Category Archives: Resources

US Energy & Pemex Wary Of Rising Theft From Mexican Pipelines

Refinery workers in Veracruz finish their shift. Mexican gov’t statistics indicate mounting theft from pipelines that ferry refined gasoline from here to Mexico City. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

VERACRUZ, Mexico–American energy companies are looking to enter Mexico’s oil, natural gas and electricity markets which have been open since 2014 to foreign participation for the first time since 1938. Major US energy companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron have entered the Mexican energy space. However smaller companies such as drillers, rig operators and seismic surveyors, the nuts and bolts of an industry that Mexico’s politicians hope will lift the economy are hedging their bets because of a serious security threat that the Mexican government has said is rising, namely the theft of oil and gasoline from Mexican pipelines. (listen: Texas Standard)

Veracruz state in southern Mexico is a hub of refineries and pipelines. The pipeline the left in Coatzacoalcos ferries refined gasoline and petrochemicals to Mexico City. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Mexican Border Reporters Under New Stress In State Of Tamaulipas

Paco Rojas is a well-known journalist in Reynosa. He does not mention specific names of organized crime groups on-the-air. His news reports focus on the locations of alleged crimes to warn citizens to avoid a given area. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

REYNOSA, Mexico–2016 was one of the most deadly for Mexican reporters in recent history. Most press groups count at least nine killed, some as many 16. Reporters Without Borders annual report documents that Mexico was the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists after Syria and Afghanistan.

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Paco Rojas is a well-known journalist n Reynosa. He does not mention specific names of organized crime groups on-the-air. His news reports focus on the locations of alleged crimes to warn citizens to avoid a given area. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

That said, what is happening right now to reporters in Reynosa, a city that borders Texas, is unusually difficult. In late April, Mexican marines killed the leader of a major organized crime group there setting off a wave of crime that reporters are struggling to chronicle without being threatened or killed.

Even before that take-down and its immediate aftermath, Reynosa had never been an easy place to be a journalist. The sprawling factory town sits across the Rio Grande from McAllen Texas. It has often been a staging ground for turf battles within organized crime where civilians become collateral damage and where journalists like Paco Rojas are often threatened.

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Borderland Horse Patrols In The Age Of High Tech: Funding Requested In Administration’s 2018 Budget

US Border Patrol Agent Leo Gonzales debriefs a Honduran man and his daughter after intercepting them on the Rio Grande near La Grulla, Texas. (photo:Lorne Matalon)

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US Border Patrol Agent Agent Leo Gonzales speaks with two migrants, a father and his five-year-old daughter, who said they had just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico after an overland trip from Honduras. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

LA GRULLA, Texas–Since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11 2001, the United States has spent over 100 billion dollars on border security technology—cameras, drones, aerostats (“blimps”) airborne patrols, fencing and walls. But in the U.S. Border Patrol’s most active sector in terms of arrests, the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, horses and the agents riding them are patrolling terrain that technology alone can’t alone control. As politicians debate an expanded and expensive border wall, this kind of “old school” border security comes at a relatively miniscule cost to taxpayers.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

Using horses to secure the border is not new. It began in 1924, the year what became the modern-day Border Patrol was founded. Today what is changing is where the horses now come from and how critical they’ve become in what statistics show is currently the Border Patrol’s most active zone. Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt leads the horse unit.

“Going into such rough terrain in the dark hours, the horse will take care of the rider,” said Supervisory Agent Manuel Torresmutt, leader of the horse unit.

He and a handful of agents were patrolling a sliver of the Rio Grande one hour west of McAllen, Texas and Reynosa, Mexico. The horses are mustangs captured on federal lands in the west.

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Program Frontera Sur: Migrants Running Gauntlet On Guatemala-Mexico Border

The words read, “Christ Lives.” Migrants and goods such as oil and foodstuffs are transported illegally on a raft below a bridge that is an official port of entry between Mexico and Guatemala. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

ARRIAGA, Chiapas — The town of Arriaga in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas perfectly encapsulates how migration through Mexico has changed since 2014. Located three hours and 11 checkpoints north of the Guatemala border, it’s a former hub of trains known collectively as La Bestia, or The Beast.

