The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


September 14, 2022/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

The Big Oil Route to Plundering Our Planet

Getty gas stations used to dot the US countryside. The story goes that J. Paul Getty, the billionaire founder of Getty Oil, was once asked his secret for getting rich. His response: “Get up early. Work hard. Find oil.”


But that answer begs another question: How do you get the right to own the oil that “fuels” not just our cars and electrical grid, but the rise of people like Getty to billionaire status?


The oil we have today comes from natural processes that unfolded over the course of millions of years, long before the evolution of the human species — and the invention of private property. Why should any one private person own any of this oil?


Indigenous peoples the world over have been asking that question. Oil has been sitting right underneath them forever, but you don’t see individual members of tribal nations claiming private ownership of that oil. Or hear about oil-rich indigenous peoples owning villas in Italy.


Where indigenous peoples see good earth capable of sustaining ecosystems over generations, our capitalists and their governments only see dollars. In the United States, they seized Native American land by force. J. Paul’s father bought some of that land in Oklahoma and struck oil. In México, assorted government officials gave foreign investors the right to extract the “black gold” from under their soil — so long as they got their cut.


México today needs, journalist Kurt Hackbarth notes in our Voices interview this week, more than just energy sovereignty. México needs indigenous peoples managing their own resources and environments. 


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Running on Empty or Gasoline for All?

The writer, playwright, and freelance journalist Kurt Hackbarth, a naturalized Mexican citizen living in Oaxaca, regularly offers insightful political commentary — in both English and Spanish — to media ranging from Sentido Común and Jacobin to Al Jazeera. Hackbarth earlier this year published a new book, a collection of stories entitled Viaje a Monprator now available from Matanga Taller-Editorial. Given recent attention to AMLO’s move to re-nationalize México’s oil sector, we thought updating our 2021 interview with him would supply some helpful background. 

Everyone in México needs to turn on their lights, drive their cars, and plug in their cellphones. What sort of energy resources can México currently tap? 


Kurt Hackbarth: México is blessed — or cursed — with an abundance of oil and gas. New oil fields have been discovered just in the past few years. México also has one of the world’s largest deposits of lithium, “the new oil,” an element essential to the production of everything from batteries and computers to cars and pacemakers. México has other strategic minerals as well.

Let’s focus on oil. Given its abundance in México, do the Mexican people have what they need at an affordable price? 


Foreign oil companies gained an early foothold in México. But President Cárdenas nationalized the oil sector in 1938 and created Pemex, a publicly owned and operated entity. This move enjoyed huge support from the Mexican people and still remains a point of national pride. But México’s neoliberal governments have since then deliberately sabotaged Pemex. The Pemex CEO from 2012 through 2018, Emilio Lozoya, has even been charged with organized criminal activity.  

ProtoplasmaKid / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

Before heading Pemex, Lozoya served as former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign manager. Prosecutors are charging him with accepting millions from the Brazilian construction and petrochemical giant Odebrecht. In return for payoffs, Odebrecht won lucrative contracts.  


The sabotage also included dilapidating Pemex’s finances and a refusal to do adequate refinery upkeep. This entire mess became the excuse for privatizing Pemex. In 2013, President Peña Nieto welcomed foreign companies and investors back into the full production and supply chain.


The resulting leeching of resources required the raising of gasoline taxes — colloquially called gasolinazos in the press — to plug the Pemex budget hole. Under Peña Nieto, the price of gas at the pump jumped up by more than a third. This triggered mass protests on a number of occasions.


AMLO wants to bring back national/public control. What’s the current situation?

AMLO has made valiant attempts to get Pemex in order. He has repaired six refineries and is building a new refinery, Dos Bocas, in Tabasco. Pemex has also discovered a series of new oil fields, putting the lie to Peña Nieto’s famous claim that “the chicken with the golden eggs has ended.”


On the electricity front, AMLO has passed legal reforms strengthening the Federal Electricity Commission, the CFE, and requiring it to give preference to public sources of energy over private.

US energy companies have howled in protest, backed up by the US trade representative who’s filed a complaint charging that AMLO is violating the USMCA. The US wants to maintain the Peña Nieto energy mandate that required the CFE to supply itself from private companies first at the cost of leaving its own production capacity idle.


But isn’t AMLO also going to increase fossil fuel production to the detriment of attempts to restrain global warming?

We’ve seen an international attempt to paint AMLO as a lover of dirty energy. His opponents are trying to build opposition from environmentalists to Mexico’s nationalization of its energy sector. But all this amounts to a public-relations scam. Don’t fall for claims that US and European energy interests represent “green energy” while México represents fossil fuels!

The decay of its refining capacity has left México with only a ten-day reserve supply of gasoline, which it has to import. AMLO is aiming to get México self-sufficient in energy as a way to underpin national sovereignty. That doesn’t mean México isn’t making an effort to go green. In the southeast, hydroelectric dams can provide enough energy for the whole region. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has become one of the world’s most promising areas for wind power. And the government is now investing in solar, with a large wind farm project in Sonora and an urban solar installation in Mexico City.

Onergia Cooperative, Puebla MX

In any case, for the global north to lecture the global south on being “green” really rates as quite ironic. The global north has generated the vast bulk of greenhouse gas emissions, and Biden is just now opening up millions of acres for new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.


What else can México do to attain energy self-sufficiency?


