Eight Greenpeace activists have stopped the construction of the Fifth Section of the Mayan Train by chaining themselves to machinery and laying out a tarp on the construction ground that reads “Protejamos la Selva Maya” (Protect the Mayan Jungle).
“We are concerned that there is no Environmental Impact Assessment, which, in addition to being illegal, is leading to irreversible damage to the ecosystem. This route, as it is proposed, will fragment, deforest, pollute and put the jungle, rivers and communities at even greater risk… Infrastructure, economic development and tourism projects should not be derived from the destruction of nature or the violation of human rights,” said Aleira Lara, Campaigns in Mexico Director, Greenpeace.
The Mayan Train project consists of 1,500 km of tracks with 19 stations and 12 stops for the transportation of tourists, local habitants and cargo. The project aims to benefit communities in the region and boost tourism in the area. To limit its environmental impact, much of its outline follows existing rights-of-way and the government consulted local indigenous groups to incorporate community benefits into the project.
By 2034, the project is forecasted to generate an estimated MX$26 billion (US$1.3 billion) through transportation. It will also increase economic spillover from boosted tourism amounting to MX$148.7 billion (US$7.44 billion) as 200,000 individuals will be able to use it for transportation. The train is expected to be 72 percent faster than current routes.
Since the end of 2021, however, the project’s construction has been plagued by major changes including a leadership change to Javier May, the newly appointed Director of the National Fund for Tourism Development (Fonatur). These changes include the switch of the fifth section, which connects Playa del Carmen and Tulum, from an elevated route on highway 307 to one built parallel to the highway, which has on its way the valued cenotes.
During yesterday’s morning press briefing, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced the train would have viaducts to avoid contacting the cenotes and will only impact 100 hectares of trees in the jungle. The president also attributed protests in the project to a lack of knowledge or bad faith in the government. However, without an environmental impact assessment activists remain wary.
The project will pass through the biggest set of underground caves in the world, which are extremely susceptible to collapsing or flooding according to Camila Jaber, Ambassador from the Great Mayan Aquifer. Environmental activists and scientists in and out of the country have expressed their worry of the project, particularly regarding the speed with which changes are being introduced to meet the scheduled inauguration date of Dec. 2023. To ensure this date is reached, the country’s armed forces are contributing to the construction after finishing the newly inaugurated Felipe Ángeles International Airport.