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Mexico’s Geographic Potential

Despite Mexico's Geography, Mexico is a Country in Crisis

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Mexico Flag

The Mexico flag has three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), white, and red; the coat of arms (an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak) is centered in the white band.

Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007

Geography can have a profound influence on a country's economy. States that are landlocked are nautically disadvantaged in global trade compared to coastal states. Countries located in the mid-latitudes will have greater agricultural potential than those in the high latitudes, and lowland areas encourage industrial development more so than highland areas. It is widely believed that Western Europe's financial success is a fundamental result of the continent's superior geography. However, despite its influence, there remain cases in which a country with good geography could still experience economic distress. Mexico is an example of such a case.

The Geography of Mexico

Mexico is located at 23°N and 102°W, conveniently positioned between the developed economies of Canada and the United States and the burgeoning economies of South America. With coastlines stretching over 5,800 miles and access to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Mexico is an ideal global trading partner.

The country is also rich in natural resources. Gold mines are scattered throughout its southern regions, and silver, copper, iron, lead, and zinc ores can be found virtually anywhere within its interior. There is an abundance of petroleum along Mexico's Atlantic coast, and gas and coal fields are dispersed throughout the region near the Texas border. In 2010, Mexico was the third largest oil exporter to the United States (7.5%), behind only Canada and Saudi Arabia.

With approximately half of the country located south of the Tropic of Cancer, Mexico has the ability to grow tropical fruits and vegetables nearly year-round. Much of its soil is fertile and the consistent tropical rainfall help provide natural irrigation. The country's rainforest is also home to some of the world's most diverse species of fauna and flora. This biodiversity has great potential for biomedical research and supply.

Mexico's geography also provides great tourism possibilities. The crystal blue waters of the Gulf illuminate its white sand beaches, while ancient Aztec and Mayan ruins present visitors with an enriching historical experience. The volcanic mountains and forested jungle terrain provide an avenue for hikers and adventure seekers. Enclosed resorts in Tijuana and Cancun are perfect places for couples, honeymooners, and families on vacation. Of course Mexico City, with its beautiful Spanish and Mestizo architecture and cultural life, attracts visitors of all demographics.

Mexico's Economic Struggles

Despite Mexico's good geography, the country has not been able to fully utilize it. Shortly after independence, Mexico started redistributing its land, mostly to peasant communities consisting of 20 families or more. Known as ejidos, these farms were owned by the government with the rights to use parceled out to village communities and then to individuals for cultivation. Due to the collective nature of the ejidos and excessive fragmentation, agricultural production was low, leading to widespread poverty. In the 1990s, the Mexican government attempted to privatize the ejidos, but the effort did not work, either. To date, less than 10% of the ejidos have been privatized and many farmers continue to live in subsistence. Although modern large-scale commercial agriculture has diversified and improved in Mexico, many small scale farmers continue to struggle due to competition from cheap subsidized corn from the United States.

In the last three decades, Mexico's economic geography has progressed somewhat. Thanks to NAFTA, northern states such as Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, and Baja California have seen great industrial development and income expansion. However, the country' southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero continues to struggle. Mexico's infrastructure, already inadequate, serves the south far less well than the north. The south also lags in education, public utilities, and transportation. This contrast is leading to a great deal of social and political strife. In 1994, a radical group of Amerindian peasants formed a group called the Zaptista National Liberation Army (ZNLA), who consistently rages guerrilla warfare on the country.

Another major obstacle to Mexico's economic advancement is the drug cartels. Over the past decade, drug cartels from Colombia established new bases in northern Mexico. These drug barons have been murdering law enforcement officers, civilians, and competitors by the thousands. They are well armed, organized, and they have begun to undermine the government. In 2010, the Zetas drug cartel siphoned more than $1 billion dollars worth of oil from Mexico's pipelines, and their influence continues to grow.

The future of the country depends on the government's effort to close the gap between rich and poor in order to reduce regional inequalities. Mexico needs to invest in infrastructure development and education, all while pursuing strong trade policies with neighboring states. They need to find a way to abolish the drug cartels and create an environment that is secure for citizens and tourists. Most importantly, Mexico needs expand industrial avenues that can benefit from their good geography, such as the development of a dry canal across the narrowest part of the country to compete with the Panama Canal. With some proper reforms, Mexico has the great potential for economic prosperity.

References:

De Blij, Harm. The World Today: Concepts and Regions in Geography 5th Edition. Carlisle, Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Publishing, 2011

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