But now, the train only comes here to bring in work crews who are repairing the tracks. Migrants who once lined the tracks have been replaced by police and Mexican immigration agents. They circle the town in trucks after months of raids, pulling migrants off trains and erecting concrete walls with barbed wire near the tracks to prevent access.

Migrants still show up here though, albeit in far fewer numbers.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

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Programa Frontera Sur: Tracking U.S. Influence On Mexico’s Southern Border Plan

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Chiapas — In 2012, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security declared that Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala was now essentially the southern border of the United States.

That was two years before the 2014 child migrant crisis that saw tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing or attempting to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. Since then, the U.S. has in essence expanded its own border enforcement efforts by assisting Mexico on its southern border. In 2015, fewer Central Americans reached the U.S., though the numbers undulate from season to season.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

This border is porous even after the U.S. pressured Mexico to start Programa Frontera Sur, its southern border plan, in July 2014. The plan was crafted after President Obama said the unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied children and families arriving at the U.S. border in the preceding months constituted an “urgent humanitarian situation.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees later warned of a “looming humanitarian crisis in the Americas.”

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Mexico Energy Reform Spurs Larger Scale Cross-Border Electricity Transmission

 

Sempra Energy’s Energía Sierra Juárez is the first cross-border wind generation project between the U.S. and Mexico. (photo Nicholas McVickers /KPBS)

MEXICO CITY — The dream of a unified North American electricity grid could not have been contemplated until Mexico’s electricity market was opened to foreign companies in 2014.

Today, larger scale volumes of electricity are flowing in both directions across the Mexico-United States border.

The United States and Canada have long established interconnections, and proponents of a unified grid are heralding Mexico’s nascent energy reform as a potential pathway to seamless transmission between the three North American nations.

There are currently 11 sets of transmission lines straddling the Mexico-U.S. border.

Mexico’s senior energy decision makers and industry executives are working with American counterparts to expand that footprint.

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Peace In Colombia: Progress But Challenge Remains In Highly Polarized Nation

This guerrilla who did not wish to be identified by name, said he lost his arm during the conflict in Colombia. He is painting an image that marks 53 years since the formation of the FARC, the Spanish acronym for the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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META, Colombia—Making peace after five decades of armed conflict in Colombia is a process fraught with challenges. The stakes for the United States stake are enormous both politically and economically. The two countries have a free trade deal and American companies like Coca-Cola and ExxonMobil are major players in Colombia. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is at the White House today to talk with President Donald Trump about protecting Colombia’s nascent peace process. After supporting the Colombian military for years—seven billion dollars since 2000 in its fight against leftist rebels —the U.S. is now helping to finance peace after a deal to end the conflict was signed in November. The U.S. Congress approved a 450-million dollar package earlier this month called Peace Colombia to help Colombia craft a durable peace. That number is likely to be reduced next year however as the Trump administration has been clear that it plans to reduce foreign assistance packages.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

Driving through the hills of Meta, where the Colombian Andes cascade down into a lush green valleys, where sunbeams dance on the bluest of skies, it is hard to imagine the bloodshed that once unfolded here.  Meta was ravaged by a war that pitted Colombia’s army and private militia against leftist guerrillas known as the FARC—-the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The FARC began as a rebellion against economic inequality in the 1960s. It then entered the cocaine trade to finance the conflict. And sowed terror in rural Colombia, killing civilians and extorting businesses.

