Resistance to solar projects bodes badly for fast-tracking Mayan Train

Law lets indigenous communities hold up projects that affect their lands

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

San José Tipceh, Yucatan — The Yucatan peninsula is among Mexico’s top destinations for renewable energy firms thanks to its strong winds and sunny climate.

But some of its indigenous communities are resisting rapid development of $1.1 billion of wind and solar panel farms. Mayan groups are also preparing to fight a plan to build a railway across the peninsula.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Saturday, wants to fast track the construction of the tourist and freight line.

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“In the communities, there is concern that their opinion will not be taken into account once again with this project,” said Carlos Escoffié, lawyer for the Collective of Mayan Communities in the Chenes region.

In San José Tipceh, Mayan leaders delayed by a multi-million dollar renewable energy project by 18 months.

“We are practically selling our families for a little bit of money,” said resident Damián Mugarte, threatening to take the battle to Mexico’s highest court.

Indigenous resistance capitalizes on a law passed in the wake of the 1994 Zapatista uprising in southern Mexico, the news agency Reuters states. Although written in ambiguous language, the law compels the government to consult with indigenous people for projects on their land.

The law has the potential to stall railways, ports, mines and other infrastructure projects.

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“If not fixed, the problem can become the main obstacle for economic growth,” said Hector Garza, a lawyer who has advised the current government in developing the legal framework for this process.

Lopez Obrador has pledged to double down on the measure, amending the constitution to further reflect the indigenous rights.

That may make it harder to build the Mayan Train, a 1,525-km/948-mile railway planned in the Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas, connecting the rainforest and the beach, according to Reuters.

It could also spell difficulties for another railway to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which Lopez Obrador hopes could boost the economy of the poor southern state of Oaxaca. In an effort to win popular backing for the project, Lopez Obrador last week held a national referendum on the Mayan Train and nine other policy initiatives — including an oil refinery in the Gulf of Mexico — as part of his pledge to allow greater popular say in government decision-making during his six-year term.

But the referendums had low participation. Only around 950,000 people voted in the Nov. 24-25 consultation, just 1.1 percent of eligible voters.

His first consultation last month called for canceling the construction of a partially built US$13 billion airport for Mexico City. The peso currency and the stock market suffered as investors fretted over how he would manage the economy.

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Although AMLO, as he is called, vowed to respect the opinion of towns and villages affected by the Mayan Train, he has also pledged to launch a tender to find a private sector partner for the project soon after he takes office on Saturday.

In Yucatan, activists say that none of the 163 communities through which the train will pass have been provided with information about the project.

The legal process has caused frustrations for investors. On the Oaxacan coast, an indigenous Zapotec community won a court order to suspend the construction of a wind farm by French state company EDF since April.

EDF said the delays jeopardize its investments in Mexico.

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Read entire article on the Reuters website.

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