Image credits: Aristegui Noticias, Notimex
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News Article

Petitions Go One Way, Mayan Train Goes Another

By Pedro Alcalá | Wed, 04/22/2020 - 17:45

A two page open letter published yesterday, April 21, and directed to the president’s office (uploaded to Issuu by Animal Político), with six additional pages of signing sponsoring organizations, calls for the suspension of the Mayan Train. 

The letter begins with a description of two previously reported items. One is the April 6 decree through which all production of steel, glass and cement is protected from sanitary shutdown measures as an essential activity if it supplies the construction of flagship infrastructure projects, including the Mayan Train. The other is the ongoing UN-Habitat poll currently in charge of managing the relocation of communities to be affected by the Mayan Train’s construction. The letter expresses concern over the seemingly insistent single-mindedness with which the federal government has continued to pursue the Mayan Train project, despite its execution not being essential in the context of the currently escalating COVID-19 pandemic. 

The letter argues that this prioritization goes against the government’s own indications for all non-essential workers to maintain a domestic quarantine and puts the life and health of indigenous communities in danger. The letter also argues that continuing the project in the midst of shutdowns leaves indigenous communities to be affected and displaced by the Mayan Train more vulnerable to the abuse of authorities representing this project. Quarantine conditions make it a lot harder for legal protections to be enacted since courts and judges are operating under limited schedules and capacities. The letter also highlights the additional institutional vulnerability of those affected by the project by detailing that it is not only legal bodies that are affected by COVID-19 shutdowns but also all dependencies that would usually be in charge of making information available regarding the project.

This is all additional to the signees’ experience with what they describe as the overall opacity of this project. Even before COVID-19, information was scarce, authorities were uncooperative or unresponsive to communitarian concerns and community engagement efforts, such as the poll of indigenous communities made in November of 2019, were considered inadequate, invalid and not up to international UN standards. Finally, this line of argumentation culminates in the letter’s request to suspend the project due to the many irregular, undefined and arbitrary circumstances surrounding its execution and the various ways in which it puts indigenous communities in danger.   

An important contextual note to make here is that the judicial order reported at the end of January by Campeche District Judge Grissell Rodríguez Febles to temporarily suspend the Mayan Train project in response to legal arguments made by indigenous communities was countered by a Campeche tribunal’s decision at the end of February (reported by Animal Político) to render that judge’s suspension null and void. That second decision argued that the legal protections in the first decision were based on and will only apply to the Xpujil community in the Calakmul municipality. Additionally, it noted that the suspension could only apply to the actual physical construction of the train, but that all bidding and contracting activities could continue as planned as they are part of the project’s “administrative” developments and are not included within the specific jurisdiction of the suspension.  

Aristegui Noticias reports that the six pages of letter signees include over 60 academics and 200 recognized NGOs. However, all of this appears to be having very little if any effect on the project’s constant day-to-day progress and the government support that ignites it. Just today, Milenio reports that in his daily morning press conference, President López Obrador included the Mayan Train in his decalogue of prioritized actions and projects to fight against the impact of COVID-19 shutdowns, even as he also announced the end of 10 secretariats, as well as salary cuts to government officials. El Economista reports that SCT has today granted FONATUR the concession for the construction and operation of the Mayan Train for 30 more years. 

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Animal Político, MBN, Aristegui Noticias, Milenio, El Economista
Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Journalist and Industry Analyst