Activists say that 10,000 artifacts excavated during the construction of the Mayan Train should be returned to the communities from which they were taken.
The relics were in the path of the Mayan Train, which is designed to criss-cross the Yucatán Peninsula.
“It may be time to consider the cancelation of the Mayan Train. We should be prioritizing the Mayan way of life and culture, not the interests of the government and business,” said Pedro Uc, representative of the Asamblea de Defensores del Territorio Maya Múuch Xíinbal.
Indigenous leaders have suggested that the Mayan Train’s 170-billion-peso budget be allocated to build hospitals and provide essential services for people living in poverty across the region.
Representatives from Mexico’s national institute of history and anthropology (INAH) say that all excavated artifacts are being carefully cataloged and stored at a central location.
“There is really no need for controversy here. We are following well-established scientific procedures. Work is ongoing and at this point, there is no point in speculating what the future will bring,” said an INAH Yucatán delegate, Eduardo López Calzada.
The removal of archaeological artifacts from territories claimed by indigenous people has long been a contentious issue in Mexico.
In 1964, a monolith depicting the Nahua deity Tláloc was removed against the wishes of locals from the indigenous community of Coatlinchán. The enormous monolith was then placed at the entrance of the then-new INAH museum of history and anthropology in Mexico City.
The first phase of construction of the Tren Maya began in May 2020. The project is intended to connect Mexico’s southeast via rail and possibly with Central America, bringing tourists and cargo to one of the nation’s poorest areas.
Last week, government authorities acknowledged that the Mayan Train rail project was behind schedule, with only 10% of its infrastructure being complete. The deadline for the entire Mayan Train project has been set for December 2023.