Sukamulya villagers resist eviction for Kertajati airport and aerotropolis

An article about resistance to eviction from their homes and productive agricultural land for a new airport in Java, Indonesia, has been published by The Ecologist online magazine: Indonesia: Villagers resist eviction for 50 sq.km ‘aeropolis’ / Airport city on their land. Ten villages, and a vast area of farmland, have already been wiped from the map for Kertajati Airport, which is currently under construction. But Sukamulya village remains. Residents have sustained their resistance to displacement for the airport for over 12 years, since the project was first mooted in 2004. The Front Perjuangan Rakyat Sukamulya (FPRS) was formed to resist eviction for the airport.

Sukamulya villagers have blocked officials from measuring land for Kertajati Airport on many occasions. Starting in August 2016 a series of attempts to measure the land were successful blocked by residents. But on 17th November 2016, when people had gathered yet again to protect their farmland, 2,000 police rushed onto the fields to disperse them and enforce the land measurement. Twelve protesters were injured and the barbaric eviction attempt has been widely condemned by Indonesian human rights organizations and NGOs. Land rights and agrarian reform NGO Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria (KPA) highlighted resistance against Kertajati Airport as one of Indonesia’s key land rights struggles.

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A video by AGRA Indonesia Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement/Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria shows the firing of teargas at Sukamulya residents attempting to defend their land and resist eviction.

If development of the project goes ahead as planned Kertajati Airport will be the starting point for an even larger development, an aerotropolis. An Aerocity adjoining the airport site is planned. In total, 50 square kilometres of land, predominantly productive farmland, has been earmarked for Kertajati aerotropolis: 1,800 hectares for the airport and 3,200 hectares for the Aerocity.

Mapping aviation expansion in Indonesia

Following extensive research GAAM has published a digital interactive map: Aviation expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones, and aerotropolis projects. The map includes 60 airports – operational, under construction and still at the proposal stage, plus two airport projects which were cancelled. The issue of land rights in particular is highlighted, documenting disputes and resistance against displacement relating to 25 airport projects. Two airports currently under construction in Java, Kertajati and Kulon Progo, are of particular concern because of human rights violations, including police brutality, against people resisting eviction from their homes and productive agricultural land. Aerotropolis development is planned adjoining both of these airports.

Indonesia map graphic
Screengrab of GAAM Aviation Expansion in Indonesia digital map

The digital map represents only a fraction of airport projects in Indonesia, which already has 237 operational airports with a government expansion drive aiming for 62 new airports within 15 years, bringing the total number to 299. Yet it demonstrates the exciting potential of online mapping for organizing, analyzing and presenting information. GAAM hopes to collaborate with other organizations in the development of online maps to develop a more comprehensive picture of aviation expansion and the impacts on affected communities, making the most of this wonderful technology to support our research, awareness raising and campaigning. The map was designed and produced by InTouch GIS using the Storymap app.

A forthcoming report, Aviation expansion in Indonesia: tourism, land struggles, economic zones, and aerotropolis projects, contextualizes the information in GAAM’s online map, examining the central role of aviation expansion in a government drive for tourism growth and the integration of several airport projects with other infrastructure such as road networks and ports, economic zones and aerotropolis developments. The report will be published by GAAM in partnership with the Third World Network (TWN).

Sukamulya villagers resist acquisition of farmland for Kertajati Airport

Residents of Sukamulya village in the regency of Majalengka, a predominantly rural administrative area in the West Java province, Indonesia, are resisting eviction for Kertajati Airport. They are fighting for their land and water, blocking officials from entering the village to measure land in order to acquire it for the airport. The stand-off between officials and villagers refusing to be displaced, which began on 8th August, is the latest chapter in twelve years of resistance. A plan for a major airport, taking up a land area of approximately 50 square kilometres, first surfaced in 2004.

The Front Perjuangan Rakyat Sukamulya (FPRS), which translates as the Sukamulya People’s Struggle Front, was formed to resist eviction for the airport and the campaign is supported by Indonesian land rights and agrarian reform NGO Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria (KPA). As shown in a video by FPRS, hundreds of people are participating in the protests and women are playing a leading role. Sukamulya is bedecked with flags and banners. Road entrances to the village are being monitored day and night and blocked with tyres, preventing officials accessing land in order to measure it for the airport. A protest camp with a communal kitchen, using food harvested in Sukamulya and donated by villagers, helps maintain high spirits.

At the time of writing the blockade has been successful and the latest in several attempts at land measurement have been cancelled. Hundreds of residents blocked entry to the village, succeeded in holding back officials from the land agency, Badan Pertanahan Nasional (BPN) and police. On 1st September, hundreds of Sukamulya residents stated that they were ready to die in order to defend their land and demanded that the government treat them humanely. The action has garnered support from students and Majalengka farmers’ organization. Affected villagers are determined to avoid the fate of people whose land has been acquired for the airport; the level of compensation offered was insufficient for them to afford to buy land and build a house in nearby villages. But the government remains determined to impose the airport project. On 5th September, KPA reported that BPN was preparing to make another attempt to enter Sukamulya village to undertake land measurement, and that officials would be accompanied by a greater number of security officials.

12 years of resisting eviction for the airport

Over the twelve years since announcement of the Kertajati airport project there have been a great many protests. On 8th June 2007 hundreds of demonstrators rallied to protest against the threat of eviction facing at least 16,000 people from five villages. Speeches were followed by a mock trial of the Majalengka Regent, the head of the Regency. Demonstrators objected to lack of information about the airport project, including how much compensation they would receive from the government, and refused to be relocated.

