PBI-Mexico accompanies Focal Group that raises concerns about megaprojects

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Mexican human rights groups are raising concerns about the Mayan Train project that has attracted the interest of Canadian investors.

On July 5, Contralinea reported (in Spanish):

“Human rights organizations call on the federal government, headed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to carry out a ‘balance’ between the projects that this administration intends to develop [such as the Mayan Train project] and respect for the environment, the rights of indigenous peoples over their territories and natural commons…”

The Focal Group

That article notes that the Peace Brigades International-Mexico Project accompanies the Focal Group of Civil Society on Business and Human Rights.

Members of the Focal Group include: The Mexican Centre for Environmental Law (CEMDA), the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project (ProDESC), and The Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER).

PBI-Mexico has accompanied the Focal Group since 2015.

The Mayan Train

The Mayan Train (el Tren Maya) is a $6-8 billion project that would involve the building of 1,500 kilometres of railroad track, nearly one-third of it through tropical forests.

It would link Mayan archaeological sites as tourist destinations in five southeastern states: Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and the Yucatán.

The track would also be used to move commercial freight.

On January 15, Diálogo Chino reported, “Italian, Canadian and Chinese companies have shown great interest in the Mayan Train.”

In their analysis of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) earlier this year, PBI-Mexico commented:

“The organizations that we accompany continue to be concerned for AMLO’s position on the rights of Indigenous populations, given that his public discourse seems to respect their autonomy, but he continues to propose initiatives of megaprojects such as the Mayan Train or new mining investments.”

No Indigenous consent

AMLO is championing the Mayan Train project even though it lacks the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in Mexico.

In December 2018, Mexico News Daily reported, “[Mayan activists on the Yucatán peninsula] contend that the development of megaprojects on the peninsula means stripping their lands, deforestation and contamination of water and food, affects productive activities such as beekeeping, causes health problems and threatens their culture and traditions.”

The Mayan communities say, “There’s nothing Mayan about the train.”

The Diálogo Chino quotes Gustavo Alanís, director of the Focal Group member group CEMDA, who commented, “Consultations with communities and Indigenous peoples have to be held according to the ILO’s convention 169, which indicates there must be free, prior and informed consent.”

Water pollution

Furthermore, Victor Lichtinger and Homero Aridjis wrote in The Washington Post in December 2018, “No plan for the train has been made public, and there have been no environmental, social or economic viability studies.”

They also highlighted, “The proliferation of hotels and private houses around Bacalar [which is on the train’s route], known as the lake of seven colors, is already polluting its crystalline waters. A dramatic increase in tourism would turn the lake into a cesspool.”

Zapatista opposition

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) has also expressed its opposition to the Mayan Train project.

The Digital Journal has reported, “The [Mayan Train] plan is to connect tourist havens with less visited archaeological sites such as Palenque, which is in Chiapas, where the Zapatistas are based and control large amounts of territory.”


Construction on the track is expected to begin in 2020.

It could be in operation as early as 2022.

PBI-Mexico’s analysis, Weighing up the new government, on political prisoners, Ayotzinapa, militarization and territorial defence can be read here.

The full Contralinea article can be read (in Spanish) here.

To help support the writing of more articles like this one, please make a donation to Peace Brigades International-Canada by clicking here.

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