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.

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.”

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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.

 Posted by at 8:40 am  Tagged with:

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s “Pact for Mexico”

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Mar 182013
 

President Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed a 34-page “Pact for Mexico” which addresses 95 important issues in five broad categories:

  • reducing violence
  • combating poverty
  • boosting economic growth
  • reforming education
  • fostering social responsibility

Though there are few details, the Pact specifically calls for:

  • Universal Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and Health Care Systems
  • Providing every public school student with a computer
  • Opening petroleum exploration to foreign investment
  • Creating a single national penal code, abolishing all the state penal codes.

Obviously, many of his objectives are very ambitious. For example, opening petroleum exploration to foreign investment could increase future production significantly but violates national sovereignty in the eyes of many Mexicans. Replacing all state penal codes with a national code could be messy; for example, abortion is legal in Mexico City but a crime in most other states. Several previous presidents have tried and failed to unify the criminal codes.

While most Mexicans enthusiastically support the reform package, many argue that, almost by definition, any 95-point plan lacks real focus and priority. Others say it will be nearly impossible to implement. On the other hand, as governor of the State of Mexico, Peña Nieto established a record of making ambitious promises and implementing them. For example, he was one of the first three governors to implement former President Calderón’s new legal reform program. In addition, he has already obtained the formal agreement of Mexico’s two other major parties, PRD and PAN, both of which have three members on the 14 member “Pact for Mexico” implementation team.

Investors seem impressed. When the Pact was announced, the Mexican stock market (Bolsa Mexicana de Valores, BMV) went up 1.2%, while markets in New York declined. Furthermore, Peña Nieto’s Party, PRI, has a strong plurality in both the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies. He already has pushed through a Constitutional amendment on education reform and arrested the leader of the powerful teacher’s union on embezzlement charges.

We will have to wait and see how well Peña Nieto does with his very ambitious “Pact for Mexico”. If he achieves only a third of his objectives, he may replace Benito Juárez as Mexico’s “best president ever”. If he fails, Mexico will have to wait for future administrations to address the serious issues that face the country.

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Does Mexico have an “Open Government”?

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Mar 122013
 

The World Justice Project (WJP) 2012-2013 Report recently assessed 97 countries on eight Rule of Law factors. The “Open Government” factor involves engagement, access, participation, and collaboration between the government and its citizens. It includes accountability, freedom of information, and ability to petition the government.

The WJP ranked Mexico 32nd of 97 countries in terms of “Open Government”. Brazil ranked one better at 31st, while India (48th), China (69th) and Russia (70th) trailed significantly. For comparison, Sweden was ranked 1st, Canada 6th, USA 13th, Ghana 30th, Italy 47th, Guatemala 58th. Four African countries occupied the very bottom places: Ethiopia, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe (94th to 97th , respectively).

In assessing open governments, the WJP uses four subfactors (with Mexico’s rank among the 97 countries in parentheses):

  1. The laws are publicized and accessible (48th)
  2. The laws are stable (26th)
  3. Right to petition the government and public participation (53rd)
  4. Official information is available on request (39th)

These scores suggest that Mexico is pretty much in the middle of the 97 countries assessed. It would do well to focus attention on better publicizing laws and encouraging public participation.

A previous post focused on the WJP analysis of Mexico’s “Criminal Justice System”. Future posts will investigate other “Rule of Law” dimensions of the WJP study.

Reforms badly needed for Mexico’s criminal justice system

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Mar 052013
 

The World Justice Project (WJP) 2012-2013 Report recently assessed 97 countries in terms of Rule of Law, which the WJP defines as “the underlying framework and rights that make prosperous and fair societies possible… where laws protect fundamental rights, and where justice is accessible for all”. Its definition includes four universal principles:

  1. The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.
  2. The laws are clear, publicized, stable and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.
  3. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered and enforced is accessible, fair and efficient.
  4. Justice is delivered by competent, ethical and independent representatives and neutrals, who are sufficient in number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

The WJP looks at eight “rule of law” factors: limited government powers, absence of corruption, order and security, fundamental rights, open government, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. Rather than attempt to combine all these factors into one rule of law index, the WJP looks at each factor separately. National scores on each factor are developed by surveying 1000 respondents in each country, as well as collecting questionnaires from in-country experts. This post looks at criminal justice; future posts will look at other rule of law factors.

Mexico scored particularly poorly with respect to “Criminal Justice” which the WJP defines as “a key aspect of the rule of law, as it constitutes the natural mechanism to redress grievances and bring action against individuals for offenses against society. An effective criminal justice system is capable of investigating and adjudicating criminal offences effectively, impartially, and without improper influence, while ensuring that the rights of suspects and victims are protected.”

According to the WJP report, Mexico’s criminal justice system ranks a very low 89st of 97 countries. It was 13th of 16 Latin American countries, and 29th of 30 middle income countries. These very low ranks are startling, given Mexico’s relatively high marks on most development indicators. Mexico even ranked below such economically poor countries as Pakistan (80th), Guatemala (84th), Egypt (56th), Ethiopia (49th), Senegal (54th) and Tanzania (47th) as well as behind Brazil (52nd), Russia (75th), India (64th) and China (39th). By way of comparison, Denmark ranked 1st, Canada 13th , Botswana 18th, and the USA 27th.

In assessing criminal justice, the WJP uses seven subfactors (with Mexico’s rank among the 97 countries):

  • criminal investigation system is effective (77th of 97),
  • criminal adjudication system is timely and effective (84th),
  • correctional system is effective in reducing criminal behavior (85th),
  • criminal justice system is impartial (89th),
  • criminal justice system is free of corruption (87th),
  • criminal justice system is free of improper government influence (57th),
  • due process of law and rights of the accused (78th).

Mexico ranked behind Brazil, China, India and Russia on all seven of these subfactors with only a couple of exceptions. China ranked 97th (dead last) and Russia ranked 80th in “criminal justice system is free of improper government influence.” Also Russia ranked behind Mexico at 84th in “due process of law and rights of the accused.”