Some residents have accepted compensation for their land and moved away, but the majority refuse to give land for the airport without fair land acquisition respecting their rights to accurate land measurement and appropriate compensation. Many reject the airport project entirely and are united in their refusal to give up their land for it. KPA maintains that the majority of the population of the 11 affected villages have opposed acquisition of their land and construction of the airport.

The FPRS video above documents a major protest on 25th January 2016. Hundreds of residents and their supporters rallied in front of the Majelengka land office and State Attorney office, arriving for the march in a procession of motorbikes and trucks carrying banners and posters. Rousing speeches voiced residents’ opposition to the construction of Kertajati Airport and the land acquisition process, protesting that it was not being conducted according to regulations. Villagers vowed that they would remain in Sukamulya. Hundreds of residents marched again on 22nd February 2016, demanding that delayed land compensation be paid to nearly 400 families and outraged that members of the community were being intimidated by officials. A video of the protest by the Majalengka police shows the presence of a large number of officials maintaining tight control of the demonstrators.

On 1st March 2016 the International Land Coalition (ILC) reported that conversion of the land for Kertajati Airport had resulted in the eviction of 10 villages. A tweet by ILC Asia showed a photograph of Iwan Nurdin, Secretary General of KPA, addressing a large group of evicted farmers from the affected villages.

On 2nd May 2016 hundreds of Sukamulya residents, supported by FPRS and KPA, rallied at the district government office demanding a fair land settlement. Speakers at the rally protested dishonesty in the land acquisition process including an inaccurate EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) which stated that crop yields are far lower than are actually harvested. Intimidation by officials had forced some residents to flee from their homes and some had been detained.

Sukamulya villagers and their supporters defending homes and farmland from land acquisition for Kertajati Airport have good reason to be concerned that intimidation and harassment by officials may escalate into violence. There have been many clashes between security officials and people protesting against the airport and blocking access to land. A serious incidence of state brutality occurred on 18th November 2014. Without warning, hundreds of officials, surveyors escorted by armed police, arrived to measure land in the villages of Sukamulya and Sukakerta. Hundreds of residents attempted to block officials from entering the village area. Police responded with violence, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Many citizens were injured from being trampled on and dragged away and some were beaten. At least five people were detained. A video shows a few minutes of the clash between authorities and villagers. Residents, distressed and angry, attempt to block officials from entering their village to conduct land measurement for the airport. Police and army officers herd people away from the village and confine them behind a fence. Many people are handled roughly by officials, pushed and shoved, and several are dragged along the road.

A mega-airport and an ‘Aerocity’

The developer of Kertajati Airport is PT. Bandarudara Internasional Jawa Barat (BIJB), referred to in English as West Java Airport and Aerocity Development Company. The planned airport land area, 1,800 hectares, far exceeds that which would be required should the airport meet its ambitious traffic projections of between 8 and 10 million passengers per year in the first phase of development, rising to 40 million passengers per year by 2035. It is larger land area than the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta in the US. In comparison, Atlanta Airport has a smaller 1,518 hectare site which includes a considerable amount of commercial development such as retail and warehouses. Yet Atlanta Aiport handles two and a half times the number of passengers planned for Kertajati Airport, just over 101 million in 2015. It is clear that land is being acquired for non-aviation purposes in addition to the area required for airport operations.

The proposed size of the airport creeps upwards. According to a BIJB video, by the beginning of August 2,500 metres of the planned 3,500 metre runway had been developed. But on 16th August the West Java province revealed plans to lengthen the runway even further, to 4,000 metres. The pale grey rectangle near the centre of the airport site is a completed section of the airport apron. The airport terminal is under construction adjoining the southern edge of the apron, and some of the farmland around it that is being destroyed, is shown in a tweet by BIJB:

Kertajti Airport is envisaged as the first phase of a larger ‘aerotropolis’ project, an airport surrounded by aviation dependent commercial and industrial development that is deigned to maximize use of air services. The full aerotropolis plan, with Kertajati Airport covering 1,800 hectares plus the proposed Kertajati Aerocity adjoining the airport site taking up 3,200 hectares, matches the 5,000 hectare project that was first mooted in 2004.

The Aerotropolis plan – a 50 sq km megaproject

A GAAM map shows the proposed boundary of Kertajati Aerotropolis that was indicated in a November 2015 presentation by a representative of BIJB entitled ‘KERTAJATI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT & AEROCITY: INTRODUCTION & OPPORTUNITIES‘ at the Indonesia-Australia Business Week 2015. This event, aiming to develop closer investment and bilateral trade ties, was Australia’s largest ever business delegation to visit Indonesia. GAAM’s map superimposes the project boundary indicated in this document onto a 10th August 2016 satellite image of the aerotropolis site.

Kertajati Aerotropolis map.png

The map shows the area earmarked for the aerotropolis consists of farmland divided into strips and squares, villages and wooded areas. The rectangular area is the proposed site for Kertajati Airport. Adjoining the airport area is the Aerocity area, its southern boundary following the path of a river. In the BIJB presentation the claimed area of the Aerocity is larger than the 3,200 hectares stated by the project and government bodies, at 3,480 hectares. It could be significant that the land area indicated by the map in the BIJB presentation is even larger than stated in the text: 2,665 hectares for Kertajati Airport and 3,583 hectares for Kertajati Aerocity.

