Pronunciation: bah-hah kah-lee-FOHR-nee-ah SOOR.
Origin of state name: The name "California" comes from a 16th-century Spanish novel. California was an island close to paradise. Baja comes from the Spanish word for lower. Sur is Spanish for south.
Capital: La Paz.
Entered country: 1974.
Coat of Arms: The navy blue represents justice, truth, and loyalty. The fish represents the resources of the ocean. The center section is divided in half: the red and gold represent unity, wealth, and courage. The shell symbolizes the battle that citizens have fought to defend their borders.
Holidays: Año Nuevo (New Year's Day—January 1); Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day—February 5); Benito Juárez's birthday (March 21); Primero de Mayo (Labor Day—May 1); Revolution Day, 1910 (November 20); and Navidad (Christmas—December 25).
Flag: There is no official flag.
Time: 4 AM = Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Baja California Sur, a very narrow state in western Mexico, covers the southern half of the Baja California peninsula. (The peninsula is a long finger of land extending south from the border with the US state of California.) Baja California Sur's total area is 71,428 square kilometers (27,578 square miles), slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina. Baja California Sur has 5 municipalities. The capital, La Paz, is located in the southeast.
Making up part of Baja California Sur are the islands of Natividad, Magdalena, and Santa Margarita in the Pacific Ocean; and the islands of San Marcos, Coronados, Carmen, Monserrat, Santa Catalina, Santa Cruz, San Diego, San José, San Francisco, Partida, Espíritu Santo and Cerralvo in the Sea of Cortés (Golfo de California).
Baja California Sur, with a coastline of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles), has the longest coastline of any Mexican state. It is bordered to the east and south by the Golfo de California. This gulf separates the peninsula from the mainland Mexican
Mountains (sierras) form a chain that follows the eastern coastline, ending at the southern tip of the peninsula near Cabo San Lucas (Cape San Lucas).
The climate is mild, with temperatures averaging 24°c (75°f) during the day and 13°c (55°f) at night in January. In July, temperatures average 32°c (90°f) during the day and 27°c (80°f) at night. The climate is dry, with annual rainfall averaging 30 to 60 centimeters (12 to 24 inches) per year.
Baja California Sur is host to many sea animals along its two coasts. These include iguanas, snakes, turtles, several species of sea birds, swallows, and pelicans. There are many migrating whales and sport fish in the waters along the coast. The desert has mesquite trees; cactus; and small, shrubby pines. The higher elevations are home to deer and mountain lions, rabbits, squirrels, and big-horned sheep.
The cardón cactus, the world's largest cactus, thrives on the Baja California peninsula. It grows slowly and may reach heights of 21 meters (70 feet).
The landscape in the mountainous areas of Baja California Sur is tropical dry forest. The dry forest has a long dry season and a short rainy season, opposite the climate where the rain forest thrives.
The fish populations in the Golfo de California to the east of Baja California have been depleted by overfishing. Fishing also endangers turtles and other marine animals that get caught accidentally by fishing equipment (hooks or nets). International environmental groups are pressuring the Mexican government to control fishing there.
Baja California Sur had a total population of 424,041 in 2000; of the total, 216,250 (51%) were men and 207,791 (49%) were women. The population density was 6 people per square kilometer (15 people per square mile). In 2000, the capital, La Paz, had a population of 213,045.
Almost all residents speak Spanish. There is a small percentage (1.4%) who speak one of the Amerindian languages.
According to the 2000 census, 79% of the population, or 333,156 people, were Roman Catholic; 3.5%, or 15,083 people, were Protestant. That year there were also 665 Seventh-Day Adventists, 995 Mormons, 5,611 Jehovah's Witnesses, and nearly 18,000 people who reported no religion.
There are highways stretching the length of the Baja California peninsula, but there are relatively few gas stations. Drivers must plan carefully to avoid running out of fuel. La Paz-Manuel de Leon Airport provides international flights to and from Baja California Sur. Los Cabos International Airport at San Jose del Cabo is an international airport serving Cabo San Lucas. There is shipping across the Golfo de California to the mainland states of Sonora and Sinaloa.