These really poor ranks indicate that virtually all aspects of the Mexican criminal justice system are in dire need of reform and improvement. Fortunately, reform is on the way. “Judicial Reform in Mexico,” (published by the Trans-Border Institute of the University of San Diego in May 2010) summarizes the four main elements of Mexico’s Judicial Reform Law, approved by Congress in 2008, as:

  1. new oral, open to the public, adversarial procedures
  2. presumption of innocence and adequate legal defense for all accused
  3. modification of police and investigatory procedures
  4. tougher measures for combating organized crime

The reforms are scheduled for implementation by 2016, but may take a bit longer.

Some states, like Chihuahua, State of México, Morelos, Oaxaca, Nuevo León and Zacatecas, have already started implementing reforms, but some other states are lagging well behind. Full implementation of all the much needed judicial reforms will take many years, perhaps decades. On the bright side, at least reforms are in the process of being implemented.

Which political party has the most state governors?

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Feb 162013
 

Mexican governors are elected for single six-year terms; re-election is not permitted by the Mexican Constitution. The terms of governors in different states overlap; for example, seven of the 32 governors began their term of office in 2012.

The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party) currently holds 19 of the 32 governorships spread throughout Mexico (states colored red on map), except for the northwest and extreme south. On 1 March 2013, PRI will gain another governorship when Aristoteles Sandoval of PRI replaces the current PAN Governor of Jalisco. Although PRI Presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, easily won the Mexican Presidency in 2012, of seven new governors inaugurated in 2012, only three were from PRI.

Ex-President Calderón’s PAN (Partido Acción Nacional, National Action Party) is a distant second with seven governorships (blue on map); six after 1 March 2013. Four of the PAN governorships are in the northwest.

The PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Party of the Democratic Revolution) is third with four governorships (yellow on map). Three of the PRD governors took office in 2012. PRD has held the important governorship of the Mexico City Federal District since 1988.

State governorships, 2010 and 2013

State governorships, 2010 and 2013

The Governor of Oaxaca (brown on 2013 map) is from the Movimiento Ciudadano (Citizens’ Movement, formerly known as Convergencia or Convergence), which supported López Obrador in the 2006 presidential election. The Governor of Chiapas is from the PVEM (Partido Verde Ecologísta de México; Mexico’s Green Party; green on the 2013 map).

The north-south political divide that we have referred to in some previous posts, including the equivalent map for 2010 shown above, is no longer evident in the current pattern of state governorships.

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 Posted by at 8:26 am  Tagged with:

Why Is Mexico in the OECD?

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Jan 172013
 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was founded in 1961 to promote economic growth. Its current 34 members include 25 European countries along with Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Chile and Israel. Mexico joined the group in 1994. Four new members were admitted in 2010: Chile, Slovenia, Estonia and Israel. Russia is not yet a member but is moving toward that goal. The current Secretary General of the OECD is Mexico’s  José Ángel Gurría Treviño, first appointed in 2006; his current term in this position extends to 2016.

oecd_logo

OECD member countries are among the most highly developed and wealthiest countries on the planet. Though OECD members represent only 18% of the world’s population, they account for 55% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), measured on a Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis. Among OECD members, Mexico has the lowest per capita GDP, slightly behind Chile and Turkey. In terms of the UN Human Development Index (HDI) Mexico trails all the others except Turkey. How did Mexico become a member of this very elite set of countries?

There are three main criteria for OECD membership:

  1. Democracy and respect for human rights
  2. Open market economy
  3. GDP per capita (PPP) at least as high as the poorest OECD member

When Mexico became a member in 1994, it was a democracy albeit a one party democracy. It was very clearly an open market economy and its per capita GDP was slightly higher than Turkey’s. Consequently, it met the criteria and was admitted by other OECD members. (See Elżbieta Czarny et al., The Gravity Model and the Classification of Countriesin Argumenta Oeconomica, 2 (25) 2010.)

What are the benefits of OECD membership?

As a member, Mexico fully participates in OECD discussions concerning economic, social and environmental situations, issues, experiences, policies, and best practices. OECD collects and analyzes a very wide range of data which enables Mexico to monitor its position and progress on numerous important dimensions. OECD also has numerous world class experts and committees that can assist countries on specific issues and policies.

Certainly being a member of this elite group provides Mexico with an amount of international prestige. On the other hand, most development analyses and comparative OECD reports show Mexico near the bottom on most measures and rankings.

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Nov 012012
 

The recently published Gender Gap Report 2012 indicates that Mexico still has considerable work to do, though its gender gap is closing. The report does not reveal much about the quality of life of females in different countries, rather it focuses on the “gap” between females and males. For example, women in Japan have a relatively high quality of life, but the gap between them and Japanese men is very large. Thus Japan ranks 101st out of 135 countries.

The report ranks Mexico 84th out of 135 countries which does not sound so good. However, Mexico has been moving up in the ranks. It was 89th in 2011, 91st in 2010, 98th in 2009, 97th in 2008, and 93rd in 2007. Mexico’s gender gap score improved throughout the five year period.

Notable countries close to Mexico’s ranking, in the group ranked 80 to 90, are Italy (80), Hungary (81), Greece (82), Bangladesh (86) and Chile (87).

The top ten in the list (smallest gender gap) are the five Scandinavian countries, along with Ireland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Nicaragua and Switzerland. Canada and the USA are ranked 21st and 22nd. Among Mexico’s chief competitors, Argentina is 32nd, Russia is 59th, Brazil is 62nd, China is 69th, India is 105th and South Korea is 108th. The very bottom of the list is dominated by Islamic and many Sub-Saharan African countries.

The report indicates that Europe (including Canada and USA) ranked the highest, followed by Latin America (and the Caribbean), Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Pacific, and Middle East and North Africa, a rather distant last. Among 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries, Mexico ranked a relatively low 20th. Clearly, Mexico has a gender gap problem.

