October 29, 2018 / 10:55 PM / 19 days ago

Work on Mexican airport continues despite cancellation

TEXCOCO, Mexico, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Construction work on a futuristic new Mexico City airport continued on Monday even after the country’s incoming president said he was cancelling the $13 billion project, leaving perplexed workers with their jobs on the line.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a longstanding opponent of the airport arising on the eastern flank of the capital, said on Monday morning it would be scrapped after a referendum organized by his own party, that gave it the thumbs down.

A few hours later, the head of the consortium building the airport, Federico Patino, said construction would continue until “the last day” of outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration, which ends on Nov. 30.

Workers at the site said they were baffled and sad as the conflicting priorities of the incoming and outgoing administrations played out with their livelihoods and billions of dollars at stake.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said health and safety supervisor Joaquin Aguirre, speaking in front of the partially completed terminal building. “Because (the airport) is a big boost for the country, it creates lots of jobs.”

The construction has created 48,000 jobs and was expected to generate more than three times that amount by completion, the government has said.

Behind Aguirre, dozens of workers in blue jumpsuits and white hard hats were busy putting up several tall, funnel-shaped towers to support the terminal roof.

“It’s our main source of income and now it’s under threat,” said Guillermo Garcia, who handles quality control for construction supplies, lamenting that he could be unemployed just as Christmas approaches.

Other workers said they had yet to receive notice they might be laid off from the construction site on the drained bed of Lake Texcoco.

Instead of the new airport, Lopez Obrador aims to upgrade a military base north of Mexico City for commercial use, giving it two new runways while also modernizing the existing airport. He has argued that the Texcoco project was tainted by corruption and geologically unsound.

At the sprawling site, a dozen trucks hauled away trailers full of basalt from one of the runways under construction, where the heavy rock had been placed to compress liquid in the soil.

Like much of the subsoil in Mexico City, the former lake bed is susceptible to sinking.

With the airport close to one-third complete, according to the government, workers said they had not expected to end up at the center of a political or economic tug-of-war.

“The uncertainty is really disconcerting for us,” said one worker who declined to give his name due to fear of reprisals. “Why won’t they allow (the airport) now when they allowed it before?” (Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, additional reporting by Sheky Espejo; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Tom Brown)

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