Every couple of minutes, a large truck splattered with mud rumbles through the gate to what was once an expanse of mangroves. After recent rains, a lake has formed where the lush vegetation once flourished. Further on, more than 20 yellow diggers are hard at work scooping up sludge, which lorries dump in a nearby field.

For Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who wants to turn this swamp into his signature infrastructure project—an $8 billion oil refinery—the location in his southeastern home state of Tabasco could not be better. The town is called Paraíso, or paradise.

The president sees it as the promised land for Pemex, the struggling national oil company; for Tabasco, whose economy shrank 11% in the first quarter; and for people like Concepción Álvarez, who has parked his cart selling juices and snacks outside the gates to the site. “This is going to change things. It’s going to create jobs,” he said.

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