Blessed with a cornucopia of natural resources, Los Tuxtlas remains one of the most impoverished sectors
of the Mexican landscape,
Historically Los Tuxtlas were isolated from mainstream Mexico and did not begin to participate in the country´s
development until the early 1900´s, when revolutionist´s fever and a railroad penetrated low enough to
involve Los Tuxtlas.
The building of the coastal highway (Mexico 180) in the early 1950´s finally suckered Los Tuxtlas into the
20th century. Since then the region has experienced explosive population growth, largely related to Mexican
government land give-away programs.
Los Tuxtlas is still fettered by very large absentee owner land holdings and yet has to achieve its potential of
being one of the most productive areas in Mexico.
Veracruz is Mexico´s fourth poorest state among 32. The Los Tuxtlas municipios rank on the bottom of the
210 Veracruz counties, with anything in the northern Tuxtlas rated poor, and anything south, rated very poor.
And that is despite the Tuxtlas cornucopia of fertile soil, tourism, petroleum extraction, large scale livestock
operations and fishing resources.
In my more than 40 years of familiarity with Mexico, I have noticed the tremendous efforts this country has
made towards elevating its peoples economic conditions. Nevertheless, it´s only the rich who got richer, as
Obviously, something went and is wrong with the Mexican economy.
|Unfortunately, the Tuxtlas area has been afflicted with monoculture farming since Cortes first started growing sugarcane.
Consequently the vagaries of market price have seriously impacted the Tuxtlas economy and do so at present.
Almost anything Los Tuxtlas has tried, has resulted in a few becoming very rich and the majority seeing little change over
Sugarcane, which is probably the largest employer in Los Tuxtlas region, is very heavily subsidized by the Mexican
government in order to keep people employed. Even the subsidies, though, can´t keep that segment alive. The government
in last few years had to bail out almost every ingenio (sugarmillr) in the area. And the future is bleak. Other sweeteners,
primarily imported from the US, are dominating market share. Fortunately for the sugar growers and dentists, Mexico has
the highest consumption rate of sugar flavored soft drinks per capita in the world.
Cotton, which was an export commodity in Los Tuxtlas before Cortes arrived, also dominated the area for a while. That
disappeared in the 1800´s because producers could not compete with low priced imports and other textiles.
Lumber in turn became a mainstay to the agricultural communities for many years. But failure to replant what was cut
resulted in heavy deforestation and the Tuxtlas, like most of Mexico, turned into a net importer of lumber.
Coffee then had its turn, and when the international price dropped to almost nothing, coffee farmers, too, joined the
hunger lines. Coffee is still being grown in the Sierra Santa Marta.
Tobacco is still a money crop in Los Tuxtlas, although diminishing yearly. Only the high quality producers, like Turrent, are
surviving, but are also facing future problems related to competition and shrinking consumption.
The staple farming of beans, corn, chile, tomatoes, etc. continues on a small scale and primarily provides survival food for
small landholders and supplies local markets.
Dozens of other agricultural ventures are being tried and abandoned faster than a new one takes root. At present the local
intelligentsia are pushing bamboo and lichies. Good luck!
Even bananas are disappearing from Mexico and it´s hard to get a decent orange, while every Florida & California farmer is
crying over Mexican and more and more Chilean competition.
Some other efforts in Los Tuxtlas are:
Ornamental plants - Small palm leaves used as fillers in flower bouquets, (palma camaedora) which is fairly stable right
now, but plagued with changes in consumer preference in its major markets in the US and Europe.
Palms, grown to extract oil, primarily in the southwest Ttuxtlas area.
Fruits, which should be a natural in Los Tuxtlas, are limited to a single processor in Santiago Tuxtla.
Read this article for some samples of what communities have planted in order to survive.
Colonization and deforestation in SE Mexico
|Veracruz is the origin for every cow that ever walked Amercan soils. That is -- until the last hundred years when breeders
started improving the herds with imported stock.
A little time after Hernan Cortes vanquished the Montezuma empire, the first cattle started arriving from Cuba. They formed the
basis for livestock in Los Tuxtlas for the next 400 years. Cortes established the first herds and also branded the first animals
in the Americas.
The next major batch of cattle breeds didn´t arrive in Los Tuxtlas until the early 1900´s. And its been downhill ever since then.
In the latter part of the 20th century, the Mexican government involved itself in cattle ranching, promoting and sponsoring
zillions of ventures trying to turn anyone with a plot of land into a mini rancher. As a consequence, the Tuxtlas were
desnuded and turned into pasture for hamburgers. The process is ongoing because it is marginably profitable.
Nowadays, support for the industry is mostly "talk-only". The Tuxtlas are equivalent to Switzerland for milk producing cows.
Yet, to find a quart of fresh milk in Los Tuxtlas is equivalent to searching for the holy grail. There is no processor of milk
within a 50 mile reach. If you want milk it comes in an ultra pasteurized paper carton of 1 liter, manufactured who knows
Cheese is produced in abundance in the region in deplorable conditions and fortunately does not carry a Tuxtlas brand name.
