A Tale of Two Airports: NAIM and Santa Lucía
By RICARDO CASTILLO
In tandem with the announcement on Monday, April 29, of the additional construction of the Santa Lucía military airport — now renamed the Felipe Ángeles Airport — just northwest of the Teotihuacán Pyramids, Communications and Transportation Secretary Javier Jiménez Espriú surreptitiously released to the handpicked newspaper El Universal as well as to journalist Jorge Zepeda, copies of some of the crooked contracts made during the construction of what was to be the New Mexico International Airport (NAIM) on the old dry lakebed of the former Texcoco Lake.
In its political gossip column “Under Reserve,” the newspaper wrote:
“President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) ordered Secretary of Communications and Transportation Javier Jiménez Espriú to make public all documents and names of those persons who allegedly were involved in irregularities in an attempt to build the airport. Secretary Jiménez Espriú has opened up a Pandora’s box as he delivers all documents to the Public Function Secretariat to begin investigations into suspect fund deviations allotted for this public works project now in distress. It would be well advised – we are told – for the new administration to also investigate cases of overpriced product purchases in which NAIM unions and former public officials are involved, a patrimonial damage this editorial house made public some months ago.”
It is up now to the Public Function Secretariat, which is currently in charge of transparency in all government purchases and works, to make public the bulk of the NAIM documents contracts signed since the construction of what was to be former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s signature construction project. The airport proposal was announced in September of 2014. It was cancelled on Dec. 1, 2018, the moment AMLO took power, since it had been one of his most touted presidential campaign promises.
With the advent of the construction of the new Teotihuacán basin airport, in April AMLO devoted several speeches to badmouthing corruption at the now-suspended the NAIM site He repeated some of the old accusations he had made during his campaign speeches last year.
“(The NAIM) was a hotbed of corruption because due to (financial and political) interests, it was programmed to be build at the worst place of the Mexico City Basin, the Texcoco dry lakebed, where the ground sinks the fastest, which does not guarantee the quality of the work,” he said.
In a separate speech, asked why he considered the NAIM construction as corrupt, AMLO enumerated four reasons:
“First ,because people were deceived,” he said. “They were going to shut down two airports to build one. There was going to be high overpricing and it was also a source of corruption because (the administration of former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto) went ahead with the construction in what it knew was the worst possible location in the Mexico City Valley.”
Analysts now say that former President Peña Nieto had committed interests on that humongous piece of land just east of Mexico City since his early days he as governor of the State of Mexico (2005-2011), made with the leading builder of the NAIM, phone tycoon Carlos Slim who, by the way, now has nothing but praise for AMLO and seems to have forgotten Peña Nieto completely. But don’t let me get sidetracked with politics.
To close this chapter – whatever scandal comes up from the allegedly crooked NAIM contracts will soon be history. They are, however, worth mentioning for all the hoopla and noise mercenary journalists made attacking AMLO’s “terrible decision” to shutter down the project, which López Obrador always labeled “pharaonic.”
Another observation by AMLO is that those same interested investors (read, Slim) had the promise that the moment NAIM went into operation, they would receive an extra cherry on the cake, the current grounds of the old Mexico City Airport, probably the highest priced piece of real estate in all Mexico City.
“So it was not just a matter of building the NAIM,” AMLO said. “Politicians and entrepreneurs have had plans for that airport for years. Their plan was to close down two airports and to cancel three runways to make two, with a cost of 300 billion pesos. which in the end was going to result in a total cost of 600 billion pesos.” Most of this bill – or so Peña Nieto and Carlos Slim thought – would be footed by the Mexican government.
Curiously enough, there are still crews working at the NAIM, “sealing” finished on-going works to protect them from weather erosion. There’s still hope – AMLO is not forever – that the next presidential administration will reverse López Obrador’s decision and allow the construction to be completed. Time will tell.
But now back to the Felipe Ángeles Airport near Teotihuacán. On Monday, while flagging the initiation of its construction, AMLO said that he could guarantee that total costs will not exceed 100 billion pesos and that there would be no delays in opening it up for the first stage traffic by the year 2021.
The Mexican Army will be in charge of construction and soldiers – already in the budget – will be used as workers, he said.
AMLO, however, faces some serious opposition from communities surrounding the airport, which already boasts one wide military landing runway, but is mostly only suitable for light aircraft.
The main concern the surrounding communities have is water. Several local leaders claim that local aquifers barely have enough liquid for human consumption since the region is suffering from overpopulation. Also, these communities claim that AMLO has not consulted them on the building of “a construction this size,” as a local community leader put it.
But on Monday, AMLO said: “I can tell you that a public consultation was carried out and the answer will not satisfy our adversaries. I can tell you the consultation of towns surrounding Santa Lucía was carried out. And what do you know? The people approved the project.”
That consultation was carried out in the township of Zumpango on March 10, according to Farming and Territorial Development Secretary Román Mayer.
AMLO also said that he is eager “to begin building the (two new) runways immediately,” but added that his administration is still lacking the official environmental impact report, as well as technical international air traffic studies by various companies.
Consequently, work on the Felipe Ángeles Airport is not due to begin until June.
Incidentally, Felipe Ángeles was a general who served as Pancho Villa’s gunner general. Both, Villa and Angeles, were murdered by President (1920-1924 – he was never elected) Alvaro Obregón. AMLO considers Ángeles one of the greatest heroes of the Mexican Revolution.