chapala be declared a World Heritage site?

Natural history: it is Mexico’s largest natural lake and home to some unique endemic fauna.

Cultural and historic significance: it is a sacred site for the indigenous Huichol Indian people. Specifically, the southernmost “cardinal point” in their cosmology is XapaWiyemeta, which is Scorpion Island (Isla de los Alacranes) in Lake Chapala.

In the nineteenth century, as Mexico fought for its independence from Spain, Lake Chapala was the scene of a truly heroic struggle, centered on Mezcala Island, between the Royalist forces and a determined group of insurgents. It proved to be a landmark event, since after four years of fighting, an honorable truce was agreed.

At the very end of the nineteenth century, influential families from Mexico and from overseas “discovered” Lake Chapala. For several years, Mexico’s then president, Porfirio Díaz, made annual trips to vacation at the lake. As the twentieth century progressed, the area attracted increasing numbers of authors, poets and artists, many of them from abroad, including such greats as D.H. Lawrence, Tennessee Williams, Witter Bynner, Charles Pollock and Sylvia Fein. (To discover more of the literary and artistic characters associated with Lake Chapala, please see this on-going series of mini-biographies.)

Today, it is the single largest retirement community of Americans anywhere outside of the USA.

Is this enough to qualify Lake Chapala for World Heritage status? I don’t know, but it certainly seems worth a shot!

Posts related to Lake Chapala:

Tourism in the Lake Chapala (Ajijic, Chapala, Jocotepec) and the Lerma-Chapala basin:

Want to read more?

For general introduction and background to this area, see the first eight chapters of my Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury (4th ed, 2013). In the words of Dale Palfrey, reviewing the book for the Guadalajara Reporter, “First published in 1993, the revised and expanded fourth edition of “Western Mexico”… opens with what qualifies as the most comprehensive guide to the Lake Chapala region available in English.“

For a more in-depth account of the history of the Lake Chapala region up to 1910, see my Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travelers’ tales. It features informative extracts from more than fifty original sources, linked by explanatory text and comments, together with brief biographies of the writers of each extract. They include some truly fascinating characters… see for yourself!

Both books are available as regular print books, or in Kindle and Kobo editions.

The geography of the Spanish language: how important is Spanish around the world?

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Aug 242015
 

The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, behind English but ahead of Mandarin.

Spanish is the third most widely used language on the internet (graph), although less than 8% of total internet traffic takes place in Spanish. Spanish is the second most used language on Facebook, a long way behind English but well ahead of Portuguese.

Languages used on the Internet (2015). Source: Internet World Stats

Languages used on the Internet (2015). Source: Internet World Stats

According to El español, una lengua viva – Spanish, a living language, a report from the Instituto Cervantes in Spain (which promotes the Spanish language abroad via language classes and cultural events) there are about 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide. This figure includes 470 million native speakers and an additional 89 million who have some command of the language.

While Mexico remains the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country, with about 121 million Spanish speakers, second place belongs to the USA, followed by Colombia. The USA has an estimated 41 million native speakers of Spanish plus 11 million who are bilingual; Colombia has 48 million Spanish-speakers.

In terms of economic importance, the report’s authors calculate that Spanish speakers contribute 9.2% of the world’s GDP. About two-thirds of Spanish-linked GDP is generated in North America (USA, Canada and Mexico) and the European Union, while Latin America (excluding Mexico) accounts for 22%.

The main concentrations of Spanish speakers in the USA are in the states of New Mexico (47% of the population), California and Texas (both 38%), and Arizona (30%). 18% of New Yorkers speak Spanish and, somewhat surprisingly, more than 6% of Alaskans are also Spanish speakers. Interestingly, the US Census Office estimates that by 2050, the USA will have 138 million Spanish speakers and could then overtake Mexico as the largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world. This assumes that current predictions for Mexico’s population increase over the next 35 years hold true.

Want to learn more?

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Aug 132015
 

Like many of our readers, we love looking at maps. It is always interesting to study maps compiled by cartographers working in different countries and different languages. It can also be a great way to learn some new words and phrases in a foreign language.

world-atlas-spanish

This latest resource is therefore well worth recommending. It is an outstanding Spanish language World Atlas, accessible online as a series of three pdf files:

The lavishly illustrated atlas was prepared by experts from the Geography Institute of Mexico’s National University (UNAM). It is aimed at high school students and the maps are complemented by carefully selected info-graphics and informative text.

Exploring these maps is a great way for native English speakers to improve their Spanish language geographic vocabulary!

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Jul 092015
 

The Jalisco state government has released an informative 5-minute video highlighting some of the reasons why Jalisco is one of the best locations in Mexico for farming, business and tourism.

