Leftist leader vows to hold protests at Mexican oil reform

AGENDA: Andres Lopez Obrador says the reform initiative is an attempt to privatize the oil industry, but some lawmakers in his own party disagree

AP , MEXICO CITY

Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 7

Fiery leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed to hold street protests to block approval of a watered-down reform of Mexico’s state-owned oil industry expected to come up for a vote in the Senate yesterday.

In April, Lopez Obrador’s followers blockaded the Senate chambers to prevent lawmakers from even considering the plan and now apparently aim to do so again.

‘BRIGADES’

“Starting very early tomorrow, we will have to be in front the Senate to prevent them from approving any of the bills dealing with oil,” Lopez Obrador told thousands of supporters who call themselves the “oil defense brigades.”

His supporters decided after a meeting on Wednesday to oppose the reforms.

Lopez Obrador claims the reform initiative is an attempt to privatize the oil industry, which was nationalized in 1938.

AT ODDS

He is at odds with some legislators of his own Democratic Revolution Party, however, who say they managed to delete the privatization aspects from the proposal.

The difference could mark a deepening of the split between Lopez Obrador — a former presidential candidate who claims fraud cheated him of a victory in the 2006 elections and calls himself the “legitimate president” — and more moderate elements of his party, the PRD.

The party’s national executive committee issued a statement on Wednesday saying it backed the reform bill.

ORIGINAL PLAN

As originally proposed by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, the bill would have allowed private investment in oil refineries and payment based on performance for private companies to perform badly needed deep-water exploration off Mexico’s coasts.

But following the April protests, lawmakers negotiated and agreed to strip those provisions out of the bill.

It now allows no privately built refineries and limits exploration or drilling work to a straight contractual basis, without any results-based bonuses.

Lopez Obrador has been building a national movement centered around himself, while many members of his already divided party negotiated with other parties to find solutions to the decline in Mexico’s oil production, as the country’s aging shallow-water oil fields begin to run out of crude.