Militarizing the Maya Train

Indigenous people reject the Maya Train.

Profits and sections of the Maya Train will go to the military

  • The almost 1,500 kilometers of railroad will become the patrimony of the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) and the money obtained from the project will go to the Army.

The Maya Train, [supposedly] a project to improve the quality of people’s lives, care for the environment and detonate sustainable development, will run a distance of around 1,500 kilometers (km) and will pass through the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo.

However, the environmental impact of phase 1, which will go from Palenque, Chiapas to Izamal, Yucatán, points to the loss of vegetation cover of 800.95 hectares, “affecting the forest mass that will contribute to the emission of carbon, considered one of the causes of climate change.”

Added to that, “right of way” became the words most feared for the residents who are settled along the 232 kilometers of what is known as the First Section of the Maya Train.

Said context is added to the fact that the military will own totality of the Maya Train. The military will obtain profits for the transportation of passengers and cargo to feed the pension funds that depended on the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP, its initials in Spanish).

In an interview with El Financiero, Rogelio Jiménez Pons, director general of the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (Fonatur, its Spanish acronym) detailed that all the resources, including profits related to the railroad’s operation in the southeast, will benefit the military.

Specifically, the profits will be for the military, not for the treasury. Pensions and other things will no longer depend on the treasury. The ownership is going to remain; we are going to concede all the sections to the Army, remarked the general director of Fonatur.

Jiménez Pons said that the entry of the armed forces as owners of the megaproject would prevent the railroad from being privatized like other projects in previous governments.

It’s perfect that it’s an award to the armed forces. If we have a long-term nationalist vision of heritage, which this business is, but the State’s, we’re going to try to make this a business for the benefit of the greatest number of Mexicans, who better than the Army to be in charge of this business, to guaranty us many things and especially to guaranty us that it is not privatized, Jiménez Pons added.

He said that the Maya Train has a “national security” aspect because there are conflict zones in the country’s southeast, where there are [drug] cartels, human trafficking groups and the illegal sale of livestock.

Because of that, the military’s participation would diminish the impact that said activities would have on the project.

When you insert an institution with certain values, with certain discipline, with rigor and knowledge that it will never be privatized, because it will belong to the Army, well going forward with that, then you create a solid institution that can see the project long-term. And we already see separate merchandizing, the Fonatur already sees that, Jiménez Pons said.

The Maya Train stumbles

The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) affirmed that no deforestation is authorized to make way for the construction of the Maya Train.

It’s of importance to point out that the Highest Auditor of the Federation (ASF) released a report on the Maya Train work, in which it questions the profitability, lack of feasibility studies, of consultation with residents and environmental impact, among others.

The ASF made public the federal government’s 2019 report of the Public Account, in which it points out that the project presents risks of not being profitable, was not consulted in a way owed to the indigenous population, has little interest in environmental protection and isn’t very transparent in the award of public contracts.

In the rubric of profitability, the audit numbered 1384-DE highlighted that the project’s operator, Fonatur, used assumptions that “were not reasonable,” in relation to the use of cargo and of passengers that it could operate between 2023 y 2053.

In other words, it made projections that are “a risk to the financial viability of the project, since the overestimation in demand could have repercussions in significant variations with respect to the estimated profitability of the project in the pre-investment stage.”

The ASF also reported that Fonatur paid cost overruns, awarded contracts directly in an unjustified way, did not have “an administrative structure for carrying out the project” or have completed studies; among them social feasibility, “like a diagnosis in which it foresees the possible effects and social risks its construction and operation would cause,” the audit explains.

The irregularity that the ASF most encountered refers to the environmental impact and points to: “the destruction of natural habitats; soil characteristics; damages to local wildlife; damages to species of flora, and the existence of critical ecosystems and damage to biological corridors,” according to audit 1386-DE.

Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo on March 16, 2021 and re-published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee.

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