AMLO outside the Senate, Monday, October 26

Worker's Party Deputy Mario di Costanzo Tears Apart Carstens Economic Plan

Friday, April 11, 2008

Game On

After many months of veiled jabbing in the shadows, Mexico's battle for the future of its petroleum is now openly underway. In a nationally-televised address two nights ago, a sweating Felipe Calderón promised a land of milk and honey for all - more schools, more hospitals, chickens in every pot, and 100 peso ($10 dollar) bonds for each citizen, gee wow! - if the initiative clumsily delivered to Congress earlier the same day is passed. Although carefully avoiding open privatization, the proposed law would allow private investment to intervene in practically every stage of Pemex's operations, from transportation and storage to distribution and petrochemistry, private industry even being able to own its own ducts and other installations outright. It would expand the infamous "Contracts for Multiple Services" that have led to the privatizing in the shadows of 35% of Mexico's electricity production, legalizing this category of contracts while creating yet another: "Contracts for Expanded Services". Moreover, the law would dote Pemex with "autonomy" by creating a sort of Board of Directors to run the show, with ten of the fifteen members handpicked by...the President himself, thus neatly severing any possibility of real Congressional or public oversight while nominally providing the institution with "indpendence". Independence along the lines of the Federal Electoral Institute, that is. The only thing the initiative does not do is share Pemex's profits directly with the companies who would participate in all of these operations, but as the Repsol case clearly shows (see my April 8th post below), it is enough in Mexico to simply open the door, and before you know it, somebody's favorite company is getting no-competition contracts to do more expensively (factoring in kickbacks and price gouging) what was once done more cheaply and effectively by the much-demonized public sector. One can only imagine now, if oil is opened up, what the government's next spectacular contract will be: a $50 billion dollar contract for Repsol to import oil from Iran, perhaps, while building a plant for them to unload it, this time on the Atlantic, rather than the Pacific, coast.

Nevertheless, the fact that overt privatization was avoided allowed the PRI, in the name of the shadow President of the country, Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones, to jump on board the project, contending that several of the provisions (presumably the "autonomy" for Pemex) that were included in the proposal had been originally generated by them. An ebullient Beltrones, in fact, was already predicting the day after the official proposal that it could be approved, with a change or two (letting Congress choose the Board of Directors instead of the President, one imagines), in the remaining two weeks of this Congressional session, a stunningly short period of time for a proposal of this magnitude to be debated and considered in full. Debate and consideration, however, is precisely what is not wanted, or, that is, a controlled and manipulated debate. The center-left FAP (Frente Amplo Progresista, or Broad Progressive Front) coalition of parties knew this. Fresh from their experience with ISSSTE pension reform, which was slipped through Congress Patriot-Act style last year al vapor, as they say in Spanish, the FAP insisted on an open, national debate, lasting for several months, which would give time for the public to weigh in in open (as opposed to orchestrated) hearings along with scientists and technical experts. And yeserday, seeing this basic demand going nowhere and the proposal heading directly towards Committees and then to the floor, they occupied the podiums of both Houses of Congress, stopping sessions in their tracks and closing Congress down. This triggered the civil-resistance brigades (see my first post) to kick into action, with a contigent of several thousand women (known as the "Adelitas" in honor of a revolutionary-era women's brigade) setting off for the Senate building, which they surrounded as close as the police blockade would let them. They remained until the evening at which point they were relieved by several of the men's brigades who spent the night. And the occupation continues to this hour: FAP congressmen inside the Congress, the brigades outside of it.

The mass media response to the taking of Congress was apoplectic. Dispensing with even the slight pretense of objectivity he usually offers up, Televisa anchorman Joaquín López-Dóriga, for example, was literally foaming at the mouth in a twenty-minute diatribe kicking off the nightly newscast about minorities hijacking democracy, coups d'état, and so on (oh, where were you in 2006, Joaquín?). The respect all of the mass media suddenly showed for the august debating chamber that is the Mexican Congress was truly heartwarming. Here is where proposals are debated and discussed. Here is where Congresspeople and Senators bring in all the experts, hold public hearings, gather expert information, debate and discuss, change their mind, go over the proposal word by word, and, above all, represent the people. Deals are never made in backrooms, the parties never dictate how their members are to vote (they just always seem to spontaneously agree), money never changes hands, Presidents are never elected by fraud, laws are never approved al vapor. Fortunately, the massive public civil resistance movement to oil privatization is not that naive, or we'd all be waking up two weeks down the road with yet another unconstitutional measure rammed down our throats. And undoing something once it is underway is much harder than preventing it right from the outset. This is what the proponents of this measure in the "government" are banking on - by the time the legal challenges to this law (should it be approved) ever make it to the Supreme Court, the damage will already have been done.

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