Airfield SMA, The Other Side of the Story
By Jesús Aguado
For more than 70 years, small single-engine planes have landed on the austere strip at the San Miguel airfield. However, since 2013 the airfield has been closed because American Russell Henson (ex-member of Amigos de la Aviación, AA) submitted documents in federal and state offices stating that the work done on the landing strip, under the supervision of the San Miguel Coordinating Business Council (CCESMA), was not performed correctly. This is according to Ricardo Garrido, the current president of CCESMA, Javier Álvarez Brunel, legal representative of AA, and Juan José Álvarez Brunel, former president of CCESMA.
In an article published by Atención on July 3, Russell Henson was quoted: “The only reason the airfield was closed down by federal inspectors was that the work was not done in accordance with the plans submitted by CCESMA that specifically required leveling of the runway surface before paving. The airport has serious oscillations.” Henson also commented that CCESMA used the funds that AA had gotten from the state government after submitting several projects for the airfield as well as a PEMEX donation worth a 5.5 million pesos for airport improvements.
Henson also accused Javier Álvarez Brunel—legal representative of Amigos de la Aviación—in place of President Miguel Gastélum) of making illegal decisions, like the surrender of the bailment contract that Amigos had for the airfield and Henson’s exclusion from the association.
Before publishing the July 3 article, this newspaper was always open to those involved to give their comments on accusations. Due to other commitments or being out of the city or the country, the parties involved could not be reached. They were interviewed for this second part of the story.
Juan José Álvarez Brunel is a founder of CCESMA and also the first president. The CCESMA was sworn in by then-governor Juan Manuel Oliva on December 2, 2011. CCESMA is made up of associations, and Amigos de la Aviación was there since the beginning. Juan José commented that one of the council’s projects was to improve the airfield to provide a better economy for the city. His information matches that given by Ricardo Garrido. Álvarez acknowledged that when CCESMA was formed, Amigos had already applied for and received 1.5 million pesos from the state government for the airfield. Moreover, the administration of the financial resources was observed by OFS (State Control Organism) because of administrative misconduct of Amigos.
They CCESMA gave the governor the project of improving the SMA strip. However, according to Álvarez, due to the administrative misconduct that OFS detected, Governor Oliva stated that if the government gave money for improving the airfield, it would be on the condition that the money had to be administered by CCESMA. “We did not decide it; it was the governor’s decision,” said Álvarez. On that occasion the governor committed investing of 7 million pesos in two phases for the airfield. The first phase’s 3.5 million pesos were applied, “always following the plans from Amigos de la Aviación,” assured Álvarez. He also remarked that at the end of the work, the State Secretariat of Public Works and Tourism received all the documentation to show how it used the money. “CCESMA did not have a single objection.”
The former president of the council also stated that the only airplane that has landed on that strip is that of Governor Miguel Márquez Márquez, who attended a CCESMA meeting in San Miguel. They wanted him to land there because they were interested in showing him what they had done with the money. When he saw the work, he said, “What you have done with this airfield is very impressive, but the state government did what it had to do. Now it is the turn of the private sector to invest here.” When the governor said that, notes Álvarez, there was still a possibility of getting the 3.5 million pesos that Oliva mentioned in 2011, but Amigos de la Aviación did not submit new projects for that money. “If the strip has deficiencies, I am not an expert. But the employees from the Secretariat of Public Works received all the documents, and they said that the work was well done. We are free of responsibility,” Álvarez commented.
On the other hand, the current president of CCESMA, Ricardo Garrido, showed Atención a document issued by the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation on June 6, 2013. It states that the airfield has small oscillations, but it made clear that the strip meets legal standards and is ready for receiving airplanes. Garrido also commented that if the strip is closed, it is Henson’s fault since he has been trying to block its opening with unproven claims. Garrido made it clear that he has all the documents to prove that Henson is lying and will show them to the corresponding authorities “because they will file a criminal complaint against him,” he said. “All he has been saying are lies,” charged Garrido, who also highlighted that Henson has neither the legal authority nor the legal right to give opinions on the airfield because it is not his property. CCESMA, said Garrido, will give all its support to the local administration for opening the airfield.
Javier Álvarez, legal representative of Amigos
Álvarez explained that Russell Henson is no longer a member of Amigos de la Aviación. He was excluded so that the association could function better. His exclusion was approved by four members (of five), with one abstention from Henson’s legal representative at that meeting, Richard King Wellner. Álvarez said that Henson was not in the city, and the organization accepted Wellner’s document proving he was legally representing Henson. That event occurred on April 5, 2013.
On December 6, 2013, at a meeting of Amigos de la Aviación, the members decided to surrender the bailment contract and give the airfield to its legal owner, the local government. According to Javier Álvarez, this was because the local administration kept asking when Amigos would invest money in the airfield, and none of the members had the financial resources for it. “They were not willing to invest in it,” he said, so they surrendered it. Álvarez also remarked that he has never acted as president of the organization, but as a legal representative for Gastélum, who has made the decisions from where he is. “My commitment is to San Miguel. I do not even have a plane. Miguel Ángel Gastélum and I have personally analyzed the problem, and we decided that it was better to give the airfield to the administration so they can improve it and open it. “If Russell Henson at that moment had had the political and human sensibility to accept the fact that projects in Mexico cannot be performed as they are in the United States, where they have the money to make them (happen), the airfield would be open now. He did not understand that in Mexico we have to be creative when there is not enough money for the projects. The airfield would be open if he had had a different attitude for helping instead of blocking. We would have been landing planes at the airfield three years ago,” Álvarez pointed out.
Mayor Mauricio Trejo stated that under his administration, which will end on October 9 of this year, they will keep working to open the airfield. If they do not achieve it, he knows that the state government and the next administration are committed to its opening. When we asked if the local administration could have stolen the project from Henson, he said that the administration could not do that. “Henson has to prove first that he is a member of the organization. Amigos de la Aviación had the bailment contract, and for many years they did not do anything in benefit of the airfield,” he concluded.
Russell Henson insists that the CCESMA did not perform the work according to the plans and claims that it was part of the sabotage from CCESMA and Mayor Mauricio Trejo to close the strip in February 2013. He made it clear that he had plans for opening a flying school, and that was a motivation for investing US$40,000 of his own money. He also remarked that he remains a member of Amigos de la Aviación because the meeting at which he was excluded from the organization was illegal due to the fact that Javier Álvarez did not mention a letter with threats from Mayor Trejo requesting his (Henson’s) removal. His exclusion was not for poor management of money. To this point, Javier Álvarez mentioned that Henson has never given financial reports for Amigos.