At the April 22 Virtual Climate Summit, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden as several countries pledged to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO ), advocated the continued use of fossil fuel in his country.
He shared that Mexico has discovered three major hydrocarbon deposits, but has tried to present it as a development it should like rather than alarming summit participants.
“Even though we have discovered three large hydrocarbon reserves,” the president said, “the oil we discover will basically be used to meet the demand for fuel in the domestic market and the practice of crude oil exports will end.” In doing so, he added, “we will help prevent the overuse of fossil fuels.”
While AMLO’s statements at the summit drew widespread criticism from many who saw them as “a declaration of war on clean energy,” there is more to the Mexican leader’s stance on fossil fuels than a blatant disregard. of the climate emergency.
Affirmation of “energy sovereignty”
Nationally and internationally, AMLO has long framed Mexico’s dependence on large oil and gas imports as a crisis of “energy sovereignty.” In response to this crisis, it has strengthened state-owned enterprises in the electricity and fossil fuel generation industry, and also prioritized the use of fossil fuels. These reforms were part of AMLO’s aggressive efforts since 2019 to (re) nationalize fossil energy and fuels in the country.
The idea of ”energy sovereignty” has its own roots in the anti-colonial struggle of Mexico, during which the country expelled American and British mining companies and nationalized its fossil fuel industry to assert its sovereignty over its resources.
By the early twentieth century, American and British companies had begun extracting oil reserves in Mexico. Although in 1921 these companies had expanded oil production in Mexico until it was second only to the United States, the wealth generated from this extraction returned to the United States and Britain, and they did very little to improve it. economic conditions in Mexico, a typical colonial relationship of exploitation.
These foreign companies only had British and American citizens in their key positions. In addition, a Mexican worker received half the wages and poorer housing for having done the same job as a foreign worker.
Article 27 of the Mexican constitution of 1917 gave the Mexican government the right to expropriate resources such as oil. But the implementation of this article proved impossible due to the fierce resistance of the oil companies that received the support of the United States Department of State.
The presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940) marked a significant transformation: it oversaw the massive redistribution of land and supported the right of workers to strike. On the issue of oil, the Mexican authorities under his administration sided with the striking Mexican workers and called on oil companies to increase wages and profits, but the companies refused to comply.
In response, Cardenas used Article 27 and nationalized foreign oil companies in Mexico on March 18, 1938, leading to the formation of state-owned PEMEX with its monopoly on fossil fuels. Around this period, Cardenas also created state-run CFE, responsible for the generation and distribution of electricity.
The movement sparked massive celebrations throughout Mexico, including a six-hour parade in Mexico City. Although the United States considered military intervention in response to nationalization, it chose not to intervene because World War II was beginning and the U.S. needed allies.
The nationalization of foreign energy companies in Mexico was a remarkable event not only for the country, but also for world colonial history: Mexico, a country that would soon be part of the “Third World” bloc, faced the powers imperial and succeeded. Similar claims of sovereignty elsewhere had quite different results: the US-led coup in Iran in 1953, which came after the Iranian government nationalized British and American oil companies, changed forever. the trajectory of the country.
Despite all the success achieved through nationalization, in recent decades successive Mexican presidents have gradually liberalized the energy sector, which has caused Mexico to become dependent on countries such as the United States for energy imports despite having the their own fossil fuel reserves.
AMLO’s immediate predecessor, Pena Nieto, completed the liberalization of the energy sector and invited foreign companies to exploit Mexican oil reserves. His supposed reason for doing so was to make the sector more efficient and fight mass corruption at PEMEX.
Nieto’s movement, however, did not do much to fight corruption, as they have been officials of his administration like Emilio Lozoya accused to get massive bribes from private companies bidding for energy contracts.
In addition, the liberalization of the energy sector has been perceived by many in Mexico, including AMLO, as a return to the destructive exploitation of the pre-1938 era.
In this context, it is easy to see the reasoning behind AMLO’s rhetoric about “energy sovereignty” and the insistence on ending the country’s energy dependence at any cost. However, the Mexican president’s commitment to using fossil fuels should be critically assessed in the face of the increasingly urgent global climate emergency.
