Tag Archives: Travel & Tourism

Swimming The Bays Of Huatulco

By Randy Jackson

Here’s a question for people familiar with Huatulco: How many of the nine bays of Huatulco can you name (without googleandolo)? I conducted a non-random, non-representative survey amongst friends and acquaintances, and came up with a range of between 2 and 7. That’s OK. I wasn’t any better at it until undertaking a fun project with my friend John this season, to swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco. There is nothing like direct experience as a teacher, as I can now name all nine bays.

But far more important than mastering a list of names, swimming each of the bays means having an experience with the bays in a personal way. It’s like the difference between knowing the name of a particular mountain, and having climbed it. What follows is some information about each of the “official” nine Bahías de Huatulco, and a little about our experience of swimming each of them in the winter of 2022. (NB: The order of the bays is by the dates we swam them, not the geographical order).

Órgano (January 14):

For me the memory of our swim at El Órgano is the “ghost body.” I saw something in the water, floating about 5 feet below the surface. Its shape and colour, obscured by my swim goggles and the water, caused my brain to fire-up an image of a body seemingly suspended in the water. Our brains do that. They instantly form a reality influenced by subconscious expectations. On a deserted bay on the coast of Mexico there is always some unconscious trepidation about swimming out into the Pacific. And when you see something brown in the shape of a leg, calf and foot – well, it stops a fellah cold. Freud and Jung both believed that dreams had equal impact to waking experiences. I wonder if at some advanced age, years from now in a nursing home, whether my remembered reality of the swim at Órgano will come back: The image of a ghost body, or the realisation after investigating, that it was a cloud of brownish algae-like substance, surprisingly clustered in the shape of a human leg.

The walk to the trailhead for Bahía del Órgano from the Hotel Binniguenda in Santa Cruz takes about 25 minutes. Once on the forested trail, it takes an additional 10 minutes to walk to the beach. Our swim at Órgano was out to a point of rock on the right side facing the bay, then across the bay to the roped off swim/snorkel area, then back to the beach. Swim distance, approximately 500 metres (half a kilometer).

Maguey (January 21):

Back in the day before Huatulco tourism development, Bahía Maguey was enclosed by lush vegetation stretching across its mouth. People could only access the bay with a smaller boat. There is also reported to be a “secret” cave, only accessible underwater. The cave was at one time rumoured to be a hiding place for pirates. I wonder though, how did the pirates know about the cave if it was behind the reeds and under water? However, neither reeds nor diving pirates impeded our progress as we swam across the bay and back again, a swim of about 600 metres.

Also relevant to both Órgano and Maguey is a news story (March 2021) that FONATUR had purchased back these two bays from Fernando Chico Pardo (Chairman of the ASUR group). Pardo had purchased this land for development in 2011. The land is zoned for hotel and mixed commercial use, but no development had begun (and presumably no development had even been proposed). I guess the “For Sale” sign is back up on the beaches.

Chahué (January 28):

In The Edge of Enchantment: Sovereignty and Ceremony in Huatulco, Mexico, author Alicia Maria Gonzalez notes that Bahía Chahué was an alligator-infested marshland up until the FONATUR development. The sand, gravel and rock from nearby construction was used to fill the marsh and create a lovely beach with a lifeguard, public washrooms (5 pesos), and showers (10 pesos). Caution is advised at Chahué for anyone not comfortable in the water. The beach descends quickly below the water and waves crash near to shore. There are occasional rip tides. Chahué is less sheltered than other Huatulco bays so there are often modest waves. These sea swells were moderate, in fact fun, as we swam across the bay and back. The bay is about 400 metres across at the breakwater, so about an 800-metre) swim.

Cacaluta (February 4):

The original name of this bay was Cacalotepec, translated as “the hill of crows.” To get to Bahía de Cacaluta, one drives or walks 5 kilometres from the Binniguenda hotel, passing beyond Maguey, to get to the trailhead. It is then a 20-minute walk along a maintained trail. Part of the trail is along a boardwalk with two viewpoints overlooking what in February was a dried-up wetland – so dry in fact that even the grass growing where the marsh used to be has turned brown. We may need the help of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, and the rainy season to replenish this (and other) marshlands.

Cacaluta Bay has two beaches shaped like side-by-side smiles. There is a small spit of land separating the smiles, and this point is closest to the rock island dominating the mouth of the bay. From that point, we swam across to the island, then across its rocky frontage (no beach), inside the roped-off snorkel/scuba diving area. We then closed the triangle by swimming back to our starting point, about 700 metres.

San Agustín (February 11):

It was about 10:30 in the morning as we wound our way along the gravel road (half hour drive), to access Bahía San Agustín from Highway 200. We followed a convoy of five large tourists buses on the way in. Our beach restaurant waiter at San Agustín, Cristian, thought there were about forty restaurants lining this bay. I didn’t count, but there certainly are a whole lot of them.

A central attraction at San Agustín is the coral reef located close to shore, in shallow water, and is more or less at the centre of the bay. The roped-off swimming and snorkelling area includes the coral reef and a rocky outcrop which is to the right while facing the sea. The boat access to the shore is on either side of this snorkel area.

My favourite part of Huatulco bay swimming is crossing over a coral reef. Not only for the underwater eye-candy this provides, but it also allows for a sense of movement not normally experienced in open water swimming. So even we slow swimmers feel as if we’re “ripping” when crossing over a reef. We did just that at San Agustín, but mostly we swam around the reef following the buoys along the outer edge of it, and then back, an estimated swim distance of 900 metres.

Conejos (February 18):

Some long-time visitors and residents might remember Bahía Conejos before the all-inclusive resort hotel Secrets opened in 2010. There used to be a walking trail, now fenced off, that led down to the beach and a restaurant run by local fishermen. Neither the trail nor the restaurant survived the arrival of Secrets and the subsequent fencing off of the adjacent property by the Melia Hotel chain.

Melia had announced in 2014 it would build a 500-room resort hotel on Conejos – it would have been located just east of Secrets, but as of yet, nothing but the fence and a security guard occupy the site. However, there is another trail down to Conejos west of Secrets, and two local restaurants on the beach.

Thanks to our swim quest, we rediscovered Conejos, and enjoyed the bay and beach from one of the restaurants. The trail access has a handmade sign for Conejos Bay just before arriving at the Secrets resort, about a 7 kilometre drive from Tangolunda. Conejos has the unique feature of a rock outcropping that partitions off a part of the bay. This spot is where the trail leads, and where the two restaurants are located. There is a slightly elevated, full view of the entire bay and beach access from this spot. The rock outcrop serves to screen the view of the resort leaving anyone at the restaurants with the illusion of a lovely undeveloped bay on the Oaxacan coast. In addition, while we were there for several hours, very few people from the resort ventured out onto the beach, solidifying this perspective.

Our swim was straight across from the two ends of the curved bay and back, about 650 metres in all.

