EDINBURG, RGV – The Three Kings of the Christmas story were remembered in Mexico this past week, January 6, 2014.
On this side of the border, too, the famous “Rosca de los Reyes Magos”—fruit bread in the form of a crown—was served along with hot chocolate. But, in Mexico, instead of the poor baby Jesus hidden inside the pan dulce, it appears the government gave all the bread and black gold—oil–as a Christmas gift to private U.S. oil companies.
I just returned from a wonderful trip to Mexico City to visit family. The talk of the town there (although we scarcely pay attention here) was the December 12, 2013 “gift” of the major political parties—PRI and PAN—to private foreign oil companies. PRI (the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution) and PAN (the National Action Party), which governed during the first decade of this century, traditionally despise each other but are together in this capitalistic venture.
Former President Lázaro Cárdenas must be turning over in his grave. He who nationalized oil in the 1930s (and his liberal followers) could not have imagined changing the Constitution to allow the recent, brazen “total opening” to private capital to explore and extract oil. Opponents, such as those in the Democratic Revolution Party (PDR), themselves divided, could only watch as Exxon and other foreign companies won big time.
Their “gift?” They may now pay between five and one hundred pesos (approximately between .33 U.S. Cents and nine U.S. dollars) per each two acres accessed. They will have the ability to “violate laws, contaminate regions, to maintain low salaries, and perverse conditions of security, as they take national riches out of the country,” according to investigative journalists critical of the action, Andrea Becerril and Víctor Ballinas (La Jornada).
The dominant media in Mexico lauds the new attitudes and commensurate legislation; final confirmation depends on debate and passage in the Senate, which is likely, controlled, as it is, by the same interests and parties. Of course the Wall Street Journal and other pro-big business press in the U.S. were equally delirious. Interestingly enough even mildly left of center newspapers, such as La Jornada, carried anti-denationalization articles but pragmatically featured full page ads by the government.
Those ads filled television screens as well: “With Energy Reform Your Electric Bill Will Be Lower;” “With Energy Reform Your Gas Bill Will Be Lower;” accompanied with charming photos of a steaming tea-kettle or a father tenderly reading to his child by lamplight. A very effective euphemism—“Energy Reform”—and an effective propaganda mass message, unmatchable by the critics.
The critics, citing official public and private data, noted mining, already “open” to foreign investment under Mexico’s “Republican” Party—the PAN—“extracted in ten years double the quantity of gold and silver the Spanish had taken in over 300 years after the Conquest” (La Jornada, November 2011). Anger at what seems a betrayal of the Mexican Revolution is boiling up. During the holidays, strikes and street demonstrations seemed to center on educational “reforms.”
But, it is likely in the near future a great deal of human energy will protest and confront the “Energy Reform.” With tumultuous demonstrations in the Congress, Panistas and Priistas were labelled “Traitors to the Country” by the PRD. For now, most vocal opposition is centered among a new party, “Morena,” and among intellectuals, writers, cartoonists.
The critical magazine, Proceso, headlined in its cover issue (December 15, 2013) “Energy Reform Makes Our Mexico Smaller.” The leading editorial called the new laws “perverse,” leading to “less sovereignty, less independence, less of a Mexican State” (Jenaro Villamil).
The logic of Proceso attacks the “legal sacking” of oil and gas. They quote a leading constitutional authority, ex-minister of the Supreme Court, Diego Valadés, who said this act of privatization is an “authentic trick . . .”It leads Mexico into becoming “a different thing, a smaller and less democratic State.”
He notes real reform could have occurred, promoting modernization and expansion of oil exploitation, without gutting the Constitution. The laws ultimately will dismantle the major state oil company, PEMEX. Most agree it was in need of reform. Now, the government (by design of those pro-business parties firmly in power) will lose the capacity to control Mexico’s most important industry.
Famous historian, Lorenzo Meyer, calls the Act by the Congress (oddly coinciding, by plan, on The Day of Virgin of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico) a result of “a perverse, Machiavellian intelligence” (Proceso, 15 December). He sees it as part of a larger, sweeping change in history and economic policy for Mexico, one favoring the super-rich and foreign enterprises.
We in the U.S. can hardly relate. We have no national oil company, no rational national planning of non-renewable resources such as oil or gas, and only moderate regulation. We have no patroness from whom we can seek protection. We cannot fathom what many (the poor, the masses) in Mexico see as the dagger in the heart of a long tradition; that is, “el petroleo es nuestro” (The Oil is Ours).
Many North Americans may think so-called “privatization” a good thing. We have been deeply indoctrinated in a false religion of capitalist ideology. What happened to our own economy after deregulation? Millions of workers lost jobs. Real wages fell. Poverty levels have risen. The capitalist class—now on the rise in Mexico with a vengeance—has enjoyed a massive increase in wealth.
Current state management of Mexican oil may not be ideal. There is corruption. There is a need for real reform. But further privatization will damage the Mexican economy and the Mexican people. We might well see massive social disruption. For this time, the sweet, courteous Spanish tradition of saying “my house is your house” seems literally true. But the honored guests will be the kings of industry, not the common people.