A woman wades across the Rio Grande into Chihuahua. She’s a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shore. It’s not illegal to exit the US here, only to return the same way. The nearest legal crossing is close to two hours away. (Lorne Matalon)
A woman wades across the Rio Grande into Chihuahua. She's a US citizen on her way to see family in Mexico living a few hundred yards from the shore. It's not illegal to exit the US here, only to return the same way. The nearest legal crossing is close to two hours away. (photo: Lorne Matalon)
A version of this story also aired on the Texas Standard, a statewide reporting collaboration led by KUT in Austin.
CANDELARIA, Texas — The United States and Mexico are pouring money into a showcase experiment to rescue damaged economies on the Texas-Mexico border.
But that experiment only involves two towns, Boquillas in Mexico and the community of visitors and National Park Service personnel at Big Bend National Park, a epic mosaic of desert, rock and sky that already draws hundreds of thousands of adventure travelers every year.
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)
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)
PRESIDIO, Texas — A man-made wetland is now under construction on the Rio Grande, the first on the Texas-Mexico border.
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.
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.
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.
The party of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is expected to retain its majority in the lower Chamber of Deputies. But numerous legislators who lobbied for his reforms will leave due to one term limits in Mexico. (Lorne Matalon)
A version of this story aired on the Texas Standard, a public radio collaboration led by KUT in Austin, Texas.
Here’s a link to a panel discussion on NPR member station KPBS, San Diego analyzing the results.
CHIHUAHUA, Mexico — Midterm elections in Mexico, as in the United States, are a referendum on a president’s performance.
On Sunday, Mexicans will elect an entirely new congress along with 17 state legislatures and a host of governors and hundreds of mayors. The results will set the tenor for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s final three years in office.
President Enrique Peña Nieto greets citizens, Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Nov 28, 2013. His mandate will be strengthened or diminished in Mexico’s midterm elections and there are implications in the results for both Mexico and the United States.
Congressional representatives in the lower Chamber of Deputies are limited to a three-year term. Senators serve a single six-year term, as does the Mexican president.
The new congress will support, or stall, the second half of Peña Nieto’s term. And the election outcome has implications for United States-Mexico relations.
After a 12-year absence, Peña Nieto led his PRI party back toLos Pinos, Mexico’s White House, three years ago pledging to change the national conversation.
Eighteen months ago, Peña Nieto was hyping economic and political reform. Mexicans loved the message.
He had arrested the corrupt head of the politically powerful teachers union and he was crafting energy and telecommunications reform in an unprecedented attack against state and private monopolies. And he said he would confront corruption. But today, opposition election ads focus on one theme.
“Zero tolerance for corrupt politicians,” an opposition party’s radio ad exclaims. It castigates Peña Nieto, saying his anti-corruption rhetoric is hollow and cosmetic.
Last September, in the most shocking incident, 43 students were taken off buses in a small town in southern Mexico and murdered, allegedly on orders from an elected mayor. The mayor allegedly ordered his local police to hand the students over to assassins who may have been told the students were members of a rival cartel.
Peña Nieto was widely criticized for a slow and inept response to the crisis triggered by those murders. The slaughter was and is still seen as a symbol of the historical nexus between government and organized crime inside Mexico.
More recently in April, criminals murdered 15 police officers, shot down a military helicopter and set at least 15 banks on fire. One news report in Mexico called it an “unprecedented attack.”
And in May the government was again on the defensive after a shootout that left that 42 purported cartel members and one policeman dead.
Some Mexicans have stated publicly that they believe the dead were executed, a contention based on preliminary forensic data compiled by families of the deceased.
“Making change without spilling blood isn’t easy,” said Raul Acosta in Spanish.
He’s a retired political science professor. He said Peña Nieto’s predecessor Felipe Calderón also wanted change that ended in violence. Calderón thought he would stabilize Mexico by confronting organized crime. It didn’t work.
The violence seen today has its roots in Calderón’s war.
Now, Acosta said the biggest obstacle facing all parties isn’t disdain, it’s apathy.
“People have no motivation to vote,” he said. “There’s general discontent out there.”
Roberto Grado, a local leader of the opposition PAN party in Chihuahua, agrees.