Colombian soldiers at a checkpoint in the mountains of Meta, Colombia. The army battled the guerrillas here but today, guerrillas are asking for a greater military presence here to protect the region from incursions by organized crime and private militia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

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Shot Across The Bow: Mexico Considers Boycott Of U.S. Corn

Rafael Avila harvests corn grown from seeds that trace their lineage to the Aztec and Maya cultures. In Mexico there’s a saying. “Sin maiz, no hay pais.” Without corn there’s no country.’ Despite that history, Mexico imports vast amounts of U.S. corn. (photo:Lorne Matalon)

MEXICO CITY — Every weekday, Antonio Godinez Vera turns imported American corn into feed for Mexican livestock. Some of that U.S. corn is also used to make tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet. Corn is also a symbol of Mexico itself. Corn was born in Mexico 9,000 years ago. There’s even an expression here, “Sin maíz no hay pais,” meaning ‘without corn there’s no country.’ Legislation has been proposed in Mexico City to boycott U.S. corn in response to a suite of economic threats against Mexico voiced by President Donald Trump.

Corn mill owner Antonio Godinez Vera said a boycott of American corn would raise prices for Mexican consumers and damage the Mexican corn market. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

“A boycott could certainly hurt us,” Godinez told me in Spanish as the din of his corn mill echoed through a complex of machines and metal kernel grinders. Trucks laden with imported American corn sat in his lot. A boycott would also hurt U.S. corn growers from the Dakotas to the Midwest to Arizona, California and Texas. Mexico’s deputy economy minister Juan Carlos Baker told the Financial Times that negotiations are underway with Argentina and Brazil to offer them duty-free access to the Mexican market now enjoyed by U.S. growers under the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).  As a candidate, Trump called Nafta the “worst trade deal” ever signed in this country.

Corn imported from the U.S. is used primarily in animal feeds but market uncertainty has historically translated into elevated prices for tortillas, a staple of the Mexican diet. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Mexican Sen. Armando Rios Piter has proposed the boycott. “Corn is from Mexico, from my country. So right now it’s an important position in nationalistic way but also in terms of trade,” he said at the door of the Senate chamber.

Corn has been cultivated in what is modern-day Mexico for nine thousand years. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

 

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Borderland Exodus: Towns Near Path Of Proposed Mexican Pipelines Suffer Rash Of Violence

This story was commissioned by ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America.

A burned home in Guadalupe, Chihuahua. Homes and businesses that lie in the path of proposed infrastructure development in the Valley of Juárez have been targets of arson. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

GUADALUPE, Chihuahua, Mexico — People living in the Juárez Valley southeast of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, Texas, allege that land speculators preparing for the start of oil and gas production have spurred a land grab that has forced what some claim is an exodus of local residents

People interviewed for this story claim they or neighbors have been burned out of their homes and that others have been murdered. They live in a string of towns along the Rio Grande in an area slated for energy production and rapid infrastructure construction.

Shattered glass marks the entrance to an abandoned dance hall in Guadalupe, Chihuahua.
There are charred and destroyed buildings throughout the town. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

One of those towns is Guadalupe, a few minutes from the United States border across from Fabens, Texas, but a world away in terms of security. Construction on a superhighway and a state-of-the-art international border crossing is underway here.

According to Mexican census rolls nearly 10,000 people lived here in 2005. The mayor — who declined to be interviewed — claimed in local media that this year only about 1,000 people remain.

One man, who like others asked not be identified for fear of retribution, explained what has happened. “The government sends people here to pressure landowners to get out of here, to say, ‘go away, we don’t want you here,’ ” he said in Spanish. The charge is vehemently denied by Chihuahua’s government.

The man said wealthy buyers then show up to grab the vacant land.

A view from the Mexican side of construction of a state-of-the-art border crossing connecting Guadalupe to Fabens, Texas. The crossing will help to move energy-related goods and services between both countries. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Analysts suggest buyers are arriving because Mexico’s state-owned oil company PEMEX is exploring for oil and gas in northern Chihuahua. The region shares geological characteristics of the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, the highest-producing oil field in the United States.

“Obviously this land is being re-consolidated in the hands of a few,” said Tony Payan, Director of Rice University’s Mexico Center in Houston.

“Many of these politicians will have interests in the shale development in the future and will likely get hold of that land no matter what.”

With oil and gas development and plans for pipelines, desert land no one cared about is now valuable. Chihuahua’s Secretary of Public Works told a Juárez newspaper in September that he won’t reveal the exact routes for new roads because the government doesn’t want to fuel land speculation.

