Mexico’s president hopes a ritual will get Mother Earth to let him build a train

A conversation with Mother Earth.
A conversation with Mother Earth.
Image: AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini
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Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been in office less than a month, but he’s already outdoing his American counterpart in the magical-thinking department.

Donald Trump’s claims that bringing back manufacturing will make America great, and that he can revert China’s long-standing intellectual property policies in a matter of months, have been dismissed by experts as wishful thinking (paywall) at best, and brazen political pandering at worst.

But it’s hard to recall any Trumpian plan quite as fantastic as AMLO’s latest strategy to build a train line through the Yucatán peninsula, one of his signature projects (though Trump’s border wall comes close). Over the weekend, the elected leader will be holding an “original people ritual” to get Mother Earth’s consent for the train, according to official news agency Notimex (link in Spanish).

The ceremony will be headlined by AMLO and representatives of 12 indigenous peoples of the state of Chiapas. It will be held in the municipality of Palenque, site of an ancient Mayan city, and be simultaneously carried out at five other archaeological areas.

It’s not the ritual that tests common sense, but the apparent premise that holding it makes it acceptable to plow through notable biodiversity hotspots (paywall), some already under growing pressure from development.

The “Mayan Train” would stretch over 1,500 km (930 miles) and stop at 15 stations in five southern states. AMLO’s office did not immediately respond to Quartz’s request for details on any planned environmental impact studies, or public commenting opportunities. The Notimex report says that the project will be “inclusive and sustainable” because the tracks will be built along areas that already have right of way, such as highways and electric transmission lines.

But prominent academics and environmental groups have asked AMLO to reconsider the train (link in Spanish). Members of local indigenous communities, who are supposed to be big beneficiaries of the project, have also spoken out against it (link in Spanish). “It’s a tourism project that will only benefit the rich and foreigners,” they said in a public statement. “We, the owners of the land, will only see it go by, because the stations aren’t planned for our towns.”