Most major cattle operations in Los Tuxtlas are owned by "gentleman cowboys" from other planets. There still are
humongous ranches with only rabbits and rattlesnakes occupying them because their owners apparently forgot they owned
On the other hand, hungry campesinos have been and are destroying mountain sides with upward of 40 degree slopes to
sustain 1 or 2 cattle. (takes approximately 2 acres to support 1 cattle)
Meanwhile - erosion is slowly filling Laguna Catemaco, soil temperatures are increasing and bullshit reigns.
|Maybe this is a joke, but my experience in Los Tuxtlas makes me believe that drugs are one of the mainstays of the local
Most Mexicans seem to believe in self medication. (So and so said this is good for that). As a consequence there are
possibly more farmacias (drug stores) per capita in Mexico than shoe stores. And that is saying a lot, because shoe
stores are everywhere.
Drug use is facilitated by availabilty of most medications without prescriptions. After years of ripping off the Mexican
consumer with proprietary brands, the generic drug business has finally made in-roads, and propelled one of its
originators into one of the richer men in Mexico
Catemaco counts with 17 farmacias, that´s 1 for every 1500 city inhabitants. No one here is saying NO to drugs.
Yes, the other kind of drugs are also present in Los Tuxtlas. But I should keep my mouth shut about that. The drug lords in
Mexico have a habit of shooting writers.
This is a personal opinion based on chats with locals not substantiated by reports or anything else.
Los Tuxtlas is a bountiful country. Anything grows. Marijuana is produced by the truckload.
An export point may be Balzapote, (the only harbor in los Tuxtlas) for transshipment via US shrimp boats uploading to
pass to the Texas and Florida coasts.
The secondary route is transshipment along highway 180, from Guatemala to Matamoros, avoiding those obnoxious
federal police checkpoints, which should discover large quantities of grass, heroin and cocaine, but do not.
The Tuxlas area is a resting point for many southern smugglers and migrants, after beating the southern inspection points
and preparing for the north. Several local hotels accommodate this transition.
The traffic is partly controlled by the Monterrey drug families, some of whom own properties near Catemaco and the Gulf
Local, state and federal police, along with the Mexican military obviously deny any involvement, and I don´t know how to
Sportfishing is still available from Veracruz for almost extinguished tarpons.
Los Tuxtlas still has daily diminishing numbers of coastal mariners catching snappers, groupers, and that
famous "huachinango" (red snapper).
Whatever is fished on the coast, except for local consumption, is headed for Veracruz. Trying to get a fresh
piece of sea fish in Catemaco is almost an oxymoron, because probably it´s something that was shipped to
Veracruz, then frozen to Catemaco.
Catemaco is blessed with several thousand fishermen because the Laguna Catemaco is highly productive.
Nevertheless someone, years ago, not in his right mind, decided to introduce an African tilapia to Laguna
Catemaco to improve the liveliness of Catemaco fishers.
Since then that ravenous fish has out competed most of Laguna Catemaco´s native species, and still,
because of overfishing, rarely produces anything larger than a shoe.
|In the "good old days" it was Mexico who kept Spain alive with silver remissions. So much wealth was
produced that Spain never had to get off its behind and do an honest days work. When the silver
petered out, Spain converted into the economic basket case of Europe for the next several centuries.
Mexico is in similar shoes now. It´s economy is heavily subsidized by remissions from Mexican nationals abroad,
to the tune of an estimated 20 billion US dollars in 2005.
These are 2 personal anecdotes reflecting on this indirect welfare program.
1. A friend of mine, once one of Mexico´s largest foliage & orchid exporters in Atlixco (near Puebla), said he had
to cut down production because he could not find employees, because too many were receiving remittances
from the US, and were not willing to work full weeks.
2. The owner of the Tuxtlas´s largest building supply chain, tells me his stores could not survive without the
remittance dollars spent locally.
|Los Tuxtlas, famous for its magnificent environment, is also the hunting territory for 100´s of predators making a living off
well meaning research institutions and governments.
While researching Los Tuxtlas I am constantly amazed by the number of organizations and dollars/pesos expended on
activities in Los Tuxtlas.
By now, I would expect Los Tuxtlas to be paved in gold, with every inhabitant driving a large size SUV.
Although that´s apparent in a few instances, the rest of the Tuxtlas is as usual, totally impoverished, with thousands
stretching for hand outs.
Anecdotally: a known catemaco biologists reams international fund for dinero, buys late model SUV
and plants a handful of trees.
Perhaps that´s an extreme, but considering the monies that have been spent on Los Tuxtlas, and I do keep wondering
where it went.
|Home building is one of the major drivers of the Mexican economy.
It´s only recently, after the stabilization of the value of the Mexican peso, that financing for homes has become available.
The, still, current procedure, both in Catemaco and elsewhere in Mexico, is to build a home with existing cash. So it´s a
foundation one year, the first floor a second year and the third floor who knows when.
There is no neighborhood in Catemaco that does not have assorted homes in stages of construction, so called obras
negras. Most get finished sooner or later, but there are many that evoke mayan ruins, abandoned, overgrown and shells
of owners dreams.
Zoning is a foreign word in Mexico, at least on the local municipio level. If you want to construct a diesel truck repair
station next to a secluded home, so be it. (unless of course your cousin is married to a politician´s aunt´s niece, or
something like that)
Most of attorney´s income in Mexico is related to property disputes. Hernan Cortes maybe got it all after his conquest of
Mexico, but his descendants failed to leave a clear trail of property deeds.
In addition, the Mexican government has been screwing around with land allocations for the past 175 years, and many
property owners do NOT have clear title! It´s a very important fact to remember when purchasing Mexican real estate.