The Gender Gap Index is a composite index. It includes four sub-indexes, which are combined to get an overall score which is used to rank countries:

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

In health and survival Mexico ranks a rather surprising 1st tied with 31 other countries. This means that Mexican females are unsurpassed with respect to sex ratio at birth (female/male) combined with female life expectancy (female/male). This is quite impressive. Perhaps males getting killed in drug and other violent activities helps Mexico’s score on this sub-index. Not surprisingly, China ranked 132nd and India at 134th are right near the very bottom.

On the down side, Mexico is ranked 113th in female economic participation and opportunity, though it has improved significantly. This index covers wage equality as well as proportion of female legislators, senior officials and managers, as well as professional and technical workers. Grouped near Mexico are Chile (110th), El Salvador (112th), Guatemala (114th), and South Korea (116th). Perhaps most telling is that female workers only earn 45% of what males do performing similar work. The percentages are worse in some other countries: Korea (44%), Indonesia (42%), Turkey (30%), India (27%), Pakistan (21%) and Saudi Arabia (17%). Less than a third (31%) of Mexican legislators, senior officials and managers are female, compared to 59% in Jamaica, 43% in the USA, 36% in Canada and Brazil, 23% in Argentina and only 10% in Bangladesh, Turkey and South Korea.

In the educational attainment sub-index Mexico ranks 69th. Its index score was just a fraction higher in 2007, when Mexico was ranked 49th. The report indicates that 98% of appropriately-aged females and 98% of males are enrolled in primary school. It shows that 73% of Mexican females are enrolled in secondary school compared to 70% of males. At the tertiary (college) level the percentage is 28% for both genders. These data seem very impressive, but in many other countries there are far more females enrolled than males; for example, in Uruguay the reports says that females lead male enrollments at the tertiary level by 81% to 47%. Despite Mexico’s rank of 69th, Mexico’s so-called gender gap in education does not appear to be a major concern.

Mexico’s political empowerment score improved significantly since 2011 and its rank went from 63rd to 48th apparently because the number of females in ministerial level positions went from 11% up to 21%. Relatively near Mexico are Canada ranked 38th, Australia (42nd), Colombia (51th), Pakistan 52nd),  Israel (54th), USA (55th) and China (58th). We imagine that the rankings of Canada, Australia, Pakistan and Israel were greatly helped because they have all had a female head of state in the last fifty years.

In conclusion, Mexico is making solid progress in closing its gender gap, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

Mexican attitudes on the drug war, violence and crime

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Jul 162012
 

Mexican drug cartels and related violence have received enormous attention. For an overview, see Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas of operation, a 2012 update. All Mexicans are aware of the issue and millions have been affected directly. What are their current views and attitudes? A face-to-face survey in April 2012 by the Pew Research Center of 1,200 Mexicans in Mexico sheds light on this issue.

Most Mexicans (80%) support President Calderon’s decision to use the military to fight drug traffickers. On the other hand, less than half (47%) think the campaign against drug traffickers is “making progress”. Fully 30% feel the government is losing ground. While they support use of the military, 74% indicate that human rights violations by the military and the police are a “very big problem”.

Mexicans are not sure which political party is better for dealing with Mexico’s drug problems. Just over a quarter (28%) think President Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) (28%) would do a better job compared to 25% for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and only 13% for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Fully 23% said that none of the three major parties is capable of resolving the issue. A possible reason for this is that only 14% blame mostly Mexico for the problem, compared to 22% who mostly blame the USA and 61% who blame both countries.

In general, Mexicans want the USA to help solve the drug problem. Fully 75% favor the USA training Mexican police and military personnel and 61% also approve of the USA providing money and weapons to the country’s police and military. On the other hand only a third favor deploying USA troops within Mexico, while 59% oppose this.

Mexicans feel that their country is facing some serious problems. Three-quarters of Mexicans think cartel-related violence (75%) and human rights violations by police and military (74%) are “very big problems”. The related issues of crime (73%), corruption (69%) and illegal drugs (68%) were also identified as “very big problems” by most survey respondents. Apparently, Mexicans do not feel very safe. More than half (56%) said they were afraid to walk alone at night within a kilometer of their home, 61% for women and 51% for men. Unfortunately, Mexicans are not very optimistic that the country’s drug violence problems will go away any time soon. On the bright side, 51% of the surveyed Mexicans felt their economy would improve in the next year compared to only 16% who thought it would worsen.

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Jul 122012
 

An earlier post discussed the north-south divide apparent in the 2006 presidential election. That year Felipe Calderón of PAN got the most votes in 14 of 17 northern states (blue on the map), while in 13 of 15 southern states Andrés López Obrador of PRD (green) got the most votes. Roberto Madrazo of PRI (pink) did not get the most votes in a single state.

Voting patterns in presidential elections, 2006 and 2012

Voting patterns in presidential elections, 2006 and 2012. All rights reserved.

The voting pattern changed considerably in the 2012 presidential election, but a north-south pattern still emerged. What was somewhat similar in both elections is that López Obrador of PRD retained much of his strength in southern Mexico. In both elections, PRD got most votes in seven southern states: Federal District, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Quintana Roo. In 2012 PRD won in one other state, Puebla, which favored PAN in the 2006 election. Six southern states switched from PRD to PRI:  Michoacán, México, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Chiapas and Campeche. Puebla switched from PAN to PRD, while Yucatán went from PAN to PRI.

In the north, the pattern changed completely with the PRI replacing PAN as the highest presidential vote-getter. A total of 11 northern states switched from PAN to PRI: Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Durango, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosí, Jalisco, Colima and Querétaro. In 10 of these states PAN came second while PRD took second place in Baja California. In 2012 PAN got most votes in only three states–Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Guanajuato–compared to 16 in 2006.