Former Chihuahua Governor César Duarte visited in 2015. The mayor ordered vandalized homes on the main street to be painted in festive colors. One man said the paint is a metaphor for a smokescreen meant to cover up what residents allege has happened here. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

I asked another person about that. He laughed derisively. “It’s always about power and money,” he said in Spanish. He alleged that bureaucrats and politicians are now in the real estate business, acting at the very least as a middleman to sell land to investors.

“They are using, it is quite clear to me, that information for themselves in a way that they can position themselves as a political class to profit from this industry in the future, oil, gas and the pipelines themselves,” Payan said.

This damaged home is steps from the repainted facades on the town’s main street. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Back in Guadalupe, physical evidence suggests that someone doesn’t want people here: burned houses, shattered glass and very few people on the street.

The narrative in Mexican media is that the violence is a consequence of turf wars between cartels. But some residents are skeptical. They sense, but can’t prove, that outside investors are working with organized crime to terrorize people into fleeing, leaving their land to be scooped up. The state can legally seize land and homes for unpaid property taxes.

Residents said repeatedly that no economic activity, legal or otherwise, takes place without the government knowledge and tacit sanction.

“The valley is a lawless place,” another man said in Spanish. “It’s the sad truth.”

Mexican authorities cited in media reports say at least 300 people have been killed in Guadalupe since 2008 — mayors, police, city councilors, business owners and human rights activists. People are learning hard lessons about real estate.

Julián Cardona is a photographer from Juárez. He was the photographer on a story about the Juárez Valley with Mexican journalist Ignacio Alvarado Álvarez published by Al Jazeera America.       

“You know the rule. Location, location, location,” Cardona said.

He’s watched a slow-motion depopulation unfold here. He said residents tell him that authorities do nothing.

“Every time there was a killing, every time there was a burning house, the soldiers were a block away,” Cardona said. “They didn’t stop the killers or the people burning the houses.”

Pipeline companies in Texas are historically granted the right of eminent domain, to seize private land because the transport of energy is deemed to be in the public’s interest.

“In the United States, it’s a lawful eminent domain. In Mexico it’s outright violence,” said El Paso lawyer Carlos Spector. He represents 250 former residents of the Juárez Valley, many from Guadalupe, now seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Investors are getting very aggressive,” said Spector, founder of Mexicanos En Exilio, or Mexicans in Exile.

“All they have to do is get a list from the mayor of a small town, who is under their control, as to who hasn’t paid the taxes. And if they can match up who hasn’t paid the taxes to where the gas and the freeway is coming, then you go after that property. It’s very, very scientific.”

People who remain in Guadalupe say that former neighbors who have fled are anxious to sell their now-abandoned land for cents on the dollar because they’re too frightened to even contemplate coming back.

Fear in The Juárez Valley: A Case Study

Martín Huéramo is one of 250 former residents of the Mexican border town of Guadalupe, now seeking asylum in the United States. “I received several threats, not just one,” he said in Spanish.

Miguel Murgia’s wife was taken from a family gathering in Guadalupe four years ago. Murgia theorizes criminals were after his nephew who was related to a human rights activist. Both Murgia’s wife and nephew are unaccounted for. He is in the United States while his application for asylum is considered. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Huéramo was a city councilor in Guadalupe in 2010. He had opposed the mayor’s resolution that would allow the local government to expropriate land to sell to energy speculators.

The week after he entered the United States, two women on the city council were killed. They had opposed the same resolution. This was confirmed by two independent sources.

The year before, two of his brothers-in-law were murdered.

“Families in the Juárez Valley have lost loved ones,” he said. “It’s a message saying they have to leave the Juarez Valley.

A family chart of the Josefina Reyes Salazar family. Josefina Reyes was a human rights activist who was murdered near Ciudad Juárez in 2010. Red under a name means a Reyes relative has been murdered. Blue indicates an asylum seeker. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

Residents says violence rose in the Juárez Valley in 2010 after the murder of Josefina Reyes Salazar killed on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez.

