Mayan Train Threatens to Alter the Environment and Communities in Mexico

The Mayan Train, the flagship megaproject of leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, seeks to promote the socioeconomic development of the south and southeast of the country, with an emphasis on tourism and with the goal of transporting 50,000 passengers per day by 2023. The fear is that the mass influx of tourists will damage preserved coastal areas, such as Tulum beach in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy

The Mayan Train, the flagship megaproject of leftist President
Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, seeks to promote the
socioeconomic development of the south and southeast of the
country, with an emphasis on tourism and with the goal of
transporting 50,000 passengers per day by 2023. The fear is that
the mass influx of tourists will damage preserved coastal areas,
such as Tulum beach in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan
Peninsula. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
Mexico City, Aug 25 2020 (IPS)

Mayan anthropologist Ezer May fears that the tourism development
and real estate construction boom that will be unleashed by the
Mayan Train, the main infrastructure project of Mexican President
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will disrupt his community.

“What we think is that the east of the town could be
affected,” May told IPS by phone from his hometown of
Kimbilá.

“The most negative impact will come when they start building
the development hub around the train station,” he said. “We
know that the tourism industry and other businesses will receive a
boost. There is uncertainty about what is to come; many ejidatarios
[members of an ejido, public land held in common by the inhabitants
of a village and farmed cooperatively or individually] don’t know
what’s happening.”

This town of 4,000 people, whose name means “water by the
tree”, is in the municipality of Izamal in the northern part of
the state of Yucatan, about 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City. The
district will have a Mayan Train station, although its size is not
yet known, and the prospect awakens fears as well as hope among the
communities involved.

In Kimbilá, 10 km from the city of Izamal, there are 560
ejidatarios who own some 5,000 hectares of land where they grow
corn and vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey.

“These ejido lands are going to be in the sights of tourism
and real estate companies, real estate speculation and everything
else that urban development implies. We will see the same old
dispossession and asymmetrical agreements and contracts for buying
up land at extremely low prices; we’ll see unequal treatment,”
said May.

The government’s National
Tourism Fund (Fonatur)
is promoting the project, which is to
cost between
6.2 and 7.8 billion dollars
. Construction began in May.

The plan is for the Mayan
Train
to begin operating in 2022, with 19 stations and 12 other
stops along some 1,400 km of track, which will be added to the
nearly 27,000 km of railways in Mexico, Latin America’s second
largest economy, population 129 million.

It will run through 78 municipalities in the southern and
southeastern states of the country: Campeche, Quintana Roo,
Yucatan, Chiapas and Tabasco, the first three of which are in the
Yucatan Peninsula, which has
one of the most important and fragile ecosystems
in Mexico and
is home to 11.1 million people.

Its locomotives will run on diesel and the trains are projected
to carry about 50,000 passengers daily by 2023, reaching 221,000 by
2053, in addition to cargo such as transgenic soybeans, palm oil
and pork, which are major agricultural products in the region.

A map of the Mayan Train's route through the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Construction began in May and it is expected to begin operating in 2023. CREDIT: Fonatur

A map of the Mayan Train’s route through the Yucatan Peninsula
in Mexico. Construction began in May and it is expected to begin
operating in 2023. CREDIT: Fonatur

Pros and cons

The Mexican government is promoting the megaproject as an engine
for social development that will create jobs, boost tourism beyond
the traditional attractions and energise the regional economy.

But it has unleashed controversy between those who back the
administration’s propaganda and those who question the railway
because of its potential environmental, social and cultural
impacts, as well as the risk of fuelling illegal activities, such
as human trafficking and drug smuggling.

The megaproject involves the construction of development hubs in
the stations, which include businesses, drinking water, drainage,
electricity and urban infrastructure, and which, according to the
ministry of the environment itself,
represent the greatest environmental threat
posed by the
railway.

U.N. Habitat, which offers technical advice on the project’s
land-use planning aspects,
estimates
that the Mayan Train will create one million jobs by
2030 and lift 1.1 million people out of poverty, in an area that
includes 42 municipalities with high poverty rates.

The region has become the country’s new energy frontier, with
the construction of wind and solar parks, and agribusiness
production such as transgenic soy and large pig farms. At the same
time, it suffers from high levels of deforestation, fuelled by
lumber extraction and agro-industry.

The
environmental impact assessment itself and several independent
scientific studies warn
of the ecological damage that would be
caused by the railway, which experts say the Mexican government
does not seem willing to address.

