By RICARDO CASTILLO
The open referendum to approve or disapprove the no-binding construction of the New International Mexico Airport (NAIM) started on Thursday, Oct. 25, and will end on Sunday, Oct. 28. In case you’re not tuned into the situation, which is the nation’s largest and noisiest gossip topic nowadays, here are some of the pro and con opinions regarding the controversial proposal.
So let’s start from the beginning. During the presidential electoral campaign in the first half of 2018, candidate and now President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) consistently promised that, if voted in as president, that among his first deeds in office would be the suspension of the pharaonic NAIM project. But before making any decisions, he said he would have a referendum to judge public opinion on the matter. This is why the vote on the NAIM is now going on.
But what is it exactly? Definitely not a referendum, a poll, a national consultation or just a process to get a feeling of what people want. Whatever it is, the final results will be made public as soon as the vote count is completed.
The voting sheet has the following text:
Given the saturation of the current Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport, which do you consider to be the best option for the nation?
- The reconditioning of the current Mexico City airport, along with that of the city of Toluca, and the construction of two additional landing strips at the Santa Lucía military air base.
- The continuation of the construction of the new airport in Texcoco and the discontinue of use of the current Mexico City International Airport.
(For those not familiar with Mexico City, Santa Lucía is an airbase 50 miles north of the city dating back to 1950, which is a hub for the Mexican Air Force with about 300 planes and helicopters and 3,000 military families. Texcoco is the old dry lake bed in the east side of the Mexico City Rim.)
Though the answering options are a simple yes or no, the havoc the poll – the shortest term we can find – has raised over the past month has been deafening. It has become a brutal political post-electoral battleground between hardcore capitalists (headed, of course, by President Enrique Peña Nieto) and mild socialists who voted for AMLO.
Arguments pro and con have abounded. Here’s a summary of the reasonings of those who are against the new airport and those who are in favor of it.
AGAINST CANCELING THE NAIM
Just last week one of the nation’s largest banking chains, Citibanamex, owned by the U.S. Citibank – published a compendium of why it claims that suspending the Texcoco-based NAIM would spell disaster for the nation, paraphrased a well-known quote which still makes Mexicans shudder.
The Citibanamex point of view claims that the national consultation itself will be the “error of October.” The phrase that still strikes terror in the pockets of Mexican is the so-called “error of December” in 1994, when the then-thriving Mexican economy plummeted, sending most of the country’s bank to file for bankruptcy. The potential victory of a no vote on the NAIM, Citibanamex said, could send international financial sources a negative message about the nation’s seriousness to respect direct foreign investment.
The business community is also in distress over the possible victory the anti-NAIM movement. The most vociferous has been the Business Coordinating Council (CCE) president Juan Pablo Castañón, who has even threatened López Obrador by saying that if the NAIM is not built “AMLO will pay for the broken dishes.”
Milder in tone has been the response from the National Employers’ Confederation (Coparmex) president Gustavo de Hoyos, who also questions “the terms under which this consultation is being carried out,” adding that the voting process “lacks the methodology to consider the results as representative.”
In this case, many influential Mexican opinion leaders such as the prestigious scholar and prodemocracy stalwart José Woldenberg, who questions not merely the methodology, but also the legality under the current Constitution of such a consultation, mainly because it’s partial and does not include the entire Mexican voting population.
These are but a few of the arguments against the cancelation of the NAIM..
IN FAVOR OF CANCELING THE AIRPORT
AMLO has consistently claimed that those who are complaining against the national consultation are “overstating” the potential effects the Texcoco NAIM could have in the markets.
In fact, AMLO says that he’s in touch already with the large construction companies building the humongous Texcoco airport and has sent them a clear message that, in case the people vote against Texcoco, their contracts are “portable” and transferable to Santa Lucía, as he is keenly aware that if cancelled, the part of the airport that has already been constructed (32 percent, says the Peña Nieto administration, 20 percent, say AMLO engineers guiding him) has cost circa $7 billion. He would respect their contracts. “That’s what politics is for,” he said.
A point AMLO and many of his backers make is that, in the end “the 1 percent of the population” is used to leading the 99 percent, and in times of democracy, it is now the other way around. Capital and financial secrecy (always shadowy) have ruled the nation long enough. Now, they say, the re is majority rule.
But AMLO also gets down to the nitty-gritty of the NAIM debate. He says that the government should not have to subsidize the five largest construction companies that want to preserve the status quo in government funding, which is what wrought this quagmire in the first place.
In the end, whatever is being said about the NAIM and the referendum are little more than words in the wind at this stage. With the national consultation already underway, what seems appropriate for all concerned is to have a little patience and wait for the voting results.
It must be kept in mind, however, that the results are not binding and in the end it may go either way, regardless of the voting.
But prophets of doom predict the further downfall of the already-much-battered Mexican peso under the Peña Nieto administration, and worse, the possible collapse of the entire economy.
They are, of course, wrong because the airport is but a minimal, albeit important, part of the nation’s economy, which can definitely survive whatever outcome the consultation brings, which is what we’ll be talking about next Tuesday, when all the data will be in.
In the meantime, hang in there, Mexico!