Over 80 Indigenous communities in Mexico's Yucatan say the president is creating a 'false narrative' that they approve of and identify with the 1,500km Mayan Train.
Mayan communities in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula are speaking out against the president’s ribbon cutting ceremony on Sunday for a high-speed ‘Mayan Train’ set to be built across the region the communities say they never approved.
The Indigenous Regional Council that represents over 80 Indigenous communities across the Mexican states of Quintana Roo, Campeche, Chiapas, Yucatan and Tabasco says it should have been the first entity that the Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) administration consulted in order to gain permission to construct the Mayan Train set connect archaeological sites and tourists resorts throughout the entire Yucatan region.
The 82 Indigenous communities that will be affected by the 1,525km megaproject say they were never consulted by the AMLO government just inaugurated on Dec. 1 as directed under the United Nations ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous peoples. The 1989 agreement reads that Indigenous have the “right to exercise control over their own institutions, ways of life and economic development to maintain and develop their identities, languages, and religions.”
Environmentalists and Indigenous say the planned route will disrupt the region's important biosphere where over a third of the track is set to be laid in primary forest. Lopez Obrador promised, "we won't uproot a single tree."
On Monday the Indigenous council criticized the Ritual of the Original Peoples ceremony that AMLO held the day before in the Palenque archaeological site in Chiapas as part of the administration’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the train.
“This type of ceremony does not comply with the real mystique of our people and only lends itself to a tourist-type show," Romel Gonzalez Diaz, a council spokesman, told local media.
The main problem around the train is the president’s insistence that construction of the train has already begun, approved only by a national referendum held on Nov. 24 and 25, and not by affected communities, says Diaz.
“Affected Indigenous people do not yet have information or a real explanation of how the project is going to be carried out because there are no environmental studies,” said the council spokesperson in an interview with local media.
"For example, (we) still do not know … how they will bring in water into the Calakmul (archaeological site in Campeche),” said Diaz.
He added that when the council asked: “The answer was totally insufficient. They said they would do a specialized study on it. …There is a terrible lack of information,” regarding several components of the train’s construction, said Diaz.
The communities say the government is creating a fake narrative that the Mayan people agree with the project. "A fake movie is being built just to say that we already agree with the project and it's not true,” Diaz told the press.
The council representative says the regional biosphere will be highly affected, contrary to what AMLO is promising. “He should inform himself better and ensure that his team does not lie to him about the impacts that the project will have," added Diaz.
Members of the council met recently with the head of the National Tourism Fund (FONATUR), Rogelio Jimenez Pons, at their request, said Diaz but, "the information they gave us is partial, limited and controversial, not scientific, and without foundation of impact study. … The concept of the train is not ours,” he added.
“We as Indigenous communities have the capacity to make collective decisions … to determine the form of development we want," said Diaz.
At the Sunday ceremony, AMLO said his government has already earmarked six billion pesos (over US$ 2.98 million) to the transportation project and asked that "nothing block" the work in order to finish the train in four years.
Lopez Obrador said he expects the government to break ground on the railway within two months of the project that he says is taking place in the country’s “most abandoned region.”
The total cost of the work is estimated to cost between 120 and 150 billion pesos (US$5.9 and 7.4 billion), according to the AFP.