La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: conservation

Flooding washes away section of U.S. border fence

Border fence arizona sonora mexico

Forty feet of U.S.-built fence along the border with Mexico have been washed away after flooding in Arizona, prompting I-told-you-so responses from border residents who said the fencing damaged the local ecosystem and would be prone to flooding.

The section of the fence that collapsed sits along the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, near the tiny port town of Lukeville in southwestern Arizona, and came down during heavy rainfall Aug. 7. Plans are underway to rebuild the damaged section, but other details were not immediately available, said Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.

"We've made operational adjustments to make sure [the area] is constantly monitored for any illicit cross-border activity," Burke told La Plaza on Wednesday. 

A news report on the Mexican side of the fence collapse showed photos of the fallen wall and said U.S. Border Patrol agents were "permanently guarding" the area (link in Spanish). Damage to streets and homes was also reported in the small village of Adolfo Lopez Mateos near Sonoyta in Sonora state (link in Spanish).

The fence, built in 2007 and 2008, was constructed without enough room for water and debris to naturally flow beneath it, the national monument's superintendent told the Arizona Daily Star. The criticism echoed concerns raised by conservationists when the plan was approved in late 2007 with a $21.3-million contract for a Kiewit construction subcontractor.

The border wall in the area essentially operated as a dam and burst with an overload of rainwater.

"The fence acts as a dam and forms a gradual waterfall," Superintendent Lee Baiza told the paper. "It starts to pile up on the bottom as the grass, the leaves, the limbs start plugging up. The water starts backing up and going higher. The higher it gets, the more force it has behind it."

Warning signs appeared in the area almost as soon as the fence went up. The international port of entry and private businesses in Lukeville flooded during rain in July 2008 because of debris buildup along the border wall, prompting a federal lawsuit, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

One conservationist said last week: "Now we know who's right."

The border wall has been controversial and problematic since Congress passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006, as The Times has found in stories on topics as diverse as the dangers the fence poses to wildlife, and Texas homes and farmland "stranded" on the wrong side of the fence in and around Brownsville.

Late last month, Homeland Security announced a $24.4-million contract for maintenance and repairs for the border fence in Arizona, reports said. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument website has photos of the fence here

-- Daniel Hernandez in San Diego

Photo: A section of the U.S. border fence with Mexico damaged during rainfall near Lukeville, Ariz. Credit:

Paraguay halts British expedition over isolated indigenous group

Ayoreo man chaco survival

The government of Paraguay has put the brakes on a planned expedition into a remote northern region of the country, fearing that researchers from the Natural History Museum of London could make contact with an indigenous group that wants to remain isolated from the outside world.

The museum had hoped to study the plant and animal life in Paraguay's Chaco, a dry forest region where the native Ayoreo people live in voluntary isolation. Local conservationists and indigenous rights groups warned the government that the Ayoreo's isolation could be compromised by the expedition, despite the planned use of a contacted Ayoreo guide who would have explored ahead to warn residents of approaching outsiders, reports Nature.

The Chaco region, which stretches from the north of Argentina to Brazil, is under threat from ranchers and loggers. The Ayoreo are considered the last uncontacted indigenous group in South America outside the Amazon basin. There are no precise figures on their population.

Continue reading »

Yale agrees to return Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru, ending dispute

Machu picchu peru presidency

Yale University has agreed to return thousands of pre-Hispanic artifacts to Peru, tentatively ending a dispute that pitted the Ivy League school against a growing demand in the Andean nation to reclaim its "cultural patrimony."

The Machu Picchu objects -- including pottery, textiles and human bones -- have been in Yale's hands for nearly a century, since Hiram Bingham III, a Yale historian, first "rediscovered" the ancient Inca city in 1911.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia and his predecessor, Alejandro Toledo, had made it a priority to pressure the university to release the excavated pieces, saying they were merely moved out of the country on loan between 1912 and 1915. Yale had refused for years, saying many Machu Picchu pieces were returned in 1921 and that it had been established then that the rest would stay at the university's Peabody Museum in New Haven, Conn.