The video can be viewed on Facebook: Esto es Jalisco. This is Jalisco.

Following opening shots showing some of the diverse landscapes of the state, including the Piedrotas at Tapalpa, the majestic Volcán de Colima (whose summit is actually in Jalisco, not Colima) and the Horseshoe Falls near the Dr. Atl park on the northern edge of Guadalajara, the video’s subtitles (in English) turn to techno0logy and innovation. Jalisco is the first state in Mexico to have a Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology. The state capitol Guadalajara is the center for MIND (Mexican Innovation and Design Center) and was chosen by MIT for the establishment of a Creative Digital City.

Map of Jalisco state

Map of Jalisco. Copyright 2010 Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

The city also has major cultural and sporting attractions, from libraries to golf courses to hosting international events in the Expo Guadalajara to concerts and its own international film festival. It also hosts the world’s second largest book fair (after Hamburg). Its industrial activity ranges from agro-processing (including tequila) to pharmaceuticals, information technology, automotive and aerospace firms to renewable energy enterprises.

Foreign investment in Jalisco has risen by an average of 17% a year for the past decade, with foreign firms finding the state’s geographic position advantageous for serving central Mexico and with excellent trade links to Asia and the U.S.

The state’s leading coastal resort is Puerto Vallarta, but tourism is also important in the state’s interior. Jalisco has five places with Magic Town status: Lagos de Moreno, San  Sebastian del Oeste, Tapalpa, Mazamitla and Tequila.

Jalisco currently accounts for 6.6% of national GDP and the state government clearly expects this contribution to grow in coming years. This professionally-produced video is an excellent visual introduction to one of Mexico’s most important states.

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Mexico’s webcams

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Jun 292015
 

There are thousands of webcams operating in Mexico offering armchair geographers the opportunity to see up-to-date images of active volcanoes, megacities, archaeological sties, small towns and tourist resorts.

Many of the major webcams are listed at Webcams de México, which has several great features once you’ve chosen a particular webcam, including access to prior images for any date and time, or the ability to compile an instant time-lapse video covering any period of time.

Links to webcams listed at Webcams de México:

Explore Mexico via its webcams! Enjoy!

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The River Santiago and the Juanacatlan Falls: from the “Niagara of Mexico” to the “Silent River”

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Jun 112015
 

In summer 1987, while living in Guadalajara, I entertained a fellow UK geographer, who arrived with a long list of places he wanted to visit. Over the next few weeks, we ticked them off one by one. Near the end of his visit, he asked why I hadn’t yet taken him to see the famous Juanacatlán Falls, the “Niagara of Mexico”, despite them being in his “top ten” places to see. “OK”, I said, “let’s go!”

Traffic was heavy and as we drove across Guadalajara, I could see his impatience building. Finally, he asked me, “Where are they? How close are we?” I replied that we were “fairly close” but that I was absolutely certain that he would recognize them before they came into sight. A few minutes later and he screwed up his nose and said, “Ughh. What’s that smell?” “See?”, I said triumphantly, “I knew you’d recognize them before you saw them!”

Juanacatlán Falls in 1989. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Juanacatlán Falls in 1989. Photo: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Even thirty years ago, long before NAFTA, the Juanacatlán Falls were a sorry sight (and source of a worse smell). Since then, and since NAFTA, they have only become worse. These once-majestic falls, the first Mexican landscape on a postage stamp back in 1899, have been reduced to a trickle of foul-smelling effluent. At the start of the twentieth century, the falls provided hydro-electric power for Guadalajara and turned the wheels of a cotton and woolen mill, the ruins of which now stand to one side.

A recent piece of investigative journalism about the River Santiago, the river which created these waterfalls, makes for disturbing reading. It provides plenty of evidence that the rapid increase in factories along the river, mainly post-NAFTA, may have provided 50,000 new jobs, but has also led to worsening water quality to the point where exposure to the river presents a serious public health risk.

In “River of Death“, Steve Fisher lays bare the terrible reality faced by those living and working close to the river. This is a harrowing tale, with heart-rending testimony from several local residents. On a positive note, the related video, Fusion Investigates: Silent River (below) describes how Sofía Enciso and her family have defied death threats and are determined to confront the factories responsible, while demanding that the relevant authorities take action to enforce federal water quality regulations, and start to clean up the river.

Perhaps the most telling single statistic is that precisely zero companies were fined for failing to comply with water discharge regulations between 2005 and 2011.

In the video, the mayor of El Salto, the main town near the Juanacatlán Falls, claims that the river has become polluted in the past thirty years. I guess he must be too young to remember that they were seriously polluted long before that.

