|EDINBURG, August 18 - I never thought I would live to see the day. Many in Mexico feel the same. They fear the famous Mexican Revolution that ended a long dictatorship in the early 20th century has been betrayed - again.
Mexicans who support indigenous peoples and the masses, the poor, claimed betrayal first when the venerable, nationalistic Constitution was changed to cancel land rights for the campesinos Zapata fought and died for. Now, they fear the final nail in the coffin with the selling of Mexico’s patrimony - its oil.
It is a regressive move, not progressive. Only seven percent of the world’s countries do not have a national oil company. One of these is the United States. Capitalism reigns supreme here; we do not even know how the rest of the world manages its economy. Even Canada has Petro-Canada. The Scandinavian countries all have such a nationalized system and it makes more logical sense than random privatization.
Yet, a “sweeping reform” is proposed by President Peña Nieto of the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party (PRI), now returned to the Presidential Palace, Los Pinos. This “most daring gamble” calls for lifting a decades-old ban on private companies (read, U.S. companies) investing in the state-run oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos or PEMEX. Chevron and many big oil companies are salivating at the prospect (Mark Stevenson, Associated Press, 8/13/13).
There are few specific details, as yet. The plan is that private (foreign) companies could bid for profit-sharing contracts in PEMEX’s businesses: e.g., petrochemical production, transportation. To pass, the proposal must clear the Mexican Congress, but at this point it seems likely to have the necessary 2/3 support of the two major parties. It then must be ratified by 17 of the 32 state legislatures, which might be more problematic.
Opposing is the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) which nearly won the presidency in 2000, and, oh yes, 65 percent of the Mexican people (NYT). That loose alliance remains loyal to the ideals of revered past President Lázaro Cárdenas, who nationalized oil - Mexico being the first country to do so - in 1938, over adamant opposition from private U.S. and other foreign firms.
Jesus Zambrano, head of the PRD, which had been trying to negotiate in good faith, protested: “This proposal is not part of the Pact,” the de facto alliance of all three major parties, to work on general reform in Mexico. There is a realization all that might fall under the guise of “reform” is not necessarily progress.
President Calderon, of the National Action Party or PAN, tried to revise the constitutional tradition in 2008. Massive protests ensued, doors to Congress were blocked. A weaker bill passed, but did nothing to deal with problems (all admit) of PEMEX inefficiency and declining production.
It is true that PEMEX has been notoriously corrupt and a source of sinecure and electoral base of political power for the all-dominant PRI. But is going back to the pre-revolutionary past, a sort of neo-colonialism, the solution to cleaning house? Opponents have always rejected this form of “Malinchismo,” the assumption that foreigners do everything better. (The reference is to Malinche, Cortez’s mistress; it means “selling out”.)
The “sweeping reform” proposed by the president has the potential “to return the country to 1980s heydays of oil drilling” (New York Times, reprinted in the Rio Grande Guardian, 8/16/13). The alleged additional benefit (to the U.S., at least) supposedly would mean a reduction of U.S. dependence on OPEC oil. Exploration, especially deep sea drilling and fracking, would be farmed out to U.S. firms, which can hardly wait for another chance at controlling Mexico’s oil.
Of the proposal, said Kurt Glaubitz, spokesman for Chevron, “this is a good start.” Mexico is now the third source for U.S. oil and 9th among the world’s leading producers. Yet, goes the argument, PEMEX is without funds and expertise to explore deep water sources or drill in shale fields. With “help,” Mexican production could rise to 5th in the world in ten years or so.
Other related fallout could include not only more pressure on Middle East countries but on Venezuela and Russia. World-wide results “will be revolutionary.” Conservative share-holders are not all in agreement. For many reasons, there are numerous, old suspicions of Mexico’s intentions and capabilities, despite the fact this begging for intervention comes from Mexico’s own very elites (New York Times (8/16/13, reprinted in the Rio Grande Guardian).
What you and I don’t often hear are the laments and the critiques of this revolutionary policy from inside Mexico. Or, we mark it up to “leftists.” We stick with familiar buzz words. We fail to realize the sea of native, nationalistic (and very understandable) opposition to the “selling” (selling out?) of Mexico. We ought to be more empathetic. We, who are also very nationalistic, must have room in our reasoning for a pro-homeland, pro-protection of national patrimony set of ideals.
One recent source of criticism comes not from Mexican main stream media, but from a small, frisky, magazine, "El Chamuco." (Click here to read El Chamuco). The board and writers are made of up noted, internationally famous cartoonists, such as the respected creator of “Los Super Machos," Rius (Eduardo del Rio). He is joined by Ahumada, Helioflores, El Fisgón, Capanegra and many more. With a few well-designed barbs, they skewer this latest “reform,” as well as others they deem inadequate in areas of education.
In one of the latest editions the editorial states: “Modernization is not the same thing as privatization,” asking its readers to discern carefully between promises of good for the Mexican people (e.g. cheaper gasoline) and likely big profits for big business, Mexican as well as U.S. (El Chamuco, 7/8/13).
In the same issue, El Fisgón quotes President Peña Nieto’s claim Mexico needs this drastic change because she doesn’t have the technology or the capacity to “exploit its reserves.” Why? Fisgón has the presidential answer: “because ‘somos’ (we Mexicans) are lazy, cheaters, and stupid.” In his clever cartoon, the author adds a Cantinflas-like Everyman character, who, in turn, asks the president: “Somos, Kimosabi?” meaning no, we’re not, but you may be.
Can a relatively free press stand up to the power of Los Pinos and big business? I don’t know. But they certainly try. Capanegra crowns the issue with his pictographs, sarcastically suggesting “pasos” or steps for modernization. The first step to reform the Constitution is to read it, especially famous Article 27. Peña Nieto, in the cartoon, hasn’t read it. So, he tries, finally locates the famous passage: “the nation has direct dominion over all natural resources” (also an old, sacred principle in Spanish law).
But the president, having a moment of epiphany, finds a way out; he exclaims: “ah, hah; but it doesn’t say WHICH nation.” This bittersweet realization - the Constitution is sacred but those in power can and will change the Constitution - underscores the dilemma which Mexico is going through right now.
The president, not as powerful as he used to be, is still quite powerful. Enough followers, with their own agendas in the two major, right-wing parties, are willing to go along. In fact, since his election, many thought the president was not really his own man but, being handsome and young, married to a starlet (just before the campaign), would be a willing tool for the even more powerful interests of big business. That, apparently, may not be far from accurate.
Watch how this drama unfolds. Watch how Mexicans fight to maintain their heritage. Will those in opposition ever be able to receive the educational system they demand and the country needs? It should be one that allows Mexican workers to learn to perform the necessary tasks to bring about a fair energy policy balanced with a sane environmental policy.
Such real reform is not happening now. Watch how Mexico’s current “second Revolution” and the increasing wealth and power of multinational corporations - especially big oil - will affect the U.S. and its citizens.
Dr. Gary Mounce is political science professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. His columns appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.