The first runway can be seen along the northeastern edge of the airport site. A second runway, parallel to the first and near the other edge of the airport site, is planned. Satellite imagery shows that earthworks have already prepared an area of land adjacent to the first runway for construction. The southernmost point of this area corresponds with the access road shown in the BIJB presentation. The footprint of the airport, and obliteration of farmland, threatens to extend beyond the site boundary with construction of access roads to the north and south of the airport area. A major road already runs through the planned aerotropolis site; the Cikampek-Palimanan Toll Road, part of the 653 kilometre Trans-Java Toll Road, runs through the Aerocity area, inside the southern boundary.

The Aerocity plan described in the BIJB presentation consists of typical aerotropolis components. Space would be allocated for hotels, retail, conference and exhibition centres, entertainment complexes, business park, offices, industrial and warehousing area, logistics and distribution facilities, aviation ancillary industries including MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul – of aircraft) and in-flight catering, plus a facility for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. An ‘attractive incentives plan’, meaning subsidies for investors, is promised.

As a greenfield airport, and an aerotropolis, BIJB is not being constructed to serve established urban development, but to spur commercial and industrial development on the farmland surrounding the airport. Plans have been outlined for Kertajati Airport to become a ‘gateway’ to West Java; the airport and Aerocity would be an economic centre for the region, with direct access to the established Karawang industrial zone. Kertajati Airport is just one of 84 large scale infrastructure projects planned in West Java, including power plants, ports and roads, criticized by environmental forum WALHI West Java for the loss of farmland and triggering social conflict. Dianto Bachradi, Vice Chair of Komnas HAM (the Indonesian Commission for Human Rights), highlighted the private sector interests served by megaprojects. Specifically regarding airports he pointed out that employment opportunities for local people facing the loss of their livelihood from agriculture would be restricted to poor quality jobs such as baggage handler or parking attendant, and that the projects benefit large companies, not the local community.

As Sukamulya holds out against eviction recent announcements reveal more about the strategic significance of the aerotropolis to government and corporate interests. There is a military component as Indonesia’s state owned aerospace manufacturer,  PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI), a firm servicing both civilian and military aircraft, intends to relocate from its current location in Bandung to a larger 300 hectare site on the land surrounding Kertajati Airport, anticipating that the new facility will be operational by 2019. And the aerotropolis scheme has spawned a plan for yet another megaproject; a power plant. This 190 hectare energy complex is planned for the aerotropolis to meet its own energy requirements, as the electricity supply currently under construction will only be sufficient to supply the airport, not the Aerocity.

Allocation of government funds for construction

Land acquisition, displacement of villagers, destruction of farmland, construction of the runway, taxiway and apron and earthworks to prepare land for construction of the terminal and access road have proceeded in the absence of confirmed financing to actually build the airport. Repeatedly, the government announced offers and interest from investors, from China, Korea and Turkey and from airport operator/developers including GMR Infrastructure (based in India) and Schiphol Group. In December 2015 President Director of BIJB, Virda Dimas Ekaputra, stated that no less than 40 domestic and foreign investors, from Switzerland, Turkey, Germany, Qatar and India, had expressed interest in development of ground infrastructure, such as the terminal.

As yet, foreign investment has failed to materialize, and there has been a series of announcements on financing of construction costs, all of which will fall on the government. On 18th January 2016 it was announced that construction of Kertajati Airport will cost about US$267.4 million, to be paid by central government through the transport ministry. Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced this financing decision during a visit to Majalengka. It was also stated that the West Java government is to pay for clearing 1,800 hectares of land. The government had withdrawn its search for an investment partner for development of the airport, redirecting potential investors to the proposed Aerocity adjoining it.

On 16th August it was announced that an as yet unspecified amount of provincial government allocated to the project had increased, the project having already spent most of the US$38 million in provincial finds already contributed. The most recent announcement of state financing is that the first phase of airport construction will be funded by mutual funds including the social security agency for labour. The financing scheme would be underwritten by state owned financial services firm Danareksa. Whilst this funding scheme would spare the government from spending the state budget on construction of Kertajati Airport the state would be liable for the debt incurred.

Farmland bulldozed and concreted over

BIJB videos show the progress of Kertajati Airport construction. A video dated 4th February 2016  begins with footage of the airport toll road, already a long ribbon of smooth tarmac. Next there is a shot of road grading for the access road. Bulldozers are shown in a puddled field of mud next to all that remains of a community that has been systematically erased, a tiny cluster of dwellings, and a single tree.


The camera pans away to show construction in the midst of a patchwork of green fields and bare earth where vegetation has been stripped away. At this stage, concrete has been laid for 2,500 metres of the runway. A bulldozer gouges at the earth, preparing a level surface for the airport apron, a gigantic rectangle of concrete. The tranquil soundtrack is at odds with what must be a roar of earth moving trucks, bulldozers and heavy machinery.

The BIJB video shows development  of the taxiway, with drainage channels running parallel. It is evident that the hydrological conditions of the airport site, low level land with a high water table, makes construction difficult. Adjacent to the apron, foundations for the terminal are being laid, and drainage channels dug into the flooded surface. Piles, long concrete posts, here called ‘pickets’, are being inserted deep into the ground. A total of 2,413 of these pickets are being driven down through weak layers of loose ground to reach rock or compacted soil that is strong enough to support the weight of the terminal building.

Water and food security concerns

A waterlogged site makes airport construction problematic, and drainage management will be challenging once the airport is operational, but airport operations require large volumes of water. There is a reservoir within the land that has been expropriated for the airport, the pale rectangular area near the southeastern corner. In June 2016, BIJB stated its intention to source its water requirements, initially about 30 litres per second but possibly rising to 60 litres per second, from within Majalengka.