Is it too much to hope that the government, corporations and society in the El Salto area can all come together to remedy this appalling tale of willful mismanagement? Local residents are right to insist on the enforcement of existing water quality regulations and on the implementation of remedial measures to reverse the decline of this major river and its once-famous waterfalls. Even more importantly, urgent measures are needed to reverse the deteriorating public health situation faced by all those living or working nearby.

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Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change: Angangueo, Mexico

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Jun 042015
 

In 2015, the USGS published a series of satellite images of environmental change [no longer online] of the area around the town of Angangueo in the eastern part of the state of Michoacán (very close to the border with the State of México) and the mountainous hillsides covered in pine-fir forest where the migrating Monarch butterflies spend their winters.

The pine-fir forests are found at an elevation of around 3000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. The butterflies congregate in a small number of locations, forming massive clumps on the trees. Any major disturbance, such as a windstorm or excessive snow, can cause the loss of (literally) millions of Monarchs. The overwintering Monarchs need just the right range of temperatures. On the one hand, they must not be so cold that they freeze or are not warm enough to flutter in search of food and water. On the other hand, if it is too warm, they may burn through their energy reserves or need to replenish too much moisture. The canopy of the pine-fir forest provides some protection, but even a partial thinning of this canopy will change the microclimate beneath.

In this post, we will will take a quick look at the images of Chincua reserve. This reserve includes the location where overwintering congregations of Monarch butterflies were reported for the first time in the mid-1970s. This is one of the areas where conservationists fear that the pine-fir forest (appearing vibrant red in the images) may have suffered too much clearing and thinning, which may have altered the area’s microclimate and made it unsuitable for successful overwintering.

When looking at the images, bear in mind that:

    • Red signifies healthy vegetation.
    • Landsat images are always taken in mid-morning, so shaded northwest slopes look darker. Shadows can vary slightly from one month to the next.
    • The images show forest clearance, but do not reveal forest thinning. The consequences of forest thinning (the removal of individual trees) may be just as significant in the context of the annual Monarch butterfly migration.
Satellite images of Chincua reserve, 1986, 2000 and 2011.

Satellite images of Chincua reserve, 1986, 2000 and 2011. Click to enlarge.

In the 2000 image, the Chincua reserve shows some rashy gray areas just above and to the right of the center of the image. These gray areas are not visible on the 1986 image. This may be evidence of a fire, or some other kind of clearing. The 2011 image seems to indicate that the vegetation in that area has recovered, at least to some extent.

A truly detailed examination of these images is beyond the scope of this short post, but high-resolution images (which can be downloaded from the USGS site) will repay a closer study. See, for example, the satellite images of Pelon.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the Monarch as a species is not endangered. There is, indeed, a year-round population of Monarchs in central and western Mexico that is non-migratory owing to the ready availability of milkweed, the only plant on which female Monarchs lay their eggs, throughout the year. It is only the butterfly migration that is considered an “endangered phenomenon”, and all three countries involved (Canada, USA and Mexico) have now instituted programs to try to ensure its long-term success.

Satellite monitoring of the areas of importance to the Monarch butterfly should help identify the key areas on which conservation efforts need to be focused.

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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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Ground subsidence in Mexican cities

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May 112015
 

The sinking of parts of Mexico City into the former lake bed on which much of it is built is well documented, but to what extent does subsidence also affect other Mexican cities?

Estell Chaussard and her co-authors considered this question in their article entitled “Magnitude and extent of land subsidence in central Mexico revealed by regional InSAR ALOS time-series survey.” Subsidence, often resulting from over-depletion of ground water, has a range of human impacts, including decreased supply of safe water, an increase in flood risk, and a greater hazard threat from building or street failure.

In their time-series analysis of more than 600 Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) images of central Mexico, the authors found evidence of significant subsidence in seventeen cities, including sixteen cities with a population of 100,000 inhabitants or more. The cities affected (with their population in parentheses) are listed here from east to west:

  • Puebla (2,500,000)
  • Mexico City (21,000,000)
  • Toluca (427,000)
  • Querétaro (825,000)
  • San Luis de la Paz (101,000)
  • Celaya (266,000)
  • San Luis Potosí (936,000)
  • Morelia (537,000)
  • Salamanca (144,000)
  • Irapuato (317,000)
  • Silao (147,000)
  • León (1,400,000)
  • Aguascalientes (735,000)
  • Zamora (186,000)
  • Guadalajara (3,800,000)
  • Ahuacatlán (6,500)
  • Tepic (261,000)

Their analysis suggested that the rates of subsidence over a two-year period were nearly constant at most locations, typically between 5 and 10 cm/yr. (In contrast, subsidence in Mexico City was around 30 cm/yr, in line with previous studies.)

ground-fissures

Ground failure by groundwater withdrawal subsidence. Credit: Natural Science, Vol. 6, No 3, 2014.