México needs national control of the nation’s energy resources. But to be truly successful, AMLO’s energy reforms need to embrace the democratization of energy throughout México. Already under discussion has been a constitutional reform that would allow indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples to become sujetos de derecho público, bearers of public rights, offering legal protection to autonomous forms of government and extending to these peoples the right to control their own natural resources and mineral wealth.


On top of these steps, México needs to encourage the community generation of renewable energy everywhere. Reforms like these would distribute power — electric and otherwise — to all of México’s people.


The Defense of Human Rights: Always a Political Matter

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador three years ago founded a new National Guard to act in defense of the people in internal matters. He saw this new Guard as part of his government’s fight against organized crime. Now AMLO has moved to shift control over the Guard from civilians to the Secretariat of National Defense — México’s military — and that move has provoked strong reactions. 

Some Mexican civil society groups are accusing the president of further militarizing” public security. The transfer of control over the National Guard to the military, Amnesty International maintains, will set back the protection of human rights. Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif has also criticized the move, calling on Mexico to strengthen civilian oversight in the security sector.”

Those opposing this handover to military control are correctly pointing out that Mexicos armed forces do have a long and dark history of human rights abuses. But the question of how best to defend and promote human rights ultimately comes down to a political commitment the top of every government must make, a commitment not to allow security forces, be they civilian or military, to perpetrate or tolerate abuse.


López Obrador does have an undoubtedly cozy relationship with the country’s armed forces. But this president also has a history of respecting human rights far different than his presidential predecessors. A prime example: AMLO’s handling of the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher-training college in 2014.


Before his election, AMLO promised to establish a Truth Commission to ascertain what truly happened to the Ayotzinapa students, and he carried through on that promise. Last month, the Truth Commission López Obrador established published its first report. That publication has proved to be a watershed moment.


The Commission’s president, Alejandro Encinas, has labeled the disappearances a “state crime” that has involved local, state, and federal officials. His Commission has accused officials at the highest levels of former President Peña Nieto’s administration of orchestrating a cover-up, with the cooperation of the armed forces. A judge has issued nearly 100 arrest orders for the detention of a wide range of government personnel involved in the crime, including soldiers and police. Former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, a key figure in the alleged coverup, has already been arrested for his role, a move that parents of the missing students have welcomed.


The Truth Commission’s report represents a radical break from the so-called “Historical Truth” — the notion that only criminal gangs bore responsibility for the disappearances — that Murillo put forward. The AMLO government’s embrace of the report shows the president’s real commitment to both seeking justice and fully defending human rights.


The Truth Commission’s conclusions clearly lay out the links between organized crime and the state. These conclusions now represent a key opportunity to push the state to break those links. Ending impunity for human rights abuses, no matter how powerful those responsible for these abuses may be, would allow México to take concrete steps to finally address the root causes of the nation’s human rights abuses.


Amid the ongoing debate over the status of México’s National Guard, those of us concerned about the promotion of human rights should remember that defending these rights requires a government committed to these values and a mobilized population. The parents of the students of Ayotzinapa courageously raised their voices. We must keep raising ours.

José Luis Granados Ceja, a Mexican freelance journalist, is currently studying human rights and popular democracy at the Autonomous
University of Mexico City. His writings on democratic struggles in Latin America appear regularly online at his Antimperialistia site.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Analy Nuño, Can México’s 43 missing students get justice at last – or will politics prevail? Guardian. A new report has suggested high-level government involvement in the 2014 disappearance of members of a rural teacher training college.


Yulissa Camacho Mora, Va por México se desmorona; PAN y PRD suspenden alianza con el PRI, Polemón. Los dirigentes del PAN y el PRD anunciaron una suspensión temporal, lo cual fue confirmado posteriormente por el dirigente del PRI.


Mary Beth Sheridan, México putting civilian-led national guard under military control, Washington Post. Critics say the move won’t address a major cause of the crime explosion: a dysfunctional justice system. Supporters point to rampant national guard corruption.


Arturo Rodríguez y Neldy San Martín, El PRI se parte... y la coalición opositora se resquebraja, Proceso. Una iniciativa impulsada desde el mismo PRI en San Lázaro, que propone ampliar la intervención militar en tareas de seguridad pública hasta 2028, causó que, por primera vez, su vigencia entre en una “suspensión temporal”.


AMLO invites ‘unusual’ guests to Mexican Independence Day celebration, México Daily Post. Mexican President López Obrador has invited relatives of Julian Assange and Che Guevara to attend the country’s 2022 independence day celebrations, along with relatives of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and César Chávez.


Mario Maldonado, AMLO, desesperado por la inflación, da ultimátum a IP, El Universal. Un Pacic 2.0 será anunciado en las siguientes semanas. El Paquete contra la inflación y la carestía (Pacic), anunciado a inicios de mayo, no ha servido para contener el aumento de los precios.


Drug violence tests Mexico president‘s ‘hugs not bullets’ strategy, France 24. Lopez Obrador says his approach aims to tackle violent crime at its roots by fighting poverty and inequality with social programs.


Alejandro Calvillo, Coca-Cola: ¿por qué te ocultas? Sin Embargo. Es más que simbólico que Coca-Cola sea la marca más conocida por la humanidad y que esta marca sea responsable de la fabricación de productos que dañan la salud y contaminan con sus desechos el planeta.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati, Courtney Childs, Victoria Hamlin, Agatha Hinman, Steven Hollis. To give feedback or get involved yourself, please email us!


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