It is now evident that inauguration of the new Puerto Escondido-Oaxaca highway will not take place in July or August as predicted by the federal and state governments.
One of the delaying factors is a bridge and the other a demand for cash by residents currently engaged in blocking part of the route.
On Thursday, work started at a bridge deemed by Oaxaca Government Minister Jesús Romero López as the most critical section of the new road, because “once construction has started, it cannot be interrupted for any reason.”
“If one day the construction of the bridge was interrupted and there was an earthquake,” he offered as an example, “it would fall. The work would have to start from scratch and the completion of the highway would take another year.”
He said work on the section began as a result of agreements reached between the state government and the people of the municipality of San Vicente Coatlán. But Romero explained that construction of the bridge will take around five months, meaning the highway won’t open until fall or winter.
Officials estimate that once this bridge is complete, the highway will be 95% complete, with the remaining 5% corresponding to a yet unpaved section of road.
That unpaved section lies within the limits of the municipality of San Sebastián Coatlán, where some 40 residents of the town of San José Cieneguilla are maintaining a blockade to exert pressure on the state and federal governments in support of a series of demands.
“Here we are going to wait for the demands to be more reasonable,” said Romero.
The demands include the payment of 50 million pesos (US $2.9 million) to be divided among the 40 protesters, along with some public works and infrastructure projects.
Romero said that protests and blockades in San Sebastián have become a means to “obtain perks,” claiming that over the span of 15 years residents have received “almost 500 million pesos” worth of social development projects.
He stressed that the protesters are committing a serious federal crime and that he is aware that federal authorities have already filed formal complaints about the blockade.
“For those who are blocking [construction] this represents very serious criminal responsibility, because it is an attack on a strategic communications project,” he said.
Governor Salomón Jara described the protesters’ actions as “shameless” in a report that characterized their demands as extortion.