EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – It’s billed as Mexico’s next, great tourist attraction: a train that will take travelers to lakes, rivers, forests, Indian ruins and the coasts of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The 932-mile Mayan Train (Tren Maya) is also supposed to give thousands in impoverished communities in southeast Mexico jobs and boost the economy of the region.
However, environmental and human rights groups in Mexico and the United States fear that the $13.2 billion behemoth due for completion in 2023 will endanger animal species and tear through Indigenous communities. Activists in El Paso say that is already happening and they want it to stop.
On Wednesday, a coalition of labor and social activists held a protest in front of the Mexican consulate in El Paso and delivered a letter to Consul General Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon demanding a stop to an alleged terror campaign to force the inhabitants of out-of-the-way Indigenous communities to make way for the train.
“There is a war on the part of paramilitary groups who are attacking Indian communities and who recently burned down the coffee crop near Ocosingo (Chiapas),” said Carlos Marentes, executive director of El Paso’s Border Agricultural Workers Center.
Members of the international news media on Aug. 28 reported on a protest in Chiapas, where 400 people denounced the burning of the Arcoiris (Rainbow) agricultural center near Ocosingo. Three days earlier, the National Indigenous Congress said the attacks are centered around autonomous communities that refuse to be bought.
Marentes and others said armed thugs are serving the interests of locals who want to cash in on construction of the train by grabbing traditional Indigenous land or just running off the tribes. Tseltal and Tsotsil communities under the protection of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) are being targeted.
“If you go to the Zapatista communities, where they have established their own economics to preserve their way of life, you will see they have their own clinics and their own government in order to better organize themselves,” said long-time El Paso labor activist Guillermo Glen. “So it’s not just about economics, but they’re going to eliminate a whole way of life for many large communities with these mega-projects.”
Glen said Americans need to be aware of displacement of communities in southeast Mexico because many U.S. companies are investing in the Mayan Train and the Trump administration is sending military aid to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
He also warned that displacing the inhabitants of rural communities in Mexico will result in more unauthorized migration to the United States. “Why do we have such a migration not only from Central America but also from Southern Mexico? Because farmers cannot survive because they are being pushed out of their lands,” he said.
Rosemary Rojas, president of the board of directors of Sin Fronteras Center in El Paso, said she recently traveled to Chiapas for a women’s rights meeting and witnessed the aftermath of some attacks. She said the group she traveled with was forced to detour once because of bodies lying on the road.
“Women are suffering the brunt of the violence and the destruction. It is the women who are attacked,” she said. “It’s necessary to draw international attention to see exactly what is going on there.”
Border Report asked the consulate for comment but did not receive an immediate response.
To see updates on the Mayan Train project, visit the Mexican government’s site.