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Mexico's military is reviving one of its oldest airlines


Travelers in Mexico could soon be flying on an airline owned and operated by their country's military. A subsidiary of the Mexican Army is reviving the bankrupt Mexicana Airlines, as James Fredrick reports from Mexico City.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Only one airline flies daily to Acapulco.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Mexicana was a classic 20th-century airline and one of the oldest in the world.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: We fly to more of Mexico than any other airline.

FREDRICK: But it went bankrupt in 2010 and was dormant until earlier this year, when Mexico's military purchased the brand. Most see the move as a way for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to bring business to a practically empty, unused airport he built in a remote spot outside Mexico City. But takeoff for Mexicana hasn't gone as planned. It was supposed to be relaunched in September and then on December 1. Now, President Lopez Obrador says the inaugural flight might happen on December 26 or, quote "soon, very soon." That's a problem because many in the industry say the airline doesn't actually own any planes or have any crew or staff to run the airline.

Whenever Mexicana does take off, it will paint a picture of a worrying trend in Mexico. The inaugural flight is set to depart from the military-run Felipe Angeles Airport outside Mexico City. It will land at the military-run Tulum Airport on the Caribbean coast. From there, passengers can easily board the military-run Maya Train, a tourist project marred by scandal for ignoring environmental concerns in pristine jungle.

LISA SANCHEZ: (Speaking in Spanish).

FREDRICK: Lisa Sanchez, the head of the think tank Mexicans United Against Crime, says militarization of Mexico did not start under Lopez Obrador, but it has increased rapidly under his administration. Hundreds of government duties and billions of new dollars are now in military hands. They also run a public bank where Mexicans receive their pensions. They're hired by local governments to police cities across the country. They play a huge role in migration enforcement.

CATALINA PEREZ CORREA: It's really kind of a corporative mentality that has completely changed the nature of the military.

FREDRICK: That's Catalina Perez Correa, a law professor who runs a project tracking the military's growing power. Perez Correa says the military is acting like a large corporation, but one that is very inefficient and granted military-level secrecy.

PEREZ CORREA: See, they're doing all of these things, and they're simply not accountable. So they're basically operating, in many ways, outside the law.

FREDRICK: Lopez Obrador has led a huge transfer of power and money to the military, ensuring that they have a hold on the country long after he leaves power next year.

For NPR News, I'm James Fredrick in Mexico City.

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