Home LATEST NEWS The controversial Mayan Train, a Mexican megaproject with Canadian DNA

[Reportage] The controversial Mayan Train, a Mexican megaproject with Canadian DNA

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According to the Mexican government, theTren Maya“,”text”:”Tren Maya”}}’>Tren Maya is designed for improve the quality of life of the population, protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

Not everyone agrees with this statement.

Pedro Uc Be, member of the Assembly of Defenders of the Mayan Territory, Múuch’ Xíinbal, has been fighting for years to denounce the arrival of the Mayan Train. This project, according to him, is neither a train nor maya.

It is not a train, because it is not a track where a few wagons will pass, but rather a territorial reorganization project that aims to convert the Yucatán peninsula into an industrial corridor […] And it is not Mayan because it is not designed for or by indigenous peoples and even less to respond concretely to the needs we have here.

A quote from Pedro Uc Be, activist
Portrait of Pedro Uc Be

Pedro Uc Be, writer, philosopher and defender of the Mayan territory in Yucatán, originally from the municipality of Buctzotz

Photo: RCI / Paloma Martínez Méndez

The activist explains that the Tren Maya will be linked to the other major project of the current Mexican government, the interoceanic corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

The latter, according to Mr. Uc Be, aims to transport goods between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, two years after the start of construction of the route, none of the communities of the Yucatán Peninsula, directly or indirectly affected by it, benefit from it, according to Pedro Uc Be.

The vaunted employment that the government has announced with great fanfare is not there, neither health nor housing and even less education.

A quote from Pedro Uc Be, activist

Rather, it is the companies involved in the construction of this train that benefit, he says. Some of them have doubled, tripled, quadrupled their fortune in just one yearsays Mr. Uc Be.

President Obrador standing on a stage

Mexican President Manuel López Obrador speaks to the press at the launch of the Mayan Train project in June 2020.

Photo: Getty Images/Elizabeth Ruiz

Pedro Uc Be is not alone in this fight. Various civil society groups as well as scientists question the project as a whole.

On March 31, scientists and scholars from the Institute of Ecology, the Institute of Economics and the Institute of Biology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Mexican Center for Human Rights (CEMDA) have issued a warning of the serious environmental, social and economic repercussions of the railway project.

Greenpeace has also launched a petition claiming that if this project continues without considering the environmental impacts, the natural wealth that has made Mexico one of the most beautiful countries will be lost. Species such as the jaguar, a symbol of Mayan cultural heritage, will be deprived of their unique habitat.

Canadian DNA

  • 1 of 7: , Photo: All photos: © Tren Maya / Consortium Alstom-Bombardier

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The contract “Tren Maya” was won on June 9, 2021 by the Franco-Canadian consortium and other small businesses. It includes the design, manufacture and commissioning of 42 X’trapolis trains, as well as the design, manufacture and installation of signaling system technology including traffic management and telecommunications.

The construction of maintenance workshops and the establishment of an after-sales service for various equipment are also planned.

Bombardier and Alstom have a long history in Mexico. It was in 1992 that the Canadian company acquired the Mexican public company Constructora Nacional de Carros de Ferrocarril.

The company was then the largest manufacturer of railway equipment in Mexico.

Two wagon modelsEnlarge the image (new window)

Two of the main train models built by Bombardier in 1982 and 2002 for the Mexico City metro.

Photo: Sistema de transporte colectivo Metro of Mexico City.

Bombardier Transportation Mexico has built the metro cars for the country’s capital and light rail trains for Guadalajara and Monterrey, among others.

This division also supplied cars for the Santiago metro in Chile and 200 freight cars for Venezuela.

An opportunity to do things right

For the Undersecretary of Communications and Transport of Mexico, Rogelio Jimenez Pons, the Tren Maya is part of a series of infrastructure investments by the current government that are very important and which have positive characteristics.

[Le train] will replace many trucks currently circulating in the region, which has a very significant effect on the environment. It has a societal factor, as it integrates certain communities into different aspects of the project.

A quote from Rogelio Jimenez Pons, Undersecretary of Communications and Transport of Mexico

Thanks to this project, new towns and new services will develop around the stations and will help to structure an area that was neglectedargues Rogelio Jimenez Pons.