Turning a blind eye to the climate emergency
Criticisms of recent AMLO movements, from the Western government officials, pressure groups and, above all, the Western press – They have been intense and have followed two themes. The first is market-oriented. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), which is committed to maintaining neoliberal order, said it is concerned that AMLO’s energy policies could undermine the “confidence” of foreign investors and prevent Mexico from receiving investments you desperately need. In addition, he raised concerns that these policies would result in an unfair monopoly, perhaps because in that case the monopoly would not be under the control of the USCC.
The second criticism is environmentally oriented, so AMLO is criticized for its “fixation of fossil fuels.” This criticism is quite justified, but outside of Mexico – and especially in the West – it is articulated in a way that completely ignores what AMLO is trying to achieve by supporting fossil fuels: energy sovereignty.
The refusal of the Western media and government officials to acknowledge Mexico’s long history of colonial exploitation when analyzing and criticizing AMLO’s energy policies reflects the historical amnesia and hypocrisy of the West.
But there are also clear indications that AMLO, which seeks to frame its actions as anti-neoliberal and anti-colonial by invoking “energy sovereignty,” is not taking the climate crisis seriously and its policies are doing little to build an alternative to neoliberalism.
How can the AMLO be anti-colonial or anti-neoliberal while replicating Western modes of unsustainable and capitalist exploitation of resources by burning fossil fuels?
AMLO’s energy policy is clearly oil-oriented, with no signs of incorporating renewable energy. The National Energy Plan 2020-2024 states that to achieve “sustainable energy self-sufficiency” it is necessary to increase hydrocarbon exploration, infrastructure and processing capacity. Energy sovereignty is expected to be achieved through hydrocarbons and “clean energy”, where the latter includes natural gas and nuclear energy.
But the “energy sovereignty” achieved through hydrocarbon exploration and investment can only last as long as fossil fuel reserves do.
The known reserves of oil and natural gas in Mexico will only last 9.3 years, while it is estimated that world reserves will last between 40 and 50 years. Therefore, the shelf life of AMLO’s energy sovereignty could be as short as a decade.
Moreover, given all of AMLO’s environmental policies, it is difficult to say that its administration does not deny the climate crisis. In its latest commitment to the Paris Agreement presented in 2020, Mexico has completely abandoned its 2015 commitments to obtain 35% of the energy it needs from clean sources in 2024 and 43% in 2030. Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been changed three times in two years. His last secretary, Victor Toledo, resigned after he was told in a leaked audio that the AMLO administration does not have a “clear goal, it is full of contradictions and different interests” regarding environmental policy. The Department’s budget has been reduced, while federal budget allocations have been increased for oil refineries and environmentally risky tourism projects such as the Mayan Train. In addition, according to the Climate Transparency group (PDF), about 73 percent of the country’s climate change budget is spent on natural gas transportation.
Finally, AMLO has linked the corruption of the energy sector with the privatization and neoliberal policies of previous administrations.
While this complaint has many merits, AMLO reinforces PEMEX and CFE as if these institutions were not full of corruption and as if strict measures were not needed to combat this corruption.
The “anti-corruption” for the AMLO administration has dealt more with rhetoric and less with action. For example, former PEMEX union leader Carlos Romero Deschamps “voluntarily agreed to stop working” and retired from the surprising retirement benefits in March despite being investigated for corruption. Similarly, CFE CEO Manuel Bartlett, accused of illegally acquiring properties worth more than $ 42 million and hiding them from public records, received the full support of AMLO and he was finally acquitted.
In short, while the fate of the Mexican people and of humanity in general remains in balance due to the climate crisis, we see on the one hand the arrogance of the Western imperial powers (neo), who do not care to recognize -and even less apologize for – his exploitation of Mexico. On the other hand, we have postcolonial heads of state, such as AMLO, whose anti-colonial and anti-neoliberal rhetoric does not match the urgent needs of climate policy and the people.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.