Mexico’s president said Thursday that he has offered to buy an American company’s Caribbean coast property for about $385 million to end a bitter, years-long dispute.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said a formal offer would be presented to Alabama-based Vulcan Materials. The company operated gravel extraction pits at the Yucatan peninsula site before López Obrador’s administration closed them.
The company said it had not yet received the president’s proposal or responded to the idea. In papers filed for a case before an international arbitration panel, Vulcan Materials valued the almost 6,000-acre property, located just south of the resort town of Playa del Carmen, at $1.9 billion.
López Obrador said his much lower offer was fair and based on a government assessment. He said the most attractive part of the property was the freight shipping dock, which he plans to turn into a dock for cruise ships.
As the only significant port facility on that stretch of the Caribbean coast, the dock would also be useful for transporting gravel and cement for the president’s massive train construction project, known as the Maya Train.
López Obrador said he also wants to use the flooded gravel pits that the company dug out of hundreds of acres of the limestone soil as “swimming pools” or an “ecotourism” area that would be operated as a concession by a private operator.
The huge pits are inhabited by crocodiles, which are a protected species in Mexico.
López Obrador left open a vague threat of seizing the property if the offer wasn’t accepted by the time he leaves office in September 2024.
“Before I leave (office), this is going to be resolved, one way or another,” he said, adding that the company would have to agree to drop its damages-seeking cases before the arbitration panel as part of the deal.
In 2021, Mexico’s environment ministry closed Vulcan’s limestone quarry and forbade the company from exporting stone that was long used in U.S. and Mexican building projects. The president accused the company of extracting rock and exporting it without proper permits. Vulcan said it had the needed permits.
In March, the U.S. State Department said it was “concerned about the fair treatment of our companies in Mexico” after Mexican police seized the cargo terminal on Vulcan’s property.
Police held the port and used it to unload cargo from a Mexican cement and aggregates company, Cemex.
The president has publicly sparred with Vulcan for over a year. The dock at Punta Venado would allow cement, crushed stone and other materials to complete the Maya Train project to reach the area. Because there aren’t any local supplies of crushed stone needed to stabilize the tracks, López Obrador has been forced to import the stone, known as ballast, from Cuba.
Ships carrying the Cuban ballast have had to dock at the port of Sisal, on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatan peninsula, and have their cargo trucked about 180 miles to some train construction sites.
The only private freight dock on the Caribbean side that could handle the Cuban shipments, and other shipments of cement and steel, is the one owned by Vulcan.
The 950-mile 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 tourism income to inland communities that haven’t shared in the wealth. But there are no credible feasibility studies showing tourists would want to use the train.