Tangolunda (February 25):

Being a foreigner of the snowbird variety, with ten or more winters in Huatulco, it’s funny how much of an outsider I still felt at the resort-lined Bahía Tangolunda (“pretty woman”) bay. Yet for thousands of tourists each year, the view of this bay is likely what they take home as a memory of Huatulco. It’s a beautiful bay, in a resort-esque sort of way. The sandy curve of the bay is framed on one side by the impressive and ordered look of the reddish-orange Las Brisas hotel complex, and on the other side by mansions of Balcones de Tangolunda peeking out on the rocky cliffs.

Getting to the beach I couldn’t help feeling as if we were sneaking onto the king’s estate to poach deer. The public access is from the campground (parking 10 pesos). From here you walk along the chain-link fence of the golf course. The trail is strewn with tires and broken sand bags, placed there when the area was a bog. In February, of course, it’s bone dry. The walk is 3 or 4 minutes to the beach.

The Chontal name for this bay was tecualo, the place of rocks. We found this to be an apt description. The bay itself boasts prominent rocky islands, but there are also rocky mounds near the surface of the bay, cordoned off inside the swim areas. There are two buoy-lined swim areas, one in front of the Barcelo, the other in front of the Dreams resort. There is boat and jetski access between these two roped off areas.

We swam out and along one side of the Barcelo swim area, then further out to a point on the rocky island closest to the shore. From this rocky point we could see there was a line of rocks behind the island stretching out seaward. There is a break in the rocks about 10 metres wide, and through this break we could see the beach in front of Dreams (Camino Real Zaashila has its own cove separated by a rocky outcrop from the Dreams Resort.) We swam through this break in the rocks and across to the swim area in front of Dreams. Then back across the front of the bay to our starting point. This swim route was our longest swim in our swim-the-bays project – the full loop was about 1 kilometer.

Chachacual Bay (March 4):

Of all the nine bays of Huatulco, Bahía Chachacual takes the most effort to get to. It is accessible only by boat. We rented a lancha at San Agustín for the 20-minute boat ride to Chachacual. As you enter the bay by boat, the long playa Chachacual is on the left, stretching across most of the bay. To the right, is a separate cove known as Playa La India. This beach, often touted as a remote idyllic spot, was partially lined with beach umbrellas and tables. There was a beverage service. A lovely spot with boats anchored in the cove, shallow waters, and a nice beach, Playa La India was the end point of our cross-bay swim.

We jumped off the boat at the entrance to Chachacual bay, opposite Playa La India, where there was a small roped off snorkel or dive area along the rocks. From there we picked a large boat anchored at La India as our line of sight and began our swim. For this swim, John and I had company. John’s niece, Schuyler, an experienced open-water swimmer, joined us for the swim; John’s wife Deborah and her sister Priscilla were the boat spotter crew as we swam across the deep waters of the bay. Our swim distance at this, our final bay, was about 900 metres.

Santa Cruz:

Bahía de Santa Cruz sees the most open-water swimmers. Each morning between about 6:30 and 8:30, there are a fair number of regular swimmers. Besides the ease of access for most Huatulqueños, there are markers for the different swimming abilities. From the beach looking seaward, there are some green buoys that can be used as swim objectives. The first green buoy, referred to by the regular morning swimmers as “El Primero,” is at the end of the cruise ship pier. The distance out and back is about 700 metres. The next buoy further out is at the entrance to La Entrega (round-trip, about 1,500 metres). Most of the longer distance swimmers, if going this far, swim to the beach at Entrega. The Entrega beach is approximately 1 kilometre in each direction from the Santa Cruz beach.

John and I separately do a fitness swim at Santa Cruz each week, so we didn’t include it in “Swimming The Bays Of Huatulco” project.

In all, a fun and interesting project for John and me this season. The swim across each of the nine bays of Huatulco has enhanced our experience of Huatulco overall, and provided us with unique experiences of each of these lovely bays. There will be another swim project for us next season in Huatulco. I hope the above descriptions and swim information are useful and encourage other open-water swimmers to explore Las Bahías de Huatulco.

Randy Jackson: box95jackson@gmail.com

Five Environmental Wins in 2021

By Kary Vannice

While climate change research is producing issuing dire assessments about the very short timetable and the very large commitments required to avoid environmental disaster, there have actually been some bright spots on the ground. Here are five of them.

1) The Monarch Butterfly Bounces Back

In the January 2017 issue of The Eye, I reported on the death of 6.2 million monarch butterflies in a freak severe winter storm in the Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca. At that time, experts were so concerned about the fate of the monarch that they speculated that they might be listed as threatened in just a few short years. In 2020, the numbers hit an all-time low.

In 2021, however, some areas along the migration route saw an increase in monarchs by as much as 4900% from the previous year. While others saw only a 25% increase from 2017, biologists and conservationists are encouraged that this is the beginning of a new era for the monarch butterfly.

2) The Giant Panda Delisted

China’s giant panda’s iconic black and white markings have long been a symbol for conservationists worldwide. The World Wildlife Fund, which has used the panda as their logo since 1958, upgraded them from endangered to vulnerable in 2021.

There are now about 1800 pandas thriving in the wild; last year, China also announced the creation of the Giant Panda National Park, which will contribute to growing numbers of wild pandas. The park will be roughly the size of the United Kingdom and will also serve to protect other threatened and endangered species such as the China tiger and the Siberian leopard.

3) Ocean Protection and Coral Reef Recovery

Fourteen countries banded together in the name of ocean conservation. Australia, Canada, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Portugal, Fiji, Jamaica, and Palau collectively committed to protecting all of the world’s oceans, not just focusing on the areas that were already in preservation status.

From shutting down illegal fishing operations to restoring depleted mangrove forests and renewing coral reefs, these 14 nations are committed to doing their part to solve the more significant climate change crisis.

Off the coast of Australia, in the Great Barrier Reef, a “coral IVF” project has aided in the birth of billions of new coral babies in 2021 alone. Australia also announced a plan to create 60 new marine reserves, with two massive reserves planned in the Indian Ocean, one of which will encompass 194,000 square miles.

4) Indigenous Peoples Recognized and Protected

The Peruvian government established a 2.7 million acre reserve specifically for “uncontacted peoples” to preserve their way of life and the land they live from. After 20 years of political debate, a new law has been enacted to protect indigenous people from oil conglomerates and other companies that seek to extract natural resources from the Amazon rainforest.

At last year’s United Nation global climate summit in Glasgow (COP 26, co-sponsored with Italy from 10/31 – 11/12/2021), research was presented that suggested that if tropical rainforest nations wanted to meet their Paris Agreement goals, the most effective action they could take would be to return vast sections of land back to the indigenous peoples and once again make them the land’s legal stewards.

5) Mexico Bans GMO Corn and Pledges to Phase Out Glyphosate

In January 2021, Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a special decree that prohibited genetically modified corn and committed the country to phasing out glyphosate by 2024.

There are 59 distinct varieties of corn that are native to Mexico, the birthplace of corn, and many believe that planting GM corn could threaten the biodiversity of Mexico’s native corn.

Glyphosate, the herbicide used in Roundup, kills broad-leafed weeds and grasses. Glyphosate is suspected of causing illnesses such as cancer, infertility, and liver disease. In the decree signed last year, farmers and other agricultural producers will have to stop using glyphosate by 2024.

