Mexico’s ‘Magical Towns’ aren’t benefiting many

Poverty has increased in one of every three towns integrated to the Magical Towns program since 2012.

The brand has operated for 17 years and groups 121 communities, where 6 million people live.

The program was created with the intention of contributing to a rising quality of life, employment and promoting investment in diversified tourist locations in the interior of the country, based on historical and cultural attributes.

The federal government grants $5.2 million pesos annually to each locality included in the program and, by the middle of this year, it added an investment of $6 billion pesos.

The head of the Ministry of Tourism (Sectur), Enrique de la Madrid, has said that the Pueblos Mágicos program represents a great tool to mitigate poverty in Mexico and favor the development of communities that find their main source of income in tourism.

It was in 2012, at the end of the administration of Felipe Calderón, when more locations were included in the program, a total of 34 where 2 million 300 thousand Mexicans lived.

However, after receiving the appointment in 2012, 11 Pueblos Mágicos experienced an increase in poverty, according to comparable figures from the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval).

The town of Arteaga in Coahuila was where poverty increased the most, going from 6,340 inhabitants living within the poverty level in 2010, to 9,039 in 2015, that is an increase of 25.3% to 41% of its population.

Known as “the city of the jacarandas”, Jiquilpan, in Michoacán, was the second community where poverty increased the most after becoming part of the Magical Towns, from 46.3% to 53.4% between 2010 and 2015.

Located in the Valley of Toluca, Metepec was the third town where poverty rose the most, from 25% to 31.6%.

Other Magical Towns where after receiving recognition in 2012 poverty grew, they were Yuriria, in Guanajuato; Batopilas, in Chihuahua ; Loreto, in Baja California Sur; as well as Angangueo and Tacámbaro, both in Michoacán; and Cholula, Chignahuapan and Pahuatlán, the three in Puebla.

The director of the Faculty of Tourism and Gastronomy of the Anáhuac University, Francisco Madrid, said that the end of Calderón’s six-year term as a Pueblo Magico put the brand at risk, since many incorporated localities did not meet the requirements for the Magical Town program.

Until 2010 there was a more selective and careful program incorporation scheme, which was later lost, he explained at the time.

The Magic Towns program establishes specific criteria for incorporation and permanence, which are published in the Official Gazette of the Federation.

In addition to waiting for the convocation of the Sectur, the communities that aspire to carry the brand must prove that there is an area or administrative unit in charge of tourism in the region.

It is required to have a directory of tourist services in the locality, an inventory of resources and tourist attractions, as well as those that can be declared historical monuments, information on connectivity, communication and proximity to a main city, as well as a development plan for municipal tourism.

Of the 23 Magic Towns where poverty fell the most, after being included in the program in 2012, Mapimí stands out, going from 61.6% to 40.5% between 2010 and 2015.

It was followed by Huichapan, in Hidalgo, where the population living in poverty fell from 53.9% to 38.1%; in Viesca, Coahuila, it was reduced from 63.2% to 50%.

The administration of Enrique Peña Nieto gave 40 recognitions, while that of Calderón 54 and that of Fox 27, to create a total of 121 Magic Towns.

The next head of the SECTUR, Miguel Torruco, has said that he will evaluate the program and even analyze the suspension of appointments in the short term.

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