Mexico City airport plan dropped
SAN SALVADOR ATENCO, Mexico (AP) -- Church bells that recently called
townspeople to battle instead summoned them to a celebration Friday after
the government scrapped plans to build Mexico City's new international
airport on their land.
The government, caving into machete-wielding protesters, insisted there
Last month, the airport conflict escalated into a clash with state police
dozens of people were injured and 15 hostages were seized, creating a five-day
crisis for the government of President Vicente Fox.
On Thursday night, Fox's transportation secretary, Pedro Cerisola, said
government would abandon the Texcoco lake bed site on the eastern outskirts of
Mexico City that included Atenco.
"No other (site) will have the technical operating advantage that Texcoco
have had, but they are not necessarily bad," Cerisola said. "We move from the ideal
to the convenient, to what is viable, to what is possible."
He refused to say how many options were under study, but said new technology
could revive old options.
"Some alternatives that in the past were rejected ... are now worth reconsidering,"
he said. Not all involve relocating farmers, he said.
Among ideas dropped in the past were expanding the current airport into
owned lake bed on its eastern edge, or putting the airport near Cuernavaca to the
south, Puebla to the east or Tizayuca to the north. These last three are much
further from the city than Texcoco.
In Atenco, a small town ringed by corn and bean fields, farmers gathered
town square Friday to celebrate.
"The government never had the right to remove us from the land of our families
and our ancestors," said Guadalupe Monroy, 47. "The government never came here
to talk to us and never thought we would react so aggressively"
She cruised around town in a pickup truck, songs of celebration blaring
Mexico City's airport, first built in 1911, is crowded by homes and businesses,
making expansion difficult. Only one of its two closely placed runways can be used
at a time.
The proposed $2.8 billion airport in Atenco would have had six runways.
The government last year decided on the Texcoco project, which involved
dozen communities such as Atenco, after decades of studies.
While many of the communities accepted the government expropriation order
began to negotiate benefits, Atenco's farmers refused and began machete-wielding
marches through the streets of Mexico City, vowing never to surrender their land.
In July, Atenco farmers blocked highways, hijacked cars and seized 15 policemen
and local officials to demand release of leaders arrested during a clash with state
police at a protest against the airport.
One of Fox's most prominent critics, Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador, praised the decision on Friday. Lopez Obrador, of the left-leaning
Democratic Revolution Party, had opposed the airport and called Fox's decision
"reasonable and brave."
Critics, including some lawmakers from Fox's own National Action Party,
the government for caving in to the protesters.
Cerisola disputed that. Unlike earlier governments, he said, Fox's administration
ready to take 'no' for an answer.... That's a good precedent."
He added that a slowdown in the worldwide air industry after the Sept.
attacks had made the current airport viable for another seven to eight years instead
of the five estimated earlier.
Many farmers were outraged by the initial offer of about $2,850 an acre
land -- a figure Cerisola said was mandated by a law that forces officials to pay
only assessed value. He said officials raised that to 80 percent of the final sale price
of the land once it was developed -- up to about $20,300 an acre. Cerisola said that
was 100 times the price a year's corn crop would bring.
On Friday, Atenco residents greeted one another with smiles and hugs in
the municipal auditorium where last month's hostages were held.
Surgeon Abel Galicia Viveros, 42, thanked Fox for the decision, saying
president had realized that "dialogue is the answer, not violence."
"All we want is for the government to stay out of our business and we'll
stay out of
theirs," added Pablo Rodriguez, 71.
"We want many things, but nothing from the government," he added. "Except
maybe a deeper well."
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.