The year was 1859, when the then president of Mexico, Benito Juárez, announced the signing of the McLane-Ocampo treaty with the United States, in which the transit rights of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec area were ceded to the neighboring country. Finally, the matter did not materialize due to political differences.
Despite this, the Aztec country began construction of the railway line between the Gulf of Tehuantepec and the Gulf of Mexico to connect the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean. But again, everything came to nothing, after the Panama Canal began to work in 1914.
Many leaders were interested in retaking this corridor to unite both oceans, but everything was always only good intentions. That changed with the arrival of the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who in 2018 announced the reactivation of the famous project, with the name of Interoceanic Corridor of the Tehuantepec Isthmus (CIIT) and a cost close to 1,000 million dollars.
“It is a project that brings great benefits, in which development is promoted at a local, regional and national level, but leaving the door open to international trade,” Antonio Suárez, from the Mobility and Green Infrastructure Laboratory of the University, told DW. Autonomous National of Mexico (UNAM).
The CIIT project is presented as a multimodal logistics platform, whose main objective is to contribute to boosting productive activity in the southeast of Mexico. Above all, considering that the National Council for the Evaluation of the Social Development Policy of that country indicated that it was in the States of Veracruz and Oaxaca where poverty grew the most between 2008 and 2018.
For this reason, the project considers advances in different areas: railway, airport, port and industrial development. At the railway level, the project contemplates modernizing the 309 kilometers of railways on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that connect the ports of Coatzacoalcos, in Veracruz, with Salina Cruz, in Oaxaca. There will also be an exclusive train for passengers between both points.
With this modernization, the delay time between port and port will be less than six hours, which will also allow a connection of the Gulf of Mexico with the United States rail system, specifically, with Mobile, Alabama.
Similarly, the infrastructure of ports, highways and rural roads will be strengthened. In addition, it is intended to modernize the existing gas pipeline in the Isthmus and 10 industrial parks will be implemented that will have fiber optics, to guarantee good internet service.
“What we want is for companies from different countries to arrive with their containers, with the option of being able to stay on the road, in one of the parks, with raw materials that they can transform, add value to, and generate the jobs we want for the area. Then, they will have the option of exporting them to any of the available markets,” says Rafael Marín Mollinedo, general director of the CITT, to DW.
Alternative to the Panama Canal
Marín believes that it is precisely the implementation of these parks that makes a difference with the Panama Canal. “We don’t call it an alternative, we prefer to talk about a complement,” he says.
“It turns out that the Panama Canal is saturated and cannot cope with the crossing of all the demand. That is why our objective is not to do what the Panama Canal does, where the ships come, cross and go to their final destination. What we want is to create a new route that passes through the Isthmus, with the advantage that companies can set up in one of the parks,” he adds.
Main challenge: “socio-environmental problem”
The academic Antonio Suárez is optimistic about the benefits that the CIIT will bring to Mexico. However, he is also aware that some problems can arise if things are not done right. “For the Mexican government and for the nation it is more positive than negative, but there will be serious problems to fix, such as the socio-environmental problem,” he affirms.
The expert considers that the most controversial point of the project falls on the industrial parks. “I know the region and I know that it will generate enormous problems with the native communities, such as the Chimalapas and the people of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, who already have a very strong resistance movement to other projects. It is like a Pandora’s box of conflicts. socio-environmental, mainly due to the use of resources, especially in relation to water”, he specifies.
This is due, he explains, to the fact that the place where some of these industrial parks will be located is located in one of the most important reserves in the country and that has been in a land conflict for the last 40 years. “We are once again facing the problem that we have not been able to solve between economic development and conservation,” he adds.
Regardless of what happens, the project already has 80% progress in the reconstruction of the railways and the interoceanic corridor is expected to be inaugurated between April and May 2023. The idea is also to connect the CIIT with two other large projects , which are the Mayan Train and the Dos Bocas refinery, which are located in the southeast area.
It is estimated that once the CIIT is finalized, about 1.4 million containers will be mobilized per year, with earnings close to 1.6% of Mexico’s national GDP by mid-century.