During the presidential campaign, AMLO launched two projects that he promised to implement if he became president. The first being “NaturAMLO: Mexico is on Earth”, which analyzes the environmental challenges of Mexico and summarizes the environmental policy. The second being “Yo AMLOVE mi Tierra,” which would be the environmental agenda for 2018-2024. Both documents proposed to reorder the territory, reduce deforestation, review agricultural production and combat climate change. The plans focused on ensuring and protecting the coasts, seas, and island’s biodiversity as well as promoting sustainable cities and environmental justice. As a candidate for president, AMLO mentioned that his government would guarantee water in a new ’General Water Law.’ Moreover, AMLO also promised that his new government would protect the communities affected by actions that violate their territories, which are rich in flora and fauna.
Once becoming president, AMLO devoted a whole plan; the National Development Plan (PND), to addressing the new administration’s positions towards the environment. This PND plan is supposedly set to work alongside the UN sustainable Development Goals set by 2030. In general, the administration’s goal is to transform Mexican energy to clean sources periodically, until reaching a total of 35.8% share of clean energy by 2024. However, once AMLO became president, his actual political agenda, policies and decision-making seem to show otherwise.
Beyond the contradiction between his policies and his campaign commitments, a major problem within the struggle with environmental issues and AMLO is that his government introduced a series of austerity measures. These imply that there is a scarce budget allocated to the environmental sector. Just in 2020, Mexicans have resented these budget cuts in tangible actions, including the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) whose budget decreased by 1,278 million pesos. Likewise was the case of the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas, National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change and the National Institute of Water Technology. In 2019, the total budget destined for environmental projects and institutions represents 56% less than the money that was awarded in 2015.
Green Policies are not set in stone for AMLO
Although AMLO is committed to caring for the environment, his policies and decisions are inconsistent with his former commitments. For instance, in March 2020, AMLO said that his government will not allow the installation of companies that harm the environment. However, two months later, AMLO was the one who imposed a law that prohibits new projects involving renewable energy. Bypassing all environmental plans (ironically, proposed by him and his administration), sends an unfortunate message to the country that regulations can be circumvented or breached; extending an invitation to impunity. While a barking dog seldom bites, AMLO seemed quick to bite on this policy.
Another key example that proves AMLO’s bite are two of his personal projects that severely threaten the country’s environmental health. Even while AMLO assured environmental protection in his mandate, his agenda has two main projects that will predominantly cause significant reversal to environmental achievements: Dos Bocas and Tren Maya. These projects have become the priority of his six-year term, despite the fact that they not only contradict his environmental promises, but also violate his own promises tof taking care of indigenous groups and ecological reserves.
What AMLO decided to do to reduce the tension caused by these projects was to make careful consultations and referendums where some locals were asked if they wanted the construction of the Mayan Train and La Refineria Dos Bocas. The problems with those consultations and referendums is that they were not representative, they have been distorted, they violated established rights, and the results were altered to favor those desired by the AMLO administration. Many analysts conclude that the consultations did not meet international standards because they were not planned, free, informed, in good faith, or culturally appropriate in community systems and assemblies. Likewise, others argue that the potentially most affected indigenous peoples were not prioritized. All this indicates that AMLO is carrying out these careful referendums to legitimize his illegitimate policies. In reality, they seem more like a theater set up to appease the great tension that their irregular decisions create.
In conclusion, AMLO’s current environmental agenda shows how its “on paper policy” is but a dream and in reality, its actions and decisions are not subject to respecting what was previously agreed. Such actions make AMLO appear as an unreliable, inconsistent and insecure individual, much less president of Mexico.
AMLO’s oeuvre maitres: Dos Bocas and Tren Maya
The main threat to AMLO’s environmental policies becoming a reality is himself. While he preaches protecting the environment, he simultaneously invests in projects that will significantly destroy ecosystems. Although he has many of these projects, there are two in particular that stand out. He has been particularly persistent about developing these projects in the Mexican peninsula, potentially due to his link with Tabasco- the state where he was born and began his political career.
