AMLO revives Isthmus project without an environmental study to compete with Panama canal


In the southeast, the ambitious Development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec started, a megaproject that –as in past governments– contemplates industrial parks with tax exemptions, expansion of refineries, airports and gas pipelines. For the rehabilitation of the railroad from the port of Coatzacoalcos to that of Salina Cruz, five tenders were awarded to, among others, a consortium with Grupo Hermes, owned by billionaire Carlos Hank Rhon, for 810 million pesos.

 After canceling the Special Economic Zones (EEZ) of Enrique Peña Nieto’s six-year term, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gave a banner to the “Development of the Tehuantepec Isthmus” program in the southeast with transportation projects, energy and industrial parks, whose centerpiece is the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

However, like the Maya Train, it does not have a general Environmental Impact Statement (MIA) nor was the right to free, prior, informed, good faith and culturally appropriate consultation of the communities respected, highlights Geocomunes, a group that accompanies villages through analysis with maps.

“There is no general Environmental Impact Manifesto for the entire project because no Law requests it. And the two isolated MIAs [regional modality] on certain parts are full of omissions, speculations, and assumptions; They are poorly done, ”said Luis Fernando Pérez Macías, a member of Geocomunes.

In the southeast, the goal is to provide fiscal facilities so that companies can be established in 10 industrial parks and jobs are created. They will be “curtains” to stop people as they do not have the need to leave their communities to go north to look for work, explained López Obrador in Medias Aguas, Veracruz on Sunday, during the start of the rehabilitation work of the Isthmus Railroad. Tehuantepec.


President Andrés Manuel López Obrador flagging the rehabilitation of the Tehuantepec Isthmus train. 

The Tehuantepec Isthmus Free Zone, with tax exemptions, will be a 20-kilometer strip on each side of the 200-kilometer-long railway, an area that involves 48 municipalities out of the 79 that the Interoceanic Corridor of the Tehuantepec contemplates, for This would be the free zone with the largest number of municipalities involved since the also declared Free Zone of the Northern Border includes 43 municipalities.

This part of the project is estimated to conclude in April 2021, but the MIAs omit how many trains will be (cargo and passengers), how many times per day they will pass, where the stations will be and how they will adapt it to their right of way despite the existing curves. It is only known that it is planned to increase the speed from 20 to 70 kilometers per hour, and the passenger train will be able to reach speeds of 100 km/hr, which will allow increasing the volume of net tons transported annually, highlighted during the flag in Veracruz, the general director of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Tehuantepec Isthmus (CIIT), Rafael Marín Mollinedo.

For the first part of the project, the rehabilitation of the railway, five contracts for almost 3 billion pesos were tendered. In the green stripes are the parts with an Environmental Impact Manifesto.

Carlos Beas, a resident of Matías Romero, a city between Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz, said that first of all the federal government should focus on the “serious backwardness” of public services in the region such as the shortage of drinking water, lack of waste management solids, drainage, and infrastructure for upper and upper secondary education.

In addition, in an area where the majority is engaged in agriculture, livestock, and commerce, “the Government revives an old project to benefit the merchandise circuit for the interests of international capital,” he accused. From the six-year term of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012) to date, Beas exemplified, 27 wind farms have been installed with 1,988 wind turbines operating, “but they have not generated benefits for the population, but rather conflicts benefiting Spanish and French companies”. It is the region with the largest generation of wind energy in Mexico, concentrating half of all the parks operating nationally and 46 percent of the installed capacity until January of this year, documents Geocomunes.

In front of the megaproject, residents of the Oaxaca municipality of San Juan Guichicovi promoted an Amparo that is in process, because “they have not been invited to any informative assembly.” In the region, they have noted “a large number of requirements” for the judges to accept an injunction, so some requests for suspension “lost meaning” because the progress of the work has been consummated, Beas shared.


In February, the public company Ferrocarril Istmo de Tehuantepec (FIT) tendered the first five contracts for 2,640 million pesos for the rehabilitation of 200 kilometers of Line Z of the Isthmus Railway that goes from Medias Aguas, Veracruz, to Salina Cruz, Oaxaca. Along the railway, “10 Poles of Development for Well-being” (industrial parks) will be established according to local productive vocations, where private investment will be attracted through fiscal and non-fiscal stimuli, to generate jobs.

Only for the rehabilitation of the Isthmus railroad tracks and the expansion of the Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz ports, investments of more than 20 billion pesos will be made in the 2019-2022 period. An investment of 213 thousand 917 million pesos is estimated in the total project by 2023 at the latest, in a region inhabited by 2.23 million people in 79 municipalities (46 in Oaxaca and 33 in Veracruz), where there are one thousand 245 ejidos and 35 communities.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador asked this Sunday to take care that the concessions “remain firm to prohibit privatization” and seek a “suitable form of public company”  in which the federal and state governments participate so that “these assets are not privatized, that they belong to the Federation and they belong to the states ”. These first tenders to rehabilitate the railway were given to national companies and three Spanish companies.