Both of these protections are important steps towards keeping the food supply in Mexico safe and healthy, as well as preserving the integrity of Mexico’s most important native food, corn.

The Mystery Novel: Not At All Elementary

By Carole Reedy

Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation, Detective Sherlock Holmes, never actually used the oft-quoted phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson,” although he often responded to remarks by his sidekick Dr. Watson with the simple deduction “Elementary.” As we mystery readers know, however, things are never as simple as they seem.

Today, mystery novels are among the most-read genre among adults, second only to romance novels. It all started with Edgar Allen Poe’s publication in 1841 of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” But even as far back as the 16th century, leaflets that reported details of the latest gruesome crimes were written and distributed, and stories with elements of crime have been around since ancient Greece.

As youngsters, many of us obsessed over the adventures of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I well remember arranging all of my Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton (recommended by my mother) novels in numerical order on the bookshelves in my bedroom, and I loved perusing the colorful covers.

What’s the attraction to the genre that has endured for 150 years? What are the elements of a successful mystery? I talked to many readers and, after conducting a bit of research, came to a few conclusions. Included at the end of this article are recommendations – theirs and mine – for hours of delightfully mysterious reading.

Tell me a story

For centuries people have gathered to share stories. The craft of storytelling requires believable, distinctive characters, a setting filled with atmosphere, and a plot that stimulates emotion and challenges the reader’s mind. Avid reader Larry Boyer from Denver likes the “puzzle” element of the mystery. And indeed, who doesn’t love a puzzle? Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology, backs up this thought: “A puzzle is a challenge to the brain, and figuring it out provides closure.”

Although mystery novels inevitably involve a crime and a police presence, including a detective, not all are gruesome like Poe’s tales and neither are they all graphic in their description of murder. Solving the crime is the purpose, but the enjoyment comes from multi-dimensional characters – villains, detectives, and police alike. Mysteries have answers, and that is reassuring to readers, especially in our ever-changing world.

In Psychology Today magazine (April 12, 2019), David Evans deduces that mystery novels “are redemptive, they give us hope, and help us move from fear to reassurance.” Many mystery novels are pure psychology.

Patricia Highsmith reigns as queen of psychological murder stories. Strangers on a Train (1950) is her most recognized work, perhaps because a popular movie was created from it, but Highsmith has crafted dozens of stories and novels that surprise and shock, all written in her distinctive style reflecting an existential philosophy. She is never dull.

Two of her other novels have been made into suspense-filled films: The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955; film starring Matt Damon, 1999) and The Price of Salt (1952, under the nom de plume Claire Morgan; republished as Carol under her own name, 1990; film titled Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, 2015)

Character development

Of all the factors that make up successful mysteries, character development appears among the top factors for a writer’s publishing success. This may be the reason that series are so popular. Readers like to become involved in the characters’ lives over time to the point that they sometimes discuss them as if they were personal friends.

Boise reader Camille Oldenberg expresses a shared sentiment: “Long after I finish a series, I don’t recall the details of the mysteries but I do recall the ongoing characters and the setting. I think character development is what most appeals to me in all fiction.” Both Camille and other readers mentioned that a glimpse into other cultures is also a factor contributing to their enjoyment of mysteries. Many different countries and cultures are listed in our recommendations.

In another interesting take on characters in mystery novels, Booker Prize Winner Marlon James, whose mother is a detective in Jamaica, has created a six-part TV series for HBO and the UK’s Channel 4, Get Millie Black, in which a Jamaican detective is forced to quit Scotland Yard and returns to Jamaica in search of a missing person.

“She’s not based on my mum, whatever my mum might think,” says James, though he does like to believe some of the detective work has rubbed off on him. “I am my mother’s child,” he says. “I look at writing as a mystery that I have to solve. I start with a character and follow them.”

Some of our favorite literary novelists contain an element of mystery in their best-selling works. Take two of the most lauded authors of the 20th and 21st centuries: Paul Auster from the USA and Javier Marías of Spain.

Auster and Marías capture the essence of humanity with engaging stories written in unique styles that explore identity and reality. Paul Auster became famous after The New York Trilogy hit the market in 1985. City of Glass, the first book of the trilogy, features an author of detective fiction who becomes a private investigator and descends into madness.

Marías, whose Nobel Prize for Literature award announcement should occur one of these years, also searches for identities. Several of his novels are centered around a crime committed. A Heart So White (1992) starts out with a suicide, The Infatuations (2011) with a murder, and one of the main characters in Berta Isla (2017) is a spy. Marías is a master of digression. Both Auster and Marias deliver food for thought and hours of amazement as the complexity of the characters dominates the action.

Mexico City reader of many genres Mimi Escalante sums up the allure of the genre simply, echoing Marguerite Duras’ sentiment: “They are glamorous and eccentric. The suspense keeps us going…and, after all, crime attracts us.”

Recommending a few mystery writers and their works is onerous. Here’s my attempt to provide you with a variety of choices.

Let’s start with the 19th century
The Woman in White (1859), by Wilkie Collins
The Collected Sherlock Holmes Stories (1887-1927), by Arthur Conan Doyle (four novels, 56 short stories)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), by Edgar Allen Poe
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke (1893-84), a collection of stories by Catherine Louisa Pirkis, the first woman author to create a woman detective
Bleak House (1852-53), by Charles Dickens

Early 20th Century: the Queens of Crime
During the Golden Age of the 1920s and 30s, four British women dominated the scene with their dark detective novels.

Ngaio Marsh of New Zealand wrote 33 novels with London’s Chief Inspector Alleyn as her protagonist. An award, named in her honor, is given out each year in New Zealand for the best mystery or crime book.

Agatha Christie is known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. You may recognize her main detectives, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

Dorothy Sayers is best known for her detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Quite a diverse woman, she published 16 novels, eight short story collections, seven poems, and 24 nonfiction works, among them translations and plays.

Margery Allingham is “my favorite of the four queens of crime” according to J. K. Rowling, author of the famed Harry Potter series. Allingham is yet another of the four queens who published prolifically, with 18 novels and more than 20 short stories centered around her main detective, Albert Campion.

The late 20th and 21st Century Series
Inspector Lynley series: 21 novels by Elizabeth George. The setting is England.
Ruth Galloway series: 13 novels with number 14 due out this summer by Elly Griffiths. Setting is Norfolk, England.
Three Pines Inspector Gamache series: 17 books by Louise Penny set in Quebec.
Maisie Dobbs series: 18 books by Jacqueline Winspear, set in London.
Kurt Wallander series: 12 books by Henning Mankell. Swedish setting.
Inspector Salvo Montalbano series: 28 novels by Andrea Camillieri. Set in Sicily.
Dublin Murder Squad series: Six books by Tana French. Set in Dublin Ireland.
Vish Puri series: Five books by Tarquín Hall, set in India.
The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series: 23 books by Alexander McCall Smith, taking place in Botswana.
Adam Dalgliesh series: 14 books by P.D. James. Set in London.
The Thursday Murder Club series: Two books so far by Richard Osman. Kent, England.
The Warehouse Winery series: Two books to date by Kathy Kaye, set in Washington State and France. Kathy personally wrote me her concerns as a mystery writer:

As a wine mystery writer (Death at 21 Brix, A Death in France and, next year, Death Among the Vines) I ask myself these questions as I begin: Can I really pull this off? Is the story believable? Are the characters interesting? Is the wine information correct? Are the police following police procedural?

