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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Mexican Environment

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: George W. Bush isn't the only new president in North America. Last month, Vicente Fox took office as Mexico's head of state after campaigning as a reformer on an anti-corruption platform. Mr. Fox has already done what Mr. Bush has not: elevate the environment to full Cabinet rank. On a more controversial note, some environmental and human rights activists had hoped Mr. Fox would move to overturn the conviction of two anti-logging activists who say they've been framed on drug and weapons charges. Living on Earth's Diane Toomey asked Victor Lichtinger, Mexico's new Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, about some issues facing the new administration, including the logging case.

LICHTINGER: Well, we have been discussing that with President Fox and different actors in the government. And certainly, the position right now is that they were tried two times, there was a revision of the trial, and it seems that they are guilty of what they were trialed. However, there is also evidence of torture that has been produced by the Commission of Human Rights here in Mexico. So I wouldn't doubt that we would again review the possibility of doing something in that regard.

TOOMEY: President Fox campaigned on issues of globalization and free trade for Mexico. How do you see these economic policies being reconciled with environmental protection?

LICHTINGER: Sometimes, when the environmental policy is not ready to be flexible and to adapt to new conditions of trade, you can have problems in environmental degradation. What we are trying is to cooperate and to work with the Ministry of Trade, with the Minister of Economy. We must make sure that trade is positive for growth, for economic opportunities. But at the same that does not create problems for the environment or for too much exploitation of natural resources.

TOOMEY: Let's talk about tourism and the environment. When many Americans think of Mexico, I think they think of resort destinations like Cancun. You've recently made some very strong statements about how development has hurt, even devastated, these kinds of areas. What's going to change under the new administration?

LICHTINGER: In Mexico the problem has been that tourism has come without any planning. And we are going to start now a policy of regulating and promoting that tourism should protect the environment. The most important instrument that we have is ecological zoning, which is a process by which by consensus we try to have a zoning map, and the areas that can be developed by tourism and the densities of tourism. In Mexico, actually, poverty is much more guilty than growth in causing environmental degradation, because of the density of population. We don't have those areas like you might have in the United States, where you can declare it a national park and nobody lives there. In Mexico, when we declare a natural protected area, we declare it with the people that live there, so we need to give them alternatives to have an earning.

TOOMEY: There are Mexican laws, of course, on the books that protect the environment, but I believe that in Mexico part of the problem comes from a lack of enforcement of these laws. And, of course, enforcement, I think, is a particular problem when it comes to protection of natural spaces. I'm thinking in particular of the monarch butterfly habitats.

LICHTINGER: Yes, for sure. There has been a problem there with illegal logging. As much as you can have inspectors making sure that nobody cuts, you cannot have one inspector beside each tree. But with new technologies and with being efficient in using the small amount of human resources that we have, I think we can do much better in these coming years.

TOOMEY: Are there plans, is there money to hire more enforcement officers to address problems like this?

LICHTINGER: This year we don't have more money. We will try now with the new administration to be able to reassign some money for that. But the next administration will be able to put the priorities much more clearly in what we think is more important.

TOOMEY: I understand your office is placing an emphasis on environmental education, and that even soap operas, telenovelas, I believe they're called?


TOOMEY: -- will be used for this purpose. If you could talk to me a little bit about your outreach plans.

LICHTINGER: We have done a lot of programs to try to educate people, but those, if they can just, as programs that come out of government, people don't listen to them. So what we are trying is to be creative and innovative. For example, soap operas is one way. And they have an incredible influence in the Mexican mind, in the culture. The same goes for music, for soccer players. We are trying to include them in our programs of education. We are trying to make sure that those people that people look up to are with us in trying to educate and making sure that people understand that each of us can contribute with our daily life.

TOOMEY: Thank you for joining me today.

LICHTINGER: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's Diane Toomey speaking with Victor Lichtinger, Mexico's Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources.

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CURWOOD: Coming up: A walk on a winter beach leads to some unexpectedly cool finds. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

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