“People are despondent,” Grado said in Spanish. “They don’t have faith in any political party.”
The voices of political analysts are echoed by people on the streets of this northern Mexico state. Alan Salvador Andrade is a clothing distributor in Ojinaga.
“I don’t trust them, they’re all the same,” he said of politicians in general.
His worst fear, he said, is that nothing will change and that violence and corruption will continue to scar Mexico.
“I’m afraid of what’s going to happen,” he said looking ahead to the vote.
In some states, some voters have said they will not participate in the election. And in some regions, election supervisors have said they are afraid to staff polling stations because of actual or implied threats of violence from any number of disaffected interests.
There’s currently a movement to annul or destroy votes by leaving ballots unchecked. Activists have blocked roads urging drivers to annul their votes to signal dissatisfaction.
Salvador doesn’t like that strategy.
“Our vote is the most important weapon that we have to change this situation,” he said.
Turnout in midterm elections in Mexico is notoriously low and this time around may be even more so. National polls suggest flagging support for Peña Nieto.
“There is a story here for us in the United States,” said Andrew Selee.
Selee is a Mexico and Latin America specialist at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He said there are fundamental questions the U.S. hopes are answered on Sunday.
“Is Peña Nieto going to come out of this election strengthened? Is he going to come out being seen as a leader who has a mandate, who has control of congress, in which case he’s in a very strong position to look at some of the international issues including issues of economic opening with the United States, issues with migrants in the United States and lot of things that have to do with our country,” Selee said.
There are other issues of importance to the U.S. For one, American energy companies are also monitoring this election campaign. They’re eager to enter Mexico’s domestic energy sector.
Peña Nieto helped change Mexico’s constitution to allow foreign companies in. He overcame the opposition of Mexican nationalists who maintain that outsiders have no place in Mexico’s energy market.
If the Mexican president is rebuked at the polls, some of those companies will undoubtedly revisit and refine their plans for their prospective operations in Mexico.
Forensic anthropologist Kate Spradley holds the shirt of a deceased Salvadoran migrant. The shirt’s discovery set off a chain of events that ended with the successful but rare DNA confirmation of a migrant who perished in Texas after crossing the U.S.- Mexico border. (Lorne Matalon)
A version of this two-part story aired on the Texas Standard, KUT Austin
SAN MARCOS, Texas — Brooks County, Texas, — 70 miles north of the United States-Mexico border — has seen at least 365 migrant deaths since 2011.
Forensic anthropologists in Texas and Arizona are working to identify these migrants and repatriate their remains.
Behind an electronic gate accessed by a key card on a bucolic farm in central Texas, 100 cadavers donated for research by U.S. citizens lie on the ground in different stages of decomposition.
A water storage bucket near Presidio, Texas. The Texas Secretary of State said 38,000 Texans living in border settlements known as colonias have no running water. The Obama administration proposes that the four border states receiving federal funding for low income housing increase the amount those states spend for colonia improvement. (Lorne Matalon)
A version of this story also aired on the Texas Standard from KUT Austin
Thousands of mostly poor Hispanic people live in border communities called colonias with no access to running water or electricity.
Now, the Obama administration wants the four border states that receive federal funds for colonia improvement to increase spending there by 50 percent.
The announcement comes as scientists say potential health consequences of living in colonias are too severe to ignore.
The growing number of oil rigs pulled in from the oilfield and stored in this lot in Odessa, Texas, is a testament to the steep decline in the price of crude oil in the last year. (Lorne Matalon)
ODESSA, Texas — Mexican venture capital is hovering over distressed energy companies in the Permian Basin of Texas, the nation’s highest-producing oil field.
Those companies — including oil and gas drillers, and service companies — crafted budgets when the price of crude oil was $100 per barrel. It’s now in the $50 range. And those companies need capital that banks in the United States are sometimes reluctant to give in an oil downturn.
“This is a buyers’ market right now,” said Carlos Cantú, an investor from Juárez.
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
A version of this story aired on Texas Standard from KUT Austin.
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.
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
A 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.
SIERRA BLANCA, Texas — A border county in Texas with two U.S. Border Patrol highway checkpoints is refusing to prosecute drug cases previously sent to it from those checkpoints.
