By RICARDO CASTILLO
This column is intended to be about the new Mexico City International Airport, now a topic of stiff controversy.
But let me start elsewhere, with a different subject that seemingly has nothing to do with the airport, a Mexican political personality who, as a result of the July 1 election, plummeted from near-absolute power to a soon-to-be insignificant senator scrambling for scraps of public attention and influence.
As Interior secretary (Secretaría de Gobernación, SeGob), Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong was the most powerful man in Mexico for five years. Politically, after his buddy and “accomplice,” President Enrique Peña Nieto, he was the most influential man from 2012 through 2017, when he stepped down.
As a neighbor of SeGob’s offices on Bucareli Street, I personally witnessed a nonstop parade of top-notch politicians with their cavalcades of triggered vans plus dozens of armed-to-the-teeth body guards.
Among those visiting the Interior secretary’s offices on a consuetudinary bases was a newspaper editor named Carlos Marín of the daily newspaper and 24-hour TV newscast Milenio. Marín just last week was ousted as Milenio’s editor and kicked upstairs as “advisor to the presidency” of the Milenio and the XET radio station chain based in Monterrey, in northern Mexico.
Osorio Chong and Carlos Marín share one quality: They are both Mexican political animals. In my mind, there is no doubt that Marín was cranking the payola handle with Osorio Chong. I’m no spy, just a neighbor in downtown Mexico City, and several times I witnessed Marín walk out of SeGob with a grin of satisfaction in his face for what we, deep imbedded in the Mexican journalism business, call a “chayo” for the lovely and watery Mexican fruit known as “chayote,” which in journalistic lingo also means payola.
Proof of this pudding were the two-day interviews held last Monday; Aug. 13, and Tuesday, Aug. 14, on Milenio television between interviewer Carlos Marín and the soon-to-be-senator and minority leader – if you can call it that, with only 11 seats – for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
In the interviews, with an obviously, Marín-style, prearranged questionnaire in the 30 minutes, both interviewer and interviewee talked nonsense. In the eyes of this very poor, but still honest journalist, Marin’s interview were mere political pablum. They should have pushed the former Interior secretary up against the wall. Instead, they placated Osorio Chong with compliments. No doubt, payola mellows down even otherwise wouldbe honorable journalists.
But back to the subject of Mexico City’s airport. Why or how is future senator Osorio Chong a worthy mention? For many reasons, including his previous projects as the governor of the state of Hidalgo, just north on Mexico City, As governor, Osorio Chong was at the helm of a major Mexico City airport project called Tizayuca.
And as it turns out, the Tizayuca airport project is the best of all options available nowadays.
I’ll make my point:
Among his proposed airport projects, Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is offering as an option the demilitarization of the current Santa Lucía Mexican Air Force Base, considered among us cynics as the biggest World War II airplane junkyard. (This is not a jab at Mexico’s Air Force, because, old as they may be, they fly.)
The Tizayuca airport plan was marvelous, and indeed the best answer to Mexico City’s dire need of a new airport.
Way back in 2004 – 14 years ago – I was a freelance contributor to Milenio, and ran a series of articles on the Tizayuca international airport project.
As a point of reference – in case you don’t know the Mexico City basin and its political divide – Tizayuca is a flatland on the northern part of the basin and part of the same flatlands just about 40 miles north of the world-famous Teotihuacán pyramids. The ancients weren’t dumb. and even today that land is worth its weight in gold in terms of airport development. In fact, the Santa Lucía Air Force Base is located in between Teotihuacán and Tizayuca in a strategic location just north of Mexico City.
The Tizayuca project was in its moment the perfect answer – 14 years ago – for the Mexico City metropolis considering aircraft takeoff and landing needs. And it would still be the best option, had it not been that the principal subject to this article, future senator Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, sold his soul the devil.
The devil I am referring to is none other than Mexico’s current president, the aforementioned Enrique Peña Nieto.
Back in 2006, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party lost the presidency for a second term in a row, Peña Nieto garnered all of the party’s forces around him and took aim at one definite project, the construction of a new airport.
The Tizayuca project was officially scrapped by the Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) administration, and then-Hidalgo Governor Osorio Chong, in obedience to his master Peña Nieto, tossed aside the Tizayuca project out altogether to favor the president’s and former State of Mexico (Edomex) governor’s federal property along the Texcoco lake, just east of Mexico City in Edomex, where the new and controversial Mexico City airport is currently being built. The dry lake of Texcoco was definitely a federal land the Peña Nieto administration grabbed.
This is definitely a conflict of real estate ownership. The Osorio Chong forces in Tizayuca were obviously defeated by Peña Nieto’s master plan that would mainly benefit Mexico’s top zillionaire, Carlos Slim, whose capital is fully behind the construction of the new airport in the unsound Texcoco lakebed east of Mexico City.
This is just part of the politics behind the construction of the new Mexico City airport, in which Osorio Chong has been both on the winning and the losing end.
The destiny of the airport is still up in the air, but, in the meantime, it is interesting to watch the saga of Osorio Chong, debunked by popular vote from all-powerful to the lowly status of representing in the Senate what is left of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
Is anyone crying over Osorio Chong’s reversal of fortune? I know who is: now-former Milenio editor Carlos Marín, who will no longer be getting an Interior Secretariat cash bonus as of Dec. 1.