Things That Matter

Indigenous Leaders And Environmental Groups Have Concerns Over President AMLO’s Tourist Train In The Yucatán

Mexico’s Yucatan region is considered it’s tourist heartland. With the resorts and beaches of the Riviera Maya (from Cancun and Isla Holbox to Tulum and Playa del Carmen), the region accounts for an overwhelming amount of tourist spending in the country. So it makes sense that the community and the government would want to capitalize on that economic opportunity by providing better access to even more tourists.

However, the government’s most recent project – a high-speed tourist train through the region – is drawing criticism from Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations, and local governments.

After a controversial referendum, Mexico’s President AMLO vows to forge ahead on the Mayan train project.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday said his controversial Mayan Train project would move ahead after residents in the five states where the train was proposed to run through voted in favour of the proposal.

The government reported overwhelming support in the region, with 99 percent voting in favour in Campeche. The lowest level of support was in Quintana Roo with 85 percent voting in favour. Just 100,000 people of the region’s more than 11 million voted, however.

Sunday’s referendum, which was not a legal requirement, was part of Lopez Obrador’s new style of governing “with the people”. It coincided with a weekend full of open-ended consultations with indigenous groups in the area.

More than 5,000 people, representing more than 1,000 indigenous groups, met government representatives during the consultation assemblies, officials said. 

Adelfo Regino Montes, director of the National Institute of Indigenous Communities (INPI) said that the consultation meetings showed unanimous support for the construction and implementation of the Mayan Train project. But some at the assemblies expressed opposition or concerns about the plan.

Yes, you read that right: just 0.90% of eligible voters participated in the president’s referendum and the voting locations were in regions supportive of the president.

So many are crying foul when it comes to the referendum itself and disputing the president’s claim that the project has overwhelming support.

Flora Maria Estrella lives by the pre-existing stretch of line in Tenabo, Campeche, which is currently only used for freight. Recalling the advantages of the previous passenger line that used to allow her family to sell fruit and vegetables outside of their small town, Estrella said she supports the Mayan Train project. 

So what exactly is the proposed Mayan Tourist Train all about?

The proposed 1,525km (950-mile) train would connect communities and natural reserves in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It is expected to cost between $6-8bn, but bring more than three million visitors and tourists to the region annually.

The Mayan Train represents just one part of López Obrador’s ambitious agenda to reduce poverty and integrate the rural and indigenous populations that have been left out of development in the NAFTA era.

But the project has drawn sharp criticism from environmental groups that worry about the effects of the train on the region’s vast biodiversity.

Despite the support, many also expressed concerns over the potential effects of the train on road conditions and wildlife. Questions also remain about how communities and residents would be compensated if the route ran through or affects their land or territory.

The Yucatan is a unique Mexican cultural crossroads. Many Maya here continue to farm, live and dress according to indigenous traditions developed millennia before the Spanish colonized the Americas. Travelers also come from across the globe to sunbathe along the modern, highly developed Riviera Maya. Over 16 million foreigners visited the area in 2017; three-quarters of them were American.

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