March 9, 2018 / 1:24 AM / a year ago

Mexico plan for army land sale swept into election campaigns

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Mexican government said its plan to sell a prime piece of land in the capital that could fetch up to $1 billion will not take place in the short term, meaning it will likely be left to the next administration and could face resistance if a left-wing frontrunner wins office in July.

The facade of a military base is pictured in Mexico City, Mexico February 12, 2018. Picture taken February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Reuters reported last week that the government was moving forward with plans to sell a 310 acre (125 hectare) military site that is one of the last big swaths of developable land in central Mexico City.

But after Mexican media reported residents were concerned with the possible transformation of a largely verdant site into urban development and the sale became an election campaign issue, Mexico’s administration and property transfer service said on Wednesday that it would not call for bids in the “short or medium term.”

That likely rules out the possibility of a sale before President Enrique Pena Nieto leaves office on Nov. 30, and whether the sale goes ahead at all may depend on who wins the July 1 presidential election.

When asked about the project, presidential frontrunner and former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told newspaper Reforma in comments published on Wednesday that he was against privatisation and “risking national assets.”

One city lawmaker said in a statement that the site should be turned into a public park.

Ricardo Anaya, in second place in opinion polls, did not rule out a sale but told reporters at a real estate conference that any such transaction would require “absolute transparency” and public approval.

Ruling party candidate Jose Antonio Meade, the former head of the finance ministry that would oversee the sale, told local media that officials appear committed to an open process.

“I’ve heard the federal government say that there won’t be any bidding process that isn’t well-timed, transparent,” he said.

The possible sale of the site, which sits between posh office and residential neighbourhoods, was quietly announced in the government’s official gazette last month but went largely unnoticed in the media.

According to the gazette, the site is no longer needed by the military and offers no use for other public institutions. Funds from its sale would go to the federal treasury.

Real estate experts say the land could fetch up to $1 billion at auction. That could make the transaction the priciest land sale ever in Mexico, and one of the largest in Latin America.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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