Construction plans for the Maya train, the 1,452km passenger and freight rail line planned to connect five states in the southeast of Mexico, will be put to public consultation with indigenous communities in rural regions of Southeast Mexico next month.
The announcement was made Sunday by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) at an event in Calakmul, Campeche state.
And on Friday Nov. 15th, during his daily press conference (better known as “mañanera“), the Mexican president stated: “If the indigenous people vote against the Maya Train project, there will be no project”.
However, his administration had already scheduled the launch of tenders for the US$7bn project in December, the leftist leader said he does not want to “start something that will not get completed.”
AMLO cited the construction of the Felipe Ángeles international airport (AISL) at the Santa Lucía military airbase, which was halted for almost three months by an opposing group of private citizens who managed to get seven definitive suspensions on the site through the filing of hundreds of appeals.
The construction of Felipe Ángeles, however, was never inquired properly in one of the president’s public consultations.
“We already solved [the AISL case] legally and the Santa Lucia airport began construction [on October 17], but it’s just like the train. That’s why I’m warning you because I know [conservatives], even if they disguise themselves as environmentalists,” he said.
Public consultation for the Maya train project began last year, when environmental concerns arose and more than 100 scientists wrote a letter to AMLO asking him not to proceed with the construction of the freight rail.
“Us, biologists and conservationists, are still worried because we don’t want another Cancún,” senior biology researcher Patricia Escalante Pliego told BNamericas in a recent interview. “We want something friendly to the environment, ecotourism.”
In his announcement, the president made it clear that the fate of the Maya train project will be determined by the will of the people in the affected areas.
“That’s why we’re going to carry out public consultations. Whatever the people decide. We’re going to ask all of you next month whether or not you want it,” AMLO said.
AMLO’s announcement came shortly after the decision by the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to invest US$632mn in a natural gas pipeline project in the Mexican state of Chiapas.
DFC executive director Adam Boehler met Friday with Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard and the US ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, to sign a letter of interest.
The pipeline will be developed by Rassini and, according to DFC, the “project will spur economic growth in this region by responding to growing energy needs and supporting the development of the private oil and gas sector.”
Some Mexican observers say that the public consultation with indigenous groups could be a tactical move by the government to help AMLO reduce the risk of potentially massive protests in rural areas, while the DFC announcement will ensure a large-scale investment for the area even if the Maya train ends up being canceled.
What about the tenders?
The contracts to carry out the basic engineering design for the Maya train were granted to a group headed by Key Capital and includes Senermex Ingeniería y Sistemas, Daniferro Tools, and Geotecnica y Supervisión Técnica.
On November 4, the government launched a tender for an integral security study of the project.
Next on the government’s agenda are tenders for four of the seven sub-sections into which the railway will be divided, supposedly scheduled for release next month. The remaining three sub-sections are expected to be tendered around mid-2020.
Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim, said earlier this month after a meeting between AMLO and business leaders that he would participate in the December tenders through some of his firms.
Each sub-section is estimated to require an investment of US$1bn.