By RICARDO CASTILLO
No doubt about it, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) Tren Maya tourist train project is a go.
But opposition to AMLO’s “pharaonic” endeavor is hopelessly trying to get its progress suspended, or outright dumped, to no avail.
The train is a go, but there are still opponents to it, stemming out of two fronts.
Note that I quote the word “pharaonic,” a term AMLO used to describe the now-defunct New International Mexico Airport (NAIM), much to the chagrin of those who dreamt of a world-class facility in Mexico City. Now, those who are opposed to the Maya Train construction are using it against the project, including some political parties in Congress, which claim it’s a whim.
There is a second opposition group, an amorphous one composed of the Maya communities along the Yucatan Peninsula.
This group also includes the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), made famous for its gory armed incursion in San Cristóbal de las Casas under the command of Sub Commander Marcos in 1994. The revolutionaries, four days later, turned out to be a ragtag army of untrained soldiers and the world had to intervene to stop the Mexican Army from massacring them.
The group has survived politically and they even hold a bastion of terrain along the gorges of the Lacandona Jungle on the Comitán City side. The closest train station is at the eastern end of the Lacandona, in the world-famous ruins of Palenque and, ironically, a Chiapas municipality where AMLO owns a farm he calls his permanent home.
On Jan. 1, 2020, in the EZLN’s commemoration of the 26th anniversary of its revolution, the organization’s now-leader Commander Marcos launched a frontal attack against the construction of the Tren Maya, announcing the EZLN’s enmity to the project, expressing the group’s willingness “to be destroyed as an organization, to be annihilated as an original people of Maya roots, ready to die as wardens of the land” if AMLO went on with the Maya Train construction.
In short, the EZLN issued a declaration of war, even though the nearest station is far away from their main enclave at the western jungle ravines.
A few days later, AMLO said: “I was reading them as saying that if we mess with their land, they are willing even to give up their lives. That can’t be real. That’s not acting along the terms of reality. We are not going to affect anybody, much less the country’s indigenous communities. There, in Chiapas, we’ve hired 80,000 local indigenous workers to plant trees. When did anybody do anything like that before?”
A few days later, AMLO again referred to the anguished threat of the EZLN being ready to take up arms if he went ahead with the Maya Train reconstruction (it’s been there since 1946), claiming the Zapatistas “are a bit deranged.”
“I see them very nervous, and sometimes taking up conservative attitudes,” he said.
“It seems that extremes are knocking each other, that is to say, the extreme right with the extreme left.”
The noisiest challengers of the Maya Train’s revamping and expansion (the new part of the peninsular railway is slated to run along the Caribbean coast down to Escarcega, Tabasco) are 160 so-called Maya communities, led mostly by the roughly 25 groups of environmentalists who are worried about the extinction of the jaguar, the white-tailed deer and other endangered species.
Notwithstanding, these opponents do not represent a large enough group, no matter how noisy they may be in the press, to seriously challenge the construction.
But they could pose a headache if the AMLO administration does not negotiate with them.
Here are three possible scenarios concocted by my colleague Juan Bautista and published in the March edition of the Journalists’ Club magazine Voces del Periodista:
- There is agreement in all fronts, the pending suits are dropped and the project is delivered as promised in four years.
- There is a multiplicity of suits by common land (ejido) owners along the peninsula, the EZLN begins railway construction blockades with the backing of nongovernmental organizations threatening to take up guerrilla warfare, and halting the construction much to the dismay of private contractors in a hurry to deliver the project on time.
- There are amparo (habeas corpus) suits galore and the opposition mobilization grows stronger, led by the EZLN, and the government sits down to negotiate their demands. The EZLN stalls procedures, demands the presence of international observers, demands “regional autonomies” (as the one the group enjoys) and prevents federal law from being applied in their newly gained territories.
In Bautista’s view, this “ideological clash” could happen. To many, that would be a stretch of the EZLN’s potential powers because, despite its threat, the EZLN’s issued territory, as already stated, may be of Maya origin, but is nowhere near the railroad tracks.
These are potential probabilities that have to be politically squashed since the communities all over the forever-politically forgotten Yucatan peninsula are demanding a response from the president.
AMLO’s main argument is that the Maya Train will bring widespread prosperity to the peninsula and benefits to all those towns along the railway because the train will link up to the also-controversial Tehuantepec Isthmus railway connection and industrial project.
Among the affected communities there are more than a few – but not a majority either – demanding the preservation of their local customs and agriculture traditions, and of the Maya language.
AMLO, however, said that a majority of Mexicans voted for the project and now that is being launched, everyone has to see it as progress.
If things go well, all those in disagreement will have to be pacified, the civilized way, though negotiations.
But AMLO’s pet project may face some rocky rails ahead.
…June 4, 2020