She had led the Mexican side of a successful binational campaign to stop a nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca, Texas, just across from Guadalupe. And she had spoken out about land displacement in the Juárez Valley.

An art gallery administrator from Ciudad Juárez, Gabriela Carballo, compares opposition to pipelines in Guadalupe to conflict in the U.S. over the proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline. It would ferry natural gas from Texas into Mexico.

There is intense opposition on the part of some Texas landowners and ranchers.

“As a Mexican I can say that we care as much about the environment as any one of these people that are fighting the Trans Pecos Pipeline,” said Carballo. As for alleged land displacement in the name of energy in Chihuahua, she said it’s not easy to take a stand under the actual or perceived threat of retribution. “If we speak out against it, we run the risk of our really extremely corrupt government murdering us,” she said.

There’s no way to verify such a claim. And Mexican officials are quick to refute it.

“Violence is minimal right now and no one’s been affected by plans for pipelines,’ said Arturo Llamas in Spanish. He’s Chihuahua’s pipeline and energy infrastructure regulator.

Llamas is also the state’s liaison with Mexico’s federal energy agencies. He said energy development in northern Chihuahua is a boon to local residents that will ultimately translate into lower electricity and gasoline costs.

“It will help the entire country, not just Chihuahua,” he said. He was emphatic that he and his staff are watching the Juárez Valley.

“It’s our responsibility to be sure that laws are obeyed and that everything that must be done is done properly,” he said. He also said he wanted anyone with a complaint to contact his office in Chihuahua City.

But few people alleging harm are likely to approach a government they don’t trust.

At the destroyed dance hall, words on the upper right read, “no minors, no weapons, no drugs.” (photo: Lorne Matalon)

There are others beyond the alleged victims, who bear witness to a different reality. Mexican photographer Julián Cardona has catalogued the destruction of peoples lives in the Juárez Valley.

“I think they’re now realizing the value of their land, because now there are people buying their lands,” said Cardona. “Violence is linked to displacement of their families.”

He recalled a visit June 24, 2015, when Chihuahua Gov. César Duarte made a brief stop in Guadalupe.

“The governor visited in Guadalupe and the mayor ordered the empty buildings and house along the main avenue painted in bright colors — glowing yellow, green, blue, pink. The fact the houses were painted in bright colors is like a smokescreen of what’s really going on,” Cardona said.

As for Martin Huéramo — the former Guadalupe city councilor seeking asylum — he says he would have no issue with energy production or pipelines if they did not involve, in his words, people being forced out. He doesn’t believe government claims that laws are being followed and things are being done properly.

Then unexpectedly, he said he believes one of the government’s claims.”The government says violence is down in the Juárez Valley,” he said in Spanish.”I believe it,” he continued, “because there are no more people left to kill.”

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US-Mexico Intelligence Cooperation Braces For Possible Change

Mexican soldiers work in the mountains of Sinaloa burning this marijuana field, part of an eradication program supported by the United States. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

AUSTIN, Texas–The U.S. Congressional Research Service says intelligence cooperation between Mexico and the United States has become closer in the last decade on issues important to both countries such as illegal immigration, border security, drugs and human trafficking.

But that critical intelligence relationship may be under examination in Mexico. The country is trying to fashion a response to a suite of economic threats issued by the new U.S. administration. And security is one serious chip to play. After alleged Mexican drug trafficker Chapo Guzmán Loera was arrested in Sinaloa, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released a statement.

“The arrest is a significant achievement,” it said, “in our shared fight against organized crime.” There are published reports that U.S. intelligence on Guzmán’s whereabouts led to the takedown. Guzmán was extradited to the United States last month.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

But the former chief of Mexico’s National Intelligence Agency between 2007 and 2011 believes that kind of cooperation risks being diluted. “There will be no incentives to collaborate with the United States,” said Guillermo Valdés in a conversation in Austin, Texas.