In addition to different groups of hunters and gatherers, there were Yumano and Cucapás civilizations in the area before the arrival of the Spaniards in Baja California. The first Spaniards reached the region in 1533. Spaniard Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) led two expeditions in 1535 and 1536 to conquer what he believed was an island. In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno (c. 1550–1616) led an expedition that renamed the old Santa Cruz port with its modern name, La Paz. Although there were some colonization efforts in the 1600s, the first permanent nonindigenous settlement was a Jesuit (an order of the Roman Catholic Church) mission created in 1697. Jesuit priests introduced new crops and helped the natives with new agricultural techniques. Diseases brought by the Spaniards and the enslavement of the indigenous population helped decimate the native population throughout the 1700s.
The expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 by decree of the Spanish crown gave way to a centralized effort to populate Baja California with Franciscan monks (from the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church) and military garrisons. Together with Alta California (now the US state of California), Baja California was made a Spanish province in the mid-1700s. It then officially merged with Alta California to create a territory of the Spanish viceroyalty (territory ruled by Spain) of Mexico. In 1804, Baja and Alta California were divided again into two separate provinces.
The drive for independence in 1810 took hold in many Mexican states, but not in Baja California because of its physical isolation. Governor Fernando de la Toba finally declared Baja California's independence from Spain in 1822. A constitution was ratified (approved) in 1824 and Baja and Alta California were once again merged into a Mexican province with San Diego as its capital and José María de Echandía as governor. In 1829, the provincial capital was moved to La Paz.
During the Mexican-American War (1846–48), Baja California was disputed territory. Mexican patriots fought against US soldiers. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, Mexico ceded (gave up) Alta California but kept Baja California. Conflicts over control of Baja California persisted. American pirate William Walker attacked Baja California in 1853 and occupied La Paz and Cabo San Lucas, declaring independence and claiming to be president of the new republic. He was later expelled and deported to the United States.
From 1876 to 1910, Baja California witnessed widespread persecution of native indigenous groups. Native lands were forcibly taken for agricultural use in the name of Mexican progress and development. The International Company of Mexico, a Connecticut-based corporation, was granted almost half of the territory for different economic initiatives starting in 1886. When the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) toppled the regime of Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915), Baja California was comprised of the Norte (North) and Sur (South) provinces.
After the revolution, the new Mexican government took control of Baja California and suppressed the move towards annexation by the United States. The central government appointed governors in Baja California Norte and Baja California Sur, consolidating the division of the peninsula into two different provinces. From 1916 to 1974, 10 governors were appointed for Baja California Sur. During this period, much progress was made, including the construction of roads, a water system, a system for electricity, and a education system. A shipping route was established with the mainland states. Baja California Sur became a federal state in 1974 under the presidency of Luis Echeverría, with 3 municipalities: La Paz, Comondú, and Mulegé. Félix Agramont Cota, the appointed governor, convened a constitutional assembly. The new constitution was ratified (approved) on January 9, 1975. The first constitutional governor was Ángel César Mendoza Aramburu. As the population grew, the state further divided its territory, adding the municipality of Los Cabos in 1981 and Loreto in 1992.
The state governor is elected for a nonrenewable 6-year term. Leonel Cota Montaño was elected in 1999 and his term will expire in 2005. The legislature is comprised of a unicameral (single chamber) state assembly. Fifteen of its 21 members are elected in single member districts, and 6 by proportional representation, all for nonrenewable 3-year terms. Legislators can seek election again after sitting out 1 term of the assembly. Power is highly centralized in the office of the governor, but re-election restrictions and the small size of the state have made the Baja California Sur governor relatively weak when compared to other Mexican states.
Comprised of 5 municipalities, Baja California has a highly centralized government. Municipal presidents are elected for nonrenewable 3-year terms. Each municipality also elects a local council, whose size varies according to the municipal population. Municipal council members are also elected for nonrenewable 3-year terms.
The 3 main political parties in all of Mexico are the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the National Action Party (PAN), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). As in the rest of Mexico, candidates of these 3 parties compete for most elected offices. The PRI has exercised dominance over the political system since the state was officially separated from Baja California. All state governors have belonged to the PRI. The PAN is the second strongest party in the state, but the leftist PRD also has some electoral presence.
A Superior Tribunal of Justice is the highest judicial authority in the state. Its 7 members are appointed by the legislature from a 3-person list presented by the state governor. Justices must be qualified lawyers and they cannot be immediately reappointed after their 6-year terms expire. In addition there is a state electoral tribunal and local courts in each municipality. The state electoral tribunal is comprised of 3 members elected by a two-thirds majority in the legislature for nonrenewable 6-year terms.