PRD appears to have lost much of its relatively weak following in northern Mexico. The three northern states PRD won in 2006 all switched to PRI: Baja California Sur, Nayarit and Zacatecas. In 2012, PRD could only manage second place finishes in three states: Baja California, Nayarit and Zacatecas.

While the north-south pattern is still somewhat apparent, the main pattern of the 2012 presidential election is a strong victory for PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto. PRI was victorious in 22 of 32 states and came in second in the other ten.

However, PRI fell just short of controlling Mexico’s Congress so it will need support from some other parties to pass needed legislation and reforms. Together with minority coalition partner PVEM (Mexico’s Green Party), PRI won 240 of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 62 of the 128 seats in the Senate. On the other hand, PRI has recently indicated support for many reforms similar to those previously proposed by PAN. This implies that needed reforms may have a decent chance of passing.

Further reading, with state by state analysis:

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 Posted by at 8:19 am  Tagged with:

The confirmed results of Mexico’s 2012 presidential elections

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Jul 062012
 

Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute, has now confirmed the results of the presidential vote, held on 1 July 201.

PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto is the president-elect of Mexico and will take office on 1 December this year.

The confirmed figures for the presidential vote are as follows:

  • Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI)  38.21%
  • Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD) 31.59%
  • Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN)  25.41%
  • Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (New Alliance Party) 2.29%

The vote turnout was around 63%. We will analyze the map for voting patterns for president, by state, in a future post.

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How does Mexico’s electoral process compare to other countries?

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May 232012
 

On 1 July 2012 Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new six year president, a new senate and chamber of deputies. At the same time, voters in some states–Jalisco, Nuevo León, Guanajuato, Querétaro, Sonora, San Luis Potosí, Morelos, Federal District, Campeche and Colima– will cast their ballots in elections for state and local officials.

How free and fair are Mexican elections compared to those in other countries?

Before addressing this question, it is useful to acknowledge that elections in Mexico have improved dramatically in the past two decades, largely as a result of progressive reforms including the establishment of a strong and independent National Elections Commission (Instituto Federal Electoral, IFE). Prior to the late 1990’s one party, PRI (Partido Revolucionario Insititucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party) dominated most elections at the national, state and local level. Starting in 2000, when an opposition party, PAN (PAN or Partido Acción Nacional, National Action Party), won the presidency, elections in Mexico have been quite competitive. In 2006 a third party, PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Party of the Democratic Revolution), lost the presidency to PAN by less than 0.6% (35.89% to 35.31%). Since 1994 the winner of the presidency has not garnered 50% of the votes, leading some to argue that Mexico should conduct runoffs between the two highest vote-getters.

CountryScoreCountryScoreCountryScore
Uruguay10.00Peru9.17Turkey7.92
Canada9.58MEXICO8.75Indonesia6.92
Chile9.58Argentina8.75Venezuela5.67
India9.58Israel8.75Nigeria5.67
Brazil9.58South Africa8.75Russia3.92
USA9.17Guatemala7.92China0.00
Colombia9.17

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) annually develops a “democracy index” which includes a factor titled “electoral process and pluralism”. Scores on this factor are based on 12 questions concerning the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections open to all groups and all voters as well as the orderly transfer of power to those winning elections. Based on the EIU scores for 2011, countries with the perfect score of ten were Uruguay, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Australia and New Zealand. Mexico is tied with Argentina, Israel and South Africa, trails Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Peru but is much closer to the top than the bottom (see table). Mexico is a point and a quarter below a perfect ten and almost a point ahead of Guatemala, three ahead of Venezuela and almost five ahead of Russia. China is last with a score of zero along with Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, North Korea, and other authoritarian regimes.

It will be interesting to see how the EIU scores Mexico after the 2012 elections.

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 Posted by at 8:59 am  Tagged with:

How does democracy in Mexico compare to other countries?

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May 192012
 

This is a very important year for Mexico’s democracy. On 1 July 2012 Mexicans will go to the polls to elect a new president, who will hold office for six years, a new Senate and new Chamber of Deputies as well as numerous state and local officials. How does Mexico’s democracy compare with that of other countries?

“Democracy” is a slippery concept; it is not at all easy to define and is very difficult to measure. In the abstract “democracy” is a form of government in which ultimate power is vested in the people or their freely elected representatives. In common usage, democracy implies active civil participation in free and fair elections, effective and efficient governance, basic human and minority rights as well as freedom of religion, expression and organization. Obviously these concepts are not easily measured.

The most widely used measures for international comparisons are provided by Freedom House which relies on experts to rate countries on “Political Rights” and “Civil Liberties” (Freedom in the World 2012). Assessing “political rights” is based on free and fair elections, effective political pluralism and participation as well as government properly functioning in the interest of the electorate. Measuring “civil liberties” investigates freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion, a fair and just legal system, personal autonomy and individual rights, as well as active participation of nongovernmental and labor organizations. The Freedom House process results in measures from one (the highest) to seven (the lowest).

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has also developed a “Democracy Index” based on experts’ ratings and public opinion surveys on five components – electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. The EIU process gives each county a score from a high of ten to a low of one  on overall democracy as well as the five components.

CountryFreedom House
Political Rights
1 - 7
Freedom House
Civil Liberties
1 - 7
Economist Index
Democracy Index
10 - 1
Canada119.08
USA118.11
Chile117.54
South Africa227.79
Brazil227.12
Argentina226.84
India237.30
Indonesia236.53
MEXICO336.93
Colombia346.63
Guatemala345.88
Venezuela555.08
Russia653.92
China763.14

Mexican democracy is somewhere in the middle when compared to other countries. The table compares democracy in Mexico with that in selected other countries based on the measures used by Freedom House and the EIU. Mexico was designated as a “flawed democracy” [see note 1] by the EIU in 2011, along with 52 other countries including France, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia and Ghana. Mexico’s score of 6.93 out of ten ranked it 50th of 167 countries, one ahead of Argentina and a few places behind Brazil. It has made some relative progress since 2008 when it ranked 55th of 167.