TramoMonto (mdp)EmpresaMatrizOrigen capital
Medias Aguas-Ubero 786Construcciones Urales Grupo AzviEspaña
Regiomontana de Construcción y ServiciosMéxico
Ubero-Mogoñe810La PeninsularGrupo HermesMéxico
Caltia Concesiones y Grupo Emprendedor Caltia CopasaEspaña
Ferropartes Industria del NorteMéxico
Mogoñe-La Mata549Comsa InfraestructurasComsa CorporaciónEspaña
Grupo Constructor DiamanteMéxico
La Mata-Colonia Jordán 245Constructora Torres y Asociados México
Ferro Maz– México
Grupo Constructor JanusGrupo JanusMéxico
Chiñas Construcciones México
Colonia Jordán-Salinas Cruz250Construcciones y Maquinaria SEFGrupo SEFMéxico 

In March 2018, then-presidential candidate López Obrador asked the Business Coordinating Council (CCE) to review the transparency of contracts for the construction of the New International Airport in Texcoco, State of Mexico. “It is to prevent corruption. The main contractors in this work, Carlos Slim, Carlos Hank Rhon, and Hipólito Gerard, Salinas de Gortari’s brother-in-law, and others would not object to there being a review and transparency, ”he said in a video.

Just the most robust contract, for 810 million pesos for the Ubero-Mogoñe section in Oaxaca of the Tren del Istmo, is led by Grupo Hermes (La Peninsular), owned by Carlos Hank Rhon. Two months before, the public company Ferrocarril Istmo de Tehuantepec gave a contract for 10 million 889 thousand pesos to Seguros Banorte, also of the Hank family.

“The case of La Peninsular caught our attention because it belongs to the heir of one of the leaders of the Atlacomulco Group [he is the son of Carlos Hank González], one of the most powerful groups within the PRI that for years did business. The power mafia did not disappear, it continues to receive benefits as Grupo Carso on the Maya Train, ”said the opponent of the project, Carlos Beas.

In 2020, the also president of Banorte reports a fortune of 2 billion dollars in the Forbes Mexico 2020 Billionaires ranking, 23 percent less than in 2019, which ranks 12th among the richest entrepreneurs in the country. He is also one of the Mexicans who appear on the Billionaires list of Forbes USA.

In May, the magazine Proceso published that in the first quarter of 2020, companies belonging to Carlos Hank González Jr. and Carlos Hank Rhon received at least 24 public contracts from the federal government for an amount of more than 7 thousand 695 million pesos. From 2007 to 2015, the Tax Administration Service (SAT) condoned the payment of taxes to some of its companies for 202 million 324 thousand pesos, Fundar revealed last year. To Banorte, for 172 million 854 thousand pesos; Seguros Banorte, for 3 million 305 thousand pesos; Afores XXI Banorte, for 20 million 62 thousand pesos; and to Operadora de Fondos Banorte, 6 million 103 thousand pesos.

The opponent Carlos Beas also pointed out Grupo Constructor Diamante to receive contracts in previous regimes. For 549 million pesos, the Mogoñe-La Mata section of the Isthmus Train will work together with Comsa Infraestructuras. The firm participated at the end of 2014 in a section of the Autopista Arco Norte, the largest freeway in Mexico of 223 kilometers expanded in the peñismo.

However, the renewal of each of these five sections requires the authorization of a specific Environmental Impact Statement (MIA). But only the 12-kilometer section between Mogoñe and La Mata has an authorized MIA with conditions. And the MIA of the section of Medias Aguas to Ubero had not been approved at the time of the tender and the evaluation process has been suspended, stressed the Geocomunes collective.

Not all the train route, already started, has an Environmental Impact Manifesto. 

“The sections rectification projects must present an Environmental Impact Statement despite insisting that they use the same right of way. Despite this, at the time of awarding the tenders (February 5) the Ministry of the Environment had not approved any of these (there was approval, but with conditions), ”says the investigation.

After the indications of communities for the omissions, errors, and concealment of information from one of the MIAs, about the possible effects on fauna and flora and possible evictions of inhabitants that the work will generate, on March 3 the Semarnat decided to suspend the evaluation from the MIA of the section of Medias Aguas to Ubero. The existing right-of-way gives them very little room to decrease the angle of some very sharp curves.

“The problem is that infrastructure projects do not do a single MIA, but by sections. And there is no one before the tender of contracts, “said Yannick Deniau, member of Geocomunes. “Tenders are awarded for pieces and then environmental authorizations are sought for pieces, although the damage is general.”

There is a risk that they will expand beyond the right of way. 

“The ideal is to grow with well-being, with peace and tranquility, but there was a kind of alienation and the bet was to grow until destroying the environment,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a morning conference on Monday.

“Now the environmentalists, who were saying nothing when the country was destroyed, now that the Maya Train is going to be on the same road that was built 80 years ago, are unhappy. When they handed over half of the national territory for mining, nobody said anything; well, when they were going to build the Airport on Lake Texcoco, destroying the lake, neither shelter nor a protest. So, now they are the champions of the defense of the environment ”, he added.


