News & Politics

It's About (Mexico's) Oil

U.S. capitalists have their sights set on Mexico's nationalized oil wealth.
A majority of Mexicans believe the United States invaded Iraq simply to acquire its valuable oil reserves. They are also beginning to suspect that the powers that run America have designs on Mexico's oil as well.

As the daily newspaper La Jornada recently asked rhetorically, "If they cited non-existent threats just to get ahold of Iraq's petroleum, what won't they do to appropriate ours?" It isn't lost on Mexicans that, while Iraq's oil is halfway around the world from the thirsty colossus, Mexico's oil is conveniently right next door.

And these thoughts aren't confined to conspiracy theorists or the gringophobic left anymore. Thanks to the efforts of the US Congress' "Committee on International Relations," Mexico, from left to right, is up in arms over the increasing belligerence emanating from the empire across its northern border.

On May 8, the committee, controlled by Republicans, voted along party lines to tie reform of US immigration laws with a requirement that Mexico open up its state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) to US corporate investors.

Pemex was created in 1938, after President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized Mexico's petroleum, to the continuing consternation of US oil companies and the continuing celebration of Mexican citizens. The current President, Vicente Fox of the right wing PAN (National Action Party) attempted to privatize Pemex, along with other public properties, early in his administration, but has been forced by public resistance to repeatedly declare that "Pemex is not for sale," and has reiterated it a couple of times since May 8. Apparently not satisfied with Fox's vehemence after the latest incident, Rosario Robles, leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) told the cowboy-boot-wearing, macho Fox to "hitch up your trousers and defend our petroleum."

Meanwhile, the Fox government has been skirting the touchy issue of "privatization," by opening the oil infrastructure, to private investment through programs to modernize its facilities. By alarming Mexican public opinion, the heavy handed approach of the Republicans has likely done more harm than good for American corporate efforts to acquire greater control over Mexico's oil.

What is perhaps not inaccurately being called the "Halliburton Amendment," began as a completely different resolution attached to a routine funding bill for the State Department, known as the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. Its sponsor, Democratic Congressman Bob Menendez (NJ), said that his amendment, calling on the Bush administration to act on its long stalled promise to reach an immigration accord with Mexico, offered an "opportunity to recognize the worth of the farm worker in the south and southwest, who puts food and vegetables on our dinner table." It was, he said, "a chance for dignity and human rights," and an opportunity "to improve our countries' relationship" by pursuing "a series of migration initiatives over the course of the next six months to a year."

Instead, the Republican majority, under the leadership of Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois, hijacked the amendment and replaced it with one of their own, offered by Rep. Cass Ballenger of North Carolina. This amendment declares that "Pemex, the Mexican state monopoly, is inefficient and plagued by corruption. It needs a substantial reform of private investment in order to offer sufficient petroleum production to Mexico and the United States to nourish future economic growth. This, in turn, would slow down illegal immigration to the US."

That Pemex is both corrupt and in need of reform will find little argument in Mexico. Embroiled in a scandal dubbed "Pemexgate," the state-run company is accused of illegally funneling millions of dollars to the PRI (Institutional Revolution Party) during the 2000 election campaigns, in an attempt to maintain that party's seven decade stranglehold on political power. But Congressional suggestions that US energy companies are the key to reforming Pemex are met with responses ranging from derision to disgust. Facing upcoming congressional elections in July, the PAN's leader, Luis Bravo Mena called the US plan, "inopportune, unreal, imprudent, unfeasible, and a non-starter" (and that's just the opinion of the pro-privatization right wing).

Carlos Fernandez-Vega, business writer for La Jornada, wrote on May 12 that Pemex could hardly compete with US energy companies like "Enron andHalliburton," when it comes to "misappropriation, accounting fraud, stock fraud, influence trafficking, and conflicts of interest."

President Fox, on his official website, says that "negotiation of an immigration agreement between the United States and Mexico has been a priority of his administration since he first took office. But there is no way that the negotiation of such an agreement will be made contingent upon the opening of Petroleos Mexicanos to foreign investment."

And slightly more recently is the news that eighteen illegal immigrants have died of asphyxiation in the back of a semi-trailer in Texas after being abandoned by their coyotes. Just one more pile of bodies to add to those from years before, and years to come, while US politicians use immigration reform as a political tool and bargaining chip -- or in this case, what the head of the Mexican Catholic Church, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera calls simply, "blackmail."

What more could the US government do, apart from standing on the rooftops and shouting to the four corners of the world, that when it comes to "human rights," it is indeed, all about oil.