Amid criticism over the absence of environmental permits for its Maya Train project, the government fired back Monday by claiming that a Quintana Roo theme park and hotel operator has never obtained permits for its projects.
Environment Minister María Luisa Albores made the accusation against Grupo Xcaret at President López Obrador’s regular news conference.
“Xcaret is a group that prefers to ask for forgiveness rather than permission,” she told reporters.
“In all its projects and proposals it has never presented an environmental impact statement [EIS]. That’s a reality because we’re inside the Environment Ministry [Semarnat],” Albores said.
Individuals and companies seeking approval for a construction project are required to submit an EIS in order to gain the permits they need.
Xcaret operates several theme parks in the Riviera Maya of Quintana Roo, including its flagship park near Playa del Carmen, which opened in 1990.
López Obrador said construction of the company’s parks has damaged the environment and questioned why “pseudo-environmentalists” opposed to the Maya Train project didn’t speak up against them.
The company “has a lot of influence with the media,” he said, asserting that there are columnists who have cosy relationships with its owners.
López Obrador noted that Xcaret has one project under development near Valladolid, Yucatán, where it is “joining cenotes,” or natural sinkholes. He has previously criticized the project while defending the 1,500-kilometer Maya Train against claims it will cause irreversible damage to the environment.
The president’s spokesman, Jesús Ramírez, said on Twitter on April 27 that “devastation” caused by Grupo Xcaret at the Xibalbá park site is an “ecocide.”
“The company perforated cenotes, diverted subterranean rivers and created artificial channels. It’s a shame that the environmentalists that protest against the Maya Train don’t see this destruction. No to predatory tourism development,” he wrote.
The 250-hectare Xibalbá park, which includes eight cenotes, was described by Grupo Xcaret president and general director Miguel Quintana Pali in 2020 as the biggest project the company has ever developed. “It’s the most lavish, grandiose, the most beautiful,” he said.
But Semarnat shut the project down in late March because it was being built without environmental approval.
“It doesn’t have a permit,” Albores said Monday. “It’s temporarily shut down because … [Xcaret was] making some revisions to an environmental impact statement proposal, which they didn’t even have [when construction began],” she said.
Despite Semarnat’s closure order, work has continued at Xibalbá, the Mérida-based newspaper Por Esto! reported, providing further evidence of the apparent disdain Xcaret has for environmental authorities.
It said that construction workers were seen working on towers at the entrance to the park as recently as last Saturday. Fidelia Canché Cetzal, commissioner of the community of Yalcobá, where the project is located, confirmed that work continued at the site Monday through Saturday.
All told, about 2,000 people are working on the new 1-billion-peso (US $49.3 million) park, Por Esto! said. The newspaper said the project received authorization for minor construction work, but Xcaret has admitted to significantly altering the local ecosystem, in which it has built a range of amenities to accommodate visitors.
Contrary to Albores’ claim, Por Esto! said that Xcaret has presented two environmental impact statements to support construction of the Xibalbá park. But its claims that the project wouldn’t have – and hasn’t had – a major detrimental impact on the environment have been disputed.
In addition to being criticized by the government, the project has angered environmentalists from organizations such as Greenpeace and Expedición Grosjean, which is dedicated to the conservation of cenotes.
Xcaret is “committing an ecocide,” said Sergio Grosjean, the founder of the latter group.
“It’s bad whichever way you look at it. [Cenotes are] natural unique ecosystems and by connecting them the ecological balance of the bodies of water is broken,” he said.
“… There are people who think that joining cenotes can improve them but it’s not true. It breaks the balance and generates a conflict between species,” Grosjean said.
Despite concerns about the park and Semarnat’s closure order, Xcaret appears optimistic that it will be able to open Xibalbá in the not too distant future. The park already has its own website, where it is described as an “exclusive nature reserve” where visitors can “explore things you have not seen before.”
“After spending a day here, you will get renewed profoundly,” the site says. “It is an unforgettable experience that only Grupo Xcaret can provide.”
With reports from Por Esto