First, there is the Tren Maya (The Maya Train), a project with which AMLO seeks to connect the main archaeological centers of the Mayan culture in five states of the Mexican southeast and thus, ignite the economic development of the main regional tourist destinations such as Cancun, Tulum, Calakmul, Palenque and Chichen Itzá. Although AMLO approves, the project does not have the approval of various social sectors, including the communities that will be directly affected and those concerned about the environmental catastrophe that the project implies. The main repercussions that this project could present would be one, the loss of vegetation due to clearing and stripping. And two, the loss of soil productivity due, among other things, to the compaction generated by the transit of machinery during construction and the vibrations produced by the transit of trains.
While the train will be mainly for tourism, it can also be used to transport goods which will also accelerate the economic growth of the area. What is bizarre here is that, although the project generates employment, it does not follow AMLO’s “first the poor” policy. This makes one question the real reasons behind AMLO’s insatiable motivation to achieve such a policy. Furthermore, the construction of the train will cause forced evictions, exploitation of archaeological zones, irreparable damage to flora and fauna, and many implications that one would consider AMLO against.
His second project is the construction of the New Refinery in Dos Bocas, Tabasco, which will have a capacity of 340,000 barrels per day. This project, alongside the Tren Maya, is expected to become a landmark of AMLO’s presidential term. The new refinery’s goal is to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of gasoline and diesel in the medium term and thus, offer better prices of these fuels to national consumers. This would decrease foreign intervention in Mexico`s fuel consumption; an idea that agrees with the principles of AMLO. The plan is to produce more gasoline in the country, modernizing the country’s oil industry to reduce the cost of importing fuel. AMLO is convinced that the least foreign intervention and consequently, the more sovereignty in its natural resources, is the formula to get Mexico out of its economic downfall.
International & Domestic Backlash
On the international level, during the COP25, Mexico confirmed its commitment to climate change and highlighted its Special Program on Climate Change 2020-2024; another reform belonging to AMLO’s administration. In addition, Mexico has committed to the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement. Nevertheless, AMLO seems not to respect those international commitments as binding and determined as some of his actions and projects seem to contradict environmental concerns.
It is worrying that in the face of the worldwide health emergency, the federal government intends to maintain activities related to the Tren Maya project; considering that its construction and the eviction of people is not essential in the context of the current pandemic. If the project continues, the health and life of the workers who will have to continue with the work, as well as the nearby population (mainly indigenous populations) are placed at further risk. Greenpeace has made a report indicating that the construction will significantly destroy the regular and irregular population settlements and irreversibly destroy the fauna and vegetation of the protected natural areas where the train route will pass. Nevertheless, the federal government has decided to go through and keep this project active.
Alarmingly, Greenpeace has also argued that the Dos Bocas refinery construction project in Tabasco does not have the environmental impact authorization required to start construction. Greenpeace claims that the construction of a new refinery in Dos Bocas as well as the expansion of existing ones; many of which are also very close to urban centers, will result in a significant increase in SO2 and GHG emissions. Similarly, the current national energy policy seeks to expand the national refining system, which is already responsible for a large amount of SO2 emissions. In short, the new renewable energy policy and Dos Bocas Refinery project seem to accelerate climate change, going against AMLO’s national and international commitments.
Unfortunately, it seems that AMLO’s obsession with these two projects is not diminishing despite domestic and international backlash. In fact, he categorized them as “priority projects” to exemplify his devotion to these in the new emergency plan during the Coronavirus. This emergency plan aimed to limit the effects of the economic crisis by emphasizing austerity measures. However, it maintained the construction of Dos Bocas and Tren Maya. While other areas in the country were paralyzed and resumed because of budget cuts and safety measures, these two were declared as “priority” and their construction and development was continued throughout the Covid crisis. These measures did not satisfy many politicians and businessmen and sparked revolts in public opinion, especially on social networks. The opposition’ main argument was that the health sector still suffers from many deficiencies that are still not addressed and in this time of crisis; the health sector should be a priority, not AMLO’s projects.