Mayan Train: Ecocide and Ethnocide

Silvia Ribeiro

Sections 6 and 7 of the Tren Maya are among the most complex due to the geography they cross. Both are being built by the Sedena and go from Quintana Roo to reconnect with Campeche. The Armed Forces project the completion of these sections by December 31, 2023.

The project of the misnamed Mayan Train is advancing by bulldozing jungle, towns and communities, indigenous rights, cultural heritages and archaeological remains of incalculable value, in addition to having felled between 5 and 10 million trees (depending on who is counting) and having caused damage to cenotes, water springs, caves and much more.

As one of the flagship megaprojects of AMLO’s government, the military presence is both heavy and extensive. By presidential decree the project was decreed as “national security,” and the army has also been granted the construction of several sections of the train and six tourist hotels, several in ecologically sensitive areas where there should not be any hotels. One of them, which will have 143 rooms and a casino, is inside the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Local communities and national and international organizations have denounced that it does not have environmental permits, neither for construction nor for evaluating the impacts of the traffic it will promote in the area.

As with other sections of the train, there have been protests and legal actions by affected communities and environmental organizations, some approved in the first instance, but most ignored or reversed later and/or due to paralegal maneuvers. For example, deciding that all legal initiatives against the Mayan Train should be concentrated in a single court in Merida, which makes it difficult or impossible for many communities and organizations without resources to follow up.  The pressures, unfounded accusations and persecution against critical organizations is ongoing.

Despite the government’s enthusiastic propaganda presenting the project as “progress” for the peninsula, the environmental impacts caused by the construction are already very considerable, in addition to violations of the right to consultation and other indigenous and agrarian rights.

However, the impacts of the construction are only a part of it, since, as Grain explains, more than a train, it is a large multimodal land grab project.  Passenger transportation is a minor part of it, a major issue is the polluting activities that it will promote in addition to industrial tourism, such as pig factories, industrial plantations full of agrochemicals that poison soil and rivers, killing bees and medicinal herbs, and the deployment of large energy companies that occupy, pollute and displace communities.

Added to this is the destruction of ancestral Mayan cultural heritage, which is manifest in the “discovery” by the destruction caused by the construction of a large number of objects and structures along the train tracks.  The abundance of archaeological findings in the construction zones clearly indicates that these are areas where this megaproject should not proceed. Nevertheless, as in a novel of tenebrous literary fiction, the government calls this devastation a project of “archaeological rescue of the Maya Train”, which it claims will “broaden the vision of the Maya civilization” and open “new windows for research, restoration and museography.” This Orwellian maneuver of disguising reality is accompanied by the persecution and harassment of critical experts and archaeologists, who demand that the works be suspended and that the irreparable impacts that are being caused be seriously evaluated.

For the Mayan peoples it is also a mirror of the ongoing process: territories, communal practices, ecosystems and biodiversity that are the basis of their ways of life and cultures (then and now) are destroyed, but all this is presented as “a unique opportunity” for their culture to be frozen in museums and to feed, instead of their children, researchers and academics.

Due to the serious ecological and social impacts of this project, the International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature decided to attend the request of organizations and communities to hold a session of the Tribunal on the Mayan Train case. This was held from March 9 to 12, 2023 in the peninsula, where they heard testimonies from communities, experts, academics, environmental and social organizations. The panel of judges in this case was composed of Maristella Svampa, Argentina, Fray Raul Vera, Mexico, Francesco Martone, Italy-Ecuador, Yaku Perez, Ecuador and Alberto Saldamando, Zapotec – United States.

Other organizations, communities and collectives have been protesting against the advance of the train construction.

The final verdict of this session was published in August 2023. Based on the visits, testimonies heard and documents presented, they declare that there is evidence that a process of ecocide and ethnocide is underway.

This international Tribunal recognized, among other points, that there is an “irrefutable violation of the rights of Nature and the biocultural rights of the Mayan People,” as well as the rights of the indigenous peoples of the peninsula, who “have been and continue to be, protectors and guardians of the territory, of the cenotes, caves and coasts; jungles, biodiversity and traditional crops, and of the non-human beings that inhabit the ecosystems.”

In this context, the Tribunal demands ” from the authorities of the United Mexican States the immediate suspension of the Mayan Train megaproject with all its components, as well as the demilitarization of the indigenous territories.” They also demand that “the dispossession of ejido lands and in general of the territory cease, as well as an end to the persecution, threats, harassment and intimidation of nature defenders.

At the same time, because the cenotes are the most important water source for the survival of the peoples, communities and species of animals and plants in the region, the Tribunal calls for the declaration of the cenotes as a subject of rights, in line with the recognition of the Rights of Nature.

The Tribunal proposes the need for comprehensive reparation measures, among them the realization of “an independent, inter and transdisciplinary and intercultural audit, with the participation of the affected communities of the different sections of the Mayan Train project as well as the Master Plan, which to date has not been presented by the competent authorities. In this regard, the environmental impact statements should be systemic and not partial and include not only this project, but all those planned for the area.”

They call for the repair and rehabilitation from the impacts on the ecosystems as well as the reparation of social impacts, including communal land tenure and the fragmentation and division of territories, and to suspend the processes of dispossession and expropriation of ejido and communal land and review those that have already been committed.

The Tribunal considered that in order to repair the damages, it is indispensable to “immediately demilitarize the territory and guarantee the life, integrity and freedom of expression of the people who have expressed their disagreement with the project.”

Original text published in Desinformémonos on August 22nd, 2023.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

Want to receive our weekly blog digest in your inbox?

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top