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Mexican president's Mayan Train project rejected by Indigenous peoples

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Photo of the Palenque Palace Aqueduct in Chiapas by Ricraider/Wikimedia Commons.

In their analysis of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), Peace Brigades International (PBI) Mexico comments:

"The organizations that we accompany continue to be concerned for AMLO's position on the rights of Indigenous populations, given that his public discourse seems to respect their autonomy, but he continues to propose initiatives of megaprojects such as the Mayan Train or new mining investments."

The Mayan Train (Tren Maya) refers to the construction of a train track that would link Mayan archaeological sites as tourist destinations in five southeastern states: Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and the Yucatán.

The incoming director of Mexico's National Fund for Tourism Development (FONATUR) has stated that the project could attract more than 3 million tourists in its initial years of operation.

The $6 to 8 billion project would involve the building of 1,500 kilometres of railroad track, nearly one-third of it through tropical forests.

The track would also be used to move commercial freight.

Significantly, AMLO is championing a project that lacks the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in Mexico.

In December 2018, Mexico News Daily reported, "[Mayan activists on the Yucatán peninsula] contend that the development of megaprojects on the peninsula means stripping their lands, deforestation and contamination of water and food, affects productive activities such as beekeeping, causes health problems and threatens their culture and traditions."

The Mayan communities say, "There's nothing Mayan about the train."

A recent article in Diálogo Chino quotes Gustavo Alanís, director of the Mexican Centre for Environmental Law (CEMDA), who comments, "Consultations with communities and Indigenous peoples have to be held according to the ILO's convention 169, which indicates there must be free, prior and informed consent."

And Victor Lichtinger and Homero Aridjis have written in The Washington Post, "No plan for the train has been made public, and there have been no environmental, social or economic viability studies."

They have also highlighted, "The proliferation of hotels and private houses around Bacalar [which is on the train's route], known as the lake of seven colors, is already polluting its crystalline waters. A dramatic increase in tourism would turn the lake into a cesspool."

The Digital Journal has reported, "The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) … plan to mount a protest against President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his Mayan Train project."

That article notes, "The [Mayan Train] plan is to connect tourist havens with less visited archaeological sites such as Palenque, which is in Chiapas, where the Zapatistas are based and control large amounts of territory."

On January 15, Diálogo Chino reported, "The first two sections [of the train's route]: Palenque to Escárcega and Escárcega to Uxmal will be tendered between January and February."

That article adds, "Italian, Canadian and Chinese companies have shown great interest in the Mayan Train."

Construction on the track is expected to begin in 2020.

It could be in operation as early as 2022.

PBI Mexico's analysis, Weighing up the new government, on political prisoners, Ayotzinapa, militarization and territorial defence can be read here.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Ricraider/Wikimedia Commons

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