Interview

“Mexico has not had a growth strategy in 30 years”

Three-time presidential candidate Cárdenas says Constitution needs no change to attract oil investments

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, pictured during the interview with EL PAÍS.
Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano, pictured during the interview with EL PAÍS.Saúl Ruiz / EL PAÍS

Former presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas believes that conditions in Mexico are now ripe to introduce changes in the way Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) has operated over the past 75 years. The state-run oil company has been as closely identified with Mexico as it has with his father, President Lázaro Cárdenas, who nationalized the industry.

Serious but elegant in his manner of speaking, the three-time leftist presidential candidate, who is now 79, is cautious about judging the expectations President Enrique Peña Nieto has generated at home and abroad.

His interview with EL PAÍS took place in his office, which is filled with books on the Spanish Civil War and the exiles who settled in Mexico. The desk belonged to his father. “He didn’t use it much,” Cárdenas said.

Before Pemex can be opened to foreign investment, a constitutional amendment must be passed. “Pemex needs an independent budget and management. But you don’t need to reform the Constitution to introduce fiscal autonomy or open some areas to private investment,” says Cárdenas, an engineer who for years has pushed for a modernization of Mexico’s petroleum industry, which accounts for 35 percent of the country’s revenue.

“Reforms are linked to taxes. This doesn’t mean that Pemex should not pay taxes but instead paying them in another way and on another time schedule.

“It is one of the biggest petroleum firms in the world that brings in revenue but there is a serious management problem. For the past 30 years, it has been run by the economy secretary,” he says, adding that during that time no grow strategies have been introduced for Pemex and the country.

My father's dream was for Mexico to grow, without violence. I think he would be worried today"

Cárdenas is cautious about judging Peña Nieto’s whirlwind approach over the past three months, in which time he has presented a barrage of ambitious reform proposals. “It is too early to judge but this administration has been much more active than the previous one. However, they coincide on the conclusion that changes must be made, and the Pact for Mexico has made a difference. Now all we need to see is how.”

Nevertheless, the founder of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) believes that Mexico has a new opportunity for growth and development. “Since the 1980s, the country has been on the road to disaster. There was no growth, and poverty, unemployment, immigration to the United States and violence swelled. Today, two-thirds of Mexico’s 2,500 municipalities are controlled by some type of criminal organization. You don’t stop the violence with spectacular raids in front of live cameras or with more violence. This is all related to inequality and the lack of opportunities.”

How would his father Lázaro Cárdenas, who served from 1934-1940, see Mexico today?

“His dream was for Mexico to grow, without violence, and where the people of this country could take advantage of the natural resources. I think he would be very worried at what he would see today.”