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Mexico Considers Retaliation Should U.S. Withdraw From NAFTA

Xochitl Hernández in her commercial greenhouse. She says the end of NAFTA would cripple Mexican exporters, but said she's hopeful the new U.S. administration will tweak but not kill NAFTA.
Xochitl Hernández in her commercial greenhouse. She says the end of NAFTA would cripple Mexican exporters, but said she’s hopeful the new U.S. administration will tweak but not kill NAFTA. (photo:
Lorne Matalon)

MEXICO CITY—Mexicans are anxious about the future of  the North American Free Trade Act, and how the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may seek to change or even withdraw from the agreement.

Mexican officials are now speaking with Asian nations about how trade between Mexico and Asia might change in a post-NAFTA era.

SEE: Full Screen Slideshow

Mexican analysts expressed concern that new investment may slow down due to uncertainty about the agreement.  “It’s the chilling effect on investment,” said Federico Estévez, a political scientist at Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico, a leading Mexican university. “We’ve basically turned into an industrial economy on the basis of NAFTA.”

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Peace In Colombia: Implications For US Investment Should Sustainable Peace Be Achieved

This guerrilla who did not wish to be identified by name, said he lost his arm during the conflict in Colombia. He is painting an image that marks 53 years since the formation of the FARC, the Spanish acronym for the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

BOGOTA, Colombia–A peace deal is expected to be signed in 2016 between the government of Colombia, a key ally of the United States in South America, and the largest guerrilla movement among several that have fought for decades to topple the Colombian state. The guerrilla group is known as FARC, the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The U.S. has spent billions of dollars in Colombia backing the government against the FARC and another guerrilla group known as the ELN, the Spanish abbreviation for the National Liberation Army, under the terms of Plan Colombia.

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Colombian soldiers at a checkpoint in the mountains of Meta, Colombia. The army battled the guerrillas here but today, guerrillas are asking for a greater military presence here to protect the region from incursions by organized crime and private militia. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

The plan is a multibillion-dollar security package, the majority of which has been deployed to combat drug trafficking, though critics of the government in Colombia are unhappy that much of the assistance from the US went to the Colombian army, which has been accused in the majority of human rights abuses during the armed conflict.

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Panama Canal Expansion: Winners And Losers In US Economy

A tugboat advances toward the Miraflores Locks near the Panama Canal’s Pacific entrance. A vessel that can pass through the locks is classified as a Panamax, for the maximum size that can fir though the canal’s existing locks. (Lorne Matalon)

A tugboat advances toward the Miraflores Locks near the Panama Canal’s Pacific entrance. A vessel that can pass through the locks is classified as a Panamax, for the maximum size that can fir though the canal’s existing locks. (Lorne Matalon)

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“Time now is money, and a lot of money,” said Panama Canal tug captain Luis Estribi as sunlight danced on the water near the Panama Canal’s Pacific entrance at Ciudad de Panamá.

Estribi was guiding a vessel from China, the Tai Prosperity, through the canal’s Pedro Miguel locks to the Port of New Orleans. The Tai Prosperity, a carrier of bulk commodities such as grain, is classified as a Panamax ship.

Photo Gallery: Panama Canal Expansion

Panamax is a worldwide maritime shipping  measurement that refers to the maximum-sized vessel that can pass through this canal.

But today, Panamax is passé. Now, it’s all about post-Panamax, vessels that can carry up to three times the cargo as Panamax vessels. But post-Panamax vessels are too wide for the existing Panama Canal.

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Unfinished Business In The Ranch Lands Of West Texas Over Texas-To-Mexico Natural Gas Pipeline

This sign in Marfa, Texas is one of several seen in west Texas since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction on the Dakota Access crude oil pipeline in North Dakota. Both it and the Trans Pecos Pipeline in Texas are being built by a consortium of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas. Mexico is paying for the Texas pipeline. (photo: Lorne Matalon)

MARFA, Texas — Six landowners in west Texas have won a series of awards totaling in the millions of dollars against a company building a controversial natural gas pipeline. A seventh case was adjudicated in favor of the company. The landowners are part of a group of approximately 40 people or landholding entities that are contesting compensation offers from Trans Pecos Pipeline, LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas.

