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In Mexico, building an airport, a project which can be canceled through a popular referendum

In scale, the airport should be the third in the world.

View of the construction site
View of the construction site

The growing new airport being built on the outskirts of Mexico City is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the history of this country. Its estimated cost is $ 14 billion. A previous attempt to build a new airport in San Salvador-Atenco in 2002 was canceled due to protests by the local opposition.

It is also one of the most controversial public undertakings of the President of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who once described this project as a “bottomless pit of corruption”.

Airport concept
Airport concept

The referendum held at 1,073 polling stations for four days and ending on Sunday is an unprecedented step for Mexico, the constitution of which does not speak about the consequences of referenda. Lopez Obrador has vowed to cancel the project of the airport if it is rejected by voters, which will put him on a course of conflict with business interests and a powerful group of investors, which includes the richest person in Mexico.

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador votes to decide whether to continue building a new airport in Mexico City. Photo: Mario Guzman / EPA / Shutterstock
Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador votes to decide whether to continue building a new airport in Mexico City. Photo: Mario Guzman / EPA / Shutterstock

The current airfield of Mexico City, Benito Juarez International Airport, is obsolete. An aging facility serves nearly 50% more people than it was originally designed.

In 2014, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced plans to build a huge new airport on the marshy wetland in Texcoco, about 14 miles north of the historic center of the city. High-ranking investors, including billionaire Carlos Slim, quickly signed up to build a project that was designed by British architect Norman Foster and Mexican architect Fernandos Romero. Concurrently and by chance Romero is the son-in-law of Carlos Slim. His construction company is part of a consortium building a terminal, and he believes that the airport will have a broad impact on economic development.

Reverse side of the ballot paper. The upper part - the pros and cons of the completion of the current airport. The lower part - the pros and cons of building a new airport based on the Air Force in Santa Lucia.
Reverse side of the ballot paper. The upper part – the pros and cons of the completion of the current airport. The lower part – the pros and cons of building a new airport based on the Air Force in Santa Lucia.
With three runways and a futuristic terminal, the airport will be the third largest in the world. Now built about a third of the entire project. The residents of Texcoco, who say that he will threaten one of the last remaining desert areas of the city, and critics who point to an explosive price tag as evidence of corruption, are vehemently against the construction site. The airport was originally supposed to open in 2020 and cost $ 8.7 billion, but now it is planned to open two years later, and the cost of the budget has been increased by 40% more.

Like the rest of the city, the construction site is a former lake. Environmental reports show that the land in Texcoco is sinking at an even higher rate than the rest of the metropolis. Opponents believe that the new airport is not only a potential source of corruption, but also an environmental catastrophe that threatens a decade-long effort to restore the lakes that originally covered the valley in which the capital is located. Locals also complain that they were not consulted.

It is important to build this new airport. Mexico City is strategically located between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and this means that we can be a strategic connection point that will ultimately lead to investment and economic growth.

Jorge Triana
mexican politician

Lopez’s promise to end the rampant corruption in Mexico helped him win the presidential election this summer. He also promised to cancel the project of the new airport, being a candidate, despite the billions of dollars already spent. Alternatively, he suggested continuing to use the existing airport, adding a second airport at the military base in Mexico City.

Atenko resident joins the protest against the construction of a new airport, near their community. The cap says: “I prefer the lake. And you? ”Photo: AP Photo / Marco Ugarte
Atenko resident joins the protest against the construction of a new airport, near their community. The cap says: “I prefer the lake. And you? ”Photo: AP Photo / Marco Ugarte

After he was elected, Lopez Obrador changed course, saying that he would allow voters to resolve this issue. His strategy was highly appreciated by some politicians, as they consider this a manifestation of democracy in action, while others criticize this decision, as most voters do not have the technical knowledge to make an informed decision about such a complex infrastructure project. However, it should be added that the CEC of Mexico does not deal with issues of this referendum and volunteers work at the polling stations.

Voting is the first test of López Obrador’s ability to hold the promised referendums, as well as verification of his economic policies and relations with the country’s business elite, which he criticized during his election campaign.

Interviews with voters at several polling stations show that the referendum suffers from irregularities.

I voted several times to prove that the referendum run by volunteers is poorly organized and unreliable. This is not a hoax, it demonstrates that voting is a farce. I am concerned that the government of Lopez Obrador looks like this vote.

Javier Montesinos

I was able to vote against the new airport without showing my federal voter card. The organizer first asked me if I planned to vote against the new airport. I said yes and received an answer that it (the voter card) does not matter.

Rosario Dias, 42 years old

I saw reports of violations. Voting credible. No one dares to change the result. I promise to hold referendums on other issues, including the controversial energy reforms of Peña Nieto, which opened up the Mexican oil sector to foreign investment.

Lopez Obrador
mexico president

Long video report from the scene

Based on Apnews , Bloomberg , NY Times , dnindia and AlJazeera

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