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US company says Mexican police illegally seized property


MEXICO CITY — A U.S. company said Monday that Mexican police and soldiers illegally entered and seized a cargo port it operates on land it owns on Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

Vulcan Materials, based in Alabama, said police forced their way into the Caribbean Coast dock in Punta Venado, near Playa del Carmen, last week.

“It should be clear that the rule of law is no longer assured for foreign companies in Mexico,” the company said in a statement. “This invasion, unsupported by legal warrants, violates Vulcan’s business and property rights.”

Police and Marines first occupied the property last Tuesday evening, and they were still there on Monday, according to the company.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been in conflict with Vulcan for several years. López Obrador needs the wharf to transport cement, crushed stone and other materials to the area to complete his pet project, a tourist train known as the Maya Train. The president closed the Vulcan stone quarries last May, arguing that the company had mined or exported stone without permission.

Video of the incident showed a long line of police and army patrol trucks opening a locked gate and entering the property. Vulcan said they did not present any legal documents to justify their actions.

The company said officers then supervised the unloading of cement at the port facility. The cement was apparently intended for the Maya Train project, which the president has pledged to open by December, despite being well behind schedule.

U.S. Senator Katie Britt, a Republican from Alabama, released a statement saying “this forcible seizure of private property is illegal and unacceptable.”

“It is shameful that this Mexican presidential administration would rather confiscate American assets than the fentanyl that kills hundreds of Americans a day,” Britt wrote. “Mexico should focus more on prosecuting cartels than on law-abiding companies and hard workers.”

While the cement company in question, Mexico’s Cemex, had already reached an agreement with Vulcan to use the port, Vulcan said that deal was over.

Cemex said in a press release that it had a long-standing contract with a Vulcan subsidiary to use the port and had months of negotiations with the subsidiary but failed to reach an agreement.

Cemex said it filed a criminal complaint and obtained “an injunction and legal warrant to access the property and continue to operate” from the state attorney’s office.

The wording is odd, as such injunctions are normally issued by Mexican federal courts rather than prosecutors, and such disputes are rarely resolved through criminal complaints. Cemex did not specify what crime was allegedly committed.

López Obrador’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the situation.

Because there is no local supply of crushed stone needed to stabilize the train tracks, López Obrador was forced to import the stone, known as ballast, from Cuba.

Even so, ships carrying Cuban ballast must land at the port of Sisal, on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula, and be trucked about 180 miles (300 km) to some train construction sites.

The only private cargo dock on the Caribbean coast that could handle Cuban shipments — and other cement and steel shipments — is owned and operated by Vulcan. López Obrador offered to buy the property, but talks apparently did not go well.

“This (port) would be ideal, it is quite deep, but relations are not good” with the company, López Obrador said in November.

In May, the Environment Ministry shut down the Vulcan limestone quarry and banned the company from exporting stone long used in construction projects in the United States and Mexico.

López Obrador wants the water-filled quarry to be used as a theme park to rival the nearby XCaret park. He also wants Vulcan to build a dock for cruise ships at the cargo terminal. He pressured the Alabama-based aggregate company to either sell the property to the government or open a water park itself.

The water park idea has complications. The water-filled sections of the quarry, while inviting, are populated by crocodiles.

The 950-mile (1,500-kilometer) Maya Train Line is meant to run a rough loop around the Yucatan Peninsula, connecting resort towns and archaeological sites.

López Obrador touts the train as a way to bring some of Cancun’s huge tourism revenue to inland communities that haven’t shared in the wealth. But there are no credible feasibility studies yet showing that tourists will want to use the train.

Moreover, without prior environmental studies, the president decided to cut a strip of low jungle between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum.

washingtonpost Gt

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