Revuelta Comunitaria: Battling Mexico’s Airport of Death

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The following piece, the first of our brand new column, Revuelta Comunitaria, written by the folks at Voices in Movement, looks at the lengthy and ongoing struggle against the New International Airport of Mexico City by the people of San Salvador Atenco as it enters into a new phase with president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Revuelta Comunitaria is a semi-regular column addressing social struggles and political repression in the territory of so-called Mexico.

Like the unsustainable logic of capitalism itself, Mexico City, one of the largest urban metropolises in the world, seeks to continually grow. The interests driving and directing this growth are not those of the ordinary people, but rather those of the system of capital accumulation, its owners, executives, administrators and managers. Throughout the country, Indigenous and campesino communities are coercively forced from their land, migrating to national and international urban centers. Their traditional territories are opened up to extractive industries for the plunder of natural resources or organized as spaces of tourism attractive to the “cultured” or “environmentally conscious” international traveler. The effect on Indigenous and campesino peoples is territorial dispossession, cultural commodification, exploitation and forced migration.

One principal destination of this migration is Mexico City. There, migrant communities often live and work in extremely marginalized conditions, helping construct the “city of the future”, the Mexico suitable for the “modern world.” In Mexico City, the stark differences in class interests are evident. There, we are witnessing the ongoing construction and reconstruction, organization and reorganization, of a landscape conducive to the logic of capital accumulation. The interests being pursued are the investment and development of national and international capital. The ordinary people, those of below, are seen as mere objects, to be structured, controlled and exploited according to those very interests.

The New International Airport of Mexico City is one such project, aimed at better facilitating the movement and accumulation of capital in Mexico, Latin America and the world. On October 22nd, 2001, then-president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, proposed the new airport in the location of the former Lake of Texcoco, in the Valley of Mexico, seeking the expropriation of campesino lands in the municipalities of Texcoco, San Salvador Atenco and Chimalhuacán. For Indigenous and campesino communities reliant upon their own agricultural crops for the production and reproduction of their lives, land defense was a matter of life and death. Opposing the dispossession of their lands for the construction of the airport project, community members from the town of San Salvador Atenco organized themselves into the People’s Front in Defense of Land (FPDT), seeking to defend their territories. After a series of resistance actions, the airport project was cancelled in 2002. With this victory, the People’s Front in Defense of Land (FPDT) committed to continue their struggle in defense of their territories in the Valley of Mexico.

Clashes during the police invasion of Atenco in 2006.

In 2006, the state, serving the interests of the capitalist class, sought their revenge. On May 3rd, 2006, then-governor of the state of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, ordered the eviction of flower vendors and sympathizers of the FPDT from the market in Texcoco by state and municipal police. In response, the FPDT along with other community members set up road blockades on the Lechería-Texcoco highway leading to violent clashes with state forces. The following day, on May 4th, Peña Nieto and the then-president Vicente Fox ordered a police operation of more than 2,500 federal, state and municipal police units, in order to crush the ongoing organization of the community of San Salvador Atenco. In this act of brutal state repression, two young people were killed, 207 people were arbitrarily detained, five foreigners were expelled from the country, hundreds of people were injured and at least 47 detained women were tortured physically, sexually and psychologically by state forces.[1] Houses of participants in the resistance were searched, looted and destroyed. Twelve people spent four years in jail, being released in 2010 after extensive solidarity efforts, while the cases of psychological, physical and sexual torture against the 47 detained women, remain in impunity.

Following the repression in Atenco in 2006, the then-governor of the State of Mexico sought to further scale the ladder of the political system. In 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto took presidential power in the Mexican Republic as representative of the PRI political party. On September 2nd, 2014, in an act of complete disregard for the interests of the people, Peña Nieto re-proposed the New International Airport of Mexico City, the largest infrastructure project that would mark his six-year term in office. Pursuing the interests of the capitalist class, Peña Nieto promised the project to be a “transcendental work, emblematic of a modern Mexico”. He affirmed it would be the “entrance door to Mexico for the world.”[2] Beyond the obvious economic interests at play, the announcement was a clear act of revenge against the community of San Salvador Atenco and their previously successful resistance to the new airport project on their territories.