She also notes that her readers have asked her to write less about wine making and more about what her characters are drinking!

On that note,
Cheers!

Politics, Petroleum, and the Environment:How to Doom Your Country’s Climate Targets

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

About last month: Did you emerge from the mental fog induced by St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 in time to face the festivities of March 18? Completely missed it? March 18, what’s that?

Mexico’s Oil Belongs to Mexico – via PEMEX

In Mexico, March 18 is “Expropriation Day,” the anniversary of President Lázaro Cárdenas’ 1938 nationalization of the country’s oil fields and production facilities. It seemed like “a good idea at the time,” and many Mexicans think of the expropriación petrolera as a second Mexican Revolution, one that liberated Mexican workers from low wages and oppressive working conditions imposed by the foreign companies that dominated the oil industry in Mexico. It is taught in schools as a story of resistance to American imperialism, a source of great national pride.

Before expropriation, there were 17 international firms producing oil in Mexico, dominated by the Mexican Eagle Company (a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch/Shell Company, now just “Shell”) and various U.S. firms (Jersey Standard, a branch of Standard Oil, and Standard Oil Company of California, SOCAL, now Chevron); together the Dutch and the Americans (basically, the Rockefellers) controlled 90% of the production of Mexican oil; Gulf Oil added another 5%.

Under Cárdenas’ plan, the Mexican government would control the production and commercialization of all petroleum resources derived from Mexican territory, significantly increasing government income while shoring up public finance and the social benefits it provided. To do this, he created a government corporation, Petróleos Mexicanos – that would be PEMEX, for those of us who drive in Mexico.

PEMEX was designed as a country-wide monopoly, jointly owned by the state and the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la República Mexicana (petroleum workers’ union). It was tasked with all phases of oil and gas production in Mexico: exploration, development, transportation, refining, storage, distribution, and sales. It was designed to partner with the Comisión Federal de Electricidad, known far and wide as CFE, which had been set up in 1937.

Mexico as Petrostate

And what has 84 years of government control of the oil and gas industry done for Mexico?

International oil companies had been encouraged to come to Mexico by President José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, who ruled Mexico in dictatorial style from 1877 to 1911 (with a four-year hiatus due to term limits, which he canceled after his re-election). Porfirio Díaz was overthrown by the Mexican Revolution (officially fought from 1910-17). In 1917, there were 440 oil production companies working in Mexico, they produced 55 million barrels a day, and Mexico was the world’s second-largest producer of crude oil.

In 1917, Mexico voted in its Constitution, which restored national control of the oil industry. Foreign companies could produce oil from Mexican wells, but needed to obtain official government concessions, which the largest companies refused to do. Both sides succeeded in ignoring the tensions, but oil production began slipping away to Venezuela, where it was cheaper to extract the crude.

Two decades later, the event that brought on expropriation was a labor strike against the international petroleum companies; after a year of negotiating, the petroleum workers’ union walked off the job for 11 days, and the government sent the contract to federal arbitration, which defined a new contract. The international companies refused to accept it, expropriation had been established by law in 1916, and there you go – Mexico took it all.

Over time, that hasn’t worked out all that well. The greatly simplified explanation is that, had the motivations for expropriation, the establishment of PEMEX, and tying it to CFE, been strictly economic, all might have been well. But the public monopoly was also intended to support Mexico’s socioeconomic programs – health, housing, education, recreation, retirement. (PEMEX revenues also funded Mexico’s repayment of loans incurred during the financial crisis of the late 1970s.) Ultimately, PEMEX has been used to pay for everything but financing the company itself: there has been little exploration for new sites, there is no infrastructure to develop them, and lack of maintenance has produced huge oil spills, particularly into the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, PEMEX has been heavily subsidized by the government to keep retail prices low, thus obscuring real production production costs, so there is no government or public appetite for “remodeling” PEMEX to do a better job.

Back to the Future in the Oil Industry

Every so often, especially when the petroleum industry teetered and later as NAFTA was being negotiated (1994, renewed 2020), figures in the Congreso de la Unión (the federal legislature) or various presidents would make noises about letting international oil companies return. Between 2004 and the beginning of the presidential term of President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), oil production had dropped from 3.4 to 2.5 million barrels a day, and continued to drop, but the nation’s budget depended on PEMEX for a third of its revenues.

If the nation’s oil industry were left to PEMEX on its own, “Much of Mexico’s estimated 30 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas” would “simply remain locked in the ground” (Forbes, October 30, 2013). PEMEX was hamstrung, without “sufficient technical expertise” for exploration, and was legally denied the ability to acquire the expertise. Even if PEMEX could have brought in outside expertise, “big oil” wouldn’t come without financial guarantees, which PEMEX of course could not provide.

In 2013, Peña Nieto managed to amend the Mexican constitution to permit private international investment in oil, gas, and electricity production and distribution, including in the retail fuel market. Mexico auctioned off blocks of deep and shallow water exploration concessions, and welcomed international gasolineras – indeed, those of us who drive in Mexico saw BP (née British Petroleum), RepSol (Spain), and Gulf (U.S.) stations on our southbound treks to Oaxaca.

Not So Fast!

Many – notably, future presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) – opposed the constitutional reform on the grounds that oil and gas were a treasure of Mexico’s national heritage. “Treason,” said AMLO. When AMLO won the 2018 election on the basis of his populist nationalism, cloaked in the language of the left, he immediately set out to dismantle Peña Nieto’s energy sector reforms and restore PEMEX and fossil fuels to a position of pride – although not necessarily productivity, and certainly not to the benefit of the environment.

However, AMLO’s approach to Mexican energy – restore PEMEX/CFE and achieve self-sufficiency, the environment be damned – has brought on sharp criticism from analysts concerned with environmental protection. Combined with the environmental impacts of other AMLO strategies in tourism and economic development, Mexican energy policy is raising alarms at home and abroad; the policies are seen as detrimental, if not disastrous, in a country as “mega-biodiverse” as Mexico.

Mexico is party to the 2015 Paris Agreement, a UN-sponsored international treaty that records voluntary “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs, from its signatory nations to meet targets for (1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions and (2) adapting to climate change through developing sources of alternative energy. Mexico was the first “developing country” to submit a plan for participating in the Paris Agreement, including an NDC of cutting emissions 22% by 2030 and obtaining 35% of its energy from alternative sources by 2024.

Countries are supposed to boost those targets every five years; new targets were announced in October 2021 at COP26, the second UN-sponsored climate change conference (Glasgow, Scotland, October 2021). Despite a visit from U.S. climate envoy John Kerry in advance of COP26, Mexico – along with Russia and Brazil – said it would work on increasing targets, but would not raise them. Mexico is the 14th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and the 2nd-largest in Latin America, bested only by the Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, who promotes “land use change” in the form of slash-and-burn conversion of jungle to agriculture and industry. Climate Action Tracker, an international research partnership, finds that, given its policies and performance, Mexico’s emissions will rise, not fall, and the Mexico’s targets are “not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit.”

