Mexico: Government refloats airport project

Orsetta Bellani, Latinamerican Press (Photo: O.B.)

Looking down from the Huatepec hills, Ernesto Cruz, a member of the Community Front in Defense of Land (FPDT), explains that below the grassy plains there is an aquifer critical to Mexico City, a metropolis with severe water problems that could increase if the area is paved.

This area is the bed of the ancient Lake Texcoco, a field that divides the federal capital of the municipality of San Salvador Atenco, in the central state of Mexico. It is a seismic zone where the ground is not firm and often floods; experts and scholars warn that it is not suitable to build on.

Nevertheless, the decision has been made. On Sept. 3, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the construction of a new airport in the Texcoco area. With an estimated more than US$12 billion price tag, it will be the third largest aerodrome in the world, with six runways and a capacity for 120 million travelers annually. Work on the first stage of the project, which includes three simultaneously operating runways, will begin next October and finish in 2020. No date has been announced for the completion of the entire facility.

The Secretariat of Communication and Transportation announced there will be a “hydraulic program” to protect the airport from flooding, but the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources has not yet submitted an environmental impact statement.


Already in 2000, the Mexican government had considered the Texcoco area as suitable for the foundation of the capital’s new airport because the current one is over-burdened. The implementation of the project includes the expropriation of ejido (communally-owned) land in the Municipality of San Salvador Atenco, that families receive in usufruct and which can only be transferred by an assembly decision. The community members, who did not want to stop cultivating their land, created the FPDT and fought in the courts and in the streets until August 1, 2002, when they obtained the repeal of the expropriation and the cancellation of the project.

Conflict with flower vendors

The biggest promoter of the new airport was Carlos Hank González, patriarch of the clandestine Atlacomulco Group, allegedly made up of members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) who aim to mutually support each other in taking over the country’s major political offices, including the government of the state of Mexico, mayorships, significant positions in the House of Representatives and Senate, and even the country presidency. Peña Nieto is said to be a member of the group.

In May 2006, local police evicted flower vendors from a market in Atenco, a confrontation that escalated with strong repression by federal police. This excessive use of force occurred when the current president was governor of the state of Mexico.

It was a violent operation. The photos of May 3-4, 2006, are terrifying. People were detained after police went door to door, without warrants for arrest. Two young people were killed and hundreds were wounded.

“They threw me onto the bus that took us to the jail in Toluca, like a package, tossed onto other people. There they began the smothering, beatings, death threats, they stripped me and introduced several objects into my vagina,” said Italia Méndez, who told Latinamerica Press she had gone to Atenco from Mexico City in solidarity with FPDT.

Along with 10 other women, Méndez filed a complaint with the Inter-American Human Rights System against Mexico for sexual torture and other crimes. According to the government’s National Human Rights Commission, 26 women were the victims of sexual torture and 202 people were victims of “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” punishment. 
On March 14, 2013, Mexico admitted in an Inter-American Commission for Human Rights hearing its responsibility for the sexual assaults on the women detained following the confrontation with police. However, the government has never formally apologized as it promised during the hearing.

Ambitious project

The revival of the airport’s construction worries members of the Atenco ejido. The government said no land will be expropriated and that the 4,430 Ha (11 acres) occupied by the project are federal lands adjacent to the current airport, without specifying the exact location of those plots. For the residents of Atenco, that ambiguity means the authorities aren’t willing to admit the airport will be built on communal land.

“We know that what the president says isn’t true,” FPDT leader Ignacio del Valle told Latinamerica Press. “The government wants our lands and not just to build the airport. It has a much more ambitious Project called Ciudad Futura [Future City], comprising industrial residential, and tourism sectors.”


Some excavators are in Atenco, officially doing work leveling the edges of a waterway. At an assembly held on June 1, people who, according to the FPDT, were not part of the ejido, voted to change the land use in order to sell it. Efforts to make that change began in 2009, when other communal lands in Atenco were sold.

The FPDT alleges that the government’s purchase of the lands was illegal because the communal lands can be handed over — but not sold — only by consensus in an assembly. On Sept. 8, the community members of Atenco gathered in front of the Agrarian Superior Court of Mexico City to demand a ruling on their request to annul the June 1 assembly’s decision. The next hearing is scheduled for October 15.

Article published by Latinamerica Press on 9.19.2014:

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