Water may be plentiful in the area earmarked for Kertajati Aerotropolis, but it is a limited and precious resource. In Indonesia, the bigger picture is of water scarcity concerns, in particular on the densely populated island of Java. Diversion of water supplies from agriculture to industrialization impacts on irrigation of crops and therefore on food security. Kertajati Aerotropolis also poses a direct threat to food security due to loss of farmland to urban development. In May 2016 concerns were raised over food security implications of development on Majalengka farmland, in particular the prospect of the loss of 5,000 hectares for Kertajati Airport and Aerocity. Urban development on Majalengka wetlands could lead to a reduction in rice yields of 75,000 tonnes per year. Social and economic problems loom because of the loss of farmers’ livelihoods. In addition to rice many other crops are cultivated on the fertile Majalengka farmland, including beans, peppers, watermelons and mangoes.

A tweet posted on 19th July shows sheep grazing on green fields next to the terminal construction site, in the background is a skyline of piles and pile drivers pushing them into the soil. If Kertajati Aerotropolis progresses as planned this fertile farmland will soon be paved over.

Land conflict and Indonesia’s aviation expansion drive

Recent years have seen several airport-related land tensions and conflicts in Indonesia, in addition to the Kertajati case. About 300 kilometres to the southeast of the Kertajati Airport site, near the south coast of Central Java, Kulon Progo residents have struggled against loss of land and livelihood for a new Yogyakarta airport since 2011. Opposition to land clearance stalled construction of Kuala Namu Airport. It was expected to commence operations in 2009. In May 2013, as the airport prepared for opening, residents were still refusing the compensation on offer for eviction to make way for toll roads serving the airport. A week before the Kuala Namu opened, in July 2013, land disputes continued in five villages and more than 100 residents blockaded an arterial road.

A proposal for a second Bali airport, in the north of the island in the Buleleng Regency, was criticized due to pending displacement of agricultural communities and the sociocultural shock that would be inflicted on nearby villages, leading to an alternative plan for an offshore ‘floating’ airport. Yet the latest report on the new Bali airport plan still entails acquisition of populated land, stating that 656 hectares is required, predominantly residential land. The coastal villages of Pejarakan and Bumberkima would be affected and 3,335 people relocated, in order to offer wealthy tourists ‘panoramic views of white sandy beaches’. The elitist project aims to ‘cater to deep pocketed clients, servicing private jets’. Along with the airport investors intend to build aerotropolis-style development: hotels, restaurants and a yacht port.

In West Papua, dozens of families are refusing to be evicted for development of Manokwari Airport, and Sentani Airport finally agreed to pay compensation for acquisition of customary land in May 2016, after members of the four affected tribes blocked the taxiway with banana trees. In 2013 operations at Sorong Airport were disrupted by a rally demanding compensation for land.

Anti-airport movements in Indonesia are mindful of the long history of state brutality against people protesting confiscation of farmland for Lombok Airport. In the mid-1990s hundreds of families were evicted from 800 hectares of farmland for the airport. Oppression continued and in 23rd August 2005 a further 2,631 people were forcibly evicted for the airport. Then, on 18th September police, without provocation, fired into a crowd of 1,000 people who had gathered to commemorate Indonesia’s National Peasant’s Day and protest construction of Lombok Airport on fertile farmland. Thirty-three protesters were injured, 27 of them by gunshots, six from being beaten by police.

Kertajati aerotropolis is part of a wider Indonesian government drive for massive aviation growth. A target has been set to build 62 new airports over the next 15 years, in particular in isolated areas, which would bring the country’s total number of airports to 299. Inevitably, a number of these new airport projects will impact on rural communities and trigger resistance to displacement.

“The project of the NAICM will lead to water shortage” Vandana Shiva in Atenco

dorset chiapas solidarity

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“The project of the NAICM will lead to water shortage” Vandana Shiva in Atenco

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Desinformémonos

Mexico City. 14 August 2016. “At some point it will lead to a water shortage” said Vandana Shiva and Sebastiao Pinheiro during their visit to Atenco yesterday.   With members of the Peoples Front in Defence of Land (FPDT) they toured the lands of Atenco that the government intends to dispossess in order to be part of the new airport in Mexico City (NAICM).  They arrived early in the camp that is located in the area where they intend to build one of the access roads.

Vandana, winner of the alternative Nobel prize for the environment, asked Mexicans not to allow life to be exterminated and to come to support the movement of the FPDT and all those who oppose the construction of the airport in these lands.

Meanwhile, members of the FPDT told the environmentalists that in these lands they grow crops of pumpkins, olives, corn…

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Taoyuan Aerotropolis case presented at East Asia Tribunal on Evictions

From 2nd – 4th July, about 100 people gathered in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, to participate in the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions. Representatives from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines attended and presentations about cases of forced displacement were made before a panel of five jurors.  Taoyuan Aerotropolis, a massive planned development around Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan’s main airport on the outskirts of Taipei, was one of the eviction cases presented. Most of the 3,700 hectares of land earmarked for expropriation for the aerotropolis is fertile farmland and 46,000 people face loss of their homes and farmland.

SEA_7191Presentation of Taoyuan Aerotropolis case to the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Other eviction cases highlighted at the ITE-EA included: informal settlements in Taipei; eviction of Shinjuku Kasumigaoka-cho public housing complex under the Olympic 2020 Stadium Project in Tokyo; the Yongsan Tragedy in Seoul; eviction of rooftop tenants in Hong Kong, the 25 year struggle of the Pom Mahakan community in Bangkok; the Kampung Gatco community in Sembilan, Malaysia and the Sitio San Roque case in Quezon, the Philippines.

