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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 22:12 GMT 23:12 UK
Mexican farmers cheer airport victory
Protesters in San Salvador Atenco
Protests became celebrations in the small town of Atenco
Farmers have been celebrating their triumph in the battle to halt government plans to build Mexico City's new international airport on their land.


The government never had the right to remove us from the land of our families and our ancestors

Guadalupe Monroy, resident of San Salvador Atenco

There was not a machete to be seen in San Salvador Atenco as residents embraced and congratulated each other before going back to work in the fields.

The small town had been the focus of the often violent protests in July, when demonstrators - backed by left-wing, anarchist and anti-globalisation groups - fought with police for three days.

But on Friday the church bells previously used to summon residents to demonstrate pealed to call townspeople to rejoice.

'Ideal' to 'convenient'

Earlier in the day, Transport Minister Pedro Cerisola confirmed the government was abandoning plans to build the airport on the lakebed site of Texcoco, on the eastern outskirts of the city.

"No other will have the technical operating advantage that Texcoco would have had, but they are not necessarily bad," he said.

"We move from the ideal to the convenient, to what is viable, to what is possible."

The government said it was studying alternative locations and would revoke the land expropriation orders for the Texcoco site.

Woman sleeping with her machete in her hand
Protesters were armed with machetes
The $2.3bn airport - the largest public project announced since President Vicente Fox took office nearly two years ago - would have eaten up about 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) of land in 13 villages.

Farmers rejected the original compensation offer of $7,300 per hectare ($3,000 per acre), and began staging marches and blockading highways.

Dozens of people were injured in the clashes.

In July, 19 public officials were taken hostage and successfully exchanged for imprisoned farmers.

Critics at the time said the release of the detained farmers sent a message that violence gets results, while peaceful protests do not.

'No right'

But the government insisted it was pressing ahead with the project, and raised its compensation offer seven-fold. This offer was rejected.

Back in Anteco residents remained indignant as they celebrated.

"The government never had the right to remove us from the land of our families and our ancestors," said Guadalupe Monroy, 47.

"The government never came here to talk to us and never thought we would react so aggressively," he added.

However, others in the town were reportedly critical of the cancellation, saying it would have brought jobs and new facilities to the area.

Tight corner

Mexico City's existing airport, a 91-year-old facility near the centre of Mexico City, cannot be expanded because it is hemmed in by homes and businesses.

It is operating at near capacity, and only one runway can be used at a time.

The proposed airport would have had six runways.

See also:

18 Jul 02 | Americas
15 Jul 02 | Americas
13 Jul 02 | Americas
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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