May 15, 2020 / 12:24 AM / 13 days ago

Mexican rights commission calls for halt to ‘Mayan Train’ tourism project

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mexico’s national human rights commission on Thursday demanded the government halt construction of the Mayan Train railroad, saying non-essential work on the ambitious tourism project risked coronavirus exposure by vulnerable indigenous groups.

The government department overseeing the project said in response that it was taking necessary safety measures in building the 1,470 km (913 mile) railway project to link tourist locations on the Yucatan Peninsula along the Atlantic coast.

Indigenous groups have said they were not properly consulted on the project and fear the ongoing work could endanger local communities. Academics and activists voiced similar complaints in an open letter to the government last month.

Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus cases have surpassed 40,000, and more than 4,200 people have died, although numbers are likely to be much higher due to limited testing.

First announced in 2018, the train is an endeavor by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to boost local economies by connecting isolated regions less developed than the industrialized north.

Environmentalists and indigenous groups have said the potentially negative ecological repercussions of the development outweighed the economic benefits.

The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) called on the government to urgently suspend non-essential activities related to the project, given the “possible health, personal safety and life damages to inhabitants in the region”.

It did not specify which parts of the project it considered essential.

In response, the head of the National Fund for Tourism Promotion (Fonatur), Rogelio Jimenez said: “We are being respectful and careful of safety protocols.

“We will heed this call and respectfully explain to the Commission our position and willingness to help communities regarding their health,” he said, adding that Fonatur would give a full response later.

Despite an increasing number of coronavirus cases, the government on Wednesday announced plans to reopen the economy, with automotive factories, mining and construction to start up again soon.

Lopez Obrador has deemed the Mayan Train essential infrastructure, hoping it will be a major generator of jobs in the country’s poorer south.

Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib and Christine Murray; editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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