Mexico’s leftists call for referendum on energy sector reforms

López Obrador demands that Peña Nieto put his Pemex plans to a vote

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Andrés Manuel López Obrador (right) greets supporters on Sunday.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (right) greets supporters on Sunday.Mario Guzmán (EFE)

Mexico’s fractured leftist movement has come together to spearhead an effort to prevent President Enrique Peña Nieto from carrying out his planned reform of the petroleum industry.

Former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Sunday called on Peña Nieto to hold a plebiscite before Congress is asked to approve reforms to Articles 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution that deal with nationalization and ownership of the energy sector.

López Obrador, who is leader of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), rallied his supporters for a demonstration in Mexico City against the president’s reform proposal.

Peña Nieto wants to open Mexico’s beleaguered state-controlled industry, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), to private investment, but he has denied that he will privatize the sector, which was nationalized in 1938.

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), and whose father President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized Mexico’s oil industry, also called on Peña Nieto to hold a national vote.

“I propose that [Peña Nieto] issue a call to Congress and his party so that the people of Mexico can be consulted before he presents this reform,” López Obrador said during Sunday’s march on the Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico’s main arteries.

Morena officials turned over a petition to the executive on Monday containing 3,000 signatures in support of the referendum. While López Obrador has asked that the vote be binding, Mexican laws do not back the status of any such referendum.

The former presidential candidate, who ran for office on two occasions, also asked that Peña Nieto modify his tax restructuring plan to keep the lower-and middle-income earners from paying higher taxes.

Instead, he proposed reducing public workers’ salaries, which could result in an eight-percent reduction in public spending.

“If an austerity plan was introduced, then there would be no reason to increase taxes. There are enough taxes to cover public spending,” he said.

On Thursday, López Obrador and Cárdenas agreed to join forces to fight what they called “the plundering of the nation.” Nevertheless, Cárdenas declined to take part in Sunday’s march but said he will participate in a series of debates in Congress.

On Monday, Cárdenas told lawmakers that reforms can be made in the petroleum sector without constitutional changes.

Teachers, who are opposed to Peña Nieto’s education reform, also joined in the protest march. A group of educational workers, who have been camped out at the Monument of the Revolution, called for a national strike but López Obrador said that they would need to see the results of the plebiscite before one could be called.

López Obrador tried to hold his rally in Mexico City’s main Zócalo square but was unable to do so because of the presence of government-backed organizations collecting hurricane relief aid for the victims in Guerrero and other Pacific and Gulf coast states hit hard by last week’s tropical storms.

It was the second time in a month that the leftist leader has been denied the use of the square. He was prevented a few weeks ago from converging on the Zócalo where teachers were camped out to protest Peña Nieto’s education reform. They were then evicted by authorities to make way for Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations.

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