In 2012 Freedom House placed Mexico in the highest level of the “partly free” category. In 2010 Mexico was at the bottom of the “free” category; it dropped out of this category because its “political rights” score went 2 to 3, with 1 being the highest. Mexico had maintained a score of 2 from 2000 to 2010, but went to 3 in 2011. Apparently the experts must have noticed deterioration in the electoral process, political pluralism and participation or the functioning of government. The downgrading was probably related in some way to Mexico’s Drug Wars.

In 2010 Freedom House placed Mexico among 35 “Countries at the Crossroads” that are on the way to becoming consolidated democracies, but still have several challenges to overcome. Among these are the legacy of authoritarian rule, a culture which tolerates corruption and impunity, the persistence of private and public monopolies, lack of political accountability and transparency, and perhaps most importantly the growing influence and violence of drug cartels. These all skew the political playing field and undercut democratic progress, the political morale of the electorate, and openness of the media. On the positive side, active participation in recent elections has led to peaceful transitions of power. Civil society is gaining strength. New institutions such as the Federal Electoral Institute and the Federal Institute for Access to Information are making a difference. Significant improvements to the overall political situation will require concentrated efforts over an extended period of time.

It is interesting that according to Freedom House democracy in Mexico has deteriorated since 2008, while the Economist (EIU) perceived an improvement. This difference indicates how difficult and subjective assessments of democracy can be. For example in the table below “partly free” Mexico scores higher on the EIU’s democracy index than either Argentina and Indonesia which are classified as “free” by Freedom House.

Given the very important election being held in Mexico this year, a future post will investigate how Mexico’s electoral processes compare with those in other countries.

Note:

[1] “Flawed democracies”:  “These countries … have free and fair elections and even if there are problems (such as infringements on media freedom), basic civil liberties will be respected. However, there are significant weaknesses in other aspects of democracy, including problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.” Economist Intelligence Unit, “Democracy index 2011: Democracy under stress”, p 31. Democracy Index 2011.

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 Posted by at 9:06 am  Tagged with:

How serious is corruption in Mexico?

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May 122012
 

Recent allegations of bribery related to Wal-Mart de México beg two questions:

  • How serious is corruption in Mexico?
  • How does corruption in Mexico compare to that of other countries?

Fortunately for us, these questions have been comprehensively investigated by Transparency International (TI), a global civil society organization dedicated to reducing corruption. TI defines corruption as “abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.

Its recent study, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2011” focuses on “perceptions” because corruption is a hidden activity that is difficult to measure. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) draws on a wide array of surveys and polls of international experts, business opinion surveys and country residents. It is based on 17 data sources from 13 different institutions. The focus is on bribery, kickbacks and embezzlement involving politicians, public officials and civil servants. Anti-corruption efforts are also considered.

Given the difficulties associated with measuring and interpreting corruption, the CPI has received considerable criticism. (For example, see this Wikipedia entry on  Corruption Perceptions Index). Despite this criticism, the CPI provides a viable approach to comparing corruption in various countries.

According to this index, perceived corruption in Mexico has become considerably worse in the past few years. In terms of freedom from corruption, Mexico’s 2011 score of 3.0 ranks it below the middle, in rank #100 out of 182 countries, tied with 11 other countries including Argentina and Indonesia. It is interesting to note that some individual Asian, African, European and Latin American countries are considerably ahead of Mexico (see table), but others are considerably behind.

CountryRank CountryRank CountryRank
New Zealand1South Africa64Argentina100=
Canada10Italy69=Indonesia100=
UK16Ghana69=Egypt112
Chile22Brazil73Guatemala120
USA24China75Nigeria143=
South Korea43Colombia80Russia143=
Saudi Arabia57India95Venezuela172
Turkey61MEXICO100=Somalia182

Within Latin America, Mexico is far better than Venezuela, Haiti and Paraguay. However, it is way behind Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Brazil. As a regional leader, Mexico should do much better in terms of corruption.

Back in 2008, Mexico’s score of 3.6 placed it significantly above the middle. It was then ahead of Brazil, India, China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey; now it trails these five countries. Why Mexico’s score has dropped significantly since 2008 is not exactly clear, but is probably related to the escalation of the drug wars.

Mexico has signed several multilateral anti-corruption agreements, and recently passed a stiff anti-corruption law. However, legal instruments alone will not reduce corruption in Mexico, according to Emilio Godoy in his article Tangled Web of Corruption Debilitates Mexico (IPS, 10 May 2012). What is needed is aggressive government action as well as dramatic cultural changes among public and private sector officials. This will not be easy, given the existing long-established systems based on patronage, nepotism, cronyism and organized crime.

If Mexico is going to continue attracting foreign investment and experience economic and social growth in the years ahead, it will have to do much better with respect to its level of corruption.

Mexico’s political system at the state and municipal levels

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Apr 072012
 

In a previous post – Mexico’s political system: the basics – we looked at the country’s federal political system. In this post, we look at how the political system works at the two other levels of government: state and municipal.

According to the Constitution of 1917, powers not granted to the Federal Government are reserved for the states. State constitutions roughly mirror the federal constitution. Each state has a popularly elected governor who serves one six-year term and cannot be re-elected. The popularly elected members of the state chamber of deputies serve three-year terms. Non-sequential re-election is permitted. Governors generally have more power than the chamber of deputies. State governments depend on the Federal government for much of their revenue, some of which they funnel to municipal governments. Each state has a Supreme Court of Justice with judges appointed by the state governor.

States are divided into municipalities. There are currently 2458 municipalities (counting Mexico City’s delegaciones or boroughs as municipios) which vary greatly in size and population. For example, the average population of Oaxaca’s 570 municipalities is about 6000 while the average population of Baja California’s five municipalities is over 500,000. Each municipality elects a new president and local council every three years.