An earlier study – Subsidence risk due to groundwater extraction in urban areas using fractal analysis of satellite images – had found that the intense groundwater pumping regime in Irapuato for urban supply and agriculture (the area is one of Mexico’s main strawberry-growing centers) had resulted in 18 subsidence fault systems with a total length of 27 km, causing damages to more than 200 houses.

Meanwhile, previous work in nearby Celaya – Subsidence in Celaya, Guanajuato, Central Mexico: implications for groundwater extraction and the neotectonic regime – found that subsidence in that city was due to a complex combination of factors, and not entirely due to excessive groundwater extraction. Most earth fissures in the Celaya area were related to pre-existing structural features, and the authors suggested that thermal springs also appeared to play a role.

References:

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May 042015
 

The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, by Paul Alexander Bartlett, first published in 1990 and now available as a free Gutenburg pdf or Epub, is a great starting point for anyone interested in the history, economics, art and architecture of the hundreds of colonial haciendas which still grace Mexico’s rural areas. Bartlett made one of the earliest artistic records of more than 350 of these haciendas, dragging his family around the country for years as he obsessively explored lesser-known places. The photographs and pen and ink illustrations in his outstanding book were made on site from 1943 to 1985.

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bartlett-hacienda-1

Pen-and-ink drawing of Hacienda de Teya, Yucatán, by Paul Bartlett.

Bartlett’s hacienda art work has been displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, the New York City Public Library, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas, the Instituto Mexicano-Norteamericano in Mexico City, and at the Bancroft Library, among other places.

Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990) attended Oberlin College and the University of Arizona, before studying art at the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and in Guadalajara. He was an instructor in creative writing at Georgia State College, Editor of Publications at the University of California Santa Barbara (1964-70) and wrote dozens of short stories and poems. His books include the short novel Adios, mi México (1983), and the novel When the Owl Cries (1960).

Writing must run in the family. Bartlett’s wife was the well-known poet and writer Elizabeth Bartlett (1911-1994). The couple met in Guadalajara in 1941 and married two years later in Sayula. Their son Steven James Bartlett is a widely published author in the fields of psychology and philosophy.

In the foreward to The Haciendas of Mexico: An Artist’s Record, novelist James Michener writes that:

I first became aware of the high artistic merit of Paul Bartlett’s work on the classic haciendas of Old Mexico when I came upon an exhibition in Texas in 1968. His drawings, sketches, and photographs evoked so effectively the historic buildings I had known when working in Mexico that I wrote to the architect-artist to inform him of my pleasure.”

Gisela von Wobeser observes, in her introduction, that,

When Bartlett began his hacienda visits in the 1940s, he found many of the hacienda buildings in ruins, exposed to the ravages of time and vandalism. Buildings had been converted into chicken coops, pigsties, public apartments, and machine shops. Others served as sources for construction materials, from which were scavenged rocks, bricks, beams, and tiles for the habitations of the local population. In some cases the destruction was total: All the hacienda’s structures were removed, and only the name of the place alluded to the fact that a hacienda had ever existed there.

At other haciendas, buildings were adapted to new uses. They were transformed into hotels, resorts, government buildings, barracks, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. The exterior of the buildings were generally left intact; interiors were completely changed.

The best—preserved hacienda buildings were those that continued to function as country properties or vacation homes. In these, Bartlett often found furnishings and utensils from the epoch of Don Porfirio, surrounded by the old traditions of Mexican country life.”

von Wobeser makes the useful distinction between three types of hacienda: those where grains were the main output, those specializing in cattle-rearing, and those for sugar-cane cultivation and processing.

The book describes haciendas in almost every state of the Republic. A handy map and list are provided of which haciendas are located in each state. There are more than 100 pen-and-ink illustrations and photographs in total in the book, which is arranged in seven chapters:

  1. The Hacienda System
  2. Through the Eyes of Hacienda Visitors
  3. Hacienda Life
  4. Fiestas
  5. Education
  6. The Revolution
  7. Mexico Since the Revolution

The accompanying text, written from a non-specialist perspective, is always lively, informative and interesting. The style of illustrations is varied, in keeping with the immense variety of haciendas that the author explored and sketched.

bartlett-hacienda-zapotitan

Pen-and-ink drawing by Paul Bartlett of Hacienda de Zapotitán, Jalisco

Coincidentally, the hacienda of Zapotitán in Jalisco (see illustration above), located close to Jocotepec and Lake Chapala, is the first hacienda to be featured in the on-going series of articles by modern-day hacienda explorer Jim Cook. Jim spends countless hours researching old haciendas, and regularly goes exploring with friends to see what is left on the ground today. His descriptions and photographs are easily the best contemporary accounts of the haciendas in western Mexico.

