Tag: Mexican oil

Mr. Peña Nieto’s Wonderous Energy Reform

Alfonso Cuarón, director and co-producer of “Gravity,” a space disaster film I haven’t seen, won Best Director at the 86th Academy Awards. He was also chosen as “Most Creative” on Forbes’s Mexico List in 2013. With these credentials that separate him from being a ninguneo, a nobody, the good citizen asked a Mexican president traditionally endowed with near imperial powers—in this case Mr. Peña Nieto—to answer ten questions on the Mexican energy reform that has probably been decided upon already, with Cheney-like disinterest in the opinion of citizens—which is to say, of those who are not in the Club or the upper 1%. One could also mention that Mr. Nieto is a member of the PRI, the political party that ruled Mexico for seventy-one years with near dictatorial powers.

Here are Cuarón’s ten questions—with my subtexts.

One: When will the price of natural gas, gasoline, diesel and electricity begin to fall? What other benefits can we expect from the reform? When can we expect them to occur? Subtext in my words, not Cuarón’s. The prices of things generally climb when they are privatized.

Two: What will the effects be for the environment in the face of massive oil extraction? What measures will be put in place to protect the environment and who will take responsibility in case of spill and other disaster? Subtext: No measures will be put into place. It is part of the local culture that no one takes responsibility for disasters.

Three: Hydrocarbons are non-renewable resources. Their impact on the environment, meaning on the whole globe, is massive. What plans are there for alternate energy? Subtext: There are no plans.

Four: Huge amounts of profits will be generated by this reform—in the billions. In a country where the rule of law is so weak, who will regulate these funds and protect them from corruption? Subtext: No one will regulate these funds. They will not be protected from corruption. Additionally, there will be none of the transparency that is necessary for any kind of accountability.

Five: Transnational companies in the world often wield as much power as many governments. What measures will be taken to protect our democracy from financial pressures by powerful international interests? Subtext: There will be some protections—just enough to protect the interests of those in the Club.

Six: What regulatory measures does the government have at its disposal to protect the country from the predatory pressures that private companies can exert on the energy sector? Subtext: The Club has a maze of maneuvers that it can employ to protect its own financial interests.

Seven: How can you assure that Pemex will show an increase in production if the government does not confront corruption in that is within Pemex and its union? Subtext: There will be no assurances. The union corruption will continue. The higher-level corruption—the taking more of the people’s profits—will flourish.

Eight: If Pemex, in the last seventy years, contributed to more than half of the country’s federal budget, including education and free health care, and if now the earnings of Pemex no longer flow directly to the country’s coffers, what will replace that half of the federal budget? Subtext: Any diminution would probably be called in IMF-ese a “structural adjustment,” whereby the people will have less and the Club more.

Nine: How will you assure us that the profits from the reform will not be channeled into bureaucratic expansion rather than to the original owners of the resources: the people of Mexico? Subtext: There will be plenty of assurances, but they will be mostly smoke. Bureaucratic expansion is a euphemism for the Club. Profits from the reform will be channeled to the Club.

A friend of mine wrote the following in reaction to what I am writing here. Since I don’t have his permission, I will not mention his name. But it gives another point of view: “Incidentally, foreign investment and foreign management rules saved the mining industry here making work safe for the miners (before that life expectancy was about 10 years or less in the mines!), improved efficiency (the 80% silver going to the “people” today is much more than the 100% before; and 100% gold still going to the Mexican Treasury), and rooted out the most egregious excesses of corruption (of course, it is still Mexico, in a way). No, I would LOVE to see a shake-up in PEMEX and the whole rotten oil structure. I SUPPORT REFORM, because it is needed and it is helpful to Mexico and its people!

Ten: Two disastrous experiences remain in the minds of Mexicans. 1) The crash of 1982 that followed the waste, ineptitude, corruption that characterized the management of oil in the Seventies; and 2) the arbitrary, opaque and privatizing reforms under President Salinas de Gortari, that were good for the private hands but of dubious value for consumers. What guarantees are there that the social misery created then will not be repeated now? You and your party  carry the responsibility for these reforms. Do you really believe that Mexico can carry out these reforms efficiently, for the social good and with transparency? Subtext: There will be guarantees of benefits, but they will mean nothing. None of the parties will assume responsibility for what turns out to not be good for the country. The last question is aimed right at the heart of the matter. Mr. Peña Nieto and others in the Club say things they do not believe, or worse, that they do believe (see below); any efficiency will appear mainly in the acquisition of private profit; acting for the social good will remain a distant possibility, given the Club’s lack of a sense of social responsibility; there is little transparency at any level of Mexican government—thus, offering little possibility of citizen accountability. Without a free press there would be no hope at all.

Los Pinos, the Mexican White House, has responded with some vague reassurances that there will be commissions to study this and that. It is probably a good thing that the government has bothered to respond. But words are not actions.

Other voices have asked how an “upstart” like Cuarón would have the gall to presume to talk directly to the President of Mexico, Mr. Nieto.

Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, writing for Reforma, quotes journalist and political analyst Ricardo Raphael as saying that the elite are the central problem in Mexico. Silva-Herzog writes, “(that) one of the problems of our democracy is precisely the depth of the authoritarian convictions of those small and satisfied circles that thumb their nose at the country while happily looking at themselves in magazines. Convinced they are more knowledgeable than others, they think they are the only ones that can argue and, especially, decide. The autocratic persuasion of the elite