SAN JOSÉ TIPCEH, Mexico (Reuters) – The Yucatan peninsula, dividing the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean, is among Mexico’s top destinations for renewable energy firms thanks to its strong winds and sunny climate. Home to bustling tourist resorts such as Cancun, the area is also a big energy consumer.
But some of its Mayan indigenous communities are resisting rapid development of $1.1 billion of renewable energy projects and preparing to fight a plan to build a railway across the peninsula.
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President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Saturday, wants to fast track the construction of the tourist and freight line.
“In the communities, there is concern that their opinion will not be taken into account once again with this project,” said Carlos Escoffié, lawyer for the Collective of Mayan Communities in the Chenes region.
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In San Jose Tipceh, a town of 500 people surrounded by jungles, indigenous leaders delayed by 18 months a multi-million dollar renewable energy project by U.S.-based solar company SunPower Corp, which planned to begin operations in August.
“We are practically selling our families for a little bit of money,” said resident Damián Mugarte, threatening to take the battle to Mexico’s highest court.
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Indigenous resistance capitalizes on a law passed in the wake of the 1994 Zapatista uprising in southern Mexico that compels the government to consult with indigenous people for projects on their land. But the rules are ambiguous for investors and communities alike.
Some experts warn that unless the new government puts in place clear guidelines all sides agree on, the issue has the potential to stall railways, ports, mines and other infrastructure projects.
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“If not fixed, the problem can become the main obstacle for economic growth,” said Hector Garza of international law firm Ritch Mueller who has advised the current government in developing the legal framework for this process.
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