Privatize Your Mother: Mexico Passes Historic Energy Reform

December 14, 2013

By Kent Paterson via Newspaper Tree

In a week of unforgettable confrontations, soaring speeches, political showdowns and fisticuffs, Mexican Senator Layda Sansores San Roman of Campeche perhaps gets the prize.

Striding to the floor of the Mexican Senate, the woman senator from the Citizen Movement party posed an unusual challenge to supporters of the Peña Nieto administration’s initiative to reform articles 25, 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution that govern the ownership, production and distribution of oil and gas, as well as the generation of electricity.

Sansores and other opponents of the initiative contend the reforms will privatize the nation’s energy resources and essentially transfer the state-owned Pemex oil company into the hands of foreigners.

“Those of you who want to privatize and are with the mood of the new times, well go ahead,” Sansores urged. “Privatize dreams, privatize the law, privatize justice. But if you really want to privatize, go ahead and privatize the f….mother that gave birth to you all!”

Eliciting shouts from her mainly male colleagues, Sansores stood her ground and, in the process, electrified the Twitter world with nearly 10,000 mentions in less than 24 hours.

Outside the Mexico City session, partisans of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s National Movement for the Regeneration of Mexico (Morena) and different social organizations continued demonstrating-and clashing with police-against the reform.

Although Sansores’ brusque words stood in a category of their own, the oratory that flowed this week as senators prepared to cast their votes cut to the very heart and soul of Mexican culture, politics and identity.

On one side of the historic legislative battle were the pro-reform forces of Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the Mexican Green Party, the National Alliance Party and the conservative National Action Party (PAN), with the notable exceptions of norteño Senators Javier Corral of Chihuahua and Ernesto Ruffo, Baja California’s first PAN governor (1989-95). Both men came out against the reform.

Corral charged that hastily-driven changes were being pushed with no clear controls over the future management of and profiting from an enterprise that had been looted and abused by different forces ranging from political parties to organized crime.

“Hydrocarbon resources are a fundamental element of geopolitics and energy security, even more so when the empire that has always looked down upon us but desired our riches lives next door,” the Chihuahua PAN senator proclaimed.

Backing the legislation were the powerful Mexican Business Men’s Council and the Business Coordinating Council.

Prior to the Senate vote, Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquin Coldwell warned that failure to approve the reforms would prolong a negative status quo of “more declines in crude production, more imports of petroleum products to Mexico, and more expensive electricity rates.”

The proposed reform succeeded in uniting in opposition the fractious “tribes” of the left and center-left, including the PRD, Citizen Movement, PT and Morena political parties.

Inside and outside the Congress, rhetoric brimming with solemn references to Mexican history filled the air. Senator Manuel Camacho reproduced revered President Lazaro Cardenas’ words on his 1938 nationalization of the country’s oil. Cardenas’ son, PRD co-founder and former Mexico City mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, declared that Peña Nieto’s reform would take the nation back to the days of dictator Porfirio Diaz.

The action wasn’t confined to Mexico City. Addressing a December 8 send-off rally in Ciudad Juarez for a Morena-organized caravan headed to join the protests in the capital city, Javier Melendez, leader of the rural community of Samalayuca outside Ciudad Juarez, likened the reform to General Santa Anna’s surrender of 40 percent of Mexico’s territory to the United States in 1848.

A 20-hour debate broadcast live on the Congressional Channel climaxed in a 93 to 25 vote that handed Peña Nieto a major victory on December 11. Next act, the vote moved to the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s lower house of Congress, where the scenes rivaled or surpassed those of the nightly telenovelas, or soap operas, that scandalize Mexican households.

As millions of Mexicans poured into Mexico City to celebrate December 12, Virgin of Guadalupe Day, PRD Congresswomen Karen Quiroga pummeled PRI lawmaker Landy Berunza with a hook to the left eye.