The pipeline has been designated by state regulators as a “common carrier,” meaning it will transport, in this case natural gas, for any natural gas producer willing to pay for the service.

SEE MORE: Photo Gallery: The Texas-to-Mexico Trans Pecos Pipeline

With “common carrier” status comes the notion that a given project is in the public interest. With that designation comes legal power of eminent domain, the power to seize private land. Companies that exercise that power are obligated to pay compensation to affected landowners in recognition, in this instance, of the change to their lands that construction and installation of a 143-mile pipeline implies.

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El Salvador & Central American Migration: New Concerns As Numbers Rise One Year After Unprecedented Influx

Two members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) stand in a prison in El Salvador. MS-13 was founded by Salvadoran immigrants in California in the 1980s. Recent intelligence gathered by US federal agents shared with the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC show that many Salvadorans cite gang violence as a prime motive for leaving Central America. (Lorne Matalon)

Two members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) stand in a prison in El Salvador. MS-13 was founded by Salvadoran immigrants in California in the 1980s. Recent intelligence gathered by US federal agents shared with the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC show that many Salvadorans cite gang violence as a prime motive for leaving Central America. (Lorne Matalon)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The line of the hopeful forms every weekday morning at the American Embassy in San Salvador.

The scene is both intense and poignant. A line of several dozen families snakes its way along a sidewalk across the street. Infants are wailing in their parents’ arms as clouds of black diesel spewed by passing trucks envelop the crowd. A few feet away, heavily-armed Salvadoran police patrol the embassy perimeter.

The would-be migrants are waiting for their turn to launch a formal application to enter the United States.

SEE: Full Screen Sideshow

That scene unfolds against a backdrop of new statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that some analysts believe may portend a new surge of Central American migrants.

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House Homeland Security Member To Ask US State Department To Revisit Border Warning

Congressional Representative Will Hurd (R-Texas) on the left with the Mayor of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Miguel Carreón in Mexico. Hurd sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security. He says he'll ask the State Dept for data on how it determined that Ojinaga be listed on a travel advisory. The State Dept has told the Fronteras Desk that organized crime poses a threat here. (Lorne Matalon)

Congressional Representative Will Hurd (R-Texas) on the left with the Mayor of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Miguel Carreón in Mexico. Hurd sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security. He says he’ll ask the State Dept for data on how it determined that Ojinaga be listed on a travel advisory. The State Dept has told the Fronteras Desk that organized crime poses a threat here. (Lorne Matalon)

A version of this story was featured on the Texas Standard, a public radio collaboration led by KUT in Austin, Texas and on KPBS, San Diego.

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OJINAGA, Chihuahua — It’s  not something you see every day. A member of the United States Congress enters Mexico on the border, not by flying to Mexico City and directly back to Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas, is also a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

So his visit to the border town of Ojinaga, in a gritty slice of the state of Chihuahua, stands out within the negative narrative that says, “Don’t go to borderland Mexico.”

“I spent nine years as an undercover officer in the CIA,” Hurd said. “So I’ve been in some pretty rough places. Ojinaga’s not one of them.”

In the last 18 months, there have been less than a dozen reported murders in Ojinaga, a town of 30,000 people.

Hurd wants to leverage his connections at the State Department that he says were forged as a CIA agent. He wants the State Department to reconsider its recent warning concern in traveling here.

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Border Wetland Uses Treated Wastewater As Congress Considers Wetland Funding

The BJ Bishop Wetland in Presidio, Texas, lies between a water treatment plant and the Rio Grande. The man-made wetland is filled with treated waste water from the plant. Construction is funded by Congress. A bipartisan bill before Congress proposes to extend funding for wetland construction. (Lorne Matalon)

The BJ Bishop Wetland in Presidio, Texas, lies between a water treatment plant and the Rio Grande. The man-made wetland is filled with treated waste water from the plant. Construction is funded by Congress. A bipartisan bill before Congress proposes to extend funding for wetland construction. (Lorne Matalon)

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PRESIDIO, Texas — A man-made wetland is now under construction on the Rio Grande, the first on the Texas-Mexico border.

