Indigenous communities in southern Mexico voted overwhelmingly to approve President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s pet project to build a regional railroad aimed at boosting tourism and economic development, the government said Monday.
The $6.2-billion “Maya Train” is meant to link Caribbean resorts such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen with ancient Mayan archaeological sites such as Palenque and Chichen Itza, passing through the impoverished interior of southeastern Mexico along the way.
Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist widely known as “AMLO”, says the passenger and freight railroad will kick-start economic development in the region.
But it has faced resistance from activists and some indigenous communities over the lack of clarity on the environmental impact.
However, the region’s communities are overwhelmingly in favor, according to official results from a referendum on the issue — which was itself the subject of criticism.
Hundreds of indigenous villages held communal councils on the project over the weekend, while 84 municipalities in the train’s path voted in a more classic ballot-box referendum.
“There is a generalized consensus, unanimous, in support of building and implementing the Maya Train program,” said Adelfo Regino, head of Mexico’s National Indigenous Peoples’ Institute.
“We have 93,142 Mexicans who voted ‘Yes’, equivalent to 92.3 percent of the vote,” said the deputy minister for development, Diana Alvarez.
The government acknowledged many indigenous communities also demanded attention for more pressing issues, such as schools, health centers, roads and protection of their environment and archaeological sites.
Lopez Obrador said the first tender for the project would be launched in early January.
The president’s opponents have accused him of using such referenda — or “people’s consultations,” as he calls them — to rubber-stamp his stance on controversial issues with no oversight by electoral authorities.
Other decisions he has made by referendum include building a new oil refinery in his native Tabasco state and canceling a $13-billion airport for Mexico City that was already one-third complete and replacing it with a rival project.