By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) may only serve a six-year term (or, at least, that is what he is vowing at the moment, but then again, he keeps changing his mind on things and rewriting the constitution to suit his convenience, and we all know that his Venezuelan political role models seem to inspire a lot of his decisions, but that is fodder for another column).
But even if he does comply with current law and stick to a one-term promise, the people of Mexico will spend at least the next 19 years paying off the debt he ensued at the start of his presidency with his hissy-fit decision to do away with the partially finished New International Mexico Airport (NAIM) magna opus, just because he wanted to.
According to a report issued late last week by Mexico’s Communications and Transportation Secretariat (SCT), the cancelation of the Texcoco airport left the country with a debt of more than 6 billion dollars in bonds and another 30 billion pesos in fiduciary certificates, a hefty financial liability that Mexico will be paying off for at least 19 more years.
And that’s not even the half of it.
As it turns out, the people who will have to fork up that money are not AMLO and his merry band of reckless Morena-ites, but the people who use the now-antiquated and severely dilapidated Mexico City Benito Juárez International Airport (which was supposed to be replaced by the NAIM) in the form of increased airport landing fees.
Now, there is nothing wrong with airports charging passengers landing fees, and it is a common practice worldwide.
But the big difference here is twofold: First, the money collected from landing fees is intended to be destined for airport repairs, maintenance and modernization expenses, not to pay off the costly temper tantrums of a head of state who was hell-bent on cancelling a half-finished $13 billion airport and replacing it with a totally dysfunctional modified military airport that is not capable of handling large aircrafts or major air traffic; and second, the escalated cost of paying AMLO’s capricious debt means that the Mexico City airport now has the second-highest fees of any major airport in the world.
Yup, at $45.20 per international flight and $23.80 for national flights (up 131 percent and 49 percent, respectively, compared to five years ago), landing fees in Mexico are now higher than those of Paris, Frankfort, Rome, Tokyo, New York and just about any other international airport except Heathrow in London, at $58.10.
So, when you take that summer family vacation to Madrid or even Cancun this summer (and for the next 19 summers), your landing fees will be going to help pay off AMLO’s poorly thought-out decision to close the NAIM, and every year, the Benito Juárez Airport you will be leaving out of will be more decrepit, more antediluvian, more inefficient and, yes, more crowded.
Practically every rational environmental and geological expert, as well as nearly every informed civil engineer, has told the president that his dreams of expanding the Santa Lucía military base into a major airport are a nonstarter.
But that has not stopped him from moving full-speed-ahead in his disastrous decision to proceed with his substitute airport plan, and he has even tried to literally bury what remains of the NAIM under an artificial lake of water (which, fortunately, thanks to saner minds prevailing, has been halted, at least temporarily by court injunctions).
Meanwhile, Mr. I’ll-Have-It-My-Way-Regardless-of-the-Consequences-for-Mexico is also proceeding with his ill-fated plan to destroy 50 percent the Yucatan’s fragile biosphere with his Tren Maya tourist train (despite warning from every major national and international environmental group), pile money into a pre-ordained-to-fail oil refinery in Tabasco, sell off the country’s national assets (like the Quinta Maya presidential vacation home in Cozumel, the presidential airplane and the entire national arsenal of armored cars — Can you image Donald Trump deciding to sell of Airforce I or Camp David?) and “give” the proceeds away to those who he feels have been short-changed in the past, and encourage healthy youth to be unproductive by paying them to neither work nor study (while hard-working Mexican employees and students get diddly rot).
Back in the 1940s, the French Dadaist artist André Breton once quipped that “Mexico is the most surreal country in the world.”
Sadly, AMLO is proving him right, and it may take a lot more than 19 years to undo all the damage he is doing to the country.