The Mayan Train and the fight for the ancient jungle in Mexico

2022-06-15 15:27:05 By : Ms. Tracy Wang

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – The white earth artery shows an incision on both shores.There are no longer any trees or animals that screech in this area of ​​southwestern Mexico.Instead, orange plastic posts with white stripes alert the visitor: “Heavy machinery in motion”, “No entry to unauthorized personnel”.On the flanks, five tractors are scattered on the ground, like metal guards that strike fear with their devastating teeth.Two blue portable toilets keep them mute company, two white cans are overflowing with rubbish and a solitary white awning is intended to protect from the punishing sun.The metal teeth remove the jungle carpet on land belonging to the ejido (community peasant nucleus) Río Secreto, south of the city of Playa del Carmen.With 305,000 inhabitants, this is the head of the municipality of Solidaridad, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, about 1,600 kilometers from Mexico City and one of three that sit on the Yucatan peninsula.The new gap in the jungle, about 90 meters wide, opens the way for the 120-kilometre route south of Section 5 of the Mayan Train (TM), the most ambitious megaproject of the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who wants at all costs that the locomotives whistle at the end of 2023.Mina Moreno, an independent environmental conservationist, describes Section 5, one of the seven of the work, as "illegal and opaque."“There is no study, there is no information on why the route changes, what is in the new line.The problem is what comes with the train, it is a Trojan horse for what comes after”, she denounced to IPS.The work, in charge of the government's National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (Fonatur) and whose construction began in 2020, presents delays, cost overruns and environmental, social, cultural and labor impacts, which IPS verified during a tour of various areas of its site.With seven sections that run through the Yucatan peninsula and a part of the southeast, the plan is for the Mayan Train, with 21 stations and 14 stops, to cover a distance of about 1,500 kilometers.The railway will pass through 78 municipalities in the states of the south and southeast of the country: Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Chiapas and Tabasco, which in total are home to more than 13 million inhabitants.The first three are located in the Yucatan Peninsula, with one of the most important and fragile Mexican ecosystems and with the second jungle massif in Latin America behind the Amazon.It is in it where around 80% of the MT layout will run, whose locomotives will transport thousands of tourists and cargo, such as transgenic soybeans, palm oil and pork, the large agricultural activities on the peninsula.“Hundreds of hectares are deforested.We are going to end up with new cities or extensions of existing ones.This can be a tragedy of colossal proportions, because the ecosystems are disturbed.By the mere fact of removing plant cover, the capacity of water systems to capture and filter water is altered”: Lorenzo Álvarez.The Mexican government promotes the megaproject as an engine for social development, by creating jobs, promoting tourism beyond the traditional visitor magnets, and boosting the regional economy.These are arguments that have sparked controversy between supporters and critics,UN Habitat, which offers technical advice on the land use planning of the project, considers that the train will create a million jobs in 2030 and lift 1.1 million people out of poverty, in an area with 42 municipalities with high rates of marginalization, in calculations prior to the covid-19 epidemic that crushed the second largest Latin American economy.The TM, built with public funds, requires 1,681 hectares, which implies the cutting of 300,000 trees, according to the original environmental impact study.The laying of the first three sections, which requires 801 hectares, began without having the environmental permits.Although the TM shares difficulties, the western layout causes social, cultural and territorial conflicts, while the eastern route contains a greater ecological weight.López Obrador denies that there is deforestation, promised the construction of three natural parks in the east of Quintana Roo and the reforestation of some 2,500 hectares.The information available shows that the megaproject is progressing backwards, with construction ahead and environmental management plans behind.This is evidenced by the examination of the 2020 public account of the Superior Audit of the Federation, the comptroller of the Mexican public treasury, on the budget and execution of the TM.This body concluded that the project lacks a master plan and the necessary resources for sustainable development and environmental protection.It also documented the cost rising from $7.32 billion in 2019 to $8.83 billion the following year, with the spending of about $13 million unaccounted for.Moreover, the megaproject only advanced a fifth of what was planned in 2019 and 2020, a bad omen for the presidential design, although the rate of progress for 2021 and the first quarter of 2022 is unknown.But it is known that Fonatur decided to step on the accelerator to fulfill the presidential promise and that the last two sections could be built with the participation of the army in the middle of the jungle.Also that López Obrador wishes to inaugurate the TM only when all the laying is completed.The Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection did not