Mayan Train, Sembrando Vida and the Trans-Isthmus Corredor: A trifecta for the dispossession of indigenous peoples.

By Iván Uranga

This week an investigation was released about the impacts on the value of territorial use of indigenous and peasant communities that the projects of the Transisthmic Corridor, the Mayan Train and the Sowing Life program will have, presented by the Center for Studies for Change in the Mexican Countryside (CECCAM) and prepared by Daniel Sandoval Vazquez. The report concludes that these projects are intended not only to facilitate the flow of products from the most important companies in the world, increase the flow of tourists and reforest the South-South-East of Mexico, but that the three are part of a single project of the “post-neoPorfiriato” or “post-neoliberal” government, as the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador likes to call itself. “Due to their anticipated effects, they can be considered a trifecta designed for the dispossession and subordination of the territory… projects like the Mayan Train and the Trans-isthmus Corridor mean, on the one hand, taking away the effective possession of the land from the original populations and, on the other hand, depriving them of the capacity to decide on any future use of the resources in general… the exploitation of the population that will be separated from their creative work linked to the land,” says the researcher.

All these projects have gone through an infinite number of names and concepts, but the one that the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador is taking up again without saying so is the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project or Project Mesoamérica, now in full force, which was officially launched on June 28, 2008 during the government of Felipe Calderón. It consists of an Atlantic and a Pacific corridor with complementary links of interconnection, a railway network, port integration, navigation routes, road system and airport network accompanied by initiatives in telecommunications, energy integration, gas pipelines, tourism and archaeology, and on top of this, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the Mayan World Project and the Project for the Integral Development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This project had continuation under the untouchable Enrique Peña Nieto during his term of office, and on April 28, 2014, he began the construction of the “Transpeninsular Train” for passengers and cargo for the Yucatan and the Riviera Maya, which AMLO now wrongly calls the “Mayan Train.” That same year, the untouchable EPN began the process of interconnection of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans through a “Trans-isthmic Train” that the only difference with the current project of AMLO’s “Trans-isthmian Corridor” is that the former was blatantly private, while the current one is public but granted to the private sector. In reality they form part of the silent recolonization of capitalism through hundreds of projects, in all of Mesoamerica, in Mexico alone there are currently more than 400 extractive mega-projects in operation that seek to facilitate the management and execution of the extraction and transfer of natural resources. (read: The Silent Re-colonization of Post-Neoliberalism).

AMLO adds a component in the purest style of the pre-neoliberal PRI that he permanently evokes; the Sowing Life program, which he has sold as the ecological project of his administration because, according to the executive, “it will reforest a million hectares” and which in practice is being used to convince the indigenous communities to accept the Mayan Train and the Transisthmus Corridor, because, according to the researcher, he is creating conditions in giving of 5 thousand pesos a month through this program to the peasants so that they accept the mega-projects.

Sembrando Vida in its first year was an utter failure because their goal they imposed upon themselves was to plant 575 million plants, and they were only able to plant 80 million plants, that is, they managed only 13.9 percent. Each plant of the “Sowing Life” program cost 375 pesos to the treasury in 2019. Taking into account that a budget of 15 billion pesos was exercised and that in the end only about 40 million trees will be viable –with that amount a common farmer, without spectacular programs, could plant not one but more than 20 viable trees with everything and labor. Therefore, the Secretary of Welfare, María Luisa Albores González, called for the resignation of the person responsible for the project, the Undersecretary of Planning, Evaluation and Regional Development, Javier May, which was rejected by the President of the Republic, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, because it is not a reforestation program, it is a program to corrupt the will of the peasants with hunger, by forcing them to accept the Mayan Train and the Transisthmus Corridor in exchange for a monthly payment of 5 thousand pesos during AMLO’s administration.

Photo: La Coperacha

Unfortunately, what could have been the best program of any Mexican president in history, because it could come to solve food autonomy and to reclaim the dignity of work in the countryside, has become the spearhead of the neoliberal mega-projects of this administration. The fundamental idea of this program is a bad copy of a project that we designed for the elaboration of the new constitution with the Citizen Constituency through the National Council of the Mexican People, (here you can consult ( ).

“With the Transisthmus Corridor and the Mayan Train, the option is open to capital to create the necessary material base that will make possible more investments and profits in the short term. But if the components of these projects are analyzed, it can be seen that they are extremely problematic economic activities due to their social and environmental impacts.

It is very important to observe the way in which these two projects are linked to industrial production. They are not a plan for the creation of infrastructure for the simple distribution of goods, or tourism activities from the strategic geographical position of a region that is increasingly important nationally and internationally. As we have seen, the two projects mentioned include within them the possibility for national and foreign companies to generate enormous profits, from the unleashing of processes linked to the production of goods, in areas where social and biological wealth has exceptional characteristics”, states CECCAM’s research.

With AMLO’s actions we can affirm that he contained criminal and shameless neoliberalism, but he confuses corruption with neoliberalism, because his fight against government corruption is based on a new humanist neoliberalism in Mexico, which has shown us a redesign in the way of presenting the issue. The new face is shown to us with a halo of honesty that fights fiercely against the forms of corruption that the old neoliberalism left inserted as government culture, while giving continuity to the extractive mega-projects that have been the hallmark of neoliberalism in the world, with the pattern of daily and public denial of complicity in the plundering of water, land, cultures and biodiversity of the territories.

