Mexican firebrand leftist leader calls public protests over energy reforms

López Obrador wants supporters to encircle Congress in peaceful demonstration

López Obrador arrives at his rally in Mexico City on Sunday.
López Obrador arrives at his rally in Mexico City on Sunday.Alex Cruz (EFE)

A former leftist presidential candidate has called on Mexicans to “peacefully” encircle the Senate and Chamber of Deputies buildings to show their disapproval of the government’s proposal to open the state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) to private investors.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador – a twice-defeated presidential candidate – demonstrated on Sunday that he still has political muscle in his country when he was able to call out thousands of supporters to a rally where he asked them to take part in peaceful protests outside of Congress.

The former Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) leader asked his supporters to entrench themselves outside both buildings if lawmakers approve President Enrique Peña Nieto’s controversial energy reform.

“There is time for Peña Nieto to think about Mexico and change his direction,” said López Obrador who now leads the National Regeneration Movement (Morena). “We will sit and wait. Today, we are going to hold an assembly to approve a plan of action for non-violent civil disobedience. This will take place if he insists on following through with his reform.”

Peña Nieto has insisted that his energy reform does not include any plans to privatized Pemex, the historic firm that was nationalized in 1938 and for decades has been a symbol of pride for many Mexicans. However, over the years, Pemex has suffered from inefficiency and mismanagement and is badly in need of modernization.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) government wants to change key clauses in the Constitution that address the state’s sole ownership of the energy industry, which the leftists suspect will eventually lead to de-nationalization.

López Obrador revealed that he has designed a plan, with the help of some of his aides, to stop “privatization,” but he didn’t reveal its details.

There is time for Peña Nieto to think about Mexico and change his direction”

The former presidential candidate said that he has decided to mobilize his supporters after Peña Nieto rejected his suggestion to put the proposed reform to a national referendum vote.

López Obrador is known for his past successes in moving his supporters for his causes. In 2006, following the presidential elections in which he narrowly lost to Felipe Calderón by 0.56 percent, the then-PRD candidate charged voting fraud and called his people to block streets in Mexico City while they also set up camps in the famous Zócalo square to protest the results.

With the help of his supporters, he set up a mostly symbolic parallel presidency before losing his electoral challenge in the courts.

Last year, he lost the election by seven percentage points behind Peña Nieto.

If the encirclements around the Chamber of Deputies and Senate buildings do not pressure lawmakers to vote against the reform, López Obrador said he will take his protests to the 31 state legislatures which have to vote to ratify any changes to the Constitution.

The 10-month-old government of Peña Nieto has been besieged by a series of demonstrations over his far-reaching proposals to restructure Mexican society, including education and tax reforms and providing a mandatory social system for all citizens.

Teachers’ groups had been entrenched at the Zócalo square since April until they were forcibly dislodged last month so that the government could hold its traditional September 16 Independence Day celebrations and military parade.

López Obrador has also said he supported teachers who have gone on strike to protest education reforms.

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