No doubt yesterday was President Enrique Peña Nieto’s personal “Black Thursday”. The as the entire national news media devoted air time, paper and ink and social networking went berserk blasting his road construction endeavors after a sinkhole appeared at the brand new “Express Pass” highway to Acapulco just outside Cuernavaca.
It immediately became the President’s own political sinkhole. On video he was shown on national television flying in a chopper three months ago explaining the greatness to traffic fluidity by this 14-kilometer long expansion of the old Mexico City-Acapulco highway.
On Wednesday as 5:30 a.m. part of the new express road created a 36-foot wide sinkhole covering four of the five lanes of the road; two passengers driving from Acapulco fell into the 15-foot deep hole. They reportedly phoned their relatives of the accident but then mud and concrete began pouring over them. Their vehicle was finally pulled out of the mud at noon, with the bodies of Juan Mena and Juan Mena Junior, father and son, inside.
The Civil Protection Department of the state of Morelos issued the announcement of the death of the two merchants claiming that given the deluge type of rainfall of this week the new road had developed several “risk points” along the “Express Pass” and that the erosion of the dirt under the road had been reported to the Communications and Transportation Secretariat (SCT) responsible for the maintenance of the road. Morelos SCT authorities acknowledged the damage done by the water and trash piled up, the Civil Protection’s report says, and promised immediate action “but actions were not carried out immediately as needed.”
The real flak towards the President began once SCT Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza appeared personally on the scene. Of course, he had been at road expansion work on several occasions and he along with the President were present at inauguration day last April 5, date in which Secretary Ruiz Esparza did a selfie video – also shown on national TV Thursday – of him driving along the Express Pass and claiming the following.
“This work has a cost of 2.2 billion pesos. The asphalt cover was changed for hydraulic concrete which is a much more resilient material which, without a doubt, will give lifetime duration of at least 30 to 40 years without having to do any repair works because the concrete is much more sensitive to heat and rainfall,” he had said.
On Thursday the statements being made by Secretary Ruiz Esparza sounded like excuses as hollow as the sinkhole itself at the site renamed by the people as “The Express Death Pass” also claiming that those responsible – Spanish construction companies Aldesem and Epccor, incorporated in Mexico as Aldesa, for the low quality of the way overpriced work as it’s become known that the original contract was for seven kilometers at 1.045 billion pesos but was expanded to more than double in size and price.
Needless to say, Secretary Ruiz Esparza is being accused of taking kickbacks for authorizing both the initial work and the overpriced expansion of it and endorsing the quality of the work.
Of course the news of the sinkhole have hit President Enrique Peña Nieto like a massive mudslide because in the end he is responsible for all the road works SCT carries out – which are many – and the President duly inaugurates them to look good to the nation. Only this time his description from a helicopter of the “Express Pass” doesn’t make him look good at all.
It must be said that it can be documented that literally dozens of complaints on the social web works were filed by residents of the townships on the sides of the express road and the announcements of a potential development of a sinkhole were reported. SCT responded it would do something about it, they claim, but nothing happened perhaps because their notifications were not official and could be ignored.
In the print press of Thursday there are several calls for EPN to act like a President and first of all to get rid of Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza (Ruin Esparza, one pundit calls him) and come up with a clean explanation of what actually happened to the magnificent bypass to circumvent Cuernavaca and save time to people making the Mexico City ride, and the veritable disaster the “Express Death Pass” became Wednesday.
Surely the President is not directly responsible for the ruinous situation, but all of the political mud- slinging from the sinkhole is landing right on his desk.