Local Communities Question Benefits of Mayan Train in Southern Mexico

The Mayan Train megaproject in southern Mexico will affect key ecosystems of the Yucatan Peninsula, which is home to 25 protected natural areas, such as this lake in the SíijilNohá community reserve, next to the Sian Ka'an protected area. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Mayan Train megaproject in southern Mexico will affect key
ecosystems of the Yucatan Peninsula, which is home to 25 protected
natural areas, such as this lake in the SíijilNohá community
reserve, next to the Sian Ka’an protected area. Credit: Emilio
Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO, Mexico, Dec 17 2018 (IPS)

“If thousands of people flock to this town, how will we be
able to service them? I’m afraid of that growth,” ZendyEuán,
spokeswoman for a community organisation,said in reference to the
Mayan Train (TM) project, a railway network that will run through
five states in southern Mexico.

Euán, a Mayan indigenous woman living in the municipality of
Felipe Carrillo Puerto (FCP), told IPS that they lack detailed
information about the megaproject, one of the high-profile
initiatives promised during his campaign by the new
leftistPresident Andrés Manuel LópezObrador, popularly known by
his acronym AMLO.

“It’s not clear to us. We don’t know about the project,”
said Euán, who also questioned the benefits promised by the
president, who was sworn in on Dec. 1, for the local population, as
well as the mechanisms for participation in the project and the
threats it poses to the environment.”They are violating our
indigenous rights. We don’t agree with how the consultation was
carried out, and we don’t see the benefits for the local
communities. This is aimed at tourist spots. Those who will benefit
are the big businesses.” — Miguel Ku

“What will be the benefit for the local community members, for
the craftswomen? As ecotourism communities, will we be able to
promote our businesses and goods?” said the spokeswoman for the
Community Tourism Network of
the Maya Zone of Quintana Roo
, one of the states in
southeastern Mexico that share the Yucatan Peninsula, on the
Atlantic coast, with 1.5 million inhabitants.

The network, launched in 2014, brings together 11 community
organisations from three municipalities of Quintana Roo and offers
ecotourism and cultural tours in the area, its main economic
activity.

In the municipality of FCP, home to just over 81,000 people,
there are 84 ejidos,areas of communal land used for agriculture,
where community members own and farm their own plots, which can
also be sold.

One of them, of the same name as the municipality, FCP, covering
47,000 hectares and belonging to 250 “ejidatarios” or members,
manages the ejidal reserves Síijil Noh Há (“where the
water flows,” in the Mayan language) and Much’KananK’aax
(“let’s take care of the forest together”).

Euán’s doubts are shared by thousands of inhabitants of the
peninsula, which receives almost seven million tourists every
year.

IPS travelled a stretch of the preliminary TM route through
Quintana Roo and the neighboring state of Campeche and noted the
general lack of detailed information about the project and its
possible ecological, social and cultural consequences in a region
with high levels of poverty and social marginalisation.

The government’s National
Tourism Fund
(Fonatur) is promoting the project, at a cost of
between 6.2 and 7.8 billion dollars. The plan is for it to start
operating in 2022, with 15 stations along 1,525 kilometers in 41
municipalities in the states of Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo,
Tabasco and Yucatán.

The locomotives will run on biodiesel -possibly made from palm
oil- and the trains are projected to move about three million
passengers annually, in addition to cargo.

Zendy Euán, spokesperson for a community tourism network, explains in the Mayan Museum of the municipality of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, in the state of Quintana Roo, that the Mayan Train will run through key environmental areas of southern Mexico. Social and indigenous organisations question the benefits of the megaproject, one of the star projects of the new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Zendy Euán, spokesperson for a community tourism network,
explains in the Mayan Museum of the municipality of Felipe Carrillo
Puerto, in the state of Quintana Roo, that the Mayan Train will run
through key environmental areas of southern Mexico. Social and
indigenous organisations question the benefits of the megaproject,
one of the star projects of the new president, Andrés Manuel
López Obrador. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The new government argues that the project will boost the
region’s socioeconomic development, foster social inclusion and
job creation, safeguard indigenous cultures, protect the
peninsula’s Protected Natural Areas (PNA), and strengthen the
tourism industry.

