Saturday, April 20, 2024

AMLO says new airport might go ahead but people will decide

Leading presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador yesterday left open the possibility that the new Mexico City airport project might carry on but said it would ultimately be up to the people to decide its fate.

Speaking at a rally in Texcoco, México state — the municipality where the new airport is being built — López Obrador said that by September at the latest he will conduct a public consultation in which citizens will be presented with three different proposals: two that will see the project continue and one that will scrap it.

The frontrunner in the July 1 election, who said Friday that it will take a miracle to stop him from winning, has previously pledged to cancel the new airport, charging that it is corrupt, too expensive and not needed.

Confronted with chants of “yes to land, no to planes,” the candidate known widely by his initials AMLO said that “everything has to be considered, thought over very carefully [and] analyzed” before a final decision is made.

“We’re talking about the national interest, they’re not personal interests or group interests. If there is already investment in the airport . . . we have to see what’s going to be done with that investment. That’s why I don’t rule out that the project will continue,” he said.

When that statement was met with booing and hissing from some of his supporters, López Obrador sought to placate them by saying, “calm down, in the end you’re going to decide, just let me give you the options.”

One of the three alternatives AMLO floated is for the project to continue as a public-private joint venture, although the Morena party candidate said that option depended on how much money the government has already invested and how much more it will need to contribute.

“. . . I need to have all the information,” he told reporters, adding “that will involve reviewing the project and seeing how much the total cost will be.” The projected cost is US $13 billion.

According to López Obrador, the government has already contributed 40 billion pesos (US $1.95 billion) and set aside another 40 billion pesos that is sitting in an airport trust.

The second option would see the project survive but as a private-sector concession, which López Obrador said he favored over the first option.

“I hope the government doesn’t [have to] invest, that it can be a concession to private Mexican companies. In other words, that a tendering process is held so that a concession is awarded to a consortium of national companies that are already working [on the project],” he said.

According to Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim — whose companies have an 8% stake in the new airport, the whole project should have been contracted out to the private sector from the beginning.

Speaking out in its defense in April, Slim warned that suspending the project would halt economic growth and said López Obrador — and other presidential candidates — had “no reason to interfere.”

He also charged that it is inevitable that a public infrastructure project will take longer and cost more than a private one.

The third option that López Obrador said he will present to the citizens of Mexico would involve scrapping the project and using the land for real estate development, including the construction of buildings to house government offices.

In that scenario, pressure on Mexico City’s overburdened Benito Juárez airport would be relieved by building two new runways at the existing Santa Lucía air force base in México state.

However, some aviation experts have warned that the plan is not feasible due to its proximity to the existing airport.

To address all the pros and cons, López Obrador said, there will be a comprehensive debate before his proposed public consultation, which could take the form of a referendum conducted by the National Electoral Institute (INE).

The Together We Will Make History coalition candidate also told supporters that he has asked to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto on July 3 to discuss the project, explaining that he didn’t request the meeting for the first day after the election because he won’t have slept the night before.

“We could resolve [the airport issue] in two months, July and August, and in September we’ll conduct the consultation . . . because it can’t wait any longer,” López Obrador said.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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