Tourism and sport fishing are the most important segments of the economy. Agriculture and salt mining (in the northern part of the state) are also important economic activities. A small commercial cotton growing operation exists in the state.
There is little industry, except for tourism-related activities, in the state. Salt is mined in the northern desert.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Mexican workers saw their wages increase 17%, from $2.09 per hour in 1999 to $2.46 per hour in 2000. (By comparison, the average American worker earned $19.86 per hour in 2000.) After 1 year, workers are entitled by law to 6 days paid vacation.
Agriculture is an important economic activity. Principal crops are wheat, corn, green chiles, tomatoes, alfalfa, sorghum, and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). Other crops include oranges, avocados, mangoes, and dates. Honey is also produced.
Ranchers in Baja California Sur raise cattle, goats, pigs, and chickens for both meat and egg production.
Fishing in the coastal waters yields abalone, tuna, clams, lobster, and shrimp, among other species. Fishing is an important economic activity, with fish processing facilities located at Santa Rosalía on the east coast.
The state produces salt, plaster, and phosphorite, mostly to be exported. The salt is extracted from ocean saltwater. One of the largest extraction facilities is located on the west coast at Guerrero Negro near the border with Baja California. There are hundreds of shallow tanks there, all filled with ocean water, which is allowed to evaporate. When the water has completely evaporated, the bottoms of the tanks are filled with salt. The salt is purified and sold as table salt, or as a food preservative.
Geothermal power (from the heat of the earth's interior) has potential in the state. A geothermal plant was built near Las Tres Vírgenes (Three Virgins), a volcano near the Golfo de California that last erupted in the 1700s. In rural areas, residents formerly paid a flat fee for electricity, with no meter to measure how much electricity was being used. By the late 1990s, most homes had metered electricity.
There are 18 general hospitals, 130 outpatient centers, and 28 surgical centers in Baja California Sur. AmeriMed (American hospitals) also has a medical center in Cabo San Lucas.
Most of the Mexican population is covered under a government health plan. The IMSS (Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social) covers the general population. The ISSSTE (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de Trabajadores del Estado) covers state workers.
There is a slight housing shortage in Baja California Sur. Most of the housing is in good condition, with less that 10% requiring significant upgrading.
The system of public education was started by President Benito Juárez (1806–1872) in 1867. Public education in Mexico is funded by the state and is free for students ages 6 to 16. There were 88,376 school-age children in the state in 2000. Many students elect to go to private schools.
The thirty-one states of Mexico all have at least one state university. The Universidad Internacional de la Paz (International University of La Paz) is located in the capital.
There are over 8 theaters, including the Teatro Juárez in La Paz. The city of La Paz also has an open-air theater. The city of Todos Santos is an artists' community that often hosts various art fairs. The Galería de Todos Santos is a fine arts gallery showcasing the works of many famous Mexican artists. There is also El Boleo Centro Cultural in the city of Mulegé, and the French cultural society Alianza Francesa has a chapter.
There are 40 branches of the national library system in Baja California Sur.
There is a museum of archeology and a museum of natural history in the city of La Paz and a Jesuit museum in the city of Loreto.
The capital city, La Paz, has El Sudcaliforniano.
The two main cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Juan del Cabo offer many hotels and recreational facilities. Whale watching (from January through March), deep sea fishing, golf and tennis, motorcycling, scuba diving, and snorkeling are all area attractions. The "Corridor," is a main highway between the two towns. Medano Beach has windsurfing and at the tip of Baja California Sur is a rock formation known as Los Arcos, famous to all photographers. The town of Mulegé offers sport fishing and diving along with tours of prehistoric caves and their paintings.
People in Baja California Sur enjoy the sporting venues of Baja California to the north. There are no major sports venues in Baja California Sur.
Ángel César Mendoza Aramburu was the first governor; Juan Antonio Flores Ojeda was the governor as of 2004.
Sobol, Richard. Adelina's Whales. New York: Dutton, 2003.
Williams, Jack. The Magnificent Peninsula: The Comprehensive Guidebook to Mexico's Baja California. Redding, CA: H. J. Williams, 2001.
Mexico for Kids. http://www.elbalero.gob.mx/index_kids.html (accessed on June 11, 2004).