Despite the controversy surrounding last month’s public referendum on the future of the new Mexico City airport, President-elect Andres Manual Lopez Obrador intends to repeat the exercise.
On Saturday, November 24, and Sunday, November 25, Mexican citizens will be asked to give their opinion on his proposal to build a 900-mile railway line crossing five states on the Yucatan peninsula. The line, known as the Tren Maya, will connect Cancun and the Riviera Maya with more remote tourist attractions at a cost of around US$8 billion.
This time, Lopez Obrador will not be taking a neutral stance. He declined to openly express support for either of the two options included in the airport vote but is actively urging Mexicans to give a thumbs up to the Tren Maya, a pet project he says will be an economic boon to some of the country’s poorest regions.
On the ballots, voters will also be able to opine on plans for a new oil refinery in the state of Tabasco, as well as ten social programs that were key pillars of Lopez Obrador’s presidential campaign.
The president-elect’s decision to hold public referendums prior to taking office has been ridiculed by the private sector and opposition politicians.
An irate ex-President Vicente Fox directed a pithy tweet to the president-elect: “If you want to cancel the airport, cancel it. If you want to build the Tren Maya, build it. Don’t trick the people with trendy referendums. Take the decision and assume the consequences.”
Many political observers are bemused at Lopez Obrador’s eagerness to seek public validation of his infrastructure and social welfare plans, noting that all the proposals were fully outlined in his campaign and that his landslide victory in July makes the need for additional ratification extraneous.
Scrapping the Tecoxco airport – one-third finished, according to some estimates – in favor of redeveloping the Santa Lucia military airfield has not sat well with the business sector, who say it will slow down investment in Mexico and stunt economic growth.
Just over 5,000 people marched in Mexico City last weekend – many of them dressed in black – to protest the referendum on the airport, which they claim was “rigged” by Lopez Obrador’s Morena Party to favor the Santa Lucia option and was blatantly undemocratic.
Supporters of the president-elect, however, mocked the relatively affluent economic status of the protesters, disparaging them for taking part in the “Marcha Fifi.” The lighthearted term ‘fifi” has been coined by the president-elect in reference to the elite or upper classes in Mexico whose privileged lives, he says, are disconnected to the majority of the population.
Social media posters also lambasted the marchers for wearing black and being insensitive to issues that really need “mourning,” such as crimes and violence against women and the thousands of “disappeared” people in Mexico.
As with the airport vote, the Federal Electoral Institute (INE) will not participate in the Tren Maya referendum. Ballot boxes will be set up in the same public spaces as used for the airport consultation three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, a second, larger demonstration in support of the Tecoxco airport is planned for December 2.