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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Conservationists sue to halt construction of Maya Train in Mexico

President López Obrador skirted environmental impact surveys with an executive order classifying his megaprojects as matters of national security. Opponents of the train decry the move as unconstitutional.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Conservationists in Mexico filed a lawsuit Tuesday to demand the stoppage of construction on a controversial tourist train in the Yucatán peninsula. 

One of President López Obrador’s flagship megaprojects, the Maya Train has come under fire from environmental groups who denounce the manner in which the construction was approved as unconstitutional governmental overreach. 

This past November, López Obrador issued an executive order classifying the train and other government megaprojects as matters of national security. The precedent-setting action allows the administration to receive provisional authorization of the project from Mexico’s environmental agency Semarnat. 

The 12-month authorization allows construction to continue without the legally required environmental impact surveys, meaning they could be conducted after the train is completed.

“The executive order gives the government the green light to continue operations, violating several rights enshrined in the Constitution,” said Aleira Lara, director of campaigns for Greenpeace Mexico, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit.

These include the right to access of information, the right to public participation and the right to a clean, healthy environment, Lara said in a phone interview.

While López Obrador has called the train’s critics “pseudo-environmentalists” with political motivations, Lara assured Courthouse News that the threat the Maya Train presents to the megadiverse Yucatán peninsula is real and could have devastating consequences for the region. 

Lara and other environmentalists — “They’re not pseudo-activists,” she said — have decried the deforestation necessary to build the train. The particular stretch addressed by the lawsuit is part of the train's Line 5 running from Cancún to Tulum in the state of Quintana Roo. It was initially slated to follow preexisting train lines, but was moved after López Obrador deferred to complaints from hotel owners. The new tracks cut straight through the jungle. 

“It’s fragmenting the ecosystem, putting the fauna of the region at risk, among them the iconic jaguar,” said Lara. But this isn’t the only threat the project presents.

The train is being built atop a karst, or porous patch of limestone, the ground run through with subterranean rivers and natural sinkholes called cenotes. Environmentalists have warned that the weight and vibrations of the train could cause the ground to collapse. 

The entire cenote system is interconnected, and the underground rivers run to the Caribbean Sea. The pollution generated by the project could contaminate these aquifers, as well as the crystalline waters for which Mexico’s Caribbean coast is famous throughout the world.

“The pollution and other environmental impacts won’t stay in the area through which the train passes,” said Lara. 

A lawsuit brought by scuba divers and environmentalists in the First District Court of the State of Yucatán this month resulted in a suspension of construction on Line 5. However, on Monday a judge delayed the start of that suspension until May 13. 

Tuesday’s lawsuit by Greenpeace Mexico and other groups was filed in the neighboring state of Quintana Roo. According to a press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, if the lawsuit is admitted in the Yucatán court a suspension could be granted within the next few days.

“This Maya Train construction is already harming the habitat of jaguars, ocelots, Yucatán spider monkeys and many other imperiled animals,” said Alex Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“President López Obrador must halt construction until his agencies actually follow the law and assess the train’s threat to this beautiful, biodiverse forest,” Olivera said in the press release.

The Maya Train is not the only López Obrador megaprojects to be clouded in controversy. Others include an oil refinery in Puerto Dos Bocas, Tabasco, the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Mexico City’s new Felipe Ángeles International Airport.

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Categories / Environment, Government, International

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