Maya Train change causes discord in Nicolas Bravo

The town of Nicolas Bravo, Quintana Roo, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo provided by residents.

Text by: Arturo Contreras Camero, Pie de Página

MEXICO CITY – “We expected the train to pass through the town, to generate the sale of our products, we thought sales were going to grow, but now where they left it is not near the road, they put it in the jungle, it is a departure from the way we had left it,” says Sonia Méndez, an inhabitant of Nicolás Bravo [1] and an ejido member of Laguna Om.

In November 2022, the ejido members of Laguna Om, where the town of Nicolás Bravo is located, met to agree, together with FONATUR [2] and Army authorities, on where the Maya Train station would be built in that community. Courageous, they determined a place known as the old garbage dump. Thus, those who got off the train would arrive in the town, where its inhabitants hoped to benefit from the economic spill they could leave.

“It was just in June of last year that the consultations and measurements of the trace were made. The surveyors who had been in the AIFA – the Felipe Angeles International Airport – came, they made the projections of the line, they looked at those affected, they made measurements of the trees that were there, all that since July,” Sonia Méndez adds.

However, after the announcement of a couple of changes to the area that the train station would use, in February 2023, ejido authorities convened an assembly to approve a radical change to the location of the station. Instead of being close to the village, it would be far away, located in the jungle, suspiciously close to the Explorean Kohunlich hotel, owned by Grupo Posadas. [3] The decision caused a furor among the rest of the ejido members, who, since then, seek to publicize their case, which, they say, is full of irregularities.

Explorean Kohunlich Hotel.

On Monday, May 8, Pie de Página took the case to the daily conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to understand the motivations behind the change. The president’s response, however, did not calm the annoyance of the group of ejido owners, who ask that the democratic decision on the first location of the stop be respected.

“It had been agreed to place the station at a site, but it was more distant from the center, from the archaeological zone of Kohunlich, which is a very important archaeological zone,” López Obrador replied. “It coincides that this company that you mention has a hotel near Kohunlich. That has nothing to do with it. It’s that the station, we consider, would be or will be closer to the archaeological zone.”

Now, both residents and ejido members fear that the benefits that the Maya Train could represent for their community will no longer arrive, and instead, they will stay at the Explorean hotel, a resort with luxury bungalows, at which lodging is around $4,000 to $10,000 pesos per night under the all-inclusive concept.

The Kohunlich Archaeological site.

A rigged process, they accuse

Sonia Méndez belongs to a group of ejido members who believe that the change of the station’s location obeys a spurious negotiation between the ejido commissioner, government officials and the hotel company. On November 6, 2022, an assembly was held to pay the affected ejido members for each of the square meters that would be used for the construction of the station.

“It was a legal assembly, but rigged,” says Lorenzo Vargues, another ejido member. “We were not allowed to reach an agreement with the majority of the ejido members; it seemed that the commissioner had already agreed with the construction management and we were told in assembly: take it or leave it. 110 thousand pesos per ejido member, at 24 pesos per square meter, the lowest payment in the entire Maya Train. “

Subsequently, in January, a couple of changes were announced to the expanse the station would occupy, a little larger than the initial one. Despite this, a higher payment for the increase in land was not considered. However, on February 12, the ejido commissioner convened an assembly to approve the change and the start of construction of the station in a completely different area than the one that had been agreed.

“How are we going to make a new agreement if the old one is not even approved! But that’s what the commissioner wanted, he wanted it to continue, with something that was not positive for the community,” says Lorenzo Vargues about that assembly.

The discomfort of half of the ejido members was such that the assembly had to be suspended. The ejido commissioner declared a recess and resumed the assembly on March 12. However, days before the date, with a low and select call, the commissioner summoned some ejido members to resume it on March 5.

The March 5 Ejido Assembly that blew up, and during which the change to the Maya Train station was approved. On the outskirts of the ejido enclosure, residents of Nicolás Bravo and the Laguna Om ejido claim the irregularities of the process.

“We went to the assembly, because of the call we had and we realized that the commissioner, wanting to restart the assembly, did not roll call, as if it were the one on February 12.” As he says it, Lorenzo’s voice quickens and rises in tone, as if affected by anger. Many of the ejido members left the assembly, not wanting to participate in what they consider arbitrary. However, despite the lack of a quorum, the ejido commissioner approved the change of location of the station.

It was paid attention to and there were agreements: governor of Quintana Roo

In the days following the spurious assembly, ejido members and neighbors of Nicolás Bravo demonstrated at the president’s event in the region as well as at Governor Mara Lezama’s events. They carried out road closures and sit-ins in front of the state government palace in order to be heard.

On the day the president was questioned about the case, Mara Lezama herself was present at the National Palace. From there, she assured that he had already talked with the dissatisfied ejido members and that an agreement had been reached with them, although that had not happened.

“It’s an important issue, because it’s a tourist stop and also an investment by the state government for the development of that area. The property is already bought, which belongs to the federation. And what they want is more development than the station that will be in Kohunlich, or very close to Kohunlich.

 Well, in any case, it will also bring them development, but compañeros, fellow ejido members, were dissatisfied. A new assembly was held, in which there was no manipulation. They wanted the original agreement to be respected, but since there is a general interest, it was reconciled with them and they are going to build a community development center, which is not far away either, and that will benefit as well,” the governor said during the president’s conference.

Faced with the unrest, the residents of Nicolás Bravo now ask that in the area where the station was originally going to be built, a university, an ecotourism park for the inhabitants of the region who cannot afford the costs of the hotel and a handicraft market now be made.

The headquarters of the Laguna OM ejido in the town of Nicolás Bravo in Mexico’s Quintana Roo state. Image by Thelma Gómez Durán for Mongabay.

“We said that we still want to create a tourist route in the southern part of town. We are the ones interested in exploiting this tourist aspect, as they do in the hotel,” says Lorenzo. From Explorean it is common to see tourists who make kayak tours through the turquoise waters of the Om Lagoon, or who travel its jungle trails by bicycle.

“We are not against the train; it’s a large and profitable project. We are against irregularities. We just hope that the governor will keep her word that we are going to rescue the south and that they are not just promises, because the population is very offended. We are going to continue insisting that they pay attention, that they assert the right of each one of us,” says Lorenzo with hope, still full of doubts about what is going to happen.

[*This note was produced by Pie de Página, part of the media alliance Red de Periodistas de a Pie.]

Translator’s Note

[1] Nicolas bravo is one of the towns visited by the El Sur Resiste | The South Resists Caravan. In the final “Pronouncement” from the International Gathering, they demand the revocation of the illegal March 5 Assembly.

[2] Fonatur is the Spanish acronym for the Fund for the Promotion of Tourism.

[3] Grupo Posadas is a hospitality company based in Mexico City. It owns, leases, operates and manages hotels, resorts and villas with its several different brands. As of 2020, the company operates more than 150 hotels with 24,000 hotel rooms.

Originally Published in Spanish by Chiapas Paralelo, Thursday, May 11, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

One Comment on “Maya Train change causes discord in Nicolas Bravo

  1. Pingback: Chiapas court sentences the “Cancuc 5” to 25 years in prison – The Free

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