A Quintana Roo-based environmental group has denounced the clearing of virgin forest for the new Maya Train route near Playa del Carmen.
The federal government announced in January that the route would be modified in the Riviera Maya region of the Caribbean coast state after the Playa del Carmen business community complained about the construction of the railroad parallel to Highway 307, arguing that the planned elevated tracks would effectively divide the city in two.
Environmental group Moce Yax Cuxtal said Tuesday that trees are already being felled for the new inland route even though the National Tourism Fund (Fonatur), which is managing the Maya Train project, hasn’t officially announced the modified route or the results of a study on its environmental impact.
Moce Yax Cuxtal took photographs and videos of the deforestation at one point about 12 kilometers northwest of Playa del Carmen near the municipal dump and at another point west of the coastal city.
Laura Patiño Esquivel, the group’s president, told the news website Animal Político that the organization received tip-offs from citizens about the clearing of the forest and sent a team to inspect the work. She said that they saw vehicles belonging to Grupo México, one of the companies contracted by Fonatur to build section 5 of the Maya Train railroad, and that workers told them that they were falling trees for its construction.
Section 5 of the railroad will run between Cancún and Tulum with an intermediate station near Playa del Carmen.
Fonatur didn’t respond to messages from Animal Político asking whether the photos taken by Moce Yax Cuxtal indeed showed land cleared for the new railroad.
“In neither of the two places we visited did we see any sign that said what’s being built, … nor what the construction permits were,” Patiño said.
“That’s why we’re reporting [the deforestation] to the municipal environment department,” she said, adding that Moce Yax Cuxtal will also write to President López Obrador to demand that work on the new route be suspended.
Patiño said that no geological, hydrological or socioeconomic studies were carried out before the clearing of land began. “It’s extremely serious; it’s a complete ecocide,” she said.
“It’s very concerning that we are not aware of the environmental impact studies because we don’t know the viability of a project in an ecosystem that is tremendously fragile. … Below, in the subsoil, we have caverns, subterranean rivers and cenotes [natural sinkholes], and above there is a jungle with boundless flora and fauna such as jaguars,” Patiño said.
Laura Patiño Esquivel on the clear-cutting along the planned train route.
— Patty dipp (@PattyDipp) March 2, 2022
The absence of environmental studies prior to the commencement of construction work is not limited to section 5 of the US $8 billion project: the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) reported last month that the government hadn’t established the environmental impact of the railroad before construction began in 2020. It said that construction of sections 2 and 3 of the project, which will run through Campeche and Yucatán, started before environmental impact assessments had been completed.
The ASF also said that the haste with which construction was occurring posed a threat to the timely execution of work to protect archaeological assets along the route.
It was reported last year that Fonatur withheld critical information about the railroad when it sought funding for the project from the federal Finance Ministry.
Numerous environmental and other concerns have been raised about the construction and operation of the 1,500-kilometer Maya Train railroad, along which tourist, commuter and freight trains are slated to run in Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán, Quintana Roo and Chiapas. Mayan communities have claimed “there’s nothing Mayan about” the railroad, complained about not being properly consulted about the project and questioned whether they will in fact benefit from it as the government says.
The railroad will begin operations in late 2023, according to the federal government, but the results of a 2021 survey of construction companies suggested that Maya Train contracts stipulated construction periods that are too short, raising concerns that the project could be substandard and ultimately dangerous.
With reports from Animal Político