The crux: the development model

Violeta Núñez, an academic at the public Autonomous
Metropolitan University, told IPS that there is an internal
contradiction within the government between those seeking a change
in the socioeconomic conditions in the region and supporters of the
real estate business.

“You have to ask yourself what kind of development you are
pursuing and whether it is the best option,” she said. “The
Mayan Train is aimed at profits and these stakeholders are not
interested in people’s well-being, but in making money. What some
indigenous organisations have said is that they never asked for a
railway, and they feel that the project has been imposed on
them.”

The railroad will cross
ejido lands
in five states where there are 5,386 ejidos
totalling 12.5 million hectares. The ejidos would contribute the
land and would be the main investors. To finance the stations,
Fonatur has proposed three types of trusts that can be quoted on
the Mexican stock market and that entail financial risks, such as
the loss of the investment.

The undertaking was not suspended by the appearance of the
COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico, as the government classified its
construction as an “essential
activity”
.

In Calakmul, in the southeastern state of Campeche, the Mayan Train will make use of the right-of-way that the Federal Electricity Commission has for its power lines. But on other stretches construction of the new 1,400-km railway will lead to the eviction of families. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Calakmul, in the southeastern state of Campeche, the Mayan
Train will make use of the right-of-way that the Federal
Electricity Commission has for its power lines. But on other
stretches construction of the new 1,400-km railway will lead to the
eviction of families. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

To legitimise its construction, the leftwing López Obrador
administration
organised a consultation with indigenous communities
through 30
regional assemblies, 15 informative and 15 consultative, held Nov.
29-30 and Dec. 14-15, 2019, respectively.

These assemblies were
attended by 10,305 people
from 1,078 indigenous communities in
the five states, out of a potentially affected population of 1.5
million people, 150,000 of whom are indigenous.

But the consultation was carried out before the environmental
impact assessment of the megaproject was even completed.

The Office of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico

questioned
whether this process met international standards
, such as the
provisions of International Labour Organisation Convention 169 on
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, to which the country is a party.

The railway will also
displace an undetermined number of people
, to make room for the
tracks and stations, although U.N. Habitat insists that this will
be “consensual”.

Fears of a new Cancún

The government argues that the project will not repeat the
mistakes of mass tourism destinations, symbolised by Cancún, which
wrought environmental havoc in that former Caribbean paradise in
Quintana Roo. But its critics argue that the major beneficiaries
appear to be the same big tourism, real estate and hotel chains,
and that it will cause the same problems as a result of the heavy
influx of visitors.

In Kimbilá, the local population already has firsthand
experience of confrontations over megaprojects, such as a Spanish
company’s attempt to build a wind farm, cancelled in 2016. But
the difference is that now the opponent is much more powerful.

May said the railway “is an attempt to transform indigenous
peoples and integrate them into the tourism-based economic model.
They want us to imagine development from a global perspective,
because it is a sign of socioeconomic progress. They believe that
tourism is the source of progress, that cities bring development
and that this is the best way to go.”

In Izamal, home to more than 26,800 people, construction of the
development hub would require 853
hectares
, 376 of which belong to ejidos.

Núñez warned of the disappearance of the campesino (peasant
farmer) and indigenous way of life. “People have survived because
of their relationship with the land and now this survival is being
thrown into question and they are to become workers in the
development hubs. This is not an option, if we are to defend the
rural indigenous way of life,” she said.

The researcher suggested that an alternative would be the
appropriation of the megaproject by the communities, in which
“the ejidatarios themselves, in a joint association, present an
alternative proposal other than the trusts on the stock
market.”

The Mayan Train is a link in a plan that seeks to integrate the
south and southeast of Mexico with Central America, starting with
the government’s “Project for the
territorial reordering of the south-southeast”
and linked to
the “Project for the integration and development of
Mesoamerica”, which has been modified in appearance but not in
substance since the beginning of the 21st century.

Its aim is to link that region to global markets and curb
internal and external migration through the construction of
megaprojects, the promotion of tourism and the services
entailed.

In the 2000s, the government of the southern state of Chiapas
fomented “Sustainable Rural Cities”, with aims similar to those
of the Mayan Train, and experts argue that the failure of that
project should be remembered.

The post
Mayan Train Threatens to Alter the Environment and Communities in
Mexico
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Mayan Train Threatens to Alter the Environment and
Communities in Mexico