Mexico’s socialist president-elect grants reprieve to $13bn airport

López Obrador, Mexico’s president-elect, has dropped his threat to suspend the country’s $13bn airport, according to a member of his economic transition team.

The aide, Abel Hibert, spoke to Bloomberg after attending a planning meeting with Obrador and about 100 other aides last week.

He told the new agency that it was clear there would be no immediate suspension until a review was carried out into the project’s contracts.

According to Hibert, Obrador, who will take office in December, has mentioned three possible approaches to the airport: auctioning it to the private sector, moving it to an alternative site, or going ahead with the current plan.

The possibility of a referendum on the project, which had caused concern among investors, didn’t come up at the meeting, Hibert said.

Obrador had made the cancellation of the airport one of his first pledges, and repeated it throughout his election campaign, which resulted in a landslide victory on 1 July.

Back in May 2017 he told a rally held by his Movement for National Regeneration (Morena) party: "This airport being built in Texcoco is not technically feasible; it’s going to sink. When Morena wins the election, we’re going to cancel this massive project and put an end to the corruption that surrounds it. We’re going to use the money to create jobs and boost education for our youth."

Last month he softened his stance, saying that rather than seeking an injunction to halt work immediately, he would ask the National Electoral Institute (INE), which runs elections, to hold a vote, or he would appoint a citizens’ committee to rule on the project.

He told reporters after a campaign rally near to the site of the airport: "It could be the INE or a committee of independent citizens of unobjectionable honesty. We can resolve this, at the latest, in two months. Perhaps in the first two weeks of September. It can’t wait any longer."

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.

The project’s financiers have taken fright at the political risk: bonds sold to finance the airport have fallen almost 7% in value this year.

The airport was announced by President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2014. It is to replace Benito Juárez International Airport, the busiest in Latin America, which is at full capacity.

If it does go ahead, it will have one 560,000-sq-m terminal and six runways. The architects are Foster + Partners and Fernando Romero, the son-in-law of billionaire Carlos Slim. Completion had been set for 2025.

If it is cancelled, Obrador is proposing to relieve congestion by adding two runways at the Santa Lucia military airport at a cost of $1.6bn.

Image: Foster + Partners’ rendering of the airport

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