All in all, this is a really useful addition to the literature about Mexico’s haciendas, one guaranteed to answer many of the questions and doubts that visitors to Mexico often express about just how haciendas functioned and what working and living conditions were like, both for the owner’s family and the workers.

An archive of Bartlett’s original pen-and-ink illustrations and several hundred photographs is held in the Benson Latin American Collection of the University of Texas in Austin. A second collection of hacienda photographs and other materials is maintained by the Western History Research Center of the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Want to visit some haciendas?

Chapter 9 of my Western Mexico, A Traveler’s Treasury (2013) focuses on the “Hacienda Route” to the south and west of Guadalajara, with an itinerary that includes visiting several haciendas within easy reach of the city.

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Author David Lida on Mexico City’s transportation systems

 Books and resources, Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Author David Lida on Mexico City’s transportation systems
Apr 272015
 

David Lida is a well-known and highly respected author who has lived in Mexico City (on and off) for over twenty years. His books include First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, Capital of the 21st Century and the short-story collection Travel Advisory: Stories of Mexico. He also blogs about Mexico City:

lida-bookHis article a few months back in the Guardian about life in Mexico City – An urbanist’s guide to Mexico City: ‘Transport is an adventure and often a nightmare” – is an informative account of his love-hate relationship with the city. The following short extracts from his article, relating to the geography of the city, should sharpen your appetite to read more:

“The greater metropolitan area of Mexico City is home to about 22 million people (known as chilangos) and is laid out over about 600 square miles…. The most recent study, from 2007, says that it takes chilangos an average of an hour and 17 minutes to get from one place to another.”

“Half of the working population toils in the informal economy – parking cars, cleaning houses, packing groceries, selling things on the street. The middle class is squeezed month by month rather than daily, while perhaps 10% has a jolly time with plenty of discretionary income. According to Forbes, Mexico’s elite upper class is made up of 1.7% of the population.”

“Although it is not comprehensive, and the stations are spaced further apart than they are in some other places, if your destination is on the route the metro is the fastest, cheapest and best way to get around Mexico City…. Taxis are abundant and cheap, and depending on your route, can also be quick. As in any big city, you want to avoid getting stuck in rush-hour traffic whenever possible.”

“Bicycling has definitely become more popular in the city, but because of the way people drive cars, I think it is a terrifying prospect.”

“What I believe we are seeing here is a worldwide phenomenon in which the well-to-do are getting sick and tired of long commutes from gated communities on the outskirts and want to move closer to the centre. Many of the poor will probably end up being shunted further and further away from where they have to work.”

“In greater Mexico City there are about 85,000 streets and 5,000 neighbourhoods. Of those streets, about 850 are called Juárez, 750 are named Hidalgo, and 700 are known as Morelos. Two hundred are called 16 de Septiembre, while 100 more are called 16 de Septiembre Avenue, Alley, Mews or Extension…. Like London’s A to Z or Michelin’s Paris Plan, there is a street map in book form here called the Guía Roji, which weighs in at over 150 two-sided pages of maps. If you only own one book while you live here, better make it the Guía Roji.”

Extracts come from David Lida’s – An urbanist’s guide to Mexico City: ‘Transport is an adventure and often a nightmare”. Enjoy!

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Many of Mexico’s archaeological sites now on Google Street View

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Apr 132015
 

An agreement between the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) and Google means that many of Mexico’s most famous archaeological sites can now be explored using Google’s Street View. Perfect for the armchair traveler!

The system allows for viewers to rotate street level views the full 360 degrees horizontally, and 290 degrees vertically to take a “virtual walk” through such major sites as Teotihuacan, Xochicalco, Monte Albán, Chichén Itzá, Tulum, Palenque, Tula and Paquimé.

Sites included in INAH/Google system

Sites included in INAH/Google system

Google’s images were captured by specially-designed equipment on bicycles that could navigate the paths and ruins without causing damage to the ancient structures.

Google Street Views can be accessed via either Google Earth or Google Maps.

The INAH/Google system includes the following sites in the Maya World region (Mundo Maya):

Dzibilchaltún
Uxmal (Street view) – Uxmal (article)
Kabah
Ek Balam
Chichén Itzá (Street view) – Chichén Itzá (article)
Kohunlich
Dzibanché
Chacchoben
Tulum (Street view) – Tulum (article)
El Rey
El Meco
Cobá
Becán
Palenque (Street view) – Palenque (article)
Bonampak
Comalcalco (Street view) – Comalcalco (article)

It also includes these noteworthy sites in other parts of Mexico:

Teotihuacan  (Street view) – Teotihuacan (article)
Xochicalco (Street view) – Xochicalco (article)
Monte Albán (Street view) – Monte Albán (article)
Mitla (Street view) – Mitla (article)
Yagul (Street view) – Yagul (article)
Peralta
Plazuelas
Tzintzuntzan (Street view) – Tzintzuntzan (article)
Tajín
Paquimé (Street view) – Paquimé (article)
Cuicuilco
Cholula, Puebla (Street view) – Cholula (article)
Xochitécatla
Tula

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Apr 092015
 

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has published its Mexico Peace Index. The following excerpts come from the Executive Summary of the Mexico Peace Index Report 2015:

The Mexico Peace Index provides a comprehensive measure of peacefulness in Mexico from 2003 to 2014. The 2015 report aims to deepen the understanding of the trends, patterns and drivers of peace in Mexico while highlighting the important economic benefits that will flow from a more peaceful society.

Mexico Peace Index, 2015

Mexico Peace Index, 2015. Credit: Institute for Economics and Peace.

The map above shows the relative values of the MPI by state, where dark blue means the most peaceful states and dark red the least peaceful (most violent) states.

Improvement since 2012

According to the report, Mexico’s peace has improved 10.5% since 2012, continuing the trend from 2011; however, 2014 saw very little improvement, improving only 0.7%. It is too early to determine whether this is a new trend. Mexico’s level of peace in 2014 approached 2007 levels, when homicide and violent crime began to increase rapidly.

The MPI indicators registering the largest improvements in the last two years were the homicide rate, which fell by 30%, and the level of organized crime, which improved by 25%. All three measures in the organized crime indicator (extortion, kidnapping and narcotics offenses) improved. There was also a significant reduction in the violent crime rate, which fell by 12%.

Furthermore, the recorded increase in peacefulness was widespread. In the last two years, 26 out of the 32 states saw improvements in peacefulness, with all of them recording reductions in the violent crime rate and 23 states recording reductions in the homicide rate. The biggest improvements were recorded in the least peaceful states; contrary to the overall trend, the most peaceful states became slightly less peaceful. These diverging trends resulted in a substantial narrowing of the gap between the least peaceful and the most peaceful states.

In contrast, during the same two-year period, weapons crime increased significantly and was up by 11%. The three other indicators that make up the MPI (justice efficiency, incarceration and police funding) have plateaued or slightly deteriorated and are now at record highs.

The justice efficiency indicator continued to decline, which is very concerning, with the number of homicides relative to the number of prosecutions doubling from 1.45 in 2006 to 3.43 in 2013. The justice efficiency indicator measures the ratio of homicide convictions to homicides in a given year and is used as a proxy for impunity.

Additionally, the rate at which people were sentenced to prison fell from 210 per 100,000 people to 104 from 2003 to 2014. Combined with the deterioration in the justice efficiency indicator, this is a troubling trend that highlights the urgent need to fully implement the current justice reforms.

It should be noted that the declines in homicides and gang-related violence do not necessarily mean that criminal organizations are less powerful; they may have become more circumspect in their activities. This reflects a paradox in Mexico: while indicators of peacefulness have greatly improved in the last four years, many Mexicans still report high perceptions of criminality. Additionally, officially recorded rates of homicide and violent crime are still very high by global standards.

Under-reporting of violent crime and other criminal activities is a serious issue in Mexico, with IEP estimating that rape is reported only eight percent of the time and assault only 23%. To create a more accurate index, IEP has adjusted all indicators for under-reporting rates.

For many, these concerns create doubt about the reliability of criminal justice statistics. To determine the veracity of the official data, IEP compared various alternative datasets and victimization surveys against the official data. The results tend to support the trend towards higher levels of peace, but with some qualifications.

Main findings of the Mexico Peace Index 2015

  • Mexico has experienced a large decrease in violence since 2011, with the national level of peace improving by 16%.
  • Progress in peace plateaued last year; it is too early to determine if this is the start of a new trend.
  • The level of peace as measured by the 2015 MPI is still 18% lower than in 2003.
  • The most peaceful state in Mexico is Hidalgo, followed by Yucatán, Querétaro, Campeche, Tlaxcala and Chiapas.
  • Of the 76 largest metropolitan areas of Mexico, the most peaceful is Orizaba in Veracruz, and the least peaceful is Culiacán in Sinaloa.
  • The eastern region remains the most peaceful in Mexico, while the northern region is still the most violent, although the gap between the north and the other regions is now at its lowest point since 2004.

Trends in Peace

Peace improved in the majority of states in Mexico in the last two years, with 26 out of 32 states improving. The largest improvements were in the northern region, which improved 17.8%. The gap in the levels of peace between the least and most peaceful states is now at its lowest point since 2006.

Over the last two years, the largest decreases in violence have been in the homicide rate, which fell almost 30%, and the level of organized crime, which fell by 25%.