Terry

Terry Bishop stands beside the wetland named for his father, BJ Bishop. The younger Bishop plans to replicate this man-made wetland on a nearby ancient floodplain where the Rio Grande joins the Rio Conchos at Ojinaga, Chihuahua. (Lorne Matalon)

And this new wetland will be the first on the Rio Grande to use treated wastewater to restore habitat. This comes as Congress is considering a bipartisan bill to extend funding for the construction of wetlands.

The Rio Grande has lost huge swaths of bird and wildlife habitat because water has been diverted for farming and human consumption and the population of the Southwest has grown exponentially.

The new man-made wetland leverages geography and a blend of private and federal funding.

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Wind Power’s Growth In Texas Triggers Challenge To Renewable Energy Mandates

Oil and gas dominate the Texas energy market but wind is growing exponentially. Wind power now provides 10 per cent of the state's electricity. (Lorne Matalon)

Oil and gas dominate the Texas energy market but wind is growing exponentially. Wind power now provides 10 per cent of the state’s electricity. (Lorne Matalon)

 

A version of this story also aired on the Texas Standard, a public radio collaboration led by KUT, Austin, Texas.

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NOTREES, Texas–Energy production in Texas is dominated by oil and gas — but the state also leads the United States in the production of wind power. Some energy analysts suggest that wind power’s success in the Lone Star state has now become its challenge.

State senators recently passed a bill that threatened to repeal a state law that required utilities to source a certain amount of electricity from renewables. For 15 years, that mandate has paved the way for wind power’s growth in Texas.

They are part of an initiative that used private sector investment in wind power production and government investment in transmission lines to bring in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to the Texas grid.

But the effort to eliminate what has been the backbone of the wind power industry’s financial model has sent a troublesome signal to investors who say wind generation needs support to compete with the fossil fuel industry.

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Border Pipelines Face Opposition On Both Sides Of Rio Grande

The proposed Trans Pecos pipeline would run from the energy-rich Permian Basin of Texas through this ranch near the U.S.- Mexico border. There the line would connect with a series of planned Mexican pipelines. (Lorne Matalon)

The proposed Trans Pecos pipeline would run from the energy-rich Permian Basin of Texas through this ranch near the U.S.- Mexico border. There the line would connect with a series of planned Mexican pipelines. (Lorne Matalon)

Story originally published at

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A version of this story aired on Texas Standard from KUT Austin.

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Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad, its federal electricity commission, has awarded a contract to a group of Texas companies to build two pipelines, including a 143 mile natural-gas pipeline from the energy-rich Permian Basin of west Texas to the border with Mexico.

The line, known as the Trans Pecos Pipeline, would run through ranch land where some landowners vehemently oppose the project.

In Texas, pipeline builders can seize private land because many pipelines are classified as being in public good because they carry natural gas, crude oil or other commodities to customers who might otherwise not be served.

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Boquillas Two Years Later: Economy Rebuild Garners Binational Support

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signs an update to the 1999 U.S.-Mexico Wildfire Protection Agreement with her Mexican counterpart, Juan José Guerra Abud, Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) on her left. (Lorne Matalon)

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signs an update to the 1999 U.S.-Mexico Wildfire Protection Agreement with her Mexican counterpart, Juan José Guerra Abud, Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) on her left. (Lorne Matalon)

Story originally published at

fronteras_logoA version of this story aired on Texas Standard from KUT Austin.

BOQUILLAS, Coahuila — A border crossing that’s seen as part of a template to rescue damaged, rural economies along the Rio Grande has marked its second anniversary.

The symbolic importance of the crossing that links Big Bend National Park in Texas to Boquillas del Carmen, Coahuila, was heralded by a visit from cabinet secretaries from the United States and Mexico. The United States ambassador to Mexico was also on hand.

After 9/11, security concerns translated into enforcement of laws that had rarely been largely overlooked before. That meant the age-old practice of walking across this sinewy slice of the Rio Grande was banned.

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