Court halts Mexico’s ‘Maya Train’ over indigenous health rights

A Mexican court has ordered the suspension of work on the “Maya Train,” a controversial railroad through Mayan lands in the country’s southeast, after an indigenous community filed an injunction.

The $6.2 billion rail link is a pet project of leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said Wednesday that while the court challenge had “political overtones,” his government would comply with the ruling.

“We will comply with the decisions of the court. If an authority or a judge orders us to stop the work, we are going to comply,” Lopez Obrador told his daily press conference.

The “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.

On Monday, a court ordered a temporary halt to work on the project to safeguard the “right to health” of the Ch’ol ethnic group for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement from indigenous advocacy group Indignation.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (FONATUR), the government entity overseeing the project, said the measure will only be in force for the duration of the pandemic and was limited to work around the town of Palenque in Chiapas state.

Activity on the site “has been reduced to essentials, taking place in open air, respecting the safety distance and the implementation of labor ministry protection protocols,” FONATUR said in a statement.

Lopez Obrador has championed the project from the beginning of his presidency, saying 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 impact the rail line will have on the environment.