SEA_7219Panel of jurors at the eviction tribunal, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

The ITE East Asia meeting was part of preparations for the fifth International Tribunal on Eviction (ITE) session, which is slated to be held in mid-October in Quito, Ecuador as part of the United Nations Habitat III conference on housing and sustainable urban development. Fittingly, the first day of the tribunal was held at the former site of the Huaguang community, in the heart of Taipei, where a disadvantaged neighbourhood was demolished in 2013 in to make way for an upmarket development. The government defined people who had been living in the Huanguang community for decades as ‘illegal residents’ and pressured them to leave by imposing fines and lawsuits on them. Forced evictions began without a relocation plan, leaving many residents homeless. Ketty Chen, a political scientist and academic, has posted a moving account of a two-day protest, by residents and supporters, attempting to block excavators from entering the site for the fourth wave of evictions.

On the final day of the ITE East Asia tribunal event, on Monday 4th July, more than 200 people marched through Taipei to the Presidential Office to protest forced evictions. The route of the march, beginning at the site of the former Huaguang community, is shown here. Along the way they stopped outside the Transportation Ministry to protest the Taoyuan Aerotropolis, the Tainan underground rail plan and other land expropriation projects. The draft recommendations of the tribunal showed that the number of people affected by forced eviction in the cases that had been considered added up to a total of nearly 1 million.
SEA_8617March against forced evictions in Taipei, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

As they marched through Taipei demonstrators demanded that the government initiate discussions on housing rights, pay special attention to eviction cases nationwide and adopt recommendations passed at the International Tribunal on Evictions’ (ITE) meeting. Some of the protesters threw shoes at signs, an expression of anger that the Presidential Office, claiming a full schedule, refused to send representatives to meet with them. More photos of the march have been posted by the Taiwan Alliance of Anti-Forced Eviction.

In May 2016 several legal academics pointed out legal flaws in the proposed hearing procedures for land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis, expressing doubts over provision of information to residents in order for them to exercise their rights, and whether their opinions would be incorporated in the decision-making process. A few days before presenting the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case at the evictions tribunal, on 21st June, groups opposing the project requested that the government stop land expropriation and review the Environmental Impact Assessment of the planned third runway, which is integral to the project. Land expropriation for the new runway would entail the forced relocation of 20,000 people.

The third runway  also raises safety and environmental concerns. The site is exposed to strong winds and its location, close to the sea with soft, sandy soil, would require extensive land filling operations in order to bear the weight of aircraft. The proposed third runway location poses a risk of bird strikes and  is very close to a fuel depot holding up to 130,000 kilolitres of fuel. Opponents of Taoyuan Aerotropolis have accused authorities of circumventing the law by proceeding with the land expropriation for the third runway, and beginning construction of basic infrastructure, before completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Video recordings of the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions have been published online, with some sections translated into English. Presentation and discussion of the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case is in the first recording beginning at 1 minute 39 seconds. Unfortunately translation into English is not audible for most of this segment. A second section of the event recording is available here.

Jeju Islanders resist airport megaproject – Ecologist article

An article about resistance to plans for a second airport on the South Korean island of Jeju has been published on The Ecologist website – Jeju Islanders resist airport megaproject. A plan for an airport and an accompanying ‘Air City’, i.e. an aerotropolis, was announced without even consulting residents of five villages who would be seriously affected. Hailed by its proponents as the biggest project in the history of Jeju island the airport scheme is linked with other looming megaprojects such as tourism resorts, casinos and surface transportation networks.

Since announcement of the airport, in November 2015, there has been a series of protests and the campaign is being compared to long standing resistance to a Naval Base on the island, an affront to many citizens of the ‘Island of Peace’, which is destroying a large area of coastline and marine wildlife habitat. The mainstream media has misrepresented the community response to the airport plan as divided; in fact the majority of people living in and near to the proposed site are opposed to it. The photos accompanying the Ecologist article were originally published on the blog Pagansweare (one of few sources of information about opposition to the second airport) and used with kind permission. The additional photos below, also from Pagansweare, give more insight into the communities affected by the airport plan and their reaction.

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Massive Mexico City airport would be a disaster

It would spur privatized highway construction, destroy farming communities, increase flooding and urban sprawl, and line the pockets of contractors.

hazard pic 1Mexican police forces invade ejidal lands in San Salvador Atenco near Mexico City where campesinos have resisted the expropriation of their lands for a controversial new airport. 

This article  was written by Johnny Hazard and originally published on The Rag Blog on 10th May 2016. It is republished with permission. 

A special report

MEXICO CITY — The federal government of Mexico has begun a project to build a new airport, one of the biggest in the world, in a country where the vast majority of the people have never flown. This project threatens to:

  • spur construction of 16 to 19 new highways in the Mexico City-Toluca-Texcoco metropolitan area(s), all privatized from their inception, increasing dependence on the automobile in an area where car ownership has more than doubled in 10 years. Almost all toll roads in Mexico are privately constructed and owned but publicly subsidized. Giveaways of public money to corporations is the raison de’etre of most of the world’s new airport construction;
  • increase CO2 emissions (from the planes themselves and from cars and buses that would go much farther than before to get to the airport) in one of the most polluted cities in the world;
  • line the pockets of contractors, construction companies, and “starchitects”;
  • increase the risks of flooding and exacerbate the drying of lakes and rivers;
  • damage or destroy what remains of the farming communities around Mexico City and Texcoco;
  • increase suburban sprawl (result of all of the above).

