TULUM, México – In a recent development that has sent shockwaves through environmental circles, the Tren Maya project has come under intense scrutiny for its alleged illegal deforestation and disregard for court orders. Viridiana Maldonado, the regional director of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, has made damning revelations about the federal government’s actions. Not only has the government deforested vast stretches of land without proper authorization for land-use changes, but it has also flagrantly violated a definitive suspension order issued by a Yucatán-based district court judge in May 2023.
An investigation conducted by the respected organization Cartocrítica has unearthed startling facts about the Tren Maya’s environmental impact. The mega-infrastructure project has already encroached upon a staggering 10,831 hectares of land, of which 6,659 hectares have been ruthlessly cleared of their lush forests to pave the way for construction. Even more alarming is the fact that 87% of these deforested areas lack the essential authorization for changing land-use in forested terrain (CUSTF).
The data reveals that certain sections of the Tren Maya have witnessed rampant deforestation without any legal backing. Tramo 4 (Izamal–Cancún) has been the most heavily impacted, with 1,316 hectares of land cleared, followed closely by Tramo 6 (Tulum–Chetumal) with 1,308 hectares, and Tramo 5 (Cancún–Tulum) with 851 hectares.
The disconcerting findings were recently unveiled during a virtual press conference organized by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Cemda), where Manuel Llano, the director of Cartocrítica, presented satellite images sourced from the National Commission for Biodiversity to substantiate the claims. “The deforestation goes far beyond the limits of the permits granted to Fonatur. While some permits exist, they are not comprehensive,” stated Llano.
Even more troubling are Tramos 6 and 7 of the Tren Maya, where 2,089 hectares have been stripped of their forests without any legal authorization—a clear violation of Mexican environmental laws. “In June alone, 104 hectares were deforested due to Fonatur – Tren Maya activities, and only 1 hectare had proper authorization for land-use change. Furthermore, Tramos 6 and 7, with 2,089 hectares deforested, do not possess a single CUSTF permit. We call upon the federal and judicial authorities responsible for safeguarding Mexico’s forests and jungles to take appropriate enforcement measures, as this platform can assist in their endeavors,” asserted Llano.
During the conference, Viridiana Maldonado, the regional director of Cemda, reiterated the grave concerns about the government’s actions. She highlighted that not only did the government undertake deforestation without accounting for land-use changes, but the Federal Tourism Promotion Fund and the National Defense Secretariat (Sedena) have blatantly disobeyed the definitive suspension order issued by the Yucatán-based district court judge in May 2023. “We can identify, as of June 2023, at least 67 hectares of forest coverage that were cleared without proper CUSTF authorizations within the mentioned tramos, as Fonatur and its contractors continued their illegal deforestation in flagrant violation of the court’s suspension order,” warned Maldonado.
Sergio Madrid, the director of the Mexican Civil Council for Sustainable Forestry (CCMSS), added another concerning perspective to the debate. He pointed out that the Tren Maya project could trigger a surge in energy, tourism, real estate, and agro-industrial projects that have historically been responsible for the annual deforestation of between 40,000 and 90,000 hectares of jungles in the Yucatán Peninsula.
The Tren Maya project, touted as an ambitious venture to boost tourism and connectivity in the region, now stands accused of wreaking havoc on precious ecosystems. The government’s alleged non-compliance with court orders and the rampant deforestation have sparked a heated debate between environmentalists and proponents of economic development.
As the nation grapples with the pressing need for development and environmental protection, the Tren Maya controversy has become a focal point for stakeholders and policymakers. The unfolding events and legal battles surrounding the project will undoubtedly shape the future of infrastructure development in Mexico, testing the nation’s resolve to strike a balance between progress and preservation.