Opinion: There’s nothing Mayan about the Mayan train

The Mayan Train referendum has no validity under current law and is moving ahead too quickly, authors assert

Map: Courtesy

As “democratic” as the Mayan Train referendum may seem, it has no validity under current law, and the speed at which this initiative is moving forward is “concerning.”

That’s the opinion of Victor Lichtinger and Homero Aridjis, whose opinion piece was recently published in the Washington Post.

Lichtinger is Mexico’s former environmental secretary and Aridjis is a writer, environmentalist and former UNESCO ambassador.

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During his inauguration speech on Dec. 1, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, made bold promises to “purify public life in Mexico” and ensure that the “poor come first.”

But his plans to move full-steam-ahead with the train have environmental costs. Of its 932 miles of track, nearly one third will be laid through tropical forests.

Mexico is one of 17 megadiverse countries, hosting the world’s second largest number of ecosystems. But its forests and mangroves are disappearing at an alarming rate, the authors state.

AMLO has responded to environmentalists by accusing them of elitism, telling them they needed to “rub shoulders with the people.” The train is meant to promote economic development in and around the region’s principal tourist centers.

“An endeavor of the train’s magnitude cannot proceed without a wide-ranging evaluation of its environmental, cultural and archaeological impacts. The environmental impact assessment must then be evaluated by federal authorities and open to public consultations. It also requires permission from the indigenous peoples through whose territory the train will run. The 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention states that indigenous communities must give free, prior and informed consent ‘to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly,’ ” the authors continue.

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“There’s nothing Mayan about the train,” indigenous communities are quoted as saying.

In Campeche, the Mayan Train will hurtle through the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico’s largest tropical forest reserve, albeit with a proposed hydrogen-powered engine.

Calakmul is a UNESCO World Heritage site with more than 6,500 well-preserved structures. It sits at the heart of the second-largest expanse of tropical forests in the Americas, after the Amazon rain forest. It’s the world’s third most crucial biodiversity hot spot, housing 100 different species of mammals and numerous tropical and subtropical ecosystems. The site is sparsely inhabited.

“Once penetrated by the train, however, the inevitable consequence will be development at the expense of nature,” they opine.

On the other side of the Peninsula, Laguna Bacalar, known as the lake of seven colors, will be turned “into a cesspool,” they add.

“The haste and eagerness to build the train should also raise suspicions,” said Lichtinger and Aridjiss. “It suggests much more than an interest in the well-being of local communities.”

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“A train through already developed areas of Mexico’s Caribbean coast might be beneficial, but presenting the train as a panacea for reducing rampant poverty in southeastern Mexico is highly misleading,” they continued. “Poverty is best eradicated through education and provision of basic services such as health care, housing, drinking water, nutritious food, employment, and sustainable and productive projects that allow communities to thrive on their own terms.”

See past coverage of the Mayan Train.

Read the entire opinion piece here.

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