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Mexico's National Erosion Project

Stan Gotlieb

While traveling through the mountains to Tehuantepec, I noticed a large bald patch, obviously man made, on a very steep slope. At the time I thought "ah, someone must want to create erosion". The rest is just observation, and some spoofing... (The picture is of the "back side" of Gelatao, the birthplace of Benito Juarez.) Photography by Diana Ricci

On Friday, September 16, Mexico celebrates its Day of Independence from Spain. On this day in history, the Spanish, sick of mosquitos and Nescafe, went the way of the French and Maximillian: East.

Last Independence Day, largely ignored amid the parades, balloons, flags, pinwheels and firecrackers (red, white and green every one) an event occurred which clearly demonstrated the fierce independence of this proud and nationalistic people: the Ministry for an Independent Ecological Policy (Indecolopol) opened the National Erosion Project (Naterpro). I was there.

Deep in the mountains of southern Mexico, Naterpro has clear cut three swathes of wooded mountainside. Across the valley from these plots, a scientific complex has been built to monitor the project and to analyze its progress. Two large concrete buildings house some two hundred people: observers (14), scientists (3), accountants (25), security guards (42), shoe shiners (6), administrators (10) and form fillers and stampers (100). There are laboratories for soil testing, water analysis and tree quality control; machines to detect earthquakes; and a rain gauge. There is also a fully outfitted disco, a movie theater, 16 satellite dishes and a bowling alley.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get into the buildings because the guard with the keys had gone home for a family emergency.

In an interview widely attended by members of the press -- me, the features editor of "Your Government in Action", and a stringer for Cellulose Sunday, a bible of the paper trade -- the Naterpro public relations representative was frank, free-ranging, forthcoming, and felicitous. Sr. Mauricio de la Vega y Luna ("Call me Mo, that's what they used to call me at Lower Buford State Forestry School") revealed that Naterpro is completely funded by loans and grants from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Toilet Tissue Foundation (the Cellulose Sunday reporter stood briefly and placed his hand over his heart).

Why, we asked, was this project initiated? " To aid in the formulation of the next generation of ecological policies." And how would this project do that? "It is necessary to arrive at a deeper understanding of the process of soil erosion." But hasn't that process already been studied? "Yes, but not in Mexico." Does that mean that there is something special about Mexican soil, or Mexican rainfall? "That is so." And what is this difference? "They are Mexican." And do you then expect a different model of erosion to present itself in this study? "No-one can know until we do it." And...? "Wait! I can see that you do not understand my country. We are independent! We reject the so-called science of the U.S.A. and Europe in favor of a Mexican solution." You mean to tell me you don't accept the notion that removing trees from mountainsides results in soil erosion? "It is not for me to say. Our people will reach their own conclusions on this matter, and once we have reached our conclusions, then we will act on them in the interests of the lumber industry -- I mean, the people."

As we filed toward our bus to return to town, I couldn't help but admire the independent spirit of Mexican science. Perhaps it's time for a Mexican solution to the proposition "the world is round". World Bank, are you listening?

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Published or Updated on: September 1, 2000 by Stan Gotlieb © 2008
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