MEXICO CITY – Thousands of peasants took to the streets to express their opposition to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s flagship energy overhaul, marches that coincided with the 77th anniversary of Mexico’s historic oil nationalization.
Although the overhaul was praised at numerous other public events, the majority of the anniversary rallies Wednesday slammed the move to end state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos’ 75-year monopoly and open the energy sector to private investment.
“The nation’s natural resources must be used for its own prosperity. Handing them over to foreign interests is treasonous,” some demonstrators’ signs read, quoting former President Lazaro Cardenas, who nationalized the sector in 1938.
One of the marches in Mexico City began at the Monument to the Revolution and snarled traffic on the Paseo de la Reforma thoroughfare, which protesters walked along on their march to the Los Pinos presidential palace.
Security fences, however, kept them from getting too close to the official residence.
Speaking Wednesday from the southern oil-rich state of Tabasco, Peña Nieto said Mexico is prepared for the complicated situation of low oil prices thanks to the structural changes enacted over the past two years.
The energy overhaul – enacted in 2014 – gave Pemex, which funds a third of the federal government’s budget, elements to overcome the challenging international conditions, the head of state said.
“On this memorable date, I firmly reiterate that Pemex is and will continue to be the patrimony of all Mexicans,” Peña Nieto said, adding that the energy overhaul will lead to the “most significant economic change of the last 50 years.”
But leftist leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the son of the late Lazaro Cardenas, said in a speech in Mexico City that the objectives of the overhaul will not be achieved due to the drop in oil prices.
“It’s foreseeable that the high prices (above $100 a barrel) will not come back,” Cardenas said at the Monument to the Revolution, adding that the sharply lower prices will have a severely adverse impact on the government’s finances and economic development.
The leftist PRD party, for its part, slammed the Supreme Court for a ruling last October that rejected the party’s bid to hold a national referendum on the overhaul. The PRD said it will file a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to ensure that Mexicans have the right to decide on their energy resources.
Protests against the move to end Pemex’s monopoly also were carried out in the states of Oaxaca, Michoacan, Chiapas and Guerrero.
Supporters of the overhaul say the participation of major multinational energy companies under profit- and production-sharing contracts and licenses is needed to develop promising deepwater reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and shale resources and boost sagging oil output.
Production has fallen by roughly 30 percent from a high of 3.3 million barrels per day in 2004 due to a sharp decline in output at offshore Cantarell, formerly Mexico’s most productive field, and a lack of investment.
The move to end Pemex’s monopoly is a thorny issue in Mexico because the state-owned firm has long been a symbol of national sovereignty.