The Mexican People Have Spoken, and They Said ‘No New Airport’
By RICARDO CASTILLO
The behemoth New International Mexico Airport (NAIM) project was declared defunct on Monday, Oct. 29, by President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) after the “no” vote triumphed overwhelmingly during the four-day (Oct. 25 through Oct. 28) national consultation poll carried out by the now-ruling National Regeneration Movement (Morena) political party.
The airport construction, at about 20 percent completion (32 percent, according to the responsible construction companies), will be scrapped as soon as AMLO is officially sworn in as president on Dec. 1.
Business leaders Gustavo de Hoyos of the National Employers Confederation (Coparmex) and Juan Pablo Castañón of the Business Coordination Council (CCE) immediately declared the cancellation a “pilfering” of public funds and said the public consultation was “a sham.”
Undisturbed by this expected criticism from business leaders, President-elect AMLO reiterated the cancellation was simply a reflection of the people’s will and that the real decision to cancel the airport works in progress was made last July 1, during the general presidential election, when he won by a 53 percent landslide vote. Throughout his campaign, AMLO campaigned all over Mexico claiming that, if elected, he would do just that.
“This decision is in obedience of the citizens’ vote” he said, adding that he would proceed to carry out his campaign promises to revamp the old Benito Juárez Mexico City International Airport (AICM), upgrade the Toluca City one and build two new landing strips at the old Santa Lucía Mexican Air Force Base, which also continues to host the over 300 military aircraft now operating out of that base at an already-50-year-old landing strip.
“We will begin work immediately to definitely solve in a short time the saturation problem the AICM is undergoing,” AMLO said. “In three years, we are going to solve this issue and we will have three operational nearby airports.”
Even then, AMLO boasted that the government will still manage to save 100 billion pesos over the costs already budgeted for the Texcoco Lake airport project.
He added that the cancelation, which he will officially declare as soon as he takes office as president of Mexico, will not affect the vested interests of participating construction companies nor their investors.
“There are sufficient monies in the current trust fund backing up the existing commitments in terms of contracts and investments. And, there is the credibility of our word and authority to take care of any reclamation from companies and investors,” he assured the Mexican business community during a press conference on Monday, Oct. 29.
“We’re going to talk with businessmen and contractors to come to an agreement. There’s even the possibility that they will be allowed to continue their contracts by switching them to works at Santa Lucía or to come to terms in each of the cases, always acting in full accordance with the legal system.”
AMLO also said he and his future Communications and Transportation (SCT) Secretary Javier Jiménez Espriú have been in touch with contractors and that, so far, “none of them” has said they would sue the new administration. AMLO said that he has “perceived” a predisposition to an arrangement “because they are not going to lose money” and that their contracts will be respected.
As for the future of the Texcoco dry lakebed “polygon,” considered to be around 50,000 square kilometers in size (5,000 of which were allotted to build NAIM), Mexico’s future president said he would summon experts to plan what could be done with the place. He also said he had already spoken with Mexico City and State of Mexico (Edomex) Governors Claudia Sheinbaum and Alfredo del Mazo, respectively, “along with representatives of the federal government” to “put to good use” the terrain, considered by more than a dozen surrounding communities as an environmental jewel.
Opposition to the construction of NAIM has been a long and tedious struggle for the residents of the municipalities, mostly located in the State of Mexico, who have been protesting since 2002 the “political manipulation” by former President Vicente Fox, who tried to “rip us off,” paying just 5 pesos back then for each square meter of “repossessed land.” Then these same people were repressed in 2006 by then-State of Mexico Governor Enrique Peña Nieto, who sent riot police to the municipality of Atenco to quench the movement against the airport’s construction, according to América del Valle, a leader of the Atenco opposition movement during an interview with a Milenio news television interview on the night of Sunday, Oct. 28.
After the president of the prestigious Rosenblueth Foundation, Enrique Calderón Alzati, who organized the voting booths, announced the results of the “national consultation” late Sunday night: that 1,067,859 persons had voted, with a total of 747,000 voted in favor of stopping the construction of the NAIM in the Texcoco dry lakebed, and 310,463 for continuance (69.95 against 29 percent in favor), several businessmen, particularly CCE leader Juan Pablo Castañón, questioned the constitutionality and validity of the voting process, particularly because it included many loopholes, particularly after the Mexican daily El Universal asked 70 of its reporters to vote several times.
The consultation was defended during the Sunday night announcement by the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) Karen Levy Gálvez, who said that the consultation was not limited under the framework of Article 35 of the Mexican Constitution and that it “did not attempt to violate any legal norm, but backed the right for citizens to organize and hold public consultations.”
Surely. the “legality” of AMLO’s unprecedented consultation will continue under legal scrutiny for days to come, but, again, AMLO showed “an openness” to listen to all those concerned and affected by the airport debate and to come to terms with them. It was “the people’s decision” that was taken and the new airport construction cancelation was a done deal.