Despite its beauty and vast natural resources, Chiapas is the poorest province in Mexico. The government is trying to turn this around by upgrading the old fishing port of Chiapas. Officials say improvements made in the port's infrastructure during the past few years are seeing results in attracting more cruise liners from America and Europe, and in more efficiently exporting goods from the region to other parts of the world.
Cruise liner horns are increasingly being heard in Puerto Chiapas. That means plans to build up the port as a tourist destination and commercial center are beginning to take root.
The governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabenas is actively pushing the economic development of the port. He says work to improve and modernize its infrastructure is moving ahead and some of the first results can be seen in the growing number of cruise liners coming into port. He says passengers from Europe and America disembark for the day and typically spend about $100 per person.
"Port of Chiapas is a brand new port ... It was inaugurated in 1975, but mainly as a fishing port," said Alfonso Perez, the General Director of the Port Authority in Puerto Chiapas. "Now, in 2005, a lot of money was invested to upgrade the port and now we are a port that started receiving cruises."
Perez says the cruise liner business is not booming yet, but it is growing quickly. In 2006, he says only one cruise liner came to the port. This year, he expects 22 will come.
He says the area offers tourists many attractions, from chocolate making to exotic flora and fauna to Mayan archeological digs.
"We have another income that comes from the tuna-fish ships and some other cargo that comes to port of Chiapas ... We are not depending just on the cruises where we are doing very well," he said. "There are other industries that will come to port of Chiapas. One is the oil. You know in Mexico, Petroleum Mexicanos is the Mexican oil company, and they are going to open a facility here in the port with an investment of around $15-million, which is very nice, very good."
Perez says Petroleum Mexicanos is planning to move its oil distribution facility from the region's main city of Tapachula to the port's industrial area. He considers this an ideal arrangement, as it will make it easy for the company to transport its fuel by ship rather than by truck.
He says the port is a long-term investment and funds from the Federal Government will be needed for the foreseeable future to pay for the ongoing upgrade.
"I think in five years, we will be, if not a cash cow, we will have enough funds to run by ourselves," added Perez.
Perez says the port's yearly revenue is about $1.5-million. He thinks it will take another five years before the port turns a profit.
Minister of Development for the South Border Region Andrea Hernandez Fitzner is young and enthusiastic about an agreement Chiapas has signed with five Central American governments to enter into an economic partnership to develop the region.
"The government of Chiapas wants to design a unique strategy for development, and this government thinks ... Chiapas can be a strategic key for the development of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and Colombia," said Fitzner. "If we see the Central America and Chiapas like a similar region to develop, we can ... offer more to the big market."
While it is important to improve the region's infrastructure, port official Gustavo Gutierrez says that is not enough. He says cultural and educational deficiencies also have to be overcome.
"If you have a country with education and economic opportunities, you can grow, you can develop the people and the country," he said.
Unfortunately, officials in Chiapas agree this goal is not yet in sight. Chiapas has a big, largely uneducated indigenous population. The region suffers from unskilled laborers who are unable to perform the high-tech jobs needed for a modern economy.
The government is aware of this and, along with work to improve the region's roads, airports and ports, it is working to provide better education and health care to lift the people out of poverty.