A public consultation will be held to decide whether the United States company Constellation Brands will be allowed to open its new brewery in Mexicali, Baja California, President López Obrador said on Tuesday.
The president said that the Environment Ministry has already approved moving forward with a vote to determine the fate of the US $1.5-billion brewery, which is currently under construction.
Farmers in the area have protested the construction of the brewery since 2016, claiming that its production will put a strain on the state’s water supply. They have fought various legal battles in an attempt to halt the project.
However, Environment Minister Víctor Toledo assured federal authorities in January that the brewery would not affect the region’s water supply. For its part, Constellation Brands, which produces Corona and other Grupo Modelo beers, has claimed that there will be enough water for farmers, citizens and the 1 billion liters of beverages it plans to produce annually.
Speaking at his regular news conference on Tuesday, López Obrador said that citizens deserve the right to have their say about the brewery in a consultation. It was the same mechanism he implemented to test support for the previous government’s airport project at Texcoco, México state, which was subsequently cancelled.
“The company says that there will be no impact, that it’s an investment that will create jobs in the area. It should have the confidence of the citizens, and they should decide,” he said.
The president said that his government plans to go ahead with the consultation even though United States officials have warned against it.
“We were sent messages, even from the U.S. Embassy … that if the consultation happens, it’ll end badly for the country,” he said.
“People say: ‘it will set a bad precedent if there’s a consultation, because it will impact investment.’ No, the bad precedent was already set when, without taking people into account, they gave out the permits,” he said.
The federal government’s announcement of its intention to hold a consultation comes a year after electoral authorities in Baja California reversed a decision to allow a vote on the controversial brewery. The Baja California Electoral Institute (IEE) received a request supported by more than 18,000 signatures for a plebiscite and approved one before five of six members on its general council subsequently voted against the consultation going ahead.
Clemente Ramos Mendoza, president of the general council, said at the time that the IEE is not the authority to which citizens should have turned in order to try to stop the construction of the brewery.
“There are federal tribunals for that … administrative courts. They are the relevant authorities,” Ramos said in March 2019.
In response to López Obrador’s announcement on Tuesday, Constellation Brands reiterated in a statement that the operation of the brewery would not affect local water supply, noting also that the plant has been granted all the required permits.
The company, which is also the largest importer of beer to the United States, called for the rule of law to be respected in order to provide certainty for investors and citizens alike.
Separately, Constellation Brands indicated in a March 2 letter that was published by the newspaper Reforma that it would consider other locations for a new brewery if Mexico became too problematic.
“The company no longer has the time to embark on a public consultation in which its future in Mexico is still uncertain,” said the letter, signed by Constellation Brands’ Mexico president Daniel Baima.
Constellation confirmed that the letter was authentic, the news agency Reuters reported.
If the company decides to continue construction of the brewery in Mexicali – and its operation is given a green light at the government’s planned consultation – it is expected to open at the end of 2021.