It is a time for upheaval in Latin America. But while in Peru, Brazil and Chile this upheaval is mainly of a social nature, in Mexico it is economic. As the country gets ready to reform its vast energy sector, the biggest step of which is the privatization of oil giant Pemex, the government is bracing for a wave of protests from unhappy workers of a company that used to be the pride of Mexico.
Pemex had been a symbol of national identity since the oil industry was nationalized by President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938, and it made headlines when new President Enrique Peña Nieto announced in June this year that the government will be starting constitutional reforms that would allow private investors to get a piece of it.
The controversy got in motion as soon as those statements, made in London to the Financial Times, were known. One former mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, openly criticized the decision for not having been brought to public debate in the country.
Spanish newspaper El País reported that in the next weeks, the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional will shape its reform proposal beyond the decision to open Pemex to private investment. That plan should also clarify the vague allusions to "constitutional reforms." The PRI does not currently have the majority of Congress, so to pass whatever reforms they propose, it needs to win over the conservative opposition Partido Acción Nacional, which has not spoken out against the plan to date. PRI Sen. Emilio Gamboa Patrón told Mexican newspaper El Universal that the reform could not be postponed "under any circumstance."
On the left, leaders from Partido de la Revolución Democrática agreed that the national oil company needed change, particularly regarding the percentage of its revenue (currently, 67 percent) that goes to the Ministry of Finance. But the PRD flat out rejects privatization and any constitutional reform that might lead to it.
The PRD’s Jesús Zambrano has called for a nonbinding national referendum about the reform for Aug. 25 and Sept. 1, and expects 1.5 million Mexicans to take part. Zambrano warned the government that a reform not supported by the public will wake up the “furious Mexico” and that revolts should be expected.
“We want consciences shaken, we want the people to speak,” said Zambrano.