As campesinos of Atenco prepared to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the state and federal attack on their town as revenge for their having defeated the first proposal to build an airport on their farm lands, a skirmish occurred on April 12 (see photo) in which surveyors were escorted onto the lands by a small group of soldiers and a tanqueta (mini-tank). Atenco residents ran them off, removed the surveying stakes, and set up a permanent camp on a local hill.

hazard pic 2The ejido of Atenco, with the suburb of Ecatepec in the distance. Photos courtesy of high school students in solidarity with Atenco, except where otherwise indicated.”

“Infrastructure” is the mantra of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and his state and local counterparts of other political parties. But they’re not talking about water (unless it’s to divert it toward golf courses and breweries), much less schools: what’s hot now is to offer “incentives” to construct private highways, high rise buildings, and airports.

In Mexico City a small percentage of the population has the funds to pay for a plane ticket.

In Mexico City, where a small percentage of the population has the funds to pay for a plane ticket, the construction of a new airport is all the rage (among politicians, executives and media owners). A second terminal at the current site is less than 10 years old; the existing airport is served by existing highways, other thoroughfares, the subway, and confined-lane buses, and underwent a recent remodeling job.

hazard pic 3Cyclists protest plans for the airport. Image from Nosotros defendemos a la madre tierra.

When Vicente Fox took office as the country’s first opposition president since the Revolution — he’s since allied himself with the ruling PRI — he attempted to build an airport on communally-held lands in Atenco, outside of Texcoco. (Texcoco is a city of about 100,000 people, about 25 miles northeast of Mexico City. Atenco is an adjacent farming community of about 20,000 people.) Fox’s airport proposal sparked a campesino uprising that damaged his presidency to the point that he had to cancel the project in 2002.

But now, the retooled airport project has become the centerpiece of Peña Nieto’s attempt to salvage his own presidency after government-inflicted human rights atrocities like that of the 43 education students who disappeared in September 2014, in Iguala, Guerrero, and economic scandals like his and his associates’ acquisition of mansions with “loans” from a firm, Higa, that has been favored in no-bid highway and train construction contracts. Higa built and paid for mansions for Angélica Rivera, the wife of Peña Nieto, and Luis Videgaray, a top cabinet official.

Another firm, OHL, based in Spain but which makes lots of its money in Mexico, is accused of massive fraud in Mexico, where it’s tied to the ruling party, the PRI, and in Spain, where it’s also tied to the right-wing governing party, Partido Popular. Recordings in which one OHL executive accuses others, and the company, of fraud were released last year. Around the same time, other recordings revealed that OHL paid for the vacations, in Spain, of the state secretary of transportation and his family.

hazard pic 4Proposed Mexico City airport design by Fernando Romero and Norman Foster. Image from eVolo.

The company’s stock fell in both countries. In an attempt to cut losses, OHL México sold some assets to an Australian pension fund and other curious buyers. OHL now controls contracts for some of the new airport-related freeways mentioned above and recently revamped its board of directors to include people from the airport authority. The government, instead of cancelling contracts, arranged to have the journalists who denounced this fraud fired. (Carmen Aristegui, dismissed from three radio stations over the years, maintains her program on CNN Español where she filed this report on the subject.)

In May 2006, police raided the town of Atenco and raped, beat, and detained residents.

The farmers, farm workers, and allies who prevented the airport from being built in the first years of this century paid a heavy price for their victory: In May 2006, state and federal police raided the town of Atenco and, according to dozens of witnesses and various human rights organizations, raped, beat, and detained residents and visitors including the Chilean cinema student Valentina Palma, who was sexually assaulted, beaten, and immediately deported. She was about to graduate from film school in Mexico but has not been able to return. Forty-seven women alleged sexual assault; no one has ever been punished.

hazard pic 5A dirt road within the ejido.

After mass detentions, Ignacio del Valle, one of the most visible leaders of the anti-airport movement, was sentenced to 102 years in prison, and 10 others received sentences of 30 years. All were released amid public pressure after four years. This police action was a bipartisan collaboration between the outgoing president, Fox, and an up-and-coming governor named Enrique Peña Nieto.

While many were captured and imprisoned, others went into hiding; del Valle’s daughter, América, was eventually able to put herself out of danger by seeking asylum at the Venezuelan embassy.

While the activists were indisposed, new president Felipe Calderón discreetly revived the airport project. (This was against the advice of cabinet member, hydraulic engineer, and former PAN official Jose Luis Luege, who supported a plan to reconstitute the parts of Lake Texcoco that have been dried. The PAN is Partido de Acción Nacional, the conservative party of Fox and Calderón.)

As Ignacio del Valle stated at a recent forum at the Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México: “the violation that many women of Atenco suffered of the most sacred rights of a human being is something that we don’t forget and we don’t pardon. But we don’t hate. In spite of having been tortured in prison, I don’t hate the oppressors.”

Del Valle adds that the Atenco campesinos organized as Frente de los Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra hope that people will come out to protest during the 10th anniversary of the attack, “not to call us pobrecitos, but to express indignation with us.”

San Salvador Atenco is the “cabecera municipal” of a group of pueblos that include Atenco, Acuexcómoc, Nexquipayac, and others. Behind them is a vast unspoiled area that contains ejidos — communal farmland. The ejido is a figure of the Mexican revolution of 1910-1917 and was an attempt to redistribute land stolen by the pre-revolutionary president Porfirio Díaz and his cronies through a de facto slavery system.

