Bacalar (Mexico), Dec 8 (EFE).- The Mayan Train, the flagship project of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has put local communities in the southeast of the country in a dilemma. While recognizing the development it would bring to the region, they have to live with its negative consequences, such as “touristification” and the consequent displacement.
In the city of Bacalar, in the state of Quintana Roo, known for its beautiful multicolored lagoon, section 6 of the Mayan Train is being built, which will be almost 256 kilometers long and will connect the city with Tulum, in the Mexican Caribbean.
“This is a project that was presented as a project of social justice, that is, where justice will be done to the communities and the communities will be able to take advantage of the benefits of development, but that comes at a cost,” María Luisa Villarreal, a community advisor and resident of Bacalar, told EFE during a recent tour of the area.
This cost, says Aracely Domínguez, president of Mayab Ecologist Group (Gema), implies changes in the way communities live, as well as a lack of transparency in the signing of agreements, the occupation of land and the failure of the authorities to pay a fair price for expropriations.
The Mayan Train includes more than 1,500 kilometers of railroad to transport cargo, tourists, and residents in the five southeastern states of the country: Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Yucatán.
“Most of the communities do not want this type of development, they do not want more hotels, shopping centers, or subdivisions in their areas. More than 2,700 hectares have been expropriated, mostly from communal land, or ejidos. In some cases, there are complaints that they have not been paid, they have not been given enough or they have not complied with what they had promised,” Dominguez warned.
For López Obrador, however, the Mayan Train, which is expected to be partially inaugurated on December 15, is a project that will bring prosperity to one of the most historically forgotten areas: southeast Mexico.
No regulations means no man’s land
More than 41,000 of the town’s inhabitants, located in a beautiful landscape, have a more complex outlook.
They recognize that in the last decade, they have seen an exponential growth in the number of visitors, but warn that the arrival of this mega-project has not only brought the promise of progress but also considerable problems.
One of the main issues is housing: most of the inhabitants have problems finding a place to live because most of the building developments are for tourists, which has caused prices to skyrocket and has made housing unaffordable for residents.
“Living in Bacalar is very expensive. For example, a room for rent in Bacalar costs what a whole house for rent costs in Chetumal (the state capital). Where are the locals going to live?” asked Villarreal.
The residents are concerned that the rush to finish work has prevented them from adequately planning the displacement of people who already had previous problems with access to health, services, and infrastructure, among others.
In addition, another negative effect has been the deforestation of some 200,000 hectares that helped to mitigate flooding. As the area is a basin, the rains that fall in neighboring parts, such as the state of Campeche, flow through here.
“We are the lower part, we are an area of connected wetlands and they are not taking that into account (in the construction of the work),” she said.
As a consequence, the inhabitants are working hard to make community ordinances, because up to now Bacalar does not have regulations or urban development programs.
“As long as we do not have those instruments, it is no man’s land and it remains at the discretion of the local authorities,” Villarreal concluded.