In a statement over the weekend, Yale said it was pleased with developments in recent talks and was still working out details on how to transfer the first batch of objects to San Antonio Abad University in the city of Cuzco as early as next year, after an inventory is completed and a new research center is established there.

Continue reading »

World mayors sign climate-change pact in Mexico City

Mexico City mayors climate change summit

Hoping to place cities at the forefront of global climate-change policy efforts, leaders of more than 100 urban centers pledged on Sunday in Mexico City to commit their governments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The so-called Mexico City Pact is a precursor to climate-change talks with world governments opening next week in the Mexican resort city of Cancun. Countries will attempt once more to come up with a binding treaty to rein in global warming after the failure to do so at United Nations talks in Denmark last year.

In Mexico City, mayors and representatives of 138 cities, including Los Angeles, Paris and Johannesburg, signed the voluntary pact that states they will develop and implement local climate-change action plans that are "measurable, reportable and verifiable." The mayors summit was organized by the government of Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, whose efforts to "green" this crowded and polluted megalopolis are considered the most ambitious in Latin America.

Ebrard, who appears a likely presidential candidate in Mexico in 2012, said local governments will be key to reducing the effects of climate change. A majority of the world's population is now living in cities for the first time in history.

"We have to tell the international community that it's in the cities that the battle to slow global warming will be won," the mayor said before the summit.

Other cities in the region joining the pledge in Mexico City included Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina; La Paz, capital of Bolivia; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the largest cities in Brazil; Bogota,  capital of Colombia; Quito, capital of Ecuador; and Montevideo, Uruguay's capital (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, center, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, at left, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hold the pact. Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, who also presented his plan on climate change at the mayors summit, is seen in the far rear, third from left (link in Spanish). Credit: World Mayors Summit on Climate Change

Colombia considers container port in humpback whale habitat

Malaga bay colombia

Colombia is proposing a port development that environmentalists say could severely affect a coastal mating habitat for humpback whales from Antarctica, Chris Kraul reports in The Times. Malaga Bay, near the major city of Cali, was just a few steps away from being named a national park last year, thus preserving it permanently, before President Alvaro Uribe ceded to pressure from the country's major business group to conduct a feasibility study for the container port proposal.

"Now environmentalists are fearful that the port project could take on a momentum of its own," Kraul writes.

Malaga Bay welcomes as many as 1,000 migrating whales between June and August, fueling a small but growing eco-tourism industry in the area. But ANDI, as the national business group is known, says the bay's natural depth makes it ideal for large container ship traffic that could create a hub in Colombia for trade with Asia. Jobs generated, ANDI argues, would give young Cali residents an alternative to entering the drug trade.

Meanwhile, oil production in Colombia is gushing, which could "probably lead to increased Colombian exports to the U.S.," Kraul reports. Additionally, Colombia and the United States continue to march closer to ratifying a free trade agreement.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A humpback whale in Malaga Bay, Colombia. Credit: Lilian Florez of Fundacion Yubarta, via El Espectador

Costa Rica welcomes Laura Chinchilla, its first female president

Laura chinchilla ap On her first day on the job as Costa Rica's president, Laura Chinchilla signed three executive decrees, providing a glimpse into her policy priorities in her first 100 days in office. On Saturday, the first female head of state for the Central American nation signed decrees indefinitely banning open-pit gold-mining,  establishing an anti-drug commission, and  establishing a national elderly-care and infant development network, reports The Tico Times.

"We will work for a more innovative, more intelligent, more enterprising Costa Rica with a new economy encouraged by biotechnology, organic agriculture, the audiovisual industry and the aerospace and aviation industries, among others," Chinchilla said.

Photos of the Saturday inauguration at San Jose's La Sabana Metropolitan Park are here.

Chinchilla, 51, is a protege and former vice president of her predecessor, Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner. Her term is expected to extend the open-market, green-minded policies of the social-democrat style National Liberation Party, or PLN.

