By RICARDO CASTILLO
Was there or was there not corruption involved in the construction of the now-defunct New International Mexico Airport (NAIM)?
Just Monday, July 15, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said there was corruption in many of the already-awarded construction contracts, while Communications and Transportation Secretary (SCT) Javier Jiménez Espriú stated that corruption was not an issue in the cancellation of the project.
“Yes, there was corruption in the decision to build the NAIM on the Texcoco dry lakebed,” AMLO said.
But the SCT secretary said: “It was not due to corruption that we stopped the NAIM. The causes for which the decision was made were of a technical and financial nature. One of the main reasons was the soaring over-costs the construction was having.”
The NAIM was originally budgeted at 168 billion pesos (about $8.8 billion) “and at the moment of the cancellation, the works construction was close to 300 billion pesos (approximately $15.5 billion, at 19 pesos per dollar). This increase in cost was one of the main motivations for burying this project,” initiated in 2015 by former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Jimenez Espriú added that it could not operate in tandem with the current airport, which would have to be shut down.
Beyond the contradiction over construction stoppage motives, a reality check has it that the cancellation of the NAIM brought about the plan to build a new airport at the 50-year old Mexican Air Force base at Santa Lucía, just northwest of the Teotihuacán pyramids.
But the Santa Lucía project, to be named Lucio Blanco in honor of a Mexican Revolution general, forced the federal judiciary to create a Collegiate Tribunal to handle the enormous amount of suits filed against its construction. Most of the suits have been filed by a group that calls itself NoMásDerroches,meaning NoMoreWaste. The court was also created to avoid juridical contradictions under the direction of one judge and expeditiously.
AMLO said that the Santa Lucia project is a go-head, but made it clear that he will respect whatever decision the new judge makes on the matter. Still, the president has clearly showed his disgust for the amount of protesting suits which he claims are intended as “legal sabotage.”
But to fight against it, on Monday, July 15, AMLO unveiled a “Plan B to confront the legal sabotage we are undergoing, the rein of suits made by people who are extremely unhappy because they could not keep their privileges and the juicy businesses that meant building the airport at Lake Texcoco.”
AMLO said that these people “didn’t give a hoot that the airport was going to sink, and they did not care about that the Treasury Secretariat was going to be embezzled. What they did care about was making money, business, the business they were going to make with the current airport, they wanted a new Santa Fe, and they already had the sacking well planned out.” Santa Fe is a upscale mall in western Mexico City, built on a garbage dump.
AMLO hailed the appointment of the Collegiate Tribunal to handle the pile-up of suits because he said that it will speed things up in resolving the dispute.
“We made a timing evaluation last week,” he said, “and yes, there is a slight delay, but a minor one. But then, there are the suits. Nut we’re are working on the planning stage. It’ll be two weeks at most and then we’ll get going. The (feasibility) studies are about to be finished and the Plan B is that the airport is going to be built within a legal framework, despite all the hurdles we are getting from our adversaries.”
Opponents to the Santa Lucía airport project “are acting dishonestly,” he said, because they deliberately stopped using the Toluca Airport in order to saturate the Mexico City airport and thus justify the NAIM construction.
AMLO now sees an extensive airport network with takeoff and landing facilities “with state of the art technology,” not just in Toluca, Mexico City and Santa Lucía, but in surrounding states such as Puebla, the State of Mexico (Edoméx)and Querétaro, “all of them operating with no problems at all.”
But resonating the corruption around the Texcoco NAIM, he insists on saying time and time again that he can prove that this “pharaonic” work was born corrupt and, if allowed to exist, would have remained corrupt forever.
Out of all this, there is one question: AMLO does not like contradictions and in a controversial interview with weekly magazine Proceso, former Treasury Secretary Carlos Urzúa – who either quit or was fired by AMLO a week ago – stated that he was in favor of the NAIM and against the Dos Bocas oil refinery construction.
At that moment he clashed with AMLO, who “accused (him) of being a neoliberal.” Being called that by AMLO, Urzúa knew that his time was up as part of the president’s administrative team.
The question in the air now that SCT Secretary Javier Jiménez Espriú somewhat contradicts the president is: Will he be kept at the helm of the new airport project?
The answer came last week when AMLO nominated Eduardo Herrera for the position of Finance secretary – to be confirmed today, July 16, at the Chamber of Deputies – when AMLO recalled that his historical hero, Benito Juárez (1857-1872), went through 30 Finance secretaries without batting an eyelid.
Anything can happen!