Municipal governments have taxing authority but rely very heavily on financial support from state and federal sources. Municipalities are responsible for a variety of public services, including water and sewerage; street lighting and maintenance, trash collection and disposal, public safety and traffic, supervision of slaughterhouses, and maintenance of parks, gardens and cemeteries. Municipalities are also free to assist state and federal governments in the provision of elementary education, emergency fire and medical services, environmental protection and the maintenance of historical landmarks.

Mar 312012
 

In a few months time, Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new President. Just how does the Mexican political system work? As a build-up to the important federal elections coming shortly, this post looks at the background to Mexico’s political system and provides a quick summary of the federal level of government. A future post will look at the state and municipal levels.

The current political system in Mexico derives from the Constitution of 1917 which emerged from the Mexican Revolution. The Constitution is a sweeping document that captures the ideals of the Revolution, but also reflects three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. The Constitution is “revolutionary” in that it aggressively protects the rights of workers, peasants and their organizations. It guarantees the right to organize, an eight-hour work day, the rights of female and child workers, and the payment of a minimum wage sufficient to satisfy the necessities of life. The colonial influences are evidenced by highly codified civil law, acceptance of heavy state involvement in civic affairs and business, and the relative strength of the executive over other branches of government. Another important influence is Mexico’s 19th century history which included foreign military occupations, loss of half the national territory and several virtual dictatorships.

The government of the United Mexican States has three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.

The executive branch is by far the most important and most powerful. The President serves a six-year term, may never be re-elected, and appoints the 18 cabinet secretaries who run their respective secretariats or ministries. The full cabinet meets only rarely. Legislation must be signed by the President to become law. Though the legislature may override a veto, the Constitution dictates that laws can only be enacted after being signed by the President. The President has the power to issue basic rules (reglamentos) independent of the legislature. In fact, most Presidents unilaterally issue more Mexican laws than are passed by the legislature.

The legislature consists of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. The 128 senators serve the same six-year term as the President and cannot be re-elected. Each state and the Federal District has two senators from the party getting the most votes in that state and one from the party getting the second most votes.

These 96 senators do not represent equal numbers of constituents. Smaller states have greater representation. For example, in the State of Mexico there are about 4.7 million people per senator whereas in Baja California Sur there are only about 170,000 people per senator. The remaining 32 senators are elected by proportional representation based on the percentage of the national vote obtained by each party. These senators do not have geographical constituents.

There are 500 deputies in the Chamber. Geographic districts directly elect 300 deputies; the remaining 200 are elected by proportional representation. A party must win at least 2% of the national vote to get a deputy in the Chamber. They serve three-year terms and cannot be re-elected.

The ban against re-election means that every three years there is an entirely new Chamber of Deputies. Every six years Mexico has a new President and all new legislators. The ban on re-election diminishes the continuity as well as the overall experience and expertise of Mexican government at all levels.

The judiciary is divided into federal courts and state courts. The federal courts have jurisdiction over constitutional issues, most civil cases (contracts, labor issues, banking and commerce) as well as major felonies (bank robberies, kidnapping), except murder. State courts handle murders, divorces and minor felonies. The Supreme Court consists of 26 judges, selected by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Legally, they serve for life but actually submit their resignation to the new President every six years. Below the Supreme Court are four chambers of judges dealing with criminal, civil, labor and administrative issues. There are 16 federal circuit courts and 68 district courts.

Four new municipalities change the map of Chiapas

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Jan 142012
 

The Chiapas state government has redrawn the map of its municipal boundaries to create four new municipalities (municipios), bringing the number in the state to 122. The four new municipalities are:

1. Belisario Domínguez (formerly part of the municipality of Cintalapa de Figueroa). The new municipio aims to resolve a long-standing agrarian conflict over land and forest rights with San Miguel Chimalapa and Santa María Chimalapa, both in neighboring Oaxaca. The municipal seat of the new municipality is Rodulfo Figueroa. The municipality also includes the settlements of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, La Hondonada, San Marcos, Montebello and Flor de Chiapas.

2. Emiliano Zapata is the new municipality responsible for the 20 de Noviembre ejido, formerly part of the Villa de Acala municipality.

3. El Parral, previously the largest settlement in Chiapas that was not a municipal seat, now becomes the municipal seat for the El Parral ejido, formerly part of the Villacorzo municipality.

4. Mezcalapa is a new municipality which serves the settlement of Raudales Malpaso, cut off decades ago from its former municipal seat of Tecpatán by the construction of a reservoir.

The total number of municipalities (municipios) in Mexico is currently 2,458. Note that this figure includes the 16 delegaciones (boroughs) of Mexico City which, while technically not municipalities, do have significant autonomy.

The diffusion of violence in Mexico since the early 1980s

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Nov 122011
 

Today, we take a quick look at Mexico, the Un-Failed State: A Geography Lesson, published on the InSight Crime website. InSight Crime’s stated objective is “to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

diffusion of violence in Mexico

Credit: InSightcrime.org

Gary Moore, the author of Mexico, the Un-Failed State: A Geography Lesson, considers some of the claims made recently about Mexico being a “failed state”, where parts of the country are effectively no longer under government control. As the title of article suggests, Moore does not find evidence to support these claims.

His position is set out early in the article when he writes that, “The statements are all serious assessments of an elusive reality. The violence in today’s Mexico forms a twilight zone. It is not an all-consuming apocalypse, but it is also not the relative peace of Mexico a generation ago.”

The article is illustrated by three maps, “snapshots” of the situation in the early 1980s, in 2006-2008 and in 2011. While these appear to show that there has been a significant expansion of violence across Mexico in recent years, some caution is needed since the evidence used for each map is entirely different.

Moore’s article is a useful overview of how and why violence has diffused across much of Mexico since President Felipe Calderón declared a “war on drugs” in December 2006. It is, though, only an overview. There are significant local differences even within those states (such as Tamaulipas and Chihuahua) which are considered to be among the worst for drug violence in the country.

Few analysts would disagree with the article’s concluding statements that:

“In the 1970s it was natural to assume that these throwback “bandido” areas were shrinking and would soon disappear, as the march of development brought education, opportunity and civilization.”

