Mexico to hold referendum on fate of $13bn international airport

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president-elect, has announced that a referendum will decide whether or not to cancel the country’s $13bn international airport project, which he has criticised for waste and corruption.

A vote will be held in October, despite the fact that Lopez Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, won’t be president until December.

Mr López Obrador told a press conference in the state of Tabasco on Friday: "I call on the people of Mexico to help us overcome wrongs and resolve the difficult issue we inherited, and which we must face in the best possible way."

He added that experts, engineers and social and business organisations would present reports on the matter by September.

Javier Jiménez Espriú, the designated minister of transport, was also present at the conference. He said if the people decide to halt the New Mexico International Airport (NAIM), Benito Juárez airport would be kept in operation and a second terminal and two runways would be added to the nearby Santa Lucía military base in the municipality of Zumpango.

There is a quarrel among experts as to whether the Santa Lucía plan would be feasible. Espriú said a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had deemed that it would not be possible to run Juarez and Santa Lucía simultaneously, however a study by Chilean experts had found the opposite.  

He added that a five-month study costing $10.5m would be carried out to investigate which opinion was correct.

Federico Patino, the chief executive officer of Grupo Aeroportuario de la Ciudad de México, the firm overseeing the project, said a cancellation would cost about $6.6bn.

Carlos Bravo, a political scientist at Mexico City’s Centre for Economic Research, told the Bloomberg news organisation that the vote was a way for López Obrador to back out of his campaign promise to halt work on NAIM. He said: "It’s his way out so he can change his mind without really saying so. It’s likely the consultation is going to be planned in a way where it would be absurd to vote against the construction."

López Obrador is a former mayor of Mexico City and the head of the National Regeneration Movement, or Morena. He was elected by with 53% of the vote on 1 July, more than 30% ahead of his nearest challenger.

Image: Foster + Partners’ design for the airport

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