Mexico leader defiant after high court rules tourist train, other works not national security issues
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday the government cannot simply decree tourist trains or other public work projects to be issues of “national security,” but hours later President Andrés Manuel López Obrador published a similar order in defiance of the decision.
The order handed down by high court was the latest in a string of legal setbacks for the president who has sought to broaden the discretionary powers of the presidency. The court said deeming public works projects to be matters of “national security” violates the public's right to information about such works.
López Obrador has tried to rush through some of his pet programs, including the Maya Train tourism project in the Yucatan Peninsula, by exempting them from normal permitting and public reporting, claiming it is vital to national security.
And just hours after the Supreme Court ruled, the president published an order in the Official Gazette of the Federation putting a similar approach into force for projects, including the Maya Train.
It was unclear whether Thursday’s ruling involved only the public’s right to get information on spending, costs and other data on such projects, or whether it also repeals the fast-track permitting process. The court is scheduled to discuss and vote on the full range and implications of the ruling Monday.
Even more uncertain was the effect of the president’s reinstatement of the “national security” designation hours later. In addition to the Maya Train, his new decree covers an economic corridor that will cross the narrowest part of the country, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and several airports in that southeast area.
López Obrador is already angry at the court for throwing out some of his planned electoral reforms, and has called for a change to make the Supreme Court an elected body. At present, slates of potential justices are suggested by the president, but elected by the Senate.
In July, López Obrador's government invoked national security powers to forge ahead with a tourist train along the Caribbean coast that threatens extensive caves where some of the oldest human remains in North America have been discovered.
López Obrador is racing to finish the Maya Train project in the remaining two years of his term amid objections of environmentalists, cave divers and archaeologists.
The government had paused the project in 2022 after activists won a court injunction against the route, because it cut a swath through the jungle for tracks without previously filing an environmental impact statement.
But the government invoked national security powers to resume the track laying. The measure also makes it easier for the government to withhold information on such projects.
In November 2021, López Obrador's government issued a broad decree requiring all federal agencies to give automatic approval for any public works project the government deems to be “in the national interest” or to “involve national security.”