Portrait of Rogelio Jimenez Pons in Mexico City

Rogelio Jiménez Pons, Undersecretary of Communications and Transport of Mexico

Photo: RCI / Paloma Martínez Méndez

For Mr. Jiménez Pons, who was director of the National Tourism Promotion Fund Fonatur [l’instance gouvernementale responsable du Train maya, NDLR] before obtaining his current position, what this mega-project offers is an antidote to the territorial disorders where reigns the urban chaos in which organized crime often infiltrates.

Mexico does not want to relive the experience of Acapulco, argues Rogelio Jimenez Pons, whose paradise has created social inequalities that have been ignored.

There, there were investments in the industry of the coastal zone, but the interior was completely abandoned. This is how social disorder was born and gave way to inequality and crime.

A quote from Rogelio Jimenez Pons, Undersecretary of Communications and Transport of Mexico

Architect Jimenez Pons says he is aware of the scale of a transport megaproject such as the Tren Maya and admits that his main challenge is to ensure that the communities know how to make the most of it and that they understand what is on offer.

Explain the train and enjoy its momentum

Portrait of Lilia González Moreno

For three years, Lilia González Moreno took on the responsibility of explaining the ins and outs of the project to many of the affected communities.

Photo: Radio Canada International (RCI) / Rosa Esther Aguilar Macías

This specialist in community development in the region of the Yucatán Peninsula was in charge of the territorial link of the Maya Train in Quintana Roo, particularly in section six, which goes from Tulum to Bacalar.

Lilia González knows that this is a complex project from the point of view of territorial diversity: 1500 kilometres, five Mexican states, very disparate urban, rural, archaeological and biological areas. It is also complex in terms of social diversity: 7.5 million inhabitants have the lowest per capita income in the country and nearly 1 million belong to the Mayan nation.

Thus, according to Lilia González, explaining the train and its advantages represented a series of challenges for her team. Nevertheless, the process had fascinating and unique aspects, she says.

If it wasn’t an environmental challenge, it was an archaeological one. If it was not archaeological, it was land or technical property. And, at worst, it was all of these challenges combined.

A quote from Lilia Gonzalez

To participate in this project which has all the elements to change the destiny of the Southeast, that’s what gave him the greatest satisfaction.

Today, Lilia González is the head of Kanché, a civil association specializing in sustainable development in rural communities.

Ms. González, who holds a master’s and a doctorate in peace, conflict and development studies, explains that she liked to tell the communities affected by the train that there were two possibilities: one, that the train passes over them, and the other, that they team up to develop governance tools that would allow them to take advantage of the momentum of the train.

No profit, only dispossession

A house being demolished in the village of Kimbilá, Yucatán

A house being demolished in the village of Kimbilá, Yucatán, to make way for the Mayan Train route, seen in the background of the image.

Photo: RCI / Paloma Martínez Méndez

For Pedro Uc Be, it is not possible to take advantage of the impetus of the train whose commissioning is planned before the end of the mandate of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2023.

The activist, whose life has been repeatedly threatened for opposing soy monoculture, speaking out for beekeepers and fighting hog companies that pollute the land and waters of the region, see nothing but the circle of dispossession which closes.

Those who grow soybeans or raise pigs can now transport and sell their products through the train. Anyone who owns a wind or solar farm can sell electricity to hoteliers. The tourist company will have a train to take its tourists around. This is why I say that it is not a question of laying rails, but rather of a package of dispossession through these various projects which have come to occupy our peninsula, a part of the country still preserved.

A quote from Pedro Uc Be, activist

Lilia González underlines for her part that, despite the complexity of the project and the human particularities that are intrinsic to it, we are finally taking care of this Mexican region. However, the biggest challenge is timeshe admits.

It’s hard to think that it has to be completed in six years. And if we add to that the number of kilometers and the diversity of the scenario, it becomes complex. But Mexico is known for being creative and finding solutions. The institutions are already there. With this train, they force incomplete or unsupported processes to be completed. This is where I see the Mexican Southeast progressing, in independence.

A quote from Lilia Gonzalez

Independence is precisely what Pedro Uc Be and the organization he represents stand for.

The assembly Múuch’ Xíinbal, which in the Mayan language means We walk togetherfights in court against the government of Mexico.

Together, we defend the idea that the land is neither for sale nor for rent. We are independent and are not prepared to enter into any agreement or dialogue with political parties or to receive money from donors who often give to NGOs. We are the communities directly concerned and we defend our territory.

A quote from Pedro Uc Be, activist
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