The county—and all four states bordering Mexico—wants funding from Washington, D.C. to handle cases that federal prosecutors decide to send to state courts.
Cars and trucks heading east on Interstate I-10 east of El Paso pass through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Hudspeth County, Texas. The county, the first gatekeeper in the state legal system, is not accepting federally initiated drug cases sent to it from the checkpoint. (Maiya Keck)
Mexico has ordered its consulates to issue birth certificates to its citizens living illegally in the United States.
The move follows President Barack Obama’s executive action granting temporary reprieve from deportation to several million undocumented Mexicans.
Herlinda Lujan with her Mexican birth certificate at the Mexico Consulate at Presidio, Texas. In a major policy shift, Mexican consulates are issuing birth certificates to its citizens living in the United States regardless of their U.S. immigration status. (Lorne Matalon)
Mexican officials say they wants to help undocumented migrants apply for a variety of programs, including immigration applications, triggered by Obama’s decision. And those programs require identification, starting with a birth certificate.
The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, an independent auditor, has issued a highly critical report on unmanned aircraft, or drones, that patrol the country’s borders, principally with Mexico.
Border missions fly out of Sierra Vista, Ariz., southeast of Tucson — the headquarters of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca — or Corpus Christi, Texas.
A Customs and Border Protection Predator drone. When drones were deployed eight years ago, CBP said they would patrol the entire Southwest border. The Inspector General at CBP’s parent agency, DHS, claims the drones patrol 170 miles of the border in Arizona and Texas. (Gerald L. Nino via Wikimedia Commons)
The report says there is “little or no evidence” the nine Predator B drones are worth their expensive price tag. Predator B drones each cost $18 million while the eight-year-old drone program represents $62 million a year in taxpayer money.
Mexico’s president wants to change his country’s constitution to replace local police with state police. He also wants legal authority to take over municipal governments infiltrated by organized crime.
But ongoing protests and recent polls suggest Mexicans aren’t convinced the change will make a difference.
Two officers from the Juárez Police guard a crime scene. Mexico’s president has proposed putting local police under the supervision of state police. Criminologists on either side of the border say the proposal ignores the reality that some local police forces, among them Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana, are today more professional than their state counterparts. (Lorne Matalon)
The move follows disgust in Mexico over a long delay by the federal government to investigate the murders of 43 college students.
Update: Thisstory was also featured on The Takeaway with John Hockenberry, a co-production of WNYC, the BBC World Service, and the New York Times.
Mexico has marked the 104th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. This year, the day was transformed into a platform for nationwide protests. Anguish is mounting over the government’s response to the murders of 43 college students in September.
A mayor in central Mexico, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda, and police are accused in the crime. Several analysts maintain that Mexico is in turmoil now, that a society seen to be historically passive in the face of crime driven by the narco-political nexus in the country is incensed in a way that hasn’t been seen in generations.
The banner reads ‘fue el estado,’ translated as ‘It was the state.’ There’s no indication the murders of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero went beyond the local level, but protesters say the alleged involvement of a mayor and police, both agents of the state imply that the Mexican state as an institution also bears some responsibility. (mioaxaca.com)
It’s not just the crime itself that’s roiling Mexico. It’s the perception that the government’s reaction was slow. It took a month before the arrest of the mayor, the politician who allegedly orchestrated the deaths of 43 students.
The mountain lion of Texas is known by many names in the Southwest. Cougars, panthers and pumas to name three.
In California it’s protected. In Arizona and New Mexico, you can hunt this predator, but with strict limitations. In Texas, mountain lions can be hunted at will. Still, preliminary results from a four-year-old study suggest that the Texas mountain lion population is stable and may be growing.
Wildlife biologist Dana Milani and landowner Bert Geary examine an adult female mountain lion. Geary is one of more than 50 landowners who’ve granted access to their land to study an animal that has been the historical object of scorn by many Texas ranchers. (Price Rumbelow)
Data from a Texas project tracking mountain lions by satellite imply a population of between 25-40 animals in one of the sky islands in Texas. Sky island refers to a mountain range surrounded by flatlands or in the case of this study, the high desert that’s a 90-minute drive north of the U.S.-Mexico border.The project, privately funded by individuals and nonprofit foundations, is an initiative of the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.