Ancient ecosystems

The railway will cut through the heart of the Mayan jungle, an
ecosystem that formed the base of the Mayan empire that dominated
the entire Mesoamerican region – southern Mexico and Central
America – from the 8th century until the arrival of the Spanish
conquistadors in the 16th century.

This is the most important rainforest in Latin America after the
Amazon region and a key area in the conservation of natural wealth
in Mexico, which ranks 12th among the most megadiverse countries on
the planet.

The region belongs to the Mesoamerican
Biological Corridor
consisting of habitats running from
southern Mexico to Panama, the southernmost of the seven Central
American countries, and is home to about 10 percent of the
world’s known species.

In the Yucatan Peninsula, shared by the states of Campeche,
Quintana Roo and Yucatan,
there are 25 PNAs
, with a total area of 8.5 million
hectares.

In fact, two TM stations will be contiguous to the
725,000-hectare Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and the 650,000-hectare
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

“What’s going to happen? We don’t know the route, we
don’t have information. We have to study this closely,” Luís
Tamay, the indigenous president of the Commissariat of Common
Assets of the Nuevo Becal ejido in the municipality of Calakmul, in
Campeche, told IPS.

Like Euán, Tamay fears the arrival of crowds of tourists, for
which Calakmul “is not prepared; this is a high-impact project”
for a municipality of just over 28,000 people.

Nuevo Becal has 84 landowners, covers 52,800 hectares and
carries out six projects of timber exploitation, agroforestry,
seeds and environmental conservation.

Although the TM will not pass through the immediate vicinity of
Nuevo Becal, the megaproject will have impacts on the area.

In Calakmul, the government will carry out technical and
environmental impact studies in 2019, with the idea of starting
construction the following year in the locality.

To build the railway network, the government must negotiate with
the ejidatarios, who own most of the land in the five states along
the planned railway, as there are 385 in Campeche, 279 in Quintana
Roo and 737 in Yucatán.

The government has already asked for 30 hectares in the Felipe
Carrillo Puerto ejido to build a station, as a contribution to the
project, which was first proposed in 2007 by the then governor of
Yucatan, Yvonne Ortega, who projected the Transpeninsular Rapid
Train in 2007.
Shortly after taking office in December 2012, AMLO’s predecessor,
conservative Enrique Peña Nieto, adopted it as a national plan to
connect the region. But public spending cutbacks in 2015 put the
project on hold.

To the original project which will be added more than 300
kilometers of rundown railroads that functioned between 1905 and
1957, first for military transport and then also for passenger
traffic.

On Nov. 24-25, before AMLO took office, his team obtained
support for the railway network, along with a new refinery in the
state of Tabasco and the execution of other projects, during a

National Consultation on 10 Priority Social Programmes
.

But this support, in a consultation that was only carried out in
certain localities through a process that was not very
representative, did not appease the criticism of the TM in the
region.

On Nov. 15,
a group of academics
asked López Obrador to stop the works
because of their ecological, social, cultural and archaeological
impacts.

Three days later,
a collective of indigenous organisations
rejected the project,
demanded respect for their forests and jungles, and called for
free, prior, informed and culturally appropriate consultation.

“They are violating our indigenous rights. We don’t agree
with how the consultation was carried out, and we don’t see the
benefits for the local communities. This is aimed at tourist spots.
Those who will benefit are the big businesses” in the sector,
Miguel Ku, representative of the Network of Environmental Service
Producers, told IPS.

This organization brings together 3,756 ejidatarios from 33
agrarian communities in the municipality of José María Morelos,
and three more in the municipality of FCP, all of which are in
Quintana Roo. Together, they own 257,000 hectares that are used for
forestry, agriculture, beekeeping and livestock.

Local organisations are seeking another socioeconomic model.
“We have shown that conservation allows for good development. We
have natural resources, let us take advantage of them, that’s how
we can support ourselves,” said Tamay.

Ku protested what he called a repeat of what has happened with
previous projects. “We are sick and tired of others taking the
benefits even though we own the land. The government could do
something else. We want the ejidos to develop their own
projects,” he said.

But López Obrador appears to be in a hurry to move forward with
the Mayan Train, and on Dec. 16 he laid the first stone in the city
of Palenque, Chiapas, without waiting for Fonatur to present the
environmental impact assessment to the environment ministry.

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Local Communities Question Benefits of Mayan Train in Southern
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Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Local Communities Question Benefits of Mayan Train in Southern Mexico