The only indicator that recorded a significant deterioration in the last two years is weapons crime, which increased by 11%. The police funding indicator and the justice efficiency indicator recorded very slight deteriorations, reaching their worst levels in 2014.

The fall in the homicide rate is mainly due to a reduction in homicides related to organized crime, as the biggest reductions were recorded in the states with the worst levels of drug cartel activity.

While there is some doubt about the accuracy of government crime statistics, multiple data sources do support a decline in the homicide rate over the last two years. This strongly suggests the progress in peace is real.

On an international comparison, Mexico fell 45 places in the Global Peace Index between 2008 and 2013. It remains the least peaceful country in Central America and the Caribbean.

Economic Value of Peace in Mexico

The total economic impact of violence in Mexico in 2014 is estimated to be $3 trillion pesos or US$233 billion, equivalent to 17.3% of GDP. This represents $24,844 pesos, or almost US$1,946, per citizen. This is a 16.7% decrease from 2012, when the total economic impact of violence in Mexico was $3.57 trillion pesos.

The states with the highest per capita economic impact from violence are Guerrero, Morelos, Baja California and Tamaulipas, with the economic impact in Guerrero at $43,666 pesos/person. If the 16 least peaceful states in 2003 had experienced the same economic growth as the 16 most peaceful states in 2003, then the Mexican economy in 2014 would be $140 billion pesos or 13% larger.

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Mar 302015
 

In a departure from our usual style, this post considers some of the more striking gifts available on the web that would surely please any Geo-Mexico fanatic. (Sadly, we do not receive any commission or recompense for making these recommendations, though we are always open to offers!)

First up is this framed, 5″ x 7″ stainless steel laser-cut map street map of Guadalajara:

Stainless steel, laser-cut map of Guadalajara

Stainless steel, laser-cut map of Guadalajara

Next is this stunning Mexico City Map, by modern artist Jazzberry Blue, reproduced as a Giclée Fine Art Print:

Mexico City street map by Jazzberry Blue

Mexico City street map by Jazzberry Blue

This map is available in four sizes, 13″x13″ (includes a 1″white  border); 17″x17″ (includes a 2″ border); 22″x22″ (includes a 2″ border); and 28″x28″ (includes a 2″ border). There is a similar, though less colorful, map of Guadalajara.

Alternatively, how about this Mexico typography map?

Mexico typography map

Mexico typography map

This more conventional Landform Map of Mexico, drawn by Erwin Raisz, is an absolute classic. Erwin J. Raisz (1893-1968) was an internationally renowned cartographer. The map is a hand drawn, pen and ink map, based on field observations and aerial photography.

raisz-map-mexicoThis incredibly detailed map is a bargain at $12 plus shipping, but is 28″ by 41″ in size and will cost you several times that to frame.

The online gifts site Etsy has many other arts and crafts maps related to Mexico. Which is your favorite?

Mar 122015
 

If you really want to learn more about Mexico’s economy and have a few hours to spare, then the free, open, online video course entitled Mexico’s Economy: Current Prospects and History by MRUniversity is the place to go. The lead instructor is Dr. Robin Grier of the University of Oklahoma. In a series of 51 short videos, she provides an outstanding analysis of Mexico’s economic history and current economic issues.

The course summary reads:

Is Mexico the most dynamic economy in Latin America?  After some tough times in the 1980s and 90s, Mexico has emerged as one of the economic leaders of the region.  Where does it stand among other emerging markets and what are its prospects for the future? In this four-week course, we will study the modern Mexican economy, some of the unique elements of development in a one-party, authoritarian regime, and some of the challenges the country faced in getting to this point.

No prior knowledge of economics (or of Mexico’s geography) is needed to follow the clear and concise min-lectures given by Dr. Grier, though many of her main lines of inquiry will be more than familiar to readers of Geo-Mexico.

There is lots of interesting material in these videos. For example, a short lecture under “Social Issues” entitled “Is There A Height Premium in Mexico?” looks at the evidence that taller people in Mexico earn more and have better economic opportunities than shorter Mexicans, before concluding that “each centimeter of height above the average is equivalent to 2% higher wages”. (Note: This video is a great follow-up to our April 2013 post, How tall is the average Mexican?)

