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How the Mayan Train is Modern-Day Colonialism

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

By Melissa del Carmen Gomez

Image Credit: Fonatur

The Yucatan Peninsula is the heart of the Mayan tribe, filled with rich culture and impressive architecture. A current issue has arisen within this peninsula that is not only harmful to Mayan culture, but the environment. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s main infrastructure project is a train that will go through the jungle, stopping at many locations such as Tulum Beach and Quintana Roo, in hopes of economic gain in the area and an increase in tourism. The train is to begin operation in 2022, with a total of 19 stations and 12 other stops, covering a total of 1,400 km.

Historically, the Maya originated in Yucatan around 2600 B.C. and gained power in AD 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize, and western Honduras. As one of the most prominent Indigenous communities in Mesoamerica, the Maya created complex agriculture systems, incredible artwork and pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar making, mathematics, and architecture. Descendants of the Maya live in modern-day Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and parts of Mexico. The city's ruins remain to this day and are rich with culture and are what is left due to the colonization of the Spanish.

However, this train does not benefit the Mayan community and is an example of modern-day colonialism. Outsiders will arrive and exploit Indigenous land and culture for their own economic gain. Representatives of the Mayan community, as well as the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry, have raised their concerns and are against the construction of the Mayan train, calling it a “project of death.” Many protests have transpired in cities such as Chiapas to fight against the train. Pedro Uc, a member of the Assembly of Defenders of the Mayan Territory, is against the commercialization of Mayan culture, claiming, “The communities never asked for a Mayan Train. We have made the government for many different things; however, they decide this project and to give it this surname.” The Mayans claim their culture is being taken away from them due to economic gain and that their own land does not belong to them, for they have become “employees” for the tourists visiting the region.

Environmentally, urban development will affect the land. Due to the project, stations, businesses, electricity, water systems, and drainage are a threat to the land. The construction will also lead to the eviction of families to make way for railroad tracks stations. The Mexican government has not made any environmental impact statements, yet they know the possibility of the train going through protected areas. The region already suffers from deforestation and if the train is built, it will cost 10,000 trees. However, even with these concerns, the Mexican government is still fighting to build this train.

Image Credit: The Associated Press

Manuel Puc, a worker and landowner, says the words quite well. “They have stolen the word [Maya] from us. They diminish our culture and our identity by giving the name to the train.” Indigenous land has long been profited by White people for their own personal and economic gain, to make way for tourists or businesses, while the community continues to protest for running water, infrastructures such as schools or hospitals, and land back. In the United States, companies have stolen Indigenous land to make way for pipelines or extraction of oil and coal. The companies make millions, while the Native landowners make a few dollars or even pennies from leasing. The exploitation of Native land and this modern-day “Corporate Manifest Destiny” needs to come to an end as it is ruining Indigenous economies, communities, destroying the environment, and stealing resources.

If you want to help the Mayan community, other Indigenous leaders and groups, and environmentalists fight against the Mayan Train, sign the petition here.

Written by writer Melissa del Carmen Gomez

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