Transisthmic Corridor Denounced as IllegalBy Pedro Alcalá | Thu, 04/23/2020 - 14:03
Another day, another debate regarding the need to continue working on major infrastructure projects in times of COVID-19. A civil organization called the Union of Indigenous Communities From The North Isthmus Zone (UCIZONI) has sent a direct request to SEMARNAT´s head Víctor Toledo Manzur calling for the suspension and cancellation of all projects being currently executed by the parastatal in charge of the Transisthmic Corridor project. According to a report from Aristegui Noticias, UCIZONI claims in its request that the project lacks all legality. The argument states that no major infrastructure project can be allowed to proceed without its environmental impact manifest (MIA) being duly presented and approved.
In the case of the Transisthmic Corridor project, the MIA’s evaluation process was suspended for a number of reasons. One of them is that it included no engagement or polling process with the indigenous communities that the project would affect and potentially displace. Furthermore, the current project for rail rehabilitation and modernization covers 132km from the town of Medias Aguas in the state of Veracruz to the town of Mata in the state of Oaxaca. However, the only available MIA covers only the 63km from Medias Aguas to the town of Tolosita in the state of Oaxaca, leaving over half of the project’s extension without any kind of formal environmental impact evaluation.
The report does not specify how many of these 132km are part of the 157km of rail repairs and rehabilitation, reported to have been divided into four tenders back in mid-February, 49km of which are already contracted to be executed by Carlos Hank Rhon’s La Peninsular. The 157km represents only a little over half of the 308km of rail and road infrastructure that would ultimately make up the entirety of the Transisthmic Corridor project. This project would be expected to become a strong competitor against the Panama Canal for interocean shipping. Unlike the rest of this administration’s flagship infrastructure projects, the Transisthmic Corridor is not an original initiative to the present government. This has been an ambitious yet unrealizable goal for a number of previous administrations. Today, one can appreciate a degree of road and rail infrastructure in place, but in several of its segments there is disrepair and abandonment, which is why a lot of the tendered and contracted work calls for rehabilitation.
UCIZONI reports that COVID-19 shutdowns have resulted in the suspension of any polling of indigenous communities in order to complete the MIA legally. Polls were supposed to involve not only the communities represented by UCIZONI but also indigenous communities from the southern sections of the state of Veracruz.
The union reports the April 13 events when employees working on the project reportedly descended upon the towns of Estación Mogoñe, Mogoñe Viejo and El Zarzal to intimidate locals and ejidatarios, forcing them to hold emergency meetings so that all documents and authorizations for the Transisthmic Corridor project could be signed and supplied. UCIZONI says in its request that the communities managed to resist this onslaught and have now organized constant vigilance routes to report and stop any work connected to the Transisthmic Corridor.
The request ends with an explicit call from UCIZONI President Dagoberto Toribio Severo to cancel all works related to the project until they can be executed legally and with the proper documentation. The request will be extended to the PROFEPA and to all relevant federal legal institutions, especially if it can be proven that construction began without an MIA in hand.