Jan 162021
 

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.

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.

Mar 242016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The evolution of Mexico as a nation

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Feb 182016
 

What better way to describe Mexico’s territorial evolution as a nation than via an animated graphic? Fortunately, we didn’t have to do the work ourselves, but found 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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Federal District is renamed Mexico City

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Feb 012016
 

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

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

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

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

Want to learn more?

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

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

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Aug 172015
 

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

Selected quotes from the report include,

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

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

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

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

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

sacmex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 182014
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNESCO appoints Mexico to oversee its International Hydrological Program

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Jul 102014
 

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

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

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

Related posts:

Dec 122013
 

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

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

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

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

gender gap graph for Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How can Mexico City find sufficient water?

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May 202013
 

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

In terms of managing (reducing) demand, conservation measures are one possibility. Changing consumer habits may require not only educational programs, but also usage tariffs that reflect the true costs of supply, and that encourage consumers to install water-saving devices and introduce water-saving practices in their daily lives. Demand would also be reduced if less water was lost through leakage. As mentioned in a previous post, in 2009, the National Water Commission (Conagua) estimated that a staggering 40% of potable water nationwide was being lost through leaks in city and municipal systems, with a further 20% not properly accounted for due to billing errors and clandestine connections.

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

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

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

Map of the Cutzamala project

Map of the Cutzamala project. Click to enlarge.

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

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

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Implementing President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Pact for Mexico”: a lesson in Mexican Civics

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Apr 132013
 

In an earlier post, we described President Enrique Peña Nieto’s very ambitious “Pact for Mexico”. Very briefly, the Pact addresses 95 important issues in five broad categories: reducing violence, combating poverty, boosting economic growth, reforming education, and fostering social responsibility.

Achieving these reforms will require passage of new legislation by a majority in both houses and signed into law by the President. Many of the reforms will require passage of Constitutional amendments which require two-thirds majority in each house as well as approval by at least half of the states.

Passing the reforms will be a real challenge because the President’s party, PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party), holds only 41.4% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies (207 of 500) and 40.6% of the seats in the Senate (52 of 128). If they join forces with their natural ally PVEM (Partido Verde Ecologísta de México, Green Party), they still fall short of a majority: 48.2% in the Chamber and 47.7% in the Senate. While some important leaders of PAN (Partido Acción Nacional, National Action Party) and PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Party of the Democratic Revolution), Mexico’s two other major parties, have “signed” on to the Pact and are serving on the Pact Implementation Committee, many PAN and PRD members have not formally supported it.

If PRI gets complete support from the PRD and the other two leftist parties PT (Partido del Trabajo, Labor Party) and MC (Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens’ Movement, formerly known as Convergencia or Convergence) they can pass reform legislation. But they still would be unable to pass Constitutional amendments because while they would have a two-thirds majority (68.4%) in the Chamber they would not in the Senate (62.5%). Furthermore, to get all legislators from these leftist parties to agree, they might have to make the reforms so radical that they might lose some support from some PRI and PVEM legislators.

If all PRI and PAN legislators agreed, they would have a 70.3% majority in the Senate, but would still have only 64.2% in the Chamber, less than the two-thirds majority needed to pass Constitutional amendments.

In conclusion, the only way the major “Pact for Mexico” reforms which require Constitutional amendments can be implemented is through serious bargaining and coalitions. One possible successful coalition would be PRI, PAN and PVEM; it would have 71.0% in the Chamber and 77.3% in the Senate. Such a group would probably have to opt for a more neo-liberal approach to gain PAN votes. Another, more radical coalition would be PRI, PRD, PT, CV and PVEM, which would have 75.2% in the Chamber and 69.5% in the Senate. In any case, to get reforms passed, the legislation might have to be so watered down that it would not significantly change the status quo. On the other hand, there appears to be such a groundswell of support for the “Pact for Mexico” that the existing parties may feel great pressure to move forward with meaningful reforms. Only time will tell.

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