AMLO and the Environment

It would, of course, be difficult to lower emissions when you are “pouring money into PEMEX, at the environment’s expense” as Bloomberg analysts put it in January 2021. In search of an energy-independent Mexico, AMLO has also made regulatory changes that “cut the knees off a booming renewables market” by ordering regulatory agencies to favor PEMEX/CFE by means of over-regulation of about 200 wind farms, solar arrays, natural gas plants, and other private projects.

AMLO is promoting two major infrastructure projects. First, to shore up oil production, he is building an $8 billion US mega oil refinery at Dos Bocas in his home state of Tabasco, on what was a protected mangrove forest. The refinery has been opposed by both business and environmentalist groups, and has been prejected to fail on financial grounds. In addition, AMLO has asked PEMEX to increase output at the country’s six current refineries, which burn highly polluting fuel oil. CFE is using high-sulfur fuel oil, and has bought tons – 2 million tons – of coal as a further source of fuel.

And then there’s the (in)famous Tren Maya, a tourism initiative that is laying over 1,550 kilometers of rail tracks across Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Chiapas – right through the rainforest that is home to the endangered Mexican jaguar. The price tag is now $200 billion mxn (about $9.8 billion US); in a bid to add utility to the Tren Maya, freight capacity has been added to the original vision. The Tren Maya is opposed by both indigenous and environmentalist groups.

AMLO’s strategies for meeting Mexico’s NDCs are to plant trees and update 60 hydroelectric plants. The Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) program, funded at $3.4 billion US, pays farmers to plant trees for fruit and timber production. Intended to bring income-producing agriculture to degraded land, the program actually encourages farmers to clear the jungle (that would be slash-and-burn again) to plant the program-provided trees.

Modernizing the hydroelectric plants receives high marks from agencies and experts in general, but in the first quarter of 2019, hydroelectric produced 6.4% of Mexico’s power, other alternatives (wind, nuclear, solar) produced 9.6%, and fossil fuels produced the remaining 84%. Hydroelectric power is much more expensive to produce than wind or solar; all the plants involved are over 50 years old, and modernization will be complicated and expensive. Many areas of Mexico face drought conditions, and dammed water is diverted to agricultural use rather than the hydroelectric plant. Promoting hydroelectric power with these improvements is a policy with only minor benefits.

When his policies and programs are criticized on environmental grounds, AMLO is dismissive, conspiracy oriented, and attacks the opposition: “There’s a lot of deception. I would tell you that they have grabbed the flag of clean energy in the same way they grab the flag of feminism or human rights. Since when are conservatives concerned about the environment?”

When he was elected, AMLO said he would have a mid-term review of his presidency. On April 11, 2022, he is holding a consulta de Revocación de Mandato, a consultation with voters on whether to “revoke his mandate.” The ballot question is carefully awkward, if not confusing, in its wording; it conflates the issues of whether or not a voter approves of AMLO’s policies with whether AMLO should stay in office. Given a general social bias towards continuity, AMLO is likely to win in a landslide.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
Gloria Steinem

I am grateful to the generation of women that came before me and told me that I could be anything. Yet, for me, this also translated into the idea that I had to do everything. While I wanted a career I also wanted to be the kind of mother who drives the kids to tennis lessons and picks them up from school. The world I was raised in didn’t make it seem very possible to have both, and career was definitely considered better and more respect-worthy than becoming a housewife.

The world today is different. Being able to work remotely and have flexible hours has made it easier than ever for women to have a work/life balance. Reproductive choice – access to birth control and pregnancy termination – has also made it easier for women to choose what their future will look like.

Every International Women’s Day we celebrate the women who are making strides ahead. We raise them up on pedestals as examples of what is possible. We applaud our gender and marvel at how far we have come. Those who have peeked over the glass ceiling give speeches on how they hope to inspire girls to strive to the top of whichever field they choose.

But if the standard we hold for success is that every woman become a doctor, CEO or climate change activist we will always fall short of our goal.

Rather than look at the millions of women who spend their days caring for their family as failed potential, we could elevate our value of the tasks that occupy them. What if we elevated the value we put on what is termed ‘women’s work’?

What if we shifted our expectations of what it means to be a feminist to be more inclusive to those who haven’t had access to academic schooling on gender theory or the chance to get an MBA?

This IWD let us celebrate the women who are doing laundry in rivers, carpooling their kids to hockey, cooking dinner while staying on budget, helping with science class volcanos and mediating tantrums from toddlers.

Because while it is encouraging to be taught you can do anything, being taught that you are enough is true empowerment.

See you next month,

Jane

Fertile Ground for Life-Changing Insights,Self-Forgiveness, and Joy

By Kary Vannice

For our women’s issue several years ago (2017), I wrote an article about the mistreatment of inmates in women’s prisons in Mexico. My research uncovered unspeakable human rights abuses and a judicial system that turned a blind eye to reported sexual assault and torture. Many of the accounts were too stomach-turning to include in the article, and I felt deeply for these women. Their stories stuck with me because even law-breaking inmates deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

There are 102 women’s jails and prisons in Mexico, one of the toughest of which is in Ecatepec de Morelos, in the state of Mexico on the outskirts of Mexico City. This penitentiary houses several hundred women and many report living conditions that are borderline inhumane. Some have reported having to sleep standing up because there is no room for them to sit or lie down at night. Any possession, even a toothbrush, must be carried on one’s person at all times, or it will be immediately stolen.

It is a harsh environment filled with hardened criminals with hardened attitudes toward life and everyone around them. Forced to live in survival mode 24/7, there is no time to contemplate or create community, and vulnerability could mean death.

This is not the kind of environment that seems ripe for spiritual transformation work, unless you’re two Mexican women with a shared dream of helping this largely forgotten and underserved population.

Enter the Give to Give Foundation, a not-for-profit organization headquartered in New York that supports an organizational change technique called neuro-change solutions, based on the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist, researcher, teacher, and best-selling author. As the pandemic closed organizations down, Dispenza became interested in using his approach in prisons. Rose Caiola, Chair of the Board of Directors of Give to Give was more interested in working with women in prison. Through a series of coincidental meetings, Give to Give began a pilot project with at the penitentiary in Ecatepec – a simple three-day workshop to help rehabilitate and bring positive change to the lives of female convicts living in some of the worst conditions imaginable. The project was headed up by Verónica Ontiveros, who is with Give to Give in Mexico, and Sonia Peña García, a certified NCS consultant based in Monterrey.

It may seem that three days would not be nearly enough to change the mindset of someone who had been incarcerated for decades, attempted suicide multiple times, or sold their own child for grocery money, but, in fact, the opposite was true. The depraved conditions offered the perfect fertile ground for life-changing insights, self-forgiveness, and joy to bloom once more.

Twenty-eight women participated in the pilot project. Over the three days, they learned how to shift out of survival mode by releasing emotions like shame, blame, selfishness, anger, hatred, and resentment, and take 100% responsibility for their lives and their circumstances.