To illustrate his predictions on how the reform would leave Mexico, PRD Congressman Antonio Garcia Conejo stripped down to his underwear while addressing his colleagues on the floor of Congress. When Garcia’s name was called for the December 12 vote, PRI members were heard yelling “dance pole!” “dance pole!”

On the upper end of the congressional auditorium, reform opponents chanted “traitors to the country,” while on the lower end supporters repeatedly shouted “Mexico!” like the exuberant fans of a Mexican national soccer team.

At the end of the day, the voting result was similar as in the Senate: 353 votes for the reform and 134 opposed.

All the theatrics aside, the constitutional changes portend far-reaching impacts. The legislation now allows direct foreign investment in energy extraction, electrical transmission and petrochemical production; creates a trust fund to administer monies earned from concessions or licenses; and removes the powerful and reputedly corrupt oil workers’ union from the Pemex board of directors, among other measures.

Supporters justify the reforms as vital for bolstering Pemex in a competitive international economy and reversing declining Mexican oil production, which until now has been dependent on easily extractable but vanishing crude oil supplies. Pro-reform advocates claim the new laws will spur between 500,000 and 2.5 million new jobs in the next decade.

“The energy reform will attract $50 billion in investment in the short run, in addition to a 1.5 percent additional growth to the national economy,” said Gerardo Gutierrez Candiani, president of the Business Coordinating Council.

The reform, insist the Peña Nieto administration and its supporters, leaves ownership of energy resources in state hands.

The legislative showdown caught international attention, with U.S. press outlets like the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times praising the pro-reform vote as a step forward for Mexico. The chief of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (CEPAL) was more guarded.

Alicia Barcena, CEPAL executive secretary, said Mexico “deserved a more profound” discussion and “total transparency” in the energy debate.

While recognizing the need for reform, Barcena, who is of Mexican nationality, said Pemex wasn’t just any old business. “It’s a business that has political significance, a very profound significance,” she said.

The Battle of Pemex is not yet over. In order for the reforms to become realities, the Congress will have to pass implementing legislation while a simple majority of state legislatures will have to approve the constitutional changes. Already, opponents are vowing to encircle state congresses with protests.

“What happened in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate is a shame, but we are going to continue struggling in the state legislatures to stop this reform,” said Andres Manuel Lopez Beltran, Lopez Obrador’s son.

The young man emerged as his father’s spokesperson after Lopez Obrador suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized shortly before the Senate vote this week.

In addition, different sectors of society are demanding a popular consultation on the reform. Organized into a collective, prominent actors and cultural personalities are adding their voices to the referendum demand, including actors Damian Alcazar of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and Oscar-nominated Demian Bichir, who’s also portrayed Fidel Castro and Emiliano Zapata.

In a press conference, collective members said previous privatizations of the rail, telecommunications, banking and other sectors had not benefited the people of Mexico.

“They also reformed, never consulting us or the Constitution, so the ejido (collectively owned lands) could enter the market and make its sale possible,” collective members stated. “They argued this to modernize the countryside, and so that a generation of prosperous small farmers might come about. But what we have today is a poor countryside, devastated by migration, violence and crime…”

The artists’ collective appealed for an unprecedented popular vote on a major public policy question:

“Let’s go together in participating in this decision. For the first time in our history, let it be the citizenry that decides, through a mechanism of direct democracy, the future of Mexico! We demand that all take part in the Popular Consultation on energy reform.”

Expect a very hot Mexican political scene in 2014.

Sources: La Jornada, December 10 and 12, 2013. Articles by Victor Ballinas, Andrea Becerril, Notimex, and editorial staff. Arrobajuarez.com, December 8, 11 and 12, 2013. Nortedigital.com.mx/El Universal, December 10, 2013. Proceso/Apro, December 8, 9, 11, 12, 2013. Articles by Jenaro Villamil, Rosalia Vergara, Columba Vertiz De La Fuente, and editorial staff. El Universal, December 9, 2013. El Sur, December 8, 2013.

Kent Paterson is the Editor of Frontera NorteSur (http://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/frontera-nortesur/), a project of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Photo: Rutlo