Photos of a government project’s steel and cement columns piercing through the roofs of fragile limestone caves on the Yucatan peninsula have been released by activists in Mexico.
The caves, along with sinkhole lakes and underground rivers on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, are not only environmentally delicate, but also contain some of the oldest human remains in North America.
The Maya Train, a controversial $20 billion tourist train project by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was supposed to run on a raised platform supported by columns that would spare the caves and sinkhole lakes, also called cenotes.
These are the only source of fresh water in the region, since the flat, limestone peninsula has no surface rivers.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, had said that they would do soil mapping studies to make sure the platform’s supports would avoid the caves. But Guillermo DChristy, a caver and water quality expert, said on Monday that this was false.
DChristy said: “They (the caves) would be protected, that was the promise from the president and the INAH director. López Obrador lied. They are not protecting the caves and cenotes. The damage can’t be undone.”
The army-run company that is constructing the train did not comment on the columns right away.
On Sunday, DChristy discovered the pilot columns driven through the caves at a cave complex called Aktun Túyul, near Xpu Ha, a beach town about 17 miles (27 kilometers) south of Playa del Carmen. The columns look almost 3 feet (1 meter) wide, with a steel cover and a cement core. The cave complex is on a section of the train that is not finished yet, between Cancun and Tulum, another beach town.
The caves were dry about 10,000 years ago, so humans and animals used them before they were mostly flooded about 8,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age. This kept the relics from being disturbed.
In December, López Obrador opened another section of the train that is partly done, to the north and east, between Cancun and Campeche, a colonial city.
The 950-mile line goes around the Yucatan peninsula in a rough loop and it is supposed to connect beach resorts and archaeological sites.
López Obrador wants to finish the Maya Train project before he leaves office in September, ignoring the complaints of ecologists, cave divers and archaeologists. He did not follow the normal rules for permitting, public reporting and environmental impact statements, saying it is important for national security.
The train is supposed to be a useful transport for freight and local people, but the only big income it would get is from tourists. But it is not clear how many tourists will actually buy tickets, because the train stops a lot, has a bad route and has no feasibility studies.
The Mexican army partly built the train and will run it. López Obrador has given more projects to the armed forces than any other president in at least a century.