The “Development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec” is one of the priority programs of the federal government that will not be subject to the austerity measures derived from the health crisis with an investment in 2020 alone of more than 3 billion pesos to start and seven thousand jobs in the first phase.

The Geocomunes collective presented an investigation into this program that follows up on the desired project since the 19th century during the Porfiriato and which has been progressing slowly in recent decades due to the resistance and social mobilization characteristic of the area, and the existence of the Panama Canal that for years has already given transit to the commercial flow between the oceans.

The Government of Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) promoted the Comprehensive Economic Development Program for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in 1996 (64 projects in the petrochemical, oil, forestry, forestry, maquila, development of mineral exploitation, urban, tourist, and transportation infrastructure). In 2008, with President Felipe Calderón (2008-2012), it became known as the Mesoamerica Integration and Development Project to continue with the Puebla Panama Plan. Later, during President Peña, Special Economic Zones emerged, offered as the “solution to the problems of poverty”, but they were canceled by the AMLO Administration.

“Many of those projects were carried out in the region by pieces such as the electrical interconnection system or the road network. It has advanced separately, it seems that it has not been done, but when we look at it in detail we realize that much of the infrastructure has advanced, ”said Yannick Deniau, member of Geocomunes.

The project goes beyond the railway: ports, gas pipelines, industrial parks, refineries, airports …

In addition to uniting the Gulf of Mexico with the Pacific Ocean, this new attempt decreed in December 2019 aims to be a means of extending the industrial zones of southern Veracruz and Tabasco to the port of Salina Cruz in Oaxaca, promoting the installation of new parks. industrial along this inter-port axis.

“It is not something new compared to previous projects. It picks up on what has been achieved halfway, ”added Deniau. “There are certain changes, but it is a continuity to the Special Economic Zones.”

It consists of infrastructure projects for rail, port, airport, and highway transport, as well as energy. It seeks the expansion and modernization of already existing infrastructure “with changes and socio-environmental impacts by intensifying the volume and speed of commercial traffic in the region,” says Geocomunes. In addition to the sections of the railway that connects the ports of Coatzacoalcos and Salina Cruz –which will be expanded–,, it includes the extension of the Minatitlán and Ixtepec airports, the rehabilitation of Minatitlán and Salina Cruz refineries, the installation of fiber optics to provide telephony and internet to inhabitants of the region and the expansion of the gas pipeline network.

It also seeks the development of industrial corridors in at least 10 parks, where the manufacturing sector can take advantage of the region’s labor force with fiscal incentives, that is, “the abundance of the impoverished workforce, with the particularity, that in the Isthmus The extraction/production of raw materials (hydrocarbons, mining) is also carried out in Tehuantepec for the existing industry and the one that intends to be installed, ”observes the group.

In addition to the train, it is planned to expand airports and modernize refineries.


In order to measure the social and environmental impacts of the “Development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec”, it would be necessary to jointly evaluate what causes the installation of a railway, highways, gas pipelines, wind farms, airports, and industrial corridors, said the Geocomunes collective.

“The combination of these impacts at the local and regional level will cause changes in the ways of life that are impossible to quantify when analyzing by parts due to the existing land use. The region has an agricultural vocation and will become a maquiladora. Much of it is in the ejido area and there is opacity regarding the agreements regarding land tenure (purchase, rent …) ”, assured the researcher at Geocomunes, Yannick Deniau.

The line of the train aims to cross (or pass very close) the territory of 52 ejidos and a community. The capitals interested in investing there, the investigation foresees, will deploy a range of mechanisms, already tested there and in other geographies of the country, to coerce communities and do what they can to get their works into the region.

“With this project, the risk of community division, erosion, and privatization of social property is very high. Once communal or ejido land is rented or sold for any of these projects, there is no going back. Since these industrial parks are developed, with highly polluting activities, there is no way to reconstitute in them the community life that was sustained in them ”, he explains.

In the 79 municipalities (46 in Oaxaca and 33 in Veracruz) in the project area, there are 1,245 ejidos and 35 communities.

On March 30 and 31 (one month after tendering the first five contracts), a consultation was held at regional assemblies, where authorization was obtained from the Zapotec, Mixe, Zoque, Huave, Chontal, Chinanteco peoples, Mazatec, Mixtec, Popoluca, Nahuatl and Afro-Mexican, based on constitutional articles 1 and 133, article 6 of the Convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and articles 19 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on Rights Indigenous Peoples, says the Regional Environmental Impact Statement.

But the inhabitant of the Isthmus Carlos Beas accused that it was “a simulation” to legitimize the project since they did not respect international standards so that it is free, prior, and informed. At least 32 localities in Oaxaca were not considered, he said.

“The López Obrador government is imposing a megaproject that seeks to use cheap labor. All the instances of the Government have a presidential line so that the project is done going beyond our rights ”, he affirmed. “Reviewing the cases of Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana, and other areas where industrial corridors have been established, we see social and environmental impact. Here there is a shortage of drinking water, there is no wastewater management. Establishing new urban areas will impact water systems and there will be more insecurity from organized crime. ”


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