“Only the emissions from the Dos Bocas refinery would make the environmental services of capturing emissions from all the trees planted in the Sembrando Vida program insignificant”


His new humanist neoliberal model envisions delaying the collapse of the capitalist system, giving money from the treasury to the dispossessed to maintain a minimum capacity for consumption that allows the rotten economic system that dominates the world to continue turning the wheel, and instead of using Sembrando Vida to achieve food autonomy, he uses it to buy wills (read: The State as a Social Enterprise; Yunus and AMLO saving capitalism). The scholarships given in the Youth Building the Future program have served to finance labor at the expense of the people’s money to companies like Elektra, Nestle and thousands more, who under the pretext of job training obtain slave labor without benefits and without having to pay. These thousands and thousands of young women and men were not even hired by these companies, because as long as this administration lasts they will be able to count on new slave and free labor every year, much less generate their own source of income, because they were not trained for it: If instead they had trained these young people in some trade during this year, at least today they would have the possibility of earning a living with their effort. (read: The 4th Transformation is Aztec).

If we take away the Transisthmus Corridor, the Mayan Train, Sowing Life and Youth Building the Future, from the projects that would come to save Mexico, we are left with only a sad airport that would momentarily fill the air transportation needs of the most economically privileged, and a refinery in an era where it is demonstrated that fossil fuels are a substantial part of the pollution problem that originates not only global warming, but also the effect on the habitat where the viruses that affect us today coexisted in peace, and even more so, with the melting of prehistoric glaciers, viruses and bacteria unknown to humanity until now have been found that, when thawed, could finish the work that the coronavirus began.

Here I share the link for those who want to read the 43 pages that make up the research published by CECCAM: which concludes:

“The Sowing Life program is directly influencing people’s decision to accept official regulations. This disloyal action that alienates the people’s ability to exercise free consent can be proven by testimony in different localities… It should be said that the factional use of this government program is a fact that applies to the great majority of areas in which the federal government must get the population to cede their lands specifically for this supposedly tourist project, as we have proven cartographically by relating the sites where Sembrando Vida is implemented and the new routes planned for the passage of the Mayan Train.

For their part, private capital and business operators who have already taken the natural and social wealth of the Maya region by storm in previous times with their projects, entering into office and cooperating with public capital to support the subordination of territorial use value, making invisible and disregarding the needs and traditional uses of resources in the hands of the people. It is worth noting that in recent days, in response to the complaint against Alfonso Romo for being part of the gang of looters present in the Mayan region, the businessman has defended himself by assuring that thanks to his investments, the transformation of “unproductive lands” into “lands with a high added value” is achieved, jobs are generated, “the communities that die of hunger” come out of their misery.

CECCAM’s research coincides with that published in December by the Observatorio Latinoamericano de Geopolítica of the UNAM, which in its Advancements in Investigation of the Mayan Train ( states that “the analysis presented questions the main objective of the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador: to take Mexico off the slope of neoliberalism of the last thirty years. The Mayan Train and its productive-territorial transformations in the medium and long term foresee that the effects and impacts are not those expected by the principles of the Fourth Transformation.

“It presents several features of continuity with a vision of the world, of business and of completely neoliberal interests: a low presence of the State in investment, an increase in privatization encouraging the participation of large local and foreign companies, a profound push of expropriation never before seen in the south-southeast (of rights, of territories, of knowledge, even the breaking of social ties, cultural identities, economic practices, etc.)”

Today AMLO presents us with his lessons from the pandemic and blames the neoliberal model for the crisis, but his lessons are superfluous because among them he does not consider basic elements; such as the elimination of oil, mining, publicity and a radical change in environmental policies. It also omits the need to design agro-ecological models of food production by region that guarantee food autonomy in each area, the economic reclamation of labors of care in the home and the cancellation of the public debt that is suffocating nations and was acquired by the neoliberal governments.

The characteristics of survival of life on Earth divide the world into only two possible philosophies: those that make the planet cold or those that make it warm, as I propose in my Manifesto for the Earth. We cannot still continue within this humanist neoliberalism that AMLO presents us, overlapping the extraction of water and natural wealth by neoliberal mega-projects because it is costing us extinction. And the change must be today, because it will not be the last world crisis that we will have to live through, and if we do not seek a radical change now, the next one could be the last.

On May 8, a federal court granted an injunction to indigenous Chiapans ordering the suspension of work on the Mayan Train on the Palenque section, in order to safeguard the health of the Ch’ol people, which joins the protection granted to the community of Xpujil in Campeche and the protection granted against the Transisthmian Corridor to the Mixes and Zapotecs in Oaxaca, who today continue their struggle in a virtual way under the hashtags #NoAlTrenMaya and #ElIstmoEsNuestro as the quarantine ends to continue resisting as they have done for hundreds of years.

This opinion piece was originally published in Spanish in Julio Astillero, on May 11th, 2020.  It has been re-published with English interpretation for Schools for Chiapas. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Schools for Chiapas.

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