Slowly, the women began to laugh, trust, and smile again. One woman said, “I haven’t laughed in years. I didn’t even remember what it felt like to smile.” She was moved to tears just by seeing her own smiling face in the mirror again. Something had awakened in her, an inner knowing, an inner light.

At the end of the training, another woman raised her hand and exclaimed. “I finally got it! It’s not about having freedom outside. Freedom is a feeling. It’s a state of mind. So, if I think and feel that I am free, then I’m free here, even in prison.”

Each day, the women were also taught how to quiet their minds and meditate on the feelings of freedom, joy, and inner peace so that they could feel more in control of their lives again.

Twenty days after the three-day workshop, organizers returned to the prison for a surprise visit to see if the participants had integrated what they had learned into their daily lives. Upon arrival, they discovered that two of the participants had been released for good behavior and that every other woman that remained had been completely transformed. Their faces were brighter, they looked happier, they were more open and accepting of others around them. They were genuinely living examples of what they had learned. So much so that other inmates were requesting to take part in the next workshop.

Many of the women also reported improved relationships with their families on the outside and had eagerly shared what they had learned with their children, parents, husbands, and extended family.

Because of the success of the pilot project, Give to Give is now planning to expand the project to other women’s prisons in several other states in Mexico; they have the support of prison officials, who also noticed the change in the participants immediately, even though the conditions around them had not changed.

These 28 women, who were living in the very worst of conditions, now understand that it’s not the world around you that has to change for you to feel free and happy; it’s your inner world that must change first. That is where the true power lies to control your environment.

Spanish Lesson

By Julie Etra

Local Expressions (colloquialisms) and Polite Exchanges

Money: Dinero is broadly used. Lana is synonymous and more common here. Billete refers to the actual bill. Biyuyo is also used here. Moneda is coinage, but slang includes morraya and chincastle.

Bottled water: A big 5-gallon jugs of water is called a garrafón as opposed to a small bottle of water, una botella

Beer: Cerveza is universal, but also known here as a chela. A caguama is the 40 oz version, and a species of sea turtle. A michelada is beer with lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, clamato juice, and chili peppers. It is served in a chilled, salt-rimmed glass. Kind of like a Caesar.

Work: Trabajo is universal but here you will hear chamba (noun), chambear (verb), chambeando (adverb)

Polite expressions for excuse me:
Con permiso: Useful when shopping and you need to get around someone
Perdón: pardon
Discúlpame: forgive me

¡Provecho! Enjoy your meal, said to the adjacent diners upon leaving a restaurant

Boats: Here the smaller fishing boats are lanchas or pangas. Yachts, power or sail, are yates. Big boats are barcos. Sailboats are veleras.

We are even, as in ‘keep the change’ (said when paying a bill): Estamos a mano.

And for fun, here is a pun:
¿Que le dijo un pez al otro pez?
NADA

International Women’s Day, Mexican Style

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Over the years, the March issue of the The Eye has observed International Women’s Day (March 8) with articles on the famous, the fierce, the creative, the entrepreneurial – and the murdered – women of Mexico.

Mexican women have been world-class artists, actors, writers and photographers; they fought in their two national revolutions and have played key roles in the Zapatista movement. They are businesswomen and entrepreneurs; they occasionally give men a run for their money in corruption.

Politically speaking, Mexico has just become a leader in gender equity: by law, half the Congress must be women (The U.S. Senate is 24% women, and the House of Representatives is about 28%; in Canada, the Senate recently reached 50% women, but only briefly, while the House of Commons is 34% women.)

International Women’s Day is a worldwide celebration of what has been achieved in terms of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political equity; IWD works to raise awareness of what remains to be done. It emerged early in the 20th century – from labor struggles in the U.S. and Europe, from suffrage struggles in Russia, and in Mexico, from the Revolution of 1910-20. Although the U.S. labor movement celebrated National Women’s Day in 1909, the first International Women’s Day was observed in Europe in 1911. With the second-wave women’s movement of the 1960s, recognition by the U.N. in 1975, and official U.N. designation of March 8 as the date in 1977, IWD became a mainstream, but largely unofficial, holiday throughout the world.

International Women’s Day in Mexico

In Mexico, IWD was first celebrated in the 1930s in Mexico City. Mexican feminism began to emerge in the late 19th century, aimed mostly at achieving education for women; these efforts bore fruit before, during, and after the Revolution, as schoolteachers started entering the workforce. (The right to divorce came during the Revolution, in 1914.) Feminist magazines began appearing in the decades surrounding the Revolution as well, but they did not focus on broad social, economic, and political rights of full citizenship; rather, they promoted the emancipación of women within traditional social structures – they should broaden their intellectual and cultural horizons, and the importance their roles as wife and mother should be recognized.

With the support of progressive forces, including the Communist Party of Mexico, the Frente Único pro Derechos de la Mujer (The United Front for the Rights of Women – Frida Kahlo was one of the leaders), focused directly on national suffrage (there had been local progress on voting rights in the Yucatán and San Luis Potosí). Although the United Front was very active in the late 1930s, women did not win the national right to vote until 1953.

Until recently, there has been little research on mid-century Mexican feminism, but if we look carefully at a 1960 Mexican poster commemorating International Women’s Day and the 50th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, we can get a picture of just what the emancipation of women meant Mexico.

First, the poster shows the involvement of women in larger revolutionary struggles. The central figure, bearing a torch, is backed by the Cuban flag and has the number 26 emblazoned on her shirt – “26” was the symbol of Castro’s campaign to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista (the effort began July 26, 1953). On the right of the poster appear Asian women – the Chinese Revolution that brought that Communist Party and Mao Zedong to power concluded on October 1, 1949. To the left appear three Mexican women, who arguably represent, from front to back, women of direct Spanish descent, mestizos (Spanish and indigenous descent), and indigenous. A Mexican girl releases a dove, symbol of peace, to the flock in the sky. Nonetheless, the idea that women have participated in national revolutions is not the same as promoting a major revolution for the rights of women.

Second, and what is perhaps most interesting – and complicated – is the slogan across the bottom of the poster: LA EMANCIPACION DE LA MUJER ES LA OBRA DE LA MUJER MISMA (The emancipation of women is the work of the woman herself). “Emancipation” is a fraught word, saying more about the condition women want to escape – it reeks of restraint and control, if not slavery. And to say it is women themselves who must do the work of emancipation passes the buck on the long history of Church-influenced social structures and laws, much less the culture of machismo (literally, maleness) that have led to the need for emancipation.

International Women’s Day 2020

The Mexican feminist movement grew, as it did all around the world, during the 1960s through the 1980s. In the 1990s, however, the phenomenon of femicide in Mexico surfaced in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, where hundreds of women went missing, only to be found dead. Evaluations of interventions to quell the violence have shown they have had little effect, due to lackluster implementation or the country’s culture of impunity that favors men.

Thirty years later, with femicide and violence against women only growing, the slogans of the International Women’s Day marches of 2020 and 2021 said nothing about “emancipation.” Nor were the marches merely demonstrations, but serious, and violent, protests about femicide and gender-based violence.