The full list of videos in Mexico’s Economy: Current Prospects and History is

  • 1 An Overview of the Mexican Economy
    • Achievements
    • Challenges & prospects for reform
  • 2 Colonial Legacies: Obstacles to Growth after Independence
    • A reversal of fortune
    • Colonial Transportation Part I
    • Colonial Transportation Part II
    • Political Instability After Independence
    • The Economic Effects of the War of Independence
    • Transportation & Infrastructure in the 19th century
    • Slow Financial Development in Early Mexico
    • Law and Economic Development in Early Mexico
  • 3 Development Strategies
    • State-led development: an overview from 1917-1982
    • Commodity Driven Growth before the 1930s
    • Turning Inward: Industrial Policy after the Great Depression
    • Labor Unions and the PRI until democratization
    • What is a maquiladora?    An overview of Pemex
    • The problems of Pemex
    • Pemex’s poor performance
  • 4 Social Issues
    • Fertility and Demographic Change in Mexico
    • Is There A Height Premium in Mexico?
    • Conditional Cash Transfers
    • Migration and its Wage Effects in the US
    • Migration and Remittances
    • Economics of the Drug War
    • Finance, Law & Trust (Mexico)
    • Education Quality in Mexico
    • Education Inequality in Mexico
    • Why is Teaching Quality so Low?
  • 5 Land & Agriculture
    • Land Reform in an Authoritarian State
    • The Economic Life of the Tortilla
    • A Tomato Border Crossing
    • Watermelon Scale Economies
  • 6 The Debt Crisis of the 1980s
    • External Factors of the Debt Crisis
    • Domestic Factors of the Debt Crisis
    • Resolving the Debt Crisis
  • 7 The State Retreats: Reform in the 1980s & 1990s
    • External Factors Behind Reform
    • Privatization Part I: The state loosens its grip
    • Privatization Part 1a: Charges of Cronyism and Corruption
    • Privatization 2: Dealing with the Opposition
    • Privatization 3: Results
  • 8 The Peso Crisis
    • The Mexican Miracle? The Lead-Up to the Tequila Crisis
    • Tequila crisis
  • 9 NAFTA & the Mexican Economy
    • An Introduction to NAFTA
    • The effects of NAFTA on the Mexican economy
    • NAFTA and Mexican Agriculture
    • FDI & NAFTA
  • 10 Modern Mexico
    • Mexico & the Brics
    • Is Mexico the new China?
    • La Reconquista: Mexican direct investment in the US
    • Mexico as an open economy
    • Mexico and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis

The course is an outstanding resource for teachers and students of geography and economics, and worthy of wide use in a range of high-school A-level and IB courses as well as college and university programs.

Where are the mining concessions in Mexico?

 Books and resources  Comments Off on Where are the mining concessions in Mexico?
Feb 022015
 

A series of graphics prepared by Mexico City daily El Universal includes a map showing the details of all the mining concessions in Mexico. According to the newspaper’s analysis, one fifth of Mexico’s total land area is subject to mining concessions belonging to one company or another.

The six companies holding the largest areas of concessions are:

  • Altos Hornos de México (364 concessions totaling 3208 hectares)
  • Fresnillo PLC (1009; 1953)
  • Industrias Peñoles (922; 953)
  • Minera Fresco (779; 889)
  • Cascabel (116; 749)
  • and Grupo México (711; 607).

The map is probably the single most interesting graphic in the series. Zooming in (top left of map) allows the details of each concession to be viewed, including the concession holder, size of concession, minerals involved and whether or not the concession is “active”. Is there a mining concession near you? You might be surprised. Even in an area of Mexico that I have known intimately for many years, there are two concessions that I have never previously heard of!

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The Codex Mendoza, a key resource about Aztec times, can now be viewed online

 Books and resources  Comments Off on The Codex Mendoza, a key resource about Aztec times, can now be viewed online
Jan 192015
 

The Codex Mendoza, which we have referred to in several previous posts, can now be viewed via an amazing online interactive resource organized by INAH, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, in association with Oxford’s Bodleian Library and King’s College, London.

Compiled in 1542, and richly illustrated, the Codex Mendoza is one of the key primary sources from Aztec times. It was completed at the instigation of Spanish viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and provides exquisite details about Aztec history, the expansion of their “empire” and the territorial tributes that they received from every quarter of their dominions. The Codex also chronicles daily life and social dynamics.

Tribute page from the Codex Mendoza

Tribute page from the Codex Mendoza

The interactive online version has images of the entire document and allows viewers to mouse-over the original text for translations into English or modern Spanish. Clicking on individual images offers more detailed explanations and information.

The digital codex can be viewed online, or downloaded through Apple’s App Store as a 1.02-gigabyte app.

The original Codex Mendoza resides in the library of Oxford University.  (The ship carrying it from New Spain (Mexico) back to Spain in colonial times was attacked by French buccaneers. The booty was subsequently divided up, with the Codex eventually reaching the university library.)

The online Codex Mendoza is  a truly amazing resource. Hopefully, some of the other Mexican codices that currently reside in Europe, too also be “virtually repatriated” in the near future, making it much easier for Mexican scholars to consult them.

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