Chinchilla is a graduate of Georgetown University, a career politician once divorced and now married to a Spanish lawyer, mother to a teenage son, and a social conservative. She opposes gay marriage and abortion.

Costa Rica flourished under Arias, who enacted policies that largely shielded the nation from the global economic downturn. The previous president also oversaw the expansion of environmental conservation efforts and eco-tourism in Costa Rica. (Could such policies be the reason Costa Ricans are known according to one study as "the happiest people" on Earth?)

Chinchilla is expected to keep the country on this track, the Associated Press reports: "In 2007, [Arias] set a goal for his country to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world by 2021, a goal Chinchilla supports."

Chinchilla's open-pit mining ban, however, overturns an Arias decision, notes Inside Costa Rica.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Inauguration Day for Laura Chinchilla, first female president of Costa Rica. Credit: Associated Press / via BBC News

Ancient city mapped in Mexico sheds light on the Purepecha

Csu pyramid map model

The Purepecha people of Mexico built a large empire in what is now the western state of Michoacan, beating back the Aztecs at a shared border and resisting Spanish colonization until European diseases ravaged the society. Unique among Mesoamerican peoples in many ways -- their language is said to be most related to Quechua, in far-off Peru -- the Purepecha were skilled in crafting copper and pottery but left few clues otherwise about their history and culture.

Recent work by archeologist Christopher Fisher and a team from Colorado State University, however, is shedding new light on the group's history, The Times' Thomas H. Maugh II reports. Researchers say they have discovered and mapped a previously unknown Purepechan city on Lake Patzcuaro, six miles from the remains of Tzintzuntzan, considered the civilization's last capital. Fisher believes that the recently mapped city could have operated similarly as a modern "suburb" would to the capital before the Purepecha -- or Tarascans -- consolidated their empire and moved their main ceremonial center to Tzintzuntzan.

The new urban center, still not officially named, may be as large as two square miles (five square kilometers) and includes house mounds, small temples, plazas, and a pyramid (depicted above), reports Colorado State. The discovery was made in summer 2009 as part of an ongoing survey of the Lake Patzcuaro basin, Maugh writes:

Because the lake level has been dropping, the Purepecha site now sits a couple of miles east of the lake -- Fisher is vague about the precise location because of fears of looting -- but at its height was probably no more than a quarter mile from the shore.

The site sits on a landform called malpais, a young, rugged volcanic landscape "that looks like gravel dumped into a big pile," he said.

Fisher's team used handheld computers and GPS receivers to map about 1,300 of the center's features. The team's findings were presented last week in St. Louis at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Fisher tells La Plaza that the site is not a government INAH zone, so the risk of looting remains high.

"We are not excavating and are more concerned with the mapping and preservation of the site at the moment," Fisher said.

More images provided by the university are available here.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Graphic model of newly discovered pyramid on Lake Patzcuaro, Mexico. Credit: Colorado State University


Twenty-three donated bison roaming in Mexico's northern Chihuahua state

Twenty-three donated bison were released in Mexico's northern state of Chihuahua as part of an effort to have at least 100 of the animals roaming the country within three years, officials said Friday. 

Large herds of bison once existed in parts of northern Mexico and their return could help regenerate natural grassland in the Rancho El Uno nature reserve, said Environment Secretary Juan Elvira Quesada, according to news reports.

Quesada called on the U.S. to stop building border fences that can disrupt the natural migration routes of animals, the Associated Press reported.

The 23 bison, which came from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, are part of a cooperative between the two countries to restore bison to their historical range in Mexico, officials said.

"It's a great day for the conservation world," Wind Cave superintendent Vidal Davila said late last month when plans to move the bison were announced. "This project will help conserve bison to a greater degree by having another satellite herd in Mexico, where bison are classified as an endangered wildlife species."

-- Efrain Hernandez Jr.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »
'Twitter terrorists' freed in Mexico, charges dropped |  September 21, 2011, 7:03 pm »
Freedom likely for Mexico's 'Twitter Terrorists' |  September 21, 2011, 11:00 am »



About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson