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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

Running on Empty or Gasoline for All?

from the Sept. 14, 2022 Bulletin

unions economy & economic reform environmental issues

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.