By KELIN DILLON
As Mexico’s Tren Maya project continues to approach its scheduled Dec. 23, 2023, completion date, the venture – a favorite of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) – has been plagued by mass resignations from officials in the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarant) and the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (Fonatur), potentially delaying the Tren Maya’s debut far beyond its anticipated start date.
On Saturday, May 15, under the looming pressure of producing an environmental impact report for the Tren Maya, Semarant’s Director of Environmental Impact Juan Manuel Torres Burgos, Director of Air Quality and Emissions Registry Adolfo Cimadevilla Cervera and Director of Integral Management of Materials and Risky Activities Ricardo Ortiz Conde submitted their resignations, leaving their posts at the Semarant over the weekend. All of these officials came over from the previous head of the Semarant Víctor Toledo’s administration; now, as the power shifts to new Semarant head María Luisa Albores, a new group of directors will be put in place under her watch.
Under Torres Burgos, the Semarant had signed two provisional permits for the Tren Maya’s construction, despite repeated criticisms from environmental groups like the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), which claims the project could “cause the deforestation of 2,500 hectares of wet and dry forests” across Mexico.
Fonatur hasn’t been spared from the mass exodus out of the project; since former Fonatur Director Rogelio Jiménez Pons left his position in January 2021, more than 100 of the fund’s workers have resigned in turn, including five directors and multiple managers, analysts and engineers, with many claiming their actions were prompted by the Mexican government’s repeated requests to sign contracts approving increased funding to the Tren Maya.
According to insider knowledge detailed to daily newspaper Reforma, Fonatur has been asked to sign and approve more than 800 million pesos worth of contracts relating to the project, raising the initial 140 billion peso price tag to 200 billion pesos and counting as of January 2022.
“And it continues to rise. They are forcing managers to sign the millionaire increases in the contracts of the companies that participate in sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 mainly, that is a fight that whoever signs, whoever goes to respond to the Civil Service; the harassment to sign those documents was constant, so we preferred to resign,” revealed one former Fonatur manager, claiming the group is now hiring workers straight out of university, who are more eager to do what is asked of them.
As the Tren Maya’s controversial construction continues to face pushback from environmental experts, the private sector and Riviera Maya locals, it remains to be seen if Fonatur and Semarant’s internal overhauls will have an ultimate impact on the project’s scheduled launch.