By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
After a quarter-century hiatus from the eye of the global media, one of the country’s most enigmatic and controversial political entities, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), has returned to the public spotlight as one of newly instated Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) most unexpected and vocal nemeses.
The far-left EZLN, which began as a militant organization in January 1994 in Chiapas as an armed protest movement against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the neoliberal policies of then-Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Léon and which still controls large swathes of that impoverished, southern state, has now made it clear that it is no friend to the populist AMLO.
Determined to prevent the construction of one of AMLO’s most ambitious infrastructure projects, the controversial $7.4 billion Tren Maya (Maya Train), a tourism and cultural railroad which would link five of Mexico’s southeastern states, the so-called Zapatistas have made it clear that they are ready to “take whatever measures necessary” to stop the president from building the train, which they claim poses serious environmental and cultural threats to the region’s indigenous communities.
Apparently caught off guard by the EZLN’s potentially bellicose reaction to his train, AMLO has said that he does not want a war with the Zapatistas, political or otherwise.
The Zapatistas have never been buddy-buddies with the progressive leftist president, who they claim has, throughout his political career, repeatedly sold out the nation’s indigenous communities to private-sector business interests.
And it is not just the Zapatistas that want the train project suspended.
Countless environmental and conservationist organizations have opposed the project, saying it will irreparably damage the region’s delicate ecosystems, perhaps extinguishing as much as half of the Yucatán’s flora and fauna.
By the same token, financial analysts have warned that the project is not viable economically.
But, in general, AMLO has paid little heed to these objections to his pet train project.
So will AMLO suspend the Tren Maya project because of the EZLN?
It’s hard to say, but if the fact that Mexico’s most left-leaning organization is so adamantly opposed to the man who has fashioned himself to be the champion of the nation’s underdogs, it may give him pause to reconsider.
Before moving full-steam-ahead on a project that could end up permanently damaging Mexico’s rich environmental heritage and threatening the cultural integrity of its dwindling indigenous cultures, as well as creating renewed political strife in the south of the country, is certainly worth taking the time to review.