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International Tribunal: Mexico’s Maya Train Constitutes Ecocide and Ethnocide

The Tribunal for the Rights of Nature ruled that, by undertaking the Mayan Train megaproject, the Mexican state has committed crimes of ecocide and ethnocide.

Axomalli Villanueva

August 4, 2023
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Photo: Reuters

The Tribunal for the Rights of Nature held its eighth local hearing in Yucatán, Mexico, from March 9 to 12, 2023. This week, the tribunal’s judges issues their verdict on the Mexican government’s Tren Maya megaproject.

The ruling condemns the Mexican state for the “crimes of ecocide and ethnocide” caused by the project, and it calls on the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to immediately suspend the construction of the Maya Train in the Yucatán Peninsula.

The ruling, signed by 23 honorary judges from various countries, was delivered on Wednesday. Yet the Mexican government’s executive branch has been silent on the matter.

The verdict, which was also announced in Quito, Ecuador, where the tribunal’s headquarters is located, also demands the demilitarization of all indigenous territories where the project, the highlight of López Obrador’s government, is being developed.

The tribunal denounced the fact that the Tren Maya megaproject is not just limited to building infrastructure, but also proposes a territorial realignment centered on the urbanization of indigenous and peasant regions. Along the route of the railroad, the construction of 12 stops and 19 stations is planned, which “will form part of poles of development” of up to 1,000 acres, which implies the creation of new urban centers or the expansion of existing cities.

The López Obrador government has defended the megaproject with the excuse that it will generate half a million jobs during the construction of the project, but this “land-use planning” project has great consequences for the destruction of ecosystems and communities.

This project, however, has progressed without taking into account the irreparable loss of biocultural diversity, the effects on the local flora and fauna, one of the most sensitive areas in terms of ecological balance, an area that is therefore more susceptible to direct damage and fragmentation of ecosystems. The project will affect unique subterranean caverns, as scientists and communities have been warning for months.

Other collateral effects of this transformation of ecosystems include noise pollution, fires, damage to water reserves and waste management, damage to fauna, contamination of the rainforest, and fragmentation of ecosystems, among others.

The International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature is an organization created by international representatives of environmental struggles and indigenous peoples to investigate and publicize violations of the rights of nature.

Mayan communities and environmental organizations, together with scientists and biodiversity experts, brought the case of the Mayan Train before this organization due to the lack of interest of the so-called progressive administration of Mexican president López Obrador, in learning about the problems it has generated in the Yucatán Peninsula.

But the tribunal does not have a binding power for its verdict to be taken into account by the Mexican government. It merely serves to present the facts in a testimonial manner.

At the same time, during the tribunal’s sessions, the developmentalist model based on extractivism, which the López Obrador government has imposed, went unquestioned, continuing with the dispossession and environmental devastation that other governments have perpetrated in indigenous territories.

Originally Published in Spanish in La Izquierda Diario on July 29.

Translated by Kimberly Ann

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