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LATIN AMERICA

Peña Nieto closes door on legislative reform and opens new era of public works

Mexico City will get a new airport under an ambitious $590-billion infrastructure plan

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto after presenting his second government report.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto after presenting his second government report. EFE

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has closed the door on a period of frenzied legislative reform and opened a new era that will focus on public works as an engine of economic growth.

Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), on Monday presented his second presidential report on the government's achievements, and took the opportunity to announce that Mexico City will soon get a new airport.

The enormous project, which envisions six runways, has an allocated budget of around $9 billion. When completed, the new airport will have four times the capacity of the Benito Juárez International Airport.

The president already has seven different projects on his table, including one by Norman Foster

This is just the first in an ambitious infrastructure plan that will inject $590 billion (63 percent of which will come from public coffers) into the economy, representing one of Latin America’s largest investment programs ever.

Much of this money will go toward improving the country’s transport network, including roads, railways and seaports.

“When I took office on December 1, 2012 it was urgent to take a big step and shatter some myths and limitations,” said Peña Nieto. “That is why we reached the Pact for Mexico, a national agreement among our main political forces. This plurality enabled reform. This period ended on August 11 with the enactment of the last laws. So what comes next? Putting them to work.”

During his 90-minute address, the president listed his administration’s successes over the last 21 months, with a special focus on the fight against crime and poverty, and on the progress made in the fields of education and foreign policy. He also defended his controversial liberalization of the energy sector.

But much of his speech was devoted to his new infrastructure program, which government sources said aims to jump-start the ailing economy. Mexico’s GDP growth forecast for 2014 is now down to 2.7 percent, far below Peña Nieto’s target of five percent.

“The economy is moving in the right direction, but we're still not where we need to be. The challenge of accelerated, sustained and sustainable growth could only be taken on after in-depth reforms. And reforms require decision-making,” he said.

The infrastructure plan will presumably boost the president’s image at a time of low popularity ratings

Unlike the almost immediate results that this massive investment program will achieve, it will be years before the effects of the historical legislative changes that took up the first 18 months of Peña Nieto’s presidency are felt.

The infrastructure plan will presumably boost the president’s image at a time of low poll ratings. Transportation is a matter of direct concern for citizens, and few projects are as symbolic as the construction of a new airport for the capital.

Mexico City’s current airport facilities, which can handle around 32 million passengers a year, have reached saturation point. Last year there were already 31.5 million travelers passing through. Flight delays are constant, and the new terminal, which opened in 2007, has an expected lifespan of 12 years.

While some questions still linger, it appears that this second airport will be located in Texcoco, around 10 kilometers from the Benito Juárez International Airport. The government owns 5,500 hectares of land there, where it already attempted to build runways in the past. But opposition from local residents and the sheer expense of the project relegated it to the back burner for years.

But under Peña Nieto, the project has come to fruition. The president already has seven different projects on his table, including one by Norman Foster and another by Fernando Romero, the son-in-law of Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim.

“Building a new airport is an act of responsibility that not only benefits the metropolitan area but also the entire country, because it is Mexico’s gateway to the world,” said the president.

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