Mexico’s Secrecy-Shrouded Train an Environmental Mistery

In the northern Mexican state of Sonora, a veil of secrecy surrounds a significant train project with far-reaching environmental implications.

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Latin American Post Staff

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Leer en español: El tren secreto de México es un misterio ambiental

This endeavor, aimed at establishing a rail link between the port of Guaymas and the border city of Nogales, recently came under scrutiny as it emerged that it had yet to submit any environmental impact statement despite construction being well underway.

Unveiling the Controversial Project: Threats to Ecological Conservation

The project's path, which veers south of Nogales, threatens to intersect ecologically sensitive conservation areas, including the Aribabi ranch, a federally designated Natural Protected Area, and Imuris, 40 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. The governor of Sonora, Alfonso Durazo, has justified this new rail line by claiming that it will redirect rail traffic away from the city center of Nogales, thereby resolving a long-standing issue.

However, the most striking aspect of this project is that it is being executed by the Mexican Army, with the state of Sonora playing a supporting role, primarily assisting the Army in securing rights-of-way. This underscores the growing influence of the military in Mexican infrastructure projects, which allows them to circumvent traditional permitting and environmental standards.

This practice was previously observed during the construction of the Maya Train tourist rail line in the Yucatan peninsula, where swathes of the jungle were impacted without immediate environmental assessments. In response to legal challenges and criticism, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador passed a law in 2021 stating that projects deemed crucial for "national security" would not be required to submit impact statements until up to a year after construction commenced.

Under typical environmental regulations, bypassing impact assessments would be deemed "completely illegal." Still, the current government may classify such projects as "strategic infrastructure," thus exempting them, similar to the Maya Train project.

Echoes of the Past: Military Involvement in Infrastructure

Despite the partial construction of the Sonora train line, including tree felling and path clearing towards the ecologically significant Aribabi ranch, there has yet to be a filing of an environmental impact statement. Governor Durazo has defended this by stating that, due to the project's strategic nature, the submission of the environmental impact statement is in progress and falls within the one-year grace period allowed by the law.

However, critics argue that the lack of transparency and information is a cause for concern. Opponents of the project have been unable to obtain even the most fundamental details, with no federal, local, or state authority taking responsibility for the $350 million undertaking to construct 40 miles of railway.

Moreover, residents claim they have not been consulted or informed about the project, and no official communication has been made. The absence of any mention of the project on state or federal government websites or Sonora state's development plans only deepens the mystery surrounding the endeavor.

While officials like Omar del Valle Colosio, Sonora state's chief development officer, assert that rights-of-way are being negotiated with residents with their authorization, locals contend that the compensation being offered for portions of their properties is paltry, as low as 1.80 pesos (10 U.S. cents) per square meter.

Secrecy and Questions: Balancing National Security and Conservation

As revealed through a leaked map, the project's route indicates the creation of a second rail line along a segment of the existing route between Nogales and Guaymas. It would follow the Cocospera River south, potentially impacting farms' irrigation canals and endangering the reservoir that supplies water to Imuris' residents. Additionally, it would disrupt vital migration corridors for ocelots, black bears, and jaguars, posing a significant threat to the region's wildlife.

Also read: Mexico's Mixed Response to Hurricane Otis: Support for Hotels, But Questions Linger

As this secrecy-shrouded train project unfolds, it raises questions not only about environmental conservation but also about the expanding role of the Mexican Army in critical infrastructure initiatives and the balance between national security interests and environmental safeguards in the country.

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