“The harsh news from the drug war is that the reverse has occurred. The landscape of no-go zones has swelled across Mexico, as at no time since the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.”

The Mexican Revolution threw Mexico into convulsions for more than a decade, and the war on drugs looks set to last at least as long.

Related posts:

 

Aug 222011
 

The proposed implementation of a United Nations-supported carbon storage program (REDD) in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas is provoking plenty of controversy. The debate is hotting up because a follow-up program called REDD+ is due to start in 2012. A good summary of the situation is provided by REDD rag to indigenous forest dwellers.

What is REDD?

  • REDD stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation
  • It is a carbon storage program, started in 2008 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • It aims to conserve biodiversity and boost carbon storage by preventing deforestation and by replanting forests
  • It is focused on developing countries, and provides them wih funds and technical support

At first glance, it would seem like a good fit for Chiapas, one of Mexico’s poorest states, where a high proportion of the population are reliant on subsistence farming. The Chiapas state government backs REDD, considering it as one way of helping mitigate the likely consequences of climate change in the state. Chiapas’ total emissions of carbon dioxide amount to 32 million metric tons/year, about 4.5% of the national figure. The Chiapas contribution comes mainly from deforestation and farming.

NGOs working in Chiapas warn that REDD poses a serious threat to indigenous people. About 20% of the 4.8 million people living in Chiapas belong to one or other of the state’s numerous indigenous groups. Land tenure in many parts of Chiapas is hotly disputed; this was one of the reasons for the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) uprising in 1994.

Protests in support of indigenous rights, Cancún climate summit

Protests in support of indigenous rights, Cancún climate summit, 2010

Miguel García, a spokesperson for an NGO founded in 1991 which supports indigenous groups and protects the environment, has been quoted as saying that REDD “will alter indigenous culture, will commodify it, giving commercial value to common assets like oxygen, water and biodiversity.” He is especially concerned that “resentment of and confrontation with the Zapatista grassroots supporters are being accentuated.”

As with so many geographic issues, there is no easy “right answer” here. The rights of indigenous groups need to be respected and their views taken into account, before any decision is made about the value of their forest home to global efforts to mitigate climate change.

This is one controversy we plan to follow as it plays out in coming months.

Want to read more?

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The troubled rise of the Green Movement in Mexico

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Aug 012011
 

Two specific events helped stimulate the rapid growth of Mexico’s green movement in the 1980s:

These motivated many citizens to take direct action. Membership in Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) surged, as “green brigades” aided the victims. Two months after the earthquake, representatives from 300 regional groups met and formed a coalition of green groups focused on issues such as deforestation, pollution, and opposition to nuclear power. The 1992 Rio UN Environmental Summit and opposition to NAFTA (because it neglected environmental issues) provided additional stimulus to the movement.

The number of ENGOs increased from fewer than 30 in 1985 to about 500 by 1997 when about one in twenty Mexicans was a member of an ENGO.  The ENGOs had highly professional staffs and were well funded from Mexican and international sources. Through demonstrations and militant actions they successfully stopped the construction of a half billion dollar tourism complex south of Mexico City and the proposed world’s largest salt mine in Baja California. They also were significant in the passage of new laws for environmental protection, reducing deforestation, protecting wildlife, and establishing protected areas.

Vicente Fox, the PAN/Green Party candidate, won the Presidency in 2000.  His Minister of the Environment, Víctor Lichtinger, brought scores of highly qualified fellow key ENGO leaders into the administration. While this put the nation’s leading environmentalists on the inside, it also essentially “decapitated” and deflated the ENGO movement, especially its more militant members. Despite these key appointments, Fox’s administration gave relatively low priority to environmental issues. When Fox sided with tourism investors, and decided against issuing a detailed analytical report on beach pollution, Lichtinger and many of his senior staff resigned. They mostly moved to international or academic positions and consequently did not rejuvenate the leadership of the ENGOs they had left.

Green party logo

Green party logo

For the 2006 election, the Green Party formed an alliance with PRI and came in a weak third. The party, which has suffered from despotism, bribery and violation of election laws, managed to elect 22 diputados in the 2009 election. The Calderón Presidency has obtained good environmental marks for its leadership in global warming; however its comprehensive tree-planting program has received some criticism. Current ENGO activity is focused less on high profile mass mobilizations and protests, and more on specific issues such as legislative  lobbying, public awareness, climate change, energy issues, water, deforestation, biodiversity, recycling and local tree=planting and clean-up campaigns.

Main source: Jordi Díez, “The Rise and Fall of Mexico’s Green Movement”, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 85, October 2008, 81-99.

Mexico’s environmental issues are analyzed in many chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico, including chapter 30. Explore the book using Amazon.com’s Look Inside feature and buy your copy today!

Resistance to government-sponsored change in Chiapas, Mexico

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Oct 292010
 

Kudos to the the New Mexico-based Grassroots Press, for the enticing title “Weaving Webs of Resistance in Chiapas” on an article by Crystal Massey and Rebecca Wiggins. The article reports on a visit to Chiapas earlier this year by a small group from the Las Cruces-Chiapas Connection (since renamed Weaving for Justice), which helps weaving cooperatives in Chiapas market their products through fair trade.

maya-weavers

One of the groups they visited was Tsobol Antzetik (Women United). They describe how these villagers have to carry fresh water (for cooking, washing, drinking) across the village from near the local school. Despite being in one of the wettest regions of the country, they have no easily accessible potable water source.

Some of the women of Tsobol Antzetik belong to Abejas, a Catholic social justice organization founded in 1992, while others are active supporters of the Zapatistas (EZLN). None of the women accepts handouts from the “corrupt” federal government. This means that they refuse any of the possible benefits from Oportunidades, Mexico’s flagship poverty-fighting program, which helps about 60% of all families in Chiapas. The women believe that Oportunidades “hand outs” are a way for the federal government to control the  rural population, and prefer to avoid being politically compromised.