“Our ancestors were peones on the haciendas in this area,” del Valle explains. And before that, pre-colonial, indigenous farmers: Alicia, an older woman in the Atenco community who has a third-grade education and often speaks at public forums, evokes the indigenous roots of Atenco: “This is not a battle. It’s a struggle for our mother earth.”

Campesinos move between the towns and the fields on old bikes.

Campesinos move between the towns and the fields on old bikes to which they strap shovels or machetes. The ejido of Atenco, one of three in the area, has 2,500 hectares on which around 300 people work full-time and others farm in addition to their other occupations — manual in most cases, though there are a few teachers and a dentist.

hazard pic 6Field of cilantro, irrigated.

We visited El Cilantrero, the Cilantro Man, bearer of a Mexican tradition in which people are known by nicknames and almost no one knows their real names. He cultivates seven hectares of cilantro and spinach. This may sound like a hobby farm in U.S. terms, but it’s enough for him and three workers to live on. In 2001, the government under Fox offered seven pesos per square meter for the land that it intended to expropriate. Now the offer has increased exponentially and some have succumbed.

(The ejido system began to be destroyed, quasi-privatized, during the regime of Carlos Salinas in the 1990s in a move, similar to the Indian Allotment Act of 1924 in the U.S., to weaken collective traditions and open land up to settlers and speculators.) Ignacio del Valle remembers 2001: “We never felt that we were poor because we lived in an environment in which nobody had to steal; everybody contributed beans, hogs, etc. That tranquility was broken on October 22,” the day that the Fox administration decreed the expropriation of the ejido of Atenco (which means “on the lake shore” in the Náhuatl language).

A rigged assembly of the ejido took place in June 2014. Goons with no connection to Atenco posed as members of the ejido and hundreds of state police assured that no one would challenge them. The president of the ejido, Andrés Ruíz Méndez, now mayor of Atenco and a local leader of the PRI, called the meeting in a private location with electric fencing and railroaded a vote in favor of selling off the ejido to the federal government in this manner. The assembly lasted 15 minutes.

Fabiola Gutiérrez Quiroz reported on this assembly in Spanish in the alternative newspaper desinformémonos.

Many archaeological treasures are threatened by airport construction.

As Don Rodrigo, a local farmer and member of the movement, showed us the fields from the main hill of Atenco, four men appeared in a pick-up. “We came to see the lizard.” Someone showed them a stone in the shape of a lizard, about eight feet long and with hieroglyphics, one of many archaeological treasures threatened by airport construction. “This is where they want to put the runways,” Rodrigo said. About 50 feet away is “La silla de Nezahualcóyotl,” a rock shaped like a bench where Nezahualcóyotl (“Hungry Wolf”), also known as“the Poet King” — el Rey Poeta — sat and looked out at the valley. He reigned a century before the arrival of the Spanish in 1521and was one of the engineers responsible for the construction of some of the most sophisticated hydraulic and irrigation systems of that era.

The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), a government agency ostensibly charged with historical and cultural preservation, concedes that in Atenco there are stone artifacts that date from 8,000 ACE to 700 CE and that there is evidence of the presence of mammoths from the same period. Local activists maintain that there are 1,000 indigenous archaeological sites in Atenco alone. Anthropologists based in Mexico City who ask not to be identified allege that even in the early phases of construction and surveying, crews found and immediately destroyed indigenous artifacts and that the INAH pretended not to notice.

hazard pic 7Nopales grow on one of the hills from which Atenco residents protect their land.

Atenco borders on Texcoco, Ecatepec (an industrialized, highly polluted suburb), and the northeastern part of Mexico City. Lake Texcoco, one of seven lakes in the metropolitan area, dominated this zone until, immediately after the conquest, the Spanish began their ecocidal practices of drying lakes and rivers, thinking that by doing so they controlled flooding.

Farmers predict that the paving of this area will aggravate flooding.

Atenco farmers predict that the paving of this area, one of the few green spaces left within an hour of Mexico City, will aggravate flooding in the city by further increasing hardscape. And local scientists with an organization called Ciéntificos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (Scientists Committed to Society) share this belief and cite a suspicious environmental impact statement that gave a fast-track authorization, at Christmastime, to the project based partly on “neighbor” interviews with residents of Ecatepec, but not of Atenco or Texcoco.

The scientific organization adds that the project violates the regional development plan for greater Texcoco, which mandates the promotion of agricultural activities and prohibits construction over the basin of Lake Texcoco, an official protected natural area.

Similarly, Grupo Aeroportuario de la Ciudad de México and Guinness report that the airport will contain the world’s largest parking lot, supplanting that of the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, and offering 20,000 parking places.

The scientists’ group also sounds the alarm about a vague plan to construct an “Aerotrópolis,” an airport city that would include this parking lot and a host of convention and hospitality facilities so that a visit to Mexico would be limited to that area. When the Secretariat of Natural Resources approved the airport project, it “gave a blank check” to this and other aspects whose characteristics are unclear.

The environmental impact statement doesn’t indicate how big the airport city would be, but the Scientists Committed to Society estimate that it would require 3.5 million cubic meters and that it would consume 23 million cubic meters of water per year. “Starchitect” Norman Foster claims the airport project would be self-sufficient in terms of water. He also plans to put a giant tarpaulin under the airport site, and at the same time to elevate it onto a platform to prevent the airport from sinking. (Texcoco is one of the most-rapidly sinking parts of the center of the country.) At the same time, residents of Texcoco, Atenco, and other nearby communities wonder where the projected 125,000 workers will live.

