A quick glance back at Mexico’s history, the government acting to protect its sovereignty by nationalizing oil (President Lázaro Cárdenas, 1938), suffices to explain the symbolic role of oil in Mexico. Britain severed relations. Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, realizing the importance of Mexico in times of crisis, vowed to keep good relations.
The current president of Mexico, López Obrador (AMLO), is trying to restore some of the nationalistic values cited by Cárdenas. His predecessor, right-wing Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), rolled back some of those protections. Regardless of some of AMLO’s other peculiarities (a Trump-like ignoring of the Coronavirus), he has stood staunchly for Mexico’s sovereignty. Senators Cornyn and Cruz, joined (mostly) by fellow Republicans (open letter to Donald Trump, 22 Oct 20), demand Trump ensure the U.S. a larger share of Mexican oil. They have no shame at the hypocrisy of greedily eyeing new oil fields in Mexico. They insist Trump pressure Mexico to cease protection of Mexico’s national oil company, PEMEX. They would scream “foul!” if Mexico attempted to dictate Texas energy policies, or co-opt the Texas Railroad Commission, which manages Texas oil.
The immediate casus belli centers around a find—the first by a foreign firm, TALOS—of one billion barrels of oil off Mexico’s southern Gulf Coast (David Alire Garcia, “Mexico’s PEMEX,” Reuters, 30 Sep 19). The Mexican Minister of Energy, Rocio Nahle, is also Chair of the Board for PEMEX. (Yes, both countries are bothered by nepotism and fuzzy ethics.) He notes: “PEMEX should have a large part in the operations” of the new extraction project. The amount and nature of control is what worries U.S., oil-obedient Senators, since “AMLO is working to restore the primacy of PEMEX” (Keith Johnson, Foreign Policy, 4 Oct 19).
Mexico is currently 8th in world oil production, 18th in terms of the largest oil and gas companies, and the U.S.’s largest export market for petroleum products. Much is at stake, for both countries. There is great concern but also great potential. At one time, “Texas was king of the energy world,” (Michael E. Webber, How Oil-loving, Frack-Happy Texas Could Lead the Low-Carbon Future,” Texas Monthly, 19 Sep 20). Webber warns: “Climate change threatens to knock us off the throne.”
Neither Texas nor the world can continue to do business the way we always have. Certainly Texas cannot, should not be “the nation’s largest polluter” (twice that of California). The author continues: “we don’t have to be,” for Texas has abundant wind power and sun power potential, as well as natural gas to change the narrative. Renewable energy is now less expensive than any fossil fuel. Indeed, “We are Past the Peak of Big Oil’s Power,” says Bill McKibben, New Yorker, 28 May 20. Cornyn and Cruz, et. al., just don’t know it, or admit it yet.
And it’s about time: “The fossil-fuel industry’s political power has been the biggest obstacle to fighting climate change.” They prevented early action to slow the globe’s rising temperatures. Their lobbying power allowed them to make record profits through the 90s and the 2000s. The “Chilling Effect of Oil Money,” resulted in the disastrous case of “Citizen’s United” (John Noel, Clean Water Fund, Spring 2020). Even more disgusting, at a time of almost 225,000 dead from Coronavirus, big oil money currently supports the Trumpian clamor for “opening up” the economy (Read: drive more cars! fly more airplanes! buy more gasoline! make us more money!)
Yes, such policies, ignoring sound science for health of America’s populace, don’t just happen; they are aided and abetted by large sums of money, aimed at specific goals, to elect certain candidates, to approve nominations of friendly Supreme Court judges, to promote favorable big oil policies, in both the national Congress and the Texas Legislature.
We see the crafty and—until now—successful aims and results of the Texas oil industry. The Mexican angle? The interference by AMLO? Just a mere stumble, perhaps, they think, an obstacle easily overcome, if only Americans and Mexicans look the other way. I trust Mexico will search its soul, rejoice in its national history, and stand firm against attacks on its sovereignty and economy.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows a state-owned oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. (Photo credit: Victor Ruiz/Reuters).
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