Thus far, the development of the new airport, following its announcement in September of 2014, has been filled with irregularities, illegalities and the obvious distribution of political and economic favors. Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico and one of the richest men in the world, has been at the forefront of this project. Carlos Slim’s son-in-law, Fernando Romero, along with British architect Norman Foster, were awarded the contract to design the new airport. Eight percent of the total investment in the project derives from businesses owned by Carlos Slim. Furthermore, the airport is a component of a larger project of urban development including, “…malls, hotels, urban highways, industrial and business parks, areas exclusive to high level living, free trade zones, sporting clubs and golf courses…”.[3] This “aerotropolis” as it is being called, is being organized to serve the interests of people like Carlos Slim and other major capitalists, to better facilitate capital accumulation.

The recent presidential election, and the campaigns leading up to the election, instigated a series of debates from above surrounding the new airport and the “aerotropolis.” During his campaign, the now president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, took various and often times contradictory positions in relation to the mega-development project. After a series of strong earthquakes struck the central-southern region of Mexico in September of 2017, on September 30th, 2017, López Obrador proposed to cancel the airport and direct the extensive public funds toward reconstruction. The proposal followed a discourse he had been engaging for some time, of canceling the new airport project and instead constructing two new runways on the military airbase of San Lucía, located in Zumpango, State of Mexico.[4] This announcement was a clear opportunistic attempt by López Obrador to appeal to the popular frustration at the time regarding the reconstruction efforts following the widely destructive earthquakes.

On May 7th, 2018, López Obrador suggested that his decision to cancel the airport project was not final. “We are not closed to the idea of the new airport; the decision has not already been made. Rather, it is to search for what best suits Mexico. What we don’t want is to allocate half of all public investment to one project. We need to distribute the investment throughout the country”.[5] The discourse of López Obrador regarding the airport project during his campaign was not based on any commitment to human rights or territorial defense, but based solely on what promises could garner him the most votes.

During the presidential campaign, in the month of April, the FPDT made their position clear in relation to the airport. On April 18th, 2018, the FPDT sent an open letter to Carlos Slim, reframing the debate surrounding the construction of the airport, and the two competing visions at play in its construction. “You say that to cancel the airport will stop development for everyone. In our Mexico, more than 60% of the people are poor, with difficulty getting enough food to eat. You think that they are frequent airline travelers? Sometimes they don’t even have enough for a metro ticket.”[6] They continued, “You are a millionaire, one of the richest men on the earth. We are only campesinos, housewives, employees, artisans, but in our veins still runs the blood of Zapata, and when it arrives to our heart with each beat, it repeats his battle cry: land and freedom.”[7]

On April 29th, the FPDT sent an open letter to the then-presidential candidate López Obrador, amidst the various commitments and promises he was making during his presidential campaign. “Our dilemma is not to select who will come and dispossess us of our lives. Our dilemma is not whether it should be done with public or private money. It is not knowing whether the businessmen are honest or corrupt, or whether the bid for contracts will be transparent, or with direct awards. None of that. What we demand is that you respect our lives, our lands, our history and our right as Mexicans to the common good.”[8] This letter to López Obrador was responding to and critiquing his concerns regarding the airport project. Throughout his various critiques, the demands of the campesino communities in the Valley of Mexico, the ecological effects of the project and the history of repression and resistance in San Salvador Atenco, have remained almost entirely unspoken.

Army entering the communal lands of Atenco in 2016.

