The federal government has declared its intention to expropriate 198 privately owned properties for the construction of the Maya Train railroad in Quintana Roo, raising concern among local authorities and the business community.
In a notice published in its official gazette on Monday, the government said it intended to expropriate properties of “public utility” in the municipalities of Benito Juárez (Cancún), Puerto Morelos and Solidaridad (Playa del Carmen).
Publication of the notice by the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Urban Planning came nine days after the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) asked it to take the necessary steps to acquire properties needed for the construction of the railroad in northern Quintana Roo.
The total area of the land the government plans to expropriate is approximately 241 hectares, which it wants for the northern portion of section 5 of the railroad, running between Cancún and Playa del Carmen. Sedena will build the section.
Publication of the expropriation notice came 12 days after President López Obrador announced that the southern portion of the same section, which will run between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, would be rerouted so that it doesn’t run between the northbound and southbound lanes of Federal Highway 307.
Part of the northern portion that was also slated to run between the highway will be rerouted as well, precipitating the government’s need for private land in the three northern Quintana Roo municipalities.
Rogelio Jiménez Pons, whom the president recently removed from his position at the helm of the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur), which is managing the Maya Train project, said just before his departure that the government would spend about 1 billion pesos (US $49 million) to buy land between Playa del Carmen and Tulum for the new route, to be built by a consortium made up of Grupo México and Spanish firm Acciona.
A lot of the properties required for the new right of way are owned by hoteliers who have expressed their support for the rerouting of the line and are willing to sell, Jiménez said.
But for construction of the northern portion of section 5, the government appears intent on getting the land it needs for free.
The Riviera Maya Hotel Association (AHRM) promptly set out its opposition to the plan, issuing a statement that noted its members would be affected. The association said it had requested a meeting with new Fonatur director Javier May Rodríguez.
“We are confident that agreements can be reached through dialogue and negotiation. Among those affected [by the planned expropriation] are important hotel chains,” said AHRM president Tony Chávez.
The mayor of Solidaridad, where 142 of the properties are located, also responded to the expropriation notice. Lili Campos Miranda said her government was reviewing the expropriation plan to determine whether municipal assets would be affected. The mayor warned that Solidaridad would take legal action if its assets were to be adversely impacted.
The president of the Riviera Maya branch of the Business Coordinating Council said he would also review the government’s plan. However, Lenin Amaro Betancourt said he hadn’t received any complaints from affected landowners and raised the possibility that the government had in fact reached agreements with them.
But if that were the case, the publication of an expropriation notice would appear to be unnecessary.
Amaro asserted that the information published in the official gazette was not precise and called on the government to clarify its intentions.
The US $8 billion, 1,500-kilometer-long Maya Train railroad is one of the federal government’s signature infrastructure projects. The railroad, which will run through Quintana Roo, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco and Yucatán, is slated for completion in late 2023.
López Obrador claims that the operation of the railroad – on which tourist, freight and local transport trains will run – will bring economic benefits to Mexico’s southeast, but the project has faced opposition, including that of Mayan residents who have questioned whether it will in fact improve their lot in life.