inspect the works in 2020, nor has it done so for section 5, as stated in a request for access to public information submitted by IPS.The porous soil (karstic) of the peninsula sabotages government purposes and deadlines, as it has forced Fonatur to change the design several times.For example, section 5 has experienced three variations between 2021 and last January.The mega-work contains a paradox, because while the government promises sustainable tourism in other areas of the peninsula, it threatens the very magnets of that flow, such as the cenotes, the caves and the entire ecosystem.In the Yucatan Peninsula there are about 7,000 cenotes (freshwater wells resulting from the collapse of the limestone bed that exposes groundwater).Between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, cities separated by only 61 kilometers, there are at least 13 of these ecosystems.In the entire state of Quintana Roo there are at least 105 flooded caves longer than 1,500 meters and 408 underwater caves.Therefore, the TM threatens the largest system of underground rivers and flooded caves on the planet, a complex of submerged caves over 340 kilometers long below the limestone floor.Lorenzo Álvarez, a researcher at the Reef Systems Academic Unit of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology, of the public National Autonomous University of Mexico, believes that the train, as a regional development project, would be "catastrophic."“Hundreds of hectares are deforested.We are going to end up with new cities or extensions of existing ones.This can be a tragedy of colossal proportions, because the ecosystems are disturbed.By the mere fact of removing vegetation cover, the capacity of the water systems to capture and filter water is altered,” he explained to IPS.Consequences: waters with more sediments on the reefs, residues, leachates and more pollution.That is the vision that the visitor forms if he sees the map from inland towards the coast in Puerto Morelos, in the north of Quintana Roo, which has suffered the real estate invasion, to the extent that the reefs are mortally wounded.They are part of the Mesoamerican Reef System, the second largest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.The fear in this former fishing village, which is now the largest port in the so-called Riviera Maya and has 27,000 inhabitants, is that the TM will exacerbate real estate expansion.But information is not common currency in its streets.“There are no works yet.Here there has been no tangible damage, as in other municipalities, but we know its environmental implications.We are looking for prevention, because we are going to suffer the same environmental effects,” Fabiola Sánchez, an activist with the non-governmental organization Voces Unidas de Puerto Morelos, told IPS.The activists' concern focuses on the 2020-2030 Urban Development Program, which they accuse of favoring hotel and real estate interests, to the detriment of citizen participation and sustainable planning, on a coast already stressed by tourist excesses.And, above all, to privilege the laying of the railway.Through legal resources, the opponents of the program have managed to stop it, but they witness the construction in other municipalities without territorial ordering.The Maya Train megaproject adds the construction of sustainable cities (previously called development poles) in the stations, which include businesses, drinking water, drainage, electricity and urban equipment.The Secretariat (ministry) of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) itself warns that these poles may represent the greatest environmental threat of the railway line.Sustainable cities should promote "well-managed urban planning" and will contribute to reducing the backlog of local and regional services, cites the official website."Considering climatic conditions, efficient use of water, energy and comprehensive management of solid waste" and "respecting natural conditions, affecting ecosystems as little as possible", is essential, Sermarnat assures.But the works on the ground and the lack of urban planning plans contradict these precepts.In any case, the train route does not seem established for the benefit of excursionists and local workers, since its projected stations are far from tourist sites and work centers.Passengers would have to use another means to get to those places.Furthermore, the popular view values ​​supposed future gains, such as jobs and income, over actual and potential harms, such as deforestation.The labor aspect also contains abuses.Workers in Section 5 earn about 39 dollars a week – less than the daily minimum wage of 8.5 – without protective equipment and without a signed contract, according to IPS.In addition, there has been arbitrary treatment of the ejidatarios, since in Campeche the authorities paid about 2.5 dollars per expropriated square meter, while in Quintana Roo that price rose to about 25.The threat of collapse is not a mere doomsday proclamation, environmentalists insist.In his imagination dwells the closure of the novel La vorágine (1924), by the Colombian José Eustasio Rivera, a Latin American classic: “The jungle swallowed them”, alluding to the fate of its characters.The same thing can happen to the TM, they sentence.Subscribe to the Weekly NewsletterIPS is an international communication institution whose hub is a global news agency that amplifies the voices of the South and civil society on development, globalization, human rights and the environment.Copyright © 2021 IPS-Inter Press Service.All rights reserved.

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