(There is a detailed analysis of the project in Spanish, based on the study of Scientíficos Comprometidos con la Sociedad, in the independent newspaper desinformémonos.)

As a few ejido members cashed their expropriation checks, members of the underworld smelled their money.

Atenco residents speak of how, as a few ejido members cashed their expropriation checks, members of the underworld smelled their money and kidnappings, a previously-unknown phenomenon in the area — Texcoco is one of the safest cities in the state — began to occur. Residents fear what could happen if the project continues and boom town nightmares such as those that have happened in Alberta and North Dakota materialize: exponential growth of towns, environmental devastation, huge influx of young males and concomitant alcohol abuse and sexual violence.

Fox called this land “sterile” and “almost desert” to justify its planned destruction. Atenco residents now grow more than before in what they call an act of resistance, to prove that the land is fertile. Cilantro, lima beans, corn, wheat, spinach, and asparagus are some of the plants they grow for subsistence, sale, and to give away to occasional visitors.

As we left the town and headed into the ejido, Rodrigo said that the area is full of little rivers and showed us two. Over one of them there is a simple, one-lane bridge built recently by local residents with no government assistance. They embedded a machete into the pavement. These are “farm implements, not weapons,”* activists are fond of saying since 2001 when their marches into Mexico City, machetes held high, scandalized the respectable citizenry.


He told us that one of these rivers, now about two feet wide, is destined to be buried by one of the new highways. In the pueblo of Tezoyuca the government began in October to demolish houses, usually without warning, to make room to widen a now-modest highway. (See photographs of this Grapes of Wrath-style demolition of the home of a 71-year-old man in the nearby town of Tezoyuca in the video above.)

Most residents of the Mexico City area who have the purchasing power to buy plane tickets live in or beyond the south and west of the city — exactly opposite of Texcoco, which is about 25 miles northeast of the center of the city. From Tlalpan, a densely populated middle-to-upper income area in the southwest of the city, to Texcoco or Atenco is about two hours by car or in mass transit (buses and trains, making at least three transfers).

One of the reasons that some neighbors support the airport project is, of course, the promise of jobs — as if United Airlines were going to go door to door in low-income, rural communities asking who’s ready to work as a pilot, air traffic controller, or bilingual interpreter. In February, the CROC, a federation of hack unions controlled by the PRI, blocked two highways that serve Texcoco or Atenco for most of a day because the government was not honoring promises to channel jobs to their members.

The contractors

Architect Norman Foster of England recently found one of his airport designs rejected in London. And another London project, to expand Heathrow from two to three runways, is  a subject of constant protest, as George Monbiot has reported in The Guardian in a column in which he refers to the Heathrow 13 who chained themselves to block an existing runway and were found not guilty; Monbiot calls them heroes, not hooligans.

Norman Foster: New International Airport for Mexico City RIBA, Nov 2015 from urbanomex on Vimeo.

The Mexico City airport is projected to have six runways, making it the biggest in the Americas and one of the three biggest in the world. (Some of the other mega airports, such as the one in Dubai, are also Foster-designed. And much of his work has been in oil-rich emirates. See his efforts at greenwashing and self-aggrandizement in the video above.)

One of the main contractors participated in the ‘rebuilding’ of Iraq.

One of the main contractors, Parsons of Pasadena, California, participated in the “rebuilding” of Iraq as part of the U.S. occupying force beginning in 2003, along with companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. But, having accepted acting as accomplice to this U.S. violation of Iraqi sovereignty, Parsons also defrauded the U.S. government and the neocolonial government of Iraq by not building the more than 100 clinics and hospitals it was paid for.

“They also build prisons,” as critical pedagogue and area resident Peter McLaren commented after having looked into Parsons at my request; it appears that for these, the completion rate is higher. Parsons describes itself as “an engineering, construction, technical, and management services firm with revenues of $3.2 billion in 2015. Parsons is a leader in many diversified markets with a focus on infrastructure, industrial, federal, and construction.” (Sic.)

High-speed or other rail alternatives

It’s curious, though not surprising, that a proposed train to Querétaro was halted, due to accusations of corruption and that the airport, with much more potential for environmental devastation and with the same corrupt parties involved, receives little criticism or scrutiny.

Almost all passenger trains in Mexico were eliminated in the 1990s during a phase of the ongoing privatization push under then-president Ernesto Zedillo. A conventional train could get to Querétaro in two hours instead of the highway time of three hours; the cancelled or suspended train would have done it in one hour and would be the gateway to Guadalajara, Monterrey, Laredo (San Antonio, Austin, Dallas), Zacatecas, Leon, Aguascalientes and most of the northern half of the country, thus making it unnecessary to fly to such destinations.

All these cities except the ones in Texas could be reached in less than five hours, much less in some cases, by high-speed rail, and much of the demand for domestic and even international air travel could be supplanted by rail. One rail project is underway: a train from Mexico City to Toluca, the capital of Mexico State, which is now reachable in an hour or more by bus and will reportedly take 39 minutes on the new train, which, like the airport, is immune to recent across-the-board budget cuts.

This train could easily be expanded to Morelia, Lázaro Cárdenas, and the beach towns of Zihuatenejo and Ixtapa, eliminating still more plane trips and offering a good alternative to bus and car transportation toward the west. And Toluca, coincidentally, has a new and under-used airport and is close to the parts of Mexico City where the richest people live.

*Machetes are, in fact, used in all of Mexico for farming and for landscaping in cities; they can be bought at small farm implement stores and even at Wal Mart, but sensationalist media insist on associating them with violence.