By Claire Kokoska
On Nov. 3, 2014, the China Railways Consortium, led by the China Railway Construction Corp. and joined by several Mexican construction firms, secured the $3.75 billion contract to build Mexico’s first high-speed railway.
Despite 16 other conglomerates showing interest in the contract — among them Siemens of Germany, Alstom of France and Mitsubishi of Japan — China’s group remained the sole bidder after Communications and Transport Minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza denied requests for more time to finalize offers from possible bidders.
The proposed railway is slated to bring 27,000 passengers daily on the 130-mile route from Mexico City to Querétaro in 58 minutes, while reaching speeds of 186 mph. Even the fastest Amtrak train, the Acela, averages a paltry 64 mph.
In a statement about what the project means for Mexico’s future, Ruiz Esparza said, “The rest of the world has its eye on Mexico. This is critical to our competitiveness.” Citing “doubts about legitimacy and transparency of the bidding process,” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto abruptly rescinded the contract several days after awarding the contract to China.
China’s National Development and Reform Commission posted the following statement on its website: “We understand that the cancellation of the bid is due to domestic factors in Mexico, and is unrelated to the Chinese side.”
Mexico’s unanticipated severance of the contract came just a few days before investigative journalist Carmen Aristegui published information about faulty ties between Mexican government officials and the Mexican construction firms within the China Railway Consortium.
While President Peña governed the state of Mexico from 2005-2011, he reserved $8 billion worth of construction projects to Grupo Higa. Its owner, Juan Armando Hinojoso, has maintained a personal relationship with Peña for years.
Hinojoso provided first lady and former actress Angélica Riviera with a $7 million estate, in addition to building another multi-million dollar mansion for Mexico’s finance minister, Luis Videgaray. Riviera has since issued a video in which she states that there has been no wrong-doing and that she will sell the home to maintain her honor and that of her family.
There have been cries of favoritism and nepotism against Grupo GIA, Desarrolladora Mexicana and Infrastructura Mexicana, as well. The Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation confirmed that it would reopen the bidding process on Jan. 14, 2015 and allow interested groups 180 days to finalize offers.
Since Peña’s election in 2012, he has done little to reassure the public that he is transparent and free of corruption. As a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party that ruled Mexico for 71 years in the 20th century and was deemed the “perfect dictatorship,” Peña began his presidency with the trust of only 15 percent of the population, according to a poll.
One of his first actions as president was to pass the Pact for Mexico, which diminished the power of congress and transferred it to himself in the executive branch.
Violence has increased, and corruption runs rampant. It is difficult to believe fully that Peña wishes to better the lives of Mexicans when he chooses to undertake an engineering project on this scale and has yet to address Mexico’s terrible social inequality, the omnipresent threat of drug cartels or the dismal education system.
In the meantime, one may at least hope that Mexico can forge a high-speed railway partnership that continues to be unmarred by public corruption.