On Saturday, February 8, 2020, Érick Francisco murdered his partner Ingrid Escamilla by stabbing her to death with a kitchen knife, then proceeding to skin and dismember her. This is femicide, which is far more prevalent in Mexico than the official statistics allow. For the murder of a woman to be considered a femicide, the woman must have experienced ongoing domestic, particularly sexual, abuse, and she must have been tortured or mutilated as part of the murder.

In 2018, Mexico registered 3,752 femicides, over 10 a day; in 2019, it was 3,825. Femicides surged 7.7% in the opening months of the pandemic. Feminists have called Mexico the “Femicide State” (Mexico Feminicidio) and cite a “culture of impunity” coming straight from the top.

In March 2020, there were over 26,000 calls to domestic violence hotlines. Mexico’s president, Andrés Manual López Obrador (AMLO) said 90% of them were fake. AMLO has also expressed impatience with feminist protests – they were just a distraction to make sure his airplane raffle failed; the March 8 demonstrations were the work of neoliberal opponents from the last regime “who want to see this government fail,” and “suddenly conservatives are dressing up as feminists” to attack him (reporting from The New York Times, May 31, 2020).

On International Women’s Day, Sunday, March 8, 2020, about 80,000 women took to the streets in Mexico City alone. Femicide and gender-based violence were the major themes: “Fight today so we don’t die tomorrow,” was accompanied by hundreds of posters of murdered women.

On Monday, March 9, the movement sponsored “A Day without Women,” a universal strike by women who stayed home from work (4o%, or 21 million, of Mexico’s women are in the formal workforce, countless more comprise the informal workforce) or did not leave their houses, in particular, they spent nothing to contribute to the economy. Major corporations (Walmart employs 108,000 women) gave women a paid day off to demonstrate.

International Women’s Day 2021

The National Palace – the seat of Mexico’s government and the home of the president – prepared for last year’s march with a barricade running all around the building. AMLO said it was to prevent “damage to historic buildings” (another barrier was erected around the national art museum, the Palacio de Bellas Artes), and to eliminate “provocations” that might be “infiltrated” by people seeking to use the women’s movement. AMLO himself, he said, is not a “male chauvinist” (reporting from BBC News, March 8, 2021).

On Monday, March 8, International Women’s Day saw a smaller number of protestors than in 2020, perhaps due to the pandemic, perhaps because there had been no ghastly femicides recently. Women, however, remained equally outraged. They were outraged by the barricade, which on Saturday night they had painted with a seemingly endless list – actually, 939 – of the names of murdered women.

They were also outraged by AMLO’s insensitivity to women’s issues, expressed this year in his steadfast support for Félix Salgado Macedonia, a candidate for governor of the state of Guerrero accused of rape by multiple women. According to AMLO, the accusations are “politically motivated,” and news-conference questions about Salgado brought a sharp “That’s enough!” (¡Ya Chole!). (Salgado’s daughter, Evelyn Salgado Pineda, is now governor of Guerrero.)

Protestors attacked the barricade with hammers, blowtorches, and their hands. Police threw flash-bang grenades and sprayed protestors with fire retardant; protestors sprayed well-shielded police with fire extinguishers. Injuries were reported by 62 police and 19 protestors.

While not all women in these protests agree that violence should be the tactic of choice, they also recognize that it seems to be the only way to focus attention on the issue of violence against themselves. Violence against women is the most basic way to keep women from achieving equality, and Mexico’s police have been “heavily implicated” in the crisis of violence against women. It should not be surprising that the “new” feminists of Mexico are younger women dedicated to supporting each other in the face of violence, using violent protest themselves when they consider it necessary.

Mexico – The Money Tells Its Story

By Julie Etra

In this part of southern Mexico, paper money – all issued by the central Banco de México – is colloquially known as lana, billete(s) or biyuyo. Change in coins is called moneda throughout Mexico, and locally you might hear chincastle and morraya.

I had often wondered about the historical figures portrayed on Mexican paper currency and their significance, as well as the landscapes and images on the opposite side of various denominations. Typically, one side commemorates an aspect of Mexican culture and prominent historical figures, with landscapes and flora and fauna featured on the reverse side. Mexican paper money is indeed artistic, colorful, beautiful, and instructive, so I’ve written about this in The Eye before (March 2019). But it’s been changed again, so here’s an update!

The $1,000 Peso Bill

This past November (2021) a new 1,000-peso bill was issued, although it is not widely circulated. Unlike its predecessors, it is printed on a plastic polymer. Honoring the Mexican Revolution on one side in multi -hues of teal and yellow are portraits of Francisco I. Madero, Carmen Serdán and Hermila Galindo in the foreground, while a steam locomotive, the modern transportation of the day, provides the background.

Madero was Mexico’s 37th president (1911-13) and a prominent leader in the history of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20). He pushed for the ouster of Porfirio Díaz, the self-declared President for Life who had ruled off and on from 1876 to 1911. Although well-educated and from a wealthy family, Madero advocated for the social reforms that fomented the Revolution. He was assassinated during a right-wing military coup.

María del Carmen Serdán Alatriste took on organizing the logistics of Madero’s anti-reelection movement in the state of Puebla. She maintained and protected the family household in the city of Puebla, where the first armed battle of the revolution took place. Carmen and her sister had smuggled guns in their clothing into their house to support the anti-reelection battle, set for November 20; supporters of Porfirio Díaz discovered the conspiracy on November 18 and attacked the house. You can visit the ensuing bullet holes in what is now Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana, Casa de los Hermanos Serdán. at 6 Oriente 6 in the historical center of Puebla.

Hermila Galindo Acosta was a well-educated and outspoken feminist and advocate for women’s rights. She was a supporter of Venustiano Carranza and became his personal Secretary, among other titles and responsibilities. Carranza, after a complicated series of power plays and internal dissent, became President for three years after the assassination of Madero. He supported Galina and helped her efforts, including the 1915-16 publication of the review La Mujer Moderna (The Modern Woman).

The reverse side features the tropical wetland ecosystem of the Calakmul Reserve in the State of Campeche, Mayan ruins, and the endemic jaguar.

The $20 Peso Bill

The new pink and green 20-peso bill (which was supposed to be replaced by coins) was released on September 24, 2021, and on the horizontal side depicts the “Solemn and peaceful entry of the Army of the Three Guarantees to Mexico City on September 27 of the memorable year of 1821 and Consummation of the Independence of Mexico’ (the original artist is unknown). Also called the Ejérciito Trigarante, this newly formed unified (albeit briefly) army comprised Spanish troops led by Agustín de Iturbide and Mexican insurgent troops led by Vicente Guerrero. (Guerrero later became Mexico’s second president – for less than a year; he was betrayed and brought to Bahía de Entrega, one of the beautiful bays of Huatulco, then transported to Oaxaca City where he was executed.)

The opposite, vertical side celebrates Mexican coastal mangrove ecosystems, the Mexican crocodile, and the roseate spoonbill, portrayed at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere wetland preserve in the Yucatán state of Quintana Roo (mangroves, crocodiles and roseate spoonbills also inhabit the Pacific coast).