The article quotes sociologist Molly Talcott, who describes Oportunidades as “…essentially sterilizing women and attempting to contain women’s resistances [sic] by enlisting them in a small cash assistance program, which in these times, is badly needed.” Critics of Oportunidades claim that its health care workers are asked to meet sterilization quotas.

The marketing of woven items from Chiapas is an alternative way for women such as those in Tsobol Antzetik and their families to boost household incomes. This is where the Las Cruces-Chiapas Connection comes in. They help market the items in the USA and hope their help will offer an alternative to migration in search of employment to rapidly-growing cities such as Cancún or even into the USA.

The article goes on to examine another much publicized development project aimed at improving the situation in Chiapas, the Mesoamerica Project (formerly known as Plan Puebla Panamá). A side effect of this project has been to force some indigenous people off their traditional land to clear the way for major high-budget, capitalist construction projects.

One of the many strategies bandied about as part of the Mesoamerica Project is the forced relocation of rural Chiapas Indians into what the government calls “sustainable rural cities”, a phrase which suggests a less-than-clear grasp of geography! These would enable easier provision of modern services such as education and health care. In turn, they would “free up” potentially productive land that could then be used for agro-industrial plantations (flowers, tropical fruits, specialist timber, coffee). The major downside of such a proposal would be the demise of an ancient subsistence lifestyle, and an end to the food security previously enjoyed by thousands of Maya families.

Opposition to the Mesoamerica Project has already led to unrest and violent reprisals. It is still far from clear what the eventual outcome of the Mesoamerica Project will be.

Related news: Up to now, Oportunidades has focused almost entirely on rural areas. However, the Interamerican Development Bank recently approved a loan of 800 million dollars to extend the program to marginalized families in urban areas.

To learn more about the evolution of PPP and the idea of “rural cities”, see the three-part article by Dr. Japhy Wilson, who lectures in international politics at the University of Manchester in the UK:

  • The New Phase of the Plan Puebla Panama in Chiapas, Part One
  • Part Two
  • Part Three

Mexico’s indigenous groups, social geography and development issues are analyzed in various chapters of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy today, and learn more about Mexico’s fascinating geography. Additional knowledge will greatly enhance the pleasures you derive during your next trip to Mexico.

President Zedillo’s political reforms brought real democracy in Mexico

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Oct 272010
 

A previous post focused on the economic reforms of President Ernesto Zedillo, 1994-2000. This article discusses his very important political reforms.

1994 was a very important and difficult year for Mexico. It started with the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, which the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Insititucional) government brutally put down, infuriating many Mexicans and leading to giant protest demonstrations against the PRI. Liberation theology was gaining strength and blaming PRI for human rights abuses as well as the impoverishment of the Mexican people. Furthermore, the economy was slipping into a severe crisis.

Following tradition, President Salinas personally selected Donaldo Colosio to succeed him as the PRI President of Mexico. While other parties nominated candidates, PRI had held an iron grip on the Presidency and Mexican politics for over 60 years.

In March 1994 the PRI presidential candidate Colosio was assassinated in Tijuana. The PRI was held responsible for all the country’s problems and Salinas was in a very difficult spot. Old PRI hard-liners (“dinosaurs”) pressed Salinas to name one of them as the next president, but Salinas knew he had to select a “clean” candidate that would help the PRI regain some credibility. Salinas selected as the replacement, Colosio’s young campaign manager and technocrat Ernesto Zedillo. Zedillo, the “accidental president”, easily won the relatively fair 1994 election.

Zedillo was dedicated to political reform. He took dramatic steps to counter corruption. Apparently not trusting anyone within his own PRI party, he appointed as his Attorney General, Antonio Lozano Gracia from the opposition PAN party. Lozano aggressively prosecuted and indicted numerous senior PRI officials, including Salinas’ brother, on a variety of corruption charges. In 1995 Zedillo replaced the country’s entire Supreme Court, which then began to rule against PRI dominated government agencies on a regular basis. Zedillo implemented reforms which separated the ruling PRI party from the Government of Mexico, thus terminating the practice of using government agencies and revenues to support PRI political campaigns.

Zedillo initiated multiparty talks on political reform and began transferring some power away from his own office and toward Mexico’s Congress and 31 states. He made the Federal Elections Commission more transparent by increasing the oversight and participation by opposition parties. He reformed the law giving the President the power to appoint the Mayor of Mexico City, who henceforth would be popularly elected.

These reforms brought dramatic change to local, state, and national elections in July 1997. The opposition PDR party candidate for Mexico City mayor, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, garnered nearly 50% of the vote and was elected, defeating the PRI candidate by a wide margin. Opposition party candidates also swept several state governorships. Most significantly, the PRI lost control of the lower house of the Mexican Congress for the first time in history. Finally, after almost 70 years of PRI domination, Mexico was becoming a real democracy and the Mexican public rejoiced in their new democratic powers.

Zedillo decided not to personally select his successor in the traditional way. Instead, the PRI would hold a national primary enabling the voters to select the next PRI presidential candidate. He also loosened the PRI government’s grip on the media, opening the door to more objective political reporting. Under Zedillo’s watch, Mexico enjoyed a clean and fair election in the summer of 2000 which, for the first time in over 70 years, elected a non-PRI candidate as President in the person of Vicente Fox of PAN.

The reforms of the Zedillo Administration largely leap-frogged Mexico from an economically-unstable, single party state, to a relatively modern 21st century multiparty democracy. President Ernesto Zedillo is distinguished from his predecessors by his integrity, vision, and for doing what was best for Mexico, not for himself, his cronies, or his political party. Ernesto Zedillo was and is an inspiration to his country and the world. Everyone living in Mexico owes him a great debt of gratitude for modernizing Mexico’s economy and democracy as well as making Mexico a far better place.

Chapter 12 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discusses the political map of Mexico. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!