In early July, the formation of the Organizing Platform Against the New Airport and Aerotropolis was announced to step up the resistance: “[As] the peoples that have been struggling for 17 years, the people affected by the construction projects of the New International Airport of Mexico City, the neighborhoods affected by the transportation routes of the new terminal area, and the organizations and individuals affected by the grave damages to the environment, by the ecocide and the threat of excessive urbanization in the Valley of Mexico, we have decided to organize ourselves as a platform, to demand the cancellation of the new airport and to define proposals of alternative development that will be presented to the media, educational institutions, and corresponding judicial and governmental agencies.”[9] The platform marks a new organizational stage in the resistance, seeking better coordination between the various communities and peoples negatively affected, directly or indirectly, by the construction and operation of the new airport.

On Monday August 6th, nearly a month after his election on July 1st, Andrés Manuel López Obrador met with a group of engineering organizations including the College of Civil Engineers of Mexico, the Mexican Union of Engineering Associations, and the Engineering Academy of Mexico. Present at the event was Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. During the event López Obrador praised the capitalist, “I want to recognize an engineer that with his force, his imagination and his talent, is an example in Mexico and in the world, of one of the most successful businessmen: Carlos Slim.”[10] This tone marked a significant shift from his rhetoric during his presidential campaign, where he had directly criticized Carlos Slim. This meeting exemplified the post-election political commitments of López Obrador, moving away from his critiques of the “mafia of power” to his praising of Mexico’s richest capitalist.

On August 15th, 2018, a working group of technicians with the incoming administration are planned to present their professional opinion regarding the proposals for the future of the airport. The three proposals being discussed are to continue the project in the former Lake of Texcoco as it is, continue the construction as it is but concession the project to private investment, or cancel the project and construct two new runways in the military base of Santa Lucía. After receiving the opinion of the working group of technicians, the López Obrador administration plans to eventually submit the three proposals to an open, public debate. The details of which remain unknown. The People’s Front in Defense of Land and the Organizing Platform Against the New Airport and Aerotropolis have called a march for August 14th, just one day before Andrés Manuel López Obrador announces the opinion of his working group of technicians. The march is planned in Mexico City from the Glorieta of Metro Insurgentes to the Transition House of the President-Elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The New International Airport of Mexico City, along with other megaprojects in the Valley of Mexico including the Interurban Mexico City-Toluca Train and the Toluca-Naucalpan highway, seek solely to better facilitate the accumulation of capital, not serve the interests of the people of below who live and work in the Valley of Mexico. Come what may in the following months regarding the incoming administration’s decision on how best to move forward with the project, the wheels of resistance have already long been set in motion. Communities and organizations in struggle are further uniting forces and the strength of resistance against megaprojects of death is already evident. Regardless of who wins this battle, the struggle for life against capitalism in the State of Mexico will undoubtedly continue.

Footnotes:

[1] https://subversiones.org/archivos/132431

[2] https://www.proceso.com.mx/381200/presenta-pena-proyecto-de-nuevo-aeropuerto

[3] https://regeneracion.mx/aerotropolis-el-verdadero-negocio-del-grupo-atlacomulco-en-el-naicm/

[4] https://www.jornada.com.mx/2017/09/30/politica/019n1pol

[5] http://sil.gobernacion.gob.mx/Archivos/Panorama/201805/NOTICIASLEGISLATIVAS08MAYO2018.pdf

[6] http://atencofpdt.blogspot.com/2018/04/carta-abierta-al-senor-carlos-slim.html

[7] http://atencofpdt.blogspot.com/2018/04/carta-abierta-al-senor-carlos-slim.html

[8] http://atencofpdt.blogspot.com/2018/07/carta-abierta-del-fpdt-atenco-andres.html

[9] http://atencofpdt.blogspot.com/2018/07/pronunciamiento-de-la-plataforma.html

[10] https://www.forbes.com.mx/slim-es-un-ejemplo-para-todos-dice-amlo-en-reunion-con-ingenieros/


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Voices in Movement
Voices in Movement publishes translations and analysis – both contemporary and historical – to share strategy, solidarity and histories of resistance across imaginary divisions of nations and borders, drawing insight from struggles of below and to the left, where the heart is. They also author Revuelta Comunitaria, a semi-regular column on It's Going Down addressing social struggles and political repression in the territory of so-called Mexico.