US company says Mexican police illegally seized property

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

Alabama-based Vulcan Materials said police forced their way into the Caribbean coast dock at 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 commercial and property rights.”

Police and marines first occupied the property last Tuesday night, and they were still there as of Monday, according to the company.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been in a dispute with Vulcan for several years. López Obrador needs the dock to get cement, crushed stone and other materials into the area to finish his pet project, a tourist train known as the Train Maya. The president shut down Vulcan’s stone quarries last May, arguing the company had extracted or exported stone without approval.

Video from the incident showed a long line of police and military patrol trucks open a locked gate and enter the property. Vulcan said they did not present any legal paperwork to justify their actions.

The company said the police officers then oversaw the unloading of cement at the port facility. The cement was apparently destined for the Maya Train project, which the president has vowed to open by December, despite the fact it is well behind schedule.

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

“It is shameful that this Mexican presidential administration would rather confiscate American assets than the fentanyl killing hundreds of Americans per day,” Britt wrote. “Mexico should be more focused on going after the cartels than law-abiding businesses and hardworking people.”

While the cement company in question, Mexico’s Cemex, had once had an agreement with Vulcan to use the port, Vulcan said that agreement had ended.

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

Cemex said it filed a criminal complaint and was granted “injunctive relief and a legal warrant to access the property and continue operating” by the state prosecutor’s office.

The wording is odd, since such injunctions are normally issued by Mexico’s federal courts rather than prosecutors, and such disputes are seldom resolved through criminal complaints. Cemex did not specify what crime it alleged had been committed.

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

Because there aren’t any local supplies of crushed stone needed to stabilize the train’s tracks, López Obrador has been forced to import the stone, known as ballast, from Cuba.

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

The only private Caribbean coast freight dock that could handle the Cuban shipments — and other shipments of cement and steel — is owned and operated by Vulcan. López Obrador has offered to buy the property, but talks have apparently not gone well.

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

In May, the Environment Department closed Vulcan’s limestone quarry and forbade the company from exporting stone that has long been used in U.S. and Mexican building projects.

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 cruise ship dock at the freight terminal. He has pressured the Alabama-based aggregates company to 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 they might look inviting, are populated by crocodiles.

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

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

Moreover, with no prior environmental studies, the president decided to cut down a swath of low jungle between the resorts of Cancun and Tulum.

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