Fonatur Admits that the Mayan Train has no Environmental Assessment

The National Fund for Tourism Development (Fonatur) acknowledged that it has operated to prevent the four sections of the Tren Maya awarded to date from being subjected to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a requirement for any infrastructure work for 32 years.

Rogelio Jiménez Pons, holder of the National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (Fonatur), awarded the contract. Photo: Eduardo Miranda

By Matthew Tourliere

June 8th, 2020

In an “explanatory note” published today, Fonatur mentions that for the first three sections [of the train], it received an extension from the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) to complete the EIS, under the argument that it is a “maintentance for rehabilitation and improvement of the existing railroad track.”

It added that, as  this track was built prior to 1988, it is not subject to the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Protection of the Environment, which requires environmental evaluations for infrastructure projects. 

In other words: to avoid environmental review, Fonatur equated the construction of the Tren Maya to simple maintenance of the existing track, “in order to comply with international standards in terms of rail service, environment and safety,” despite the fact that the mega-project proposes doubling the tracks, significantly increasing the number of trains and cutting down the vegetation 20 meters around the lines.

As for the fourth section, which was granted directly to the ICA company, Fonatur argues that it is a “road maintenance”, considered to be  “within the title of concession currently held by the company ‘Consorcio del Mayab’, S.A. de C.V.'”;  this work — that will link Izamal to Cancun — proposes to open the existing road so that the Mayan Train can pass between the lanes, an operation of 27 billion pesos that can hardly be understood as road “maintenance”.

Fonatur issued its “explanatory note” with the intention of “fighting disinformation” which, according to the agency, appeared in the Templo Mayor column published yesterday in the Reforma newspaper; in it it stated that Semarnat had issued an exemption that allowed the start of work on the Mayan Train without an environmental impact assessment, which, according to the content of the explanatory note, was accurate.

From the beginning, Fonatur refused to carry out an EIS for the complete project of the Tren Maya, preferring to break it into the seven sections. On several occasions, Milardy Douglas Rogelio Jiménez Pons, director of the agency, declared that an environmental impact study would not be necessary, given that the Tren Maya would follow the rights of way of the old railroad and the previous ICA road concession. Furthermore, the politician has reiterated that the priority of the Tren Maya is focused on its social benefits, which “compensate for the environmental impact.”

In response to an explicit question from Proceso, last March, Jiménez Pons acknowledged that Fonatur does not have the EIS for the “development poles” – the new cities that Fonatur intends to build around the Mayan Train stations – because they were still in “the process of socialization with the partners, which are the communities.”

It is important to note that the works and activities that have been initiated, are planned and  expressly indicated in the railway assignment and in the road concession title, respectively”, assured Fonatur, and underlined: “Currently, environmental studies are being carried out for all those works that, due to issues of design and safe operation, are outside the current railway and road rights of way”.

There are still three lines that Fonatur still hasn’t formally assigned [contracts for]: number 5, corresponding  to the section from Cancún to Tulum, and the 6 and 7, which will be built by the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) and will connect Tulum and Escárcega, passing through Calakmul with 270 kilometers of new line in the middle of the jungle.

The refusal of the federal government to evaluate the possible negative impacts of the Mayan Train on the environment is one of the reasons that a group of 159 civil society organizations and 85 personalities highlighted last Tuesday, the 2nd in a document rejecting the mega-project.

This article was published in Spanish in Proceso, on June 8th, 2020. https://www.proceso.com.mx/633477/fonatur-admite-que-tren-maya-no-tiene-evaluacion-ambiental? The English interpretation has been re-published for readers of Schools for Chiapas’ blog.