Freeway Construction Is pending

By Jesús Aguado

Five years have passed since the announcement of the construction of the Autopista Bicentenario, a freeway that would connect San Miguel de Allende not only with Guanajuato, the capital, but also with Silao and the international airport.

Since then, more than 2.5 billion pesos are in waiting for the construction because the inhabitants of the indigenous communities got an amparo from a federal judge to avoid the road construction. Although a new layout for the freeway has been proposed, on the path of the construction a new enemy showed up: a silent killer that inhabits Tierra Blanca. It is erionite that, according to studies conducted by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is the main cause of death in the community due to lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma.

Since the state government and the federal Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) announced the project for the construction of the road in 2010, social activists and inhabitants of the indigenous communities that would be impacted by the freeway gathered and demonstrated against the layout—not against the construction. The State Secretariat of Public Works (SOP), along with the SCT, developed eight layouts. According to the activists, they “elected the worse”. This comment came out because the elected layout would impact 70 archeological pre-Hispanic constructions, 20 paleontological sites and, in addition, it would cross and divide 20 indigenous communities, affecting their customs, and traditions, as well as the route of migratory birds.

The amparo

On July 2 the Secretariat of Communications and Transportations issued a tender for the construction of the road project, and Governor Miguel Márquez commented that the result would be published on September 17, the same year. The construction would begin on January 2014, and the freeway would open in 2016. However, Magdaleno Ramírez, representative of the impacted indigenous communities, with the support of local activists filed a protective action against the layout of the road, and two months later a federal judge ordered the suspension of the tender.

Finally, this year federal Judge Roberto Suárez Muñóz resolved to legally protect Magdaleno Ramírez. The judge’s decision was as follows: “before a tender call for the construction of the road, the representatives of the indigenous communities must be informed on the construction; they also will have participation to define the consequences on their indigenous rights so they can give their informed opinion.”

After the judge’s decision, Magdaleno Ramírez remarked once again that they are not against the construction of the road but against the layout because “it would cause irreversible damages to archeological zone as well as to the tangible and intangible heritage of the communities.” He continued, saying that the construction of the road on the layout proposed by the Secretariat of Public Works would generate great destruction in social, anthropological, and ecological terms, plus damage to their ancestral paths. “That construction will come to destroy the ancient history of the land,” he said.

Although the decision is not definitive, Magdaleno said that he and the residents of the communities were happy because the place’s history is safe. “But now we are more concerned about the public health problem in Tierra Blanca, where the people die because of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma,” said Ramírez. This cancer, according to studies conducted by Dr. Marcos Ortega from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is caused by a mineral (erionite) that has its source in Tierra Blanca. “Health is a priority; what we want now is the attention from the authorities who need to focus their work in scientific studies in order to avoid the deaths caused by the erionite; after solving that problem, they can construct as many works as they want,” Ramírez pointed out.

In August 2014, when Governor Miguel Márquez visited San Miguel, he assured that the freeway would be constructed regardless of particular interests, and if it was not constructed he said that history would judge those against it. “History can judge me, but it can also absolve me,” said Ramírez. He commented that there are not particular, but general, interests of being respected and counting on them for the decisions that impact them.

Now that the political campaigns have begun for electing federal and local legislators, plus a new city council, the indigenous commented that the candidates should not take the problem as a topic in a campaign for attracting more votes, saying that they will try not to have contact with the candidates, but with the winners at the end to whose help they will request. This is because they just won one battle, but the state government and the SCT still can file a disagreement appeal at the federal court, and the decision will be definitive. “We hope to have another decision like this one that we already have; we do not want to live with fear, thinking of the damage that the construction will bring.”

The freeway is necessary

San Miguel entrepreneurs have shown their support for the freeway “if it does not affect their tangible and intangible heritage.” Last year the Secretary of the State Public Works Department, Arturo Durán Miranda, held a meeting with the then Mayor Mauricio Trejo and several San Miguel entrepreneurs. During the meeting, the secretary explained that the SOP was working on a new layout for the road in order to avoid negatively affecting the heritage of the indigenous communities of the city, such as Cruz del Palmar.

In an interview for Atención, Javier Álvarez Brunell, president of San Miguel’s Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (Corporate Coordinating Council) and now candidate for local legislator with the party PAN, said that with Durán’s presentation they found out that the new layout proposed by the SOP does not damage the heritage of the communities. Álvarez also commented that they attended that meeting because they wanted to understand more about the project and why it was taking so long to be constructed. He highlighted that the transportation lines between San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato ought to be improved, not just for sanmiguelenses who frequently take that route, but also for tourists who land at the International Airport of León and would be able to arrive in the city more safely and quickly. “The current road is not wide enough, and it is a risk for transit. The new road would be an alternative for commerce and tourism,” he commented.

The president of the council said that “the construction of the road could not depend on the interests of particular groups” and that sanmiguelenses must be informed about this topic so they can have a more objective opinion.

In context

In December 2010, the state government and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation agreed to accept bids for the Autopista Bicentenario, at an estimated cost of 2.5 billion pesos. The same month, Juan Manuel Oliva Ramírez, then governor of the state, said that the freeway would have a two-lane extension of 80 kilometers; it would start in Silao, pass through Guanajuato, and connect with the road to Juventino Rosas. Later, it would pass through El Xoconoxtle and finish in San Miguel de Allende near Taboada. Oliva Ramírez said that the new road would strengthen the industrial corridor and would improve the “golden triangle of tourism,” made up of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.

Finally, on July 2, 2013, the State Communication and Transportation Department published a call for bids for the construction of the freeway. Governor Miguel Márquez said that the result would be published on September 17, the same year. The construction should have started in January last year, and the road should have opened in 2016.

On July 22, 2013, the representative of the indigenous communities of the state submitted an application of amparo against the road layout, and two months later a judge ordered the temporary suspension of the bidding process.

This year, a federal judge decided that the indigenous, represented by Magdaleno Ramírez, have the legal protection, and they ought to be taken into account for the construction of the road.



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