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Maya Train is in danger of derailing in Mexico’s precious biosphere

Maya Train is in danger of derailing in Mexico’s precious biosphere


The ruined shed on a steep path in the heart of the Calakmul biosphere, protected by UNESCO in Mexico, is hardly a war room.

But it is from here that the Council of Indigenous and Popular Regions of Xpujil (Cripx), a local NGO, has launched a legal battle to stop $ 7.8 billion from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Maya Trena project on its way.

Cripx and its farmers are concerned about the environmental impact of the launch of diesel engines on a landscape full of archaeological treasures along endangered jaguar habitats. They are facing a strong opponent: the military.

The government has awarded contracts for the construction of several stretches of the 1,500-kilometer route – including one that crosses the lush Calakmul biosphere with excellent waste of the same name – to the defense ministry. He announced this month that once completed, the entire Maya Train would be in the army.

Cristopher Herrera Sarmiento, a 35-year-old veterinarian, discussed the Maya Train this month with other citizens in Escárcega, Mexico. Like them, his business is on the train track. © Benedicte Desrus / FT

“They know that if a private company were given a break here it would be easy to organize resistance,” said Jesús López Zapata, one of the founders of Cripx, speaking in the shade of a tree behind a small office.

“But not when the army. “We’re talking about confrontation. We don’t want things to get to that point, but if we push the momentum, we won’t have a chance. “

More than a dozen anti-train orders are making their way through the courts Lopez Obrador it is not easily derailed. He has pledged to visit the project every fortnight to complete it before he can step down in 2024 and ensure that the infrastructure project is completed, and denies that legal challenges could frustrate his plans.

But pending court rulings, the work done so far has been limited to demolishing the old railway tracks that are part of the planned route. New rail stations in the country and new rails capable of carrying trains of up to 160 km / h to link Maya waste will be installed

Workers at Maya Train have ripped off old rails in the La Chiquita community in southeastern Mexico on March 1.
Workers at Maya Train have ripped off old rails in the La Chiquita community in southeastern Mexico on March 1. © Benedicte Desrus / FT

López Obrador says the project will provide tourism, local and cargo services and will lead to the development of the poor in the growing Southeast – a region historically forgotten by Mexican leaders.

But the project is divisive. “I am a lifelong railroader and I would love to see the revival of passenger railways Mexico. . . However, from the beginning I never thought the Maya Train was a good idea, ”said Francisco Javier Gorostiza Pérez, a former train chief and former government official, told the Mexican College of Civil Engineers recently.

Maya Trains said expectations of 50,000 passengers a day and 18 million a year were in the sky – a figure that would be as high as China’s Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail, which attracts 20 million passengers a year and nearly double the Eurostar by 10.4m, he said.

Compared to other tourist trains, the number of passengers planned would be 12 times higher than in Peru’s Cusco-Machu Picchu service and would be more than 250,000 a year on the Swiss Glacier Express, or 200,000 people traveling. Chepe Through Mexico’s Copper Canyons, the country’s only surviving passenger service, he added.

lemencia de la Cruz Castellana, 54, and her husband Isaías Vásquez Sánchez, 56, outside the occupied train station in Escárcega (southeastern Mexico, southeastern Mexico) on March 1.
Clemencia de la Cruz Castellana, 54, and her husband Isaías Vásquez Sánchez, 56, on March 1 in Escárcega, southeastern Mexico, outside the occupied train station. © Benedicte Desrus / FT

Gorostiza Pérez said the plans need to be reviewed and warned that the cost could rise by 50 percent.

Regarding the impact of the Maya Train on some of the largest biodiversity regions in the world, he said, “It would be a real ecological crime to run high-speed trains through biosphere and jungle areas.”

The Mexican state audit office has warned of cost overruns, questionable profitability, insufficient consultation with local communities and environmental damage.

But there are many citizens behind the project. “It was difficult for us to take legal action because many people see López Obrador as a savior and this project as a heavenly manna,” López Zapata confessed to Cripx.

For Isaías Vásquez Sánchez, who has been on the Mexican railways for 43 years, “the train will bring glory.” He has been occupying an abandoned station in Escarcega, a traditional railroad crossing where the Maya Train will cross three routes since he lost his job last August, when freight services were stopped so work on the project could begin.

“I hope they give me a job,” he said, laying on the fenced wire from the future construction site. Clemencia de la Cruz is proud of his wife working as a cleaner on the train project. “I’ve never ridden on a passenger train,” he said. “It will help a lot of poor people here.”

Many shopkeepers in Escárcegan also like the solution. What goes against them is the trajectory.

Yosulia Gamboa, whose father is a train worker and mayor of Escárcega, has a double whammy. The proposed 20 meters on either side of the track will have to demolish the buildings and “I am damaged on both sides – my house is on one side and my clothes shop on the other,” he said.

Jerónima López Hernández (R), a 34-year-old beekeeper, and her husband, Germán Bartolo Barrios (L), 52, go to the hives in the woods outside the town of Nueva Vida, located in the UNESCO-protected Calakmul biosphere in Campeche.  , Southeastern Mexico, March 2nd.
Jerónima López Hernández (R), a 34-year-old beekeeper, and her husband, Germán Bartolo Barrios (L), 52, go to the hives in the forest outside the town of Nueva Vida in the UNESCO-protected Calakmul biosphere in Campeche. , Southeastern Mexico, March 2nd. © Benedicte Desrus / FT

Maya Train officials say they are in negotiations with residents and that this is the last chance they want to avoid expropriating land for the train.

Meanwhile, Alejandro Varela, head of legal affairs for the state agency in charge of the Maya Train in Fonatur, said the order could not prevent the modernization of the lines and multiply the legal challenges to the project, “we are sure we will win.”

Around Calakmul, however, some local farmers believe that it has been bought to be filled. Almost all of them are beneficiaries of López Obrador’s tree planting program, Sowing Life, which pays an attractive 4,500 pesos ($ 220) a month.

Like many of its inhabitants, Germán Bartolo Barrios himself and his wife rented the mature trees on the ground that they rented inside the biosphere and replanted them with the plants of the scheme. “I think Amlo thinks Sowing Life is in exchange for support from the Maya Train,” said his wife, Jerónima López Hernández.

The indigenous beekeeper Tzeltal is in the process of obtaining an organic certificate for the honey he produces in the middle of the jungle and fears “the train will cause a lot of pollution – a lot”.

Some tourists were also not convinced. “I wouldn’t take it. It will be a natural disaster, I don’t think it’s necessary, ”said Iván Paredes, a 43-year-old survival teacher in Barcelona, ​​who had lunch at Xpuhil among the peaceful ruins.

Many are afraid that the train will end white elephant. “It’s a waste of money,” complained a businessman who lives in a state where the train will pass. “I can’t believe we can’t stop.”



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