By RICARDO CASTILLO
Whether to continue construction of the New Mexico City International Airport (NAIM) at the Texcoco Lake basin or not — that will be the question asked in a “citizens’ consultation poll” to be carried between Thursday, Oct. 25 and Sunday, Oct. 28.
The poll will be carried out across the nation’s 573 most-populated municipalities, at 1,076 polling booths. The esteemed Arturo Rosenblueth Foundation will be responsible for carrying it out the process.
Based on the results of that poll, a decision will come. According to the Secretary-to-be of Communications and Transportation Javier Jiménez Espriú, there could be two options:
The first would be to continue the construction at Texcoco, but taking into consideration that this option would mean that the budget originally slated at 250 billion pesos will go up considerably due to the need to add on a large highway and train system to and from Texcoco, on the eastern side of the Mexico City basin. Also, both the existing airport and the Santa Lucía Military Airbase would have to be shut down because they are incompatible with the NAIM.
The second option is to suspend construction as soon as President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) takes office on Dec. 1. Then, his administration would order a four-month study on the possibility of carrying out “a major surgery” on the old but functioning airport and order the construction of two additional landing and takeoff runways at the Santa Lucía airport, just north of the world-famous Teotihuacán pyramids.
If the Santa Lucía option were to win the poll, the new administration would be ready to follow a study carried out by the Civil Aviation International Organization (CAIO), which would take into consideration a dual project with expansion and upgrading of the Toluca International Airport.
Jiménez Espriú emphasized that these two airports – whose revamping would be ready in two years at a maximum cost of just 5 billion pesos (that’s 2 percent of the initial predicted expenditure of the NAIM) – would work in tandem with Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport, while the Texcoco project would be scrapped. Some 100 million pesos have already been invested into the NAIM and its supporting infrastructure, with, reportedly, only 20 percent of the construction completed.
Jimenez Espriú visited the Texcoco construction on Wednesday, Oct. 10, accompanied by the leaders of the neighboring Atenco community, who want construction halted. This community famously stopped the airport’s construction back in 2002, when then President Vicente Fox tried to get it built.
Best known as “the Atenco machete wielders” (“los macheteros de Atenco,” in Spanish), the residents of the town staged several demonstrations brandishing their machetes as if ready to go to war. In Mexico, the machete is considered to be both a working tool for farmers and a defense weapon. The display of machetes back then — and now — was and is clearly a symbol of the protester’s anti-airport rebellion. The macheteros forced Fox to back down 16 years ago, and they want AMLO to stop construction now, They all referring to the new project as an act of “ecocide.”
This is, in a nutshell, a scenario of the current situation regarding the NAIM construction, but it is a top issue of debate in the media and political circles, drummed on by a mass bombardment of opinions for and against, not always based on actual facts.
During his electoral campaign, AMLO promised at every stumping ground that he would stop the construction if the government had to finance it. Of course, campaign promises should always be taken with a grain of salt, but once AMLO got elected, he made it clear he was dead serious about his intentions to stop the construction and to examine different alternatives, with the Santa Lucía project as his main objective.
The one reason he gave for his insistance on reconsidering the NAIM was simple: The NAIM might have been a great construction project for still-President Enrique Peña Nieto, who pleaded to subsidize the mammoth installations and have construction companies make a mint in the process.
“I will not subsidize the airport,” AMLO has said repeatedly, while acknowledging that the need for a new airport is imminent. “The people will decide which course to take.”
Meanwhile, commentators galore are writing and editorializing for and against the upcoming poll. Many claim that this a highly technical engineering project and common people have no idea as to the planning and the dire need for a national air hub, such as Dallas and Atlanta in the United States.
Many organizations are trolling the web with their arguments for scrapping the NAIM as soon as possible, given the fact that the natural flow of water would be radically affected. Some claim that construction in Mexico City has already diminished the once-copious yearly rainfall in the region by as much as 40 percent. The airport won’t help the environment, they claim.
In the mean time, the Peña Nieto administration continuous to finance the project and has pledged to do so up until its last day in office on Nov. 30.
This all boils down to a not-so-silent tete-a-tete power struggle between AMLO and Peña Nieto, with uncertain results because the participating construction companies are now demanding an 88 billion pesos in advance to speed up the process. AMLO has clearly told them that he will not shell out that kind of money from government funds, making Peña Nieto look ludicrous because he had promised the constructing companies — led by zillionaire Carlos Slim — that they could count on the money.
A third option AMLO has mentioned is to have Slim and his construction companies pick up the project with their own funding. AMLO has said that he would back up such a decision, but at Slim headquarters, the only comment being made is “no comment.”
This is where things stand now, two weeks prior to the citizens’ consultation poll, which is getting both praise from AMLO supporters and condemnation from those who consider it “a stupidity.”
As for the polling, we’ll be watching!!!