The $50 Peso Bill

Issued on October 28. 2021, the beautiful new 50-peso bill was printed on a polymer instead of paper and is predominantly mauve-purple in color. It is very complex, in part to eliminate counterfeiting. The images are vertically oriented on both sides of the bill; security features include areas on the bill that feel different to the touch, and areas that change color when you tilt the bill.

The bill was designed to honor both Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history and its diverse natural history.

On the mainly historical side, the primary motif in the foreground shows an eagle perched on a prickly-pear cactus holding the atl-tlachinolli (the Aztec symbol for “water-fire,” representing war as sacred; this motif is a bas-relief carving on the back of the monolith called El Teocalli de la Guerra Sagrada (the Temple – teocalli is Nahuatl for “temple” – of the Sacred War). The monolith was discovered in 1831 in the foundations of what is now the National Palace of Mexico in Mexico City, which was originally built with the remains of preceding Aztec architecture. The temple/throne has been moved to the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park.

The monolith is a scale model of an Aztec temple, and could have been created as early as 1200; however, it is also thought to have been commissioned as a throne by Moctezuma II, the Aztec ruler defeated in the conquest, which would put its origins in the early 1500s. Archeologist Alfonso Corso, in a journal article from 1927, gave the piece its name, and hypothesized that the depiction of the eagle “justified human sacrifice and warranted warfare” as a way to collect prisoners for sacrifice.

In the background of the eagle depiction, a representation of the city of Tenochtitlán appears. The eagle depiction bears a striking resemblance to the national coat of arms that appears on the Mexican flag, except the “water-fire-war” object has been replaced by a snake. While no one quite knows why, some historians suggest that Spanish efforts to remove indigenous symbols led to the eagle capturing the snake. the city of Tenochtitlán appears; it is based on a portion of the 1945 mural by Diego Rivera, The Great City of Tenochtitlán, in the National Palace. The top of the bill shows the symbol for ollin (Nahuatl for “movement” – this ollin may represent the four movements of the annual course of the sun); there is a small “50” atop the symbol, as well as in each corner of the bill.

Although the Rivera mural shows some natural heritage – Mexico’s famous twin volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl, the central image on the reverse of the bill is the Mexican axolotl, an endemic salamander endangered due to loss of habitat, urban encroachment, pollution, and predation. The remaining axolotls are now confined to Lago Xochimilco, the remnant “lake” of the former basin of México and the name given to the southern Mexico City neighborhood where Aztec canals connected the neighborhoods of Tenochtitlán and provided access to chinampas, artificial agricultural plots for growing produce and flowers.

Not to be confused with other salamander species in this genus, often dubbed “axolotls” as well, the scientific name of this particular axolotl is Ambystoma mexicanum. Named after the Aztec god of fire and lightning, Xolotl, the axolotl, aka ajolote in Spanish, has been important in Mexican culture for centuries. It was important in the diet of pre-Hispanic residents of the city of Tenochtitlan and especially the Xochimiltecos (No thanks! But they still turn up in real tamales, check the February 2022 issue of The Eye).

Although native to the system of lakes that comprised the basin, axolotls were particularly prevalent in the Chalco-Xochimilco sub-basin, because it was less brackish than the other three basins. This huge, up-to-a-foot-long salamander is unusual in that its final metamorphic stage is not completed, and its gills remain outside its body. It is sexually mature in the larval stage. Even more unusual is its ability to regenerate limbs, hearts, spinal cords, and even part of their brains, so this odd-looking animal holds huge medical and scientific significance.

On the 50-peso bill, the ajolote is surrounded by chinampas, where corn – perhaps Mexico’s most resonant cultural symbol – is shown being cultivated. The trees shown growing on the edges of the chinampas are ahuejote trees (Salix bonplandiana), an erect willow resembling a poplar. (Ahuejote comes from the Nahuatl words atl, or “water” and huexotl, or “willow.”)

The $100 Peso Bill

A new 100-peso bill was issued on November 12, 2020. The bill is slightly larger than the new 20-peso bill. What a concept! Different sizes for different denominations. The images are vertically oriented on both sides, with hues dominated by pink and turquoise. Doña Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana, better known as Sor Juana, a scholar, philosopher, and poet, is represented on one side. Born in 1648 on what is now the outskirts of Mexico City, she was raised by her wealthy criolla (Spanish, but born in Mexico) mother. Her intelligence and insatiable curiosity were recognized at a very young age, and she self-educated herself in the family library. Even girls of her economic stature and recognized capabilities were denied any formal education, typical for the era. Sor translates as “nun”, which she became in order to escape the confines and expectations of marriage, and to continue her studies and writings. She was considered a “proto feminist,” arguing for women’s education, and she risked being censured by the church for her outspokenness. For a more thorough description of this incredibly progressive woman, please see The Eye, “The Tenth Muse,” September 2013.

The temperate forests of the states of México and Michoacán de Ocampo, home to the Monarch Butterfly reserve, are featured on the other side. The butterfly is shown feeding on the nectar of a milkweed plant (Asclepias sp.), a symbiotic relationship essential for both the pollination of the plant and the reproduction of the Monarch. Loss of habitat and associated milkweed plants is the dominant reason for decline of this butterfly. In the background are oak-pine woodlands.

The $200 Peso Bill

In 2019 the Bank of Mexico issued the new 200-peso bill depicting Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the parish priest known as the Father of the Homeland, and José María Morelos y Pavón, known as “Servant of the Nation,” in commemoration of Mexico’s Independence. Pavón was also a Catholic priest and a revolutionary leader in the war of independence, who assumed leadership after Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla was executed.

To their left is La Campana de Dolores (the Bell of Dolores). The bell was rung at dawn on September 16, 1810, in the town of Dolores, Guanajuato, Mexico (known as the “Cradle of National Independence”), calling the population to rebel against the authorities of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The grito (shout) made by the parish priest, along with Ignacio Allende, a captain in the Spanish army who sympathized with independence, is known as the Grito de Dolores. Every year on September 15, the Mexican president rings the bell, which has been relocated to the central balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City, to commemorate the grito.

On the upper right side, the denomination 200 is multi-colored as it changes between blue and green depending on inclination and lighting. The bill is also friendly to the blind, containing tactile, three-dimensional lines. The opposite side of the bill celebrates desert ecosystems, represented by a golden eagle soaring over the El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve in the state of Sonora.

The $500 Peso Bill
In August 2018, a new blue 500-peso billete was issued, supposedly to fight counterfeit bills (one often sees checkout clerks inspecting 500-peso notes). Both front and back images are horizontally oriented. One side portrays Benito Juárez, the 26th president of Mexico, accompanied by an image of his triumphal arrival at Mexico City on July 15, 1867, symbolizing the victory of the Reformation, the separation of Church and State and the basic principle of equality before the law. Benito Juárez came from Oaxaca, and is Mexico’s only completely indigenous president (Vicente Guerrero’s father was of mixed Afro-Mexican and indigenous descent).

The opposite side of the bill features a ballena gris (gray whale) and her calf, representing the coasts, seas, and islands of Mexico’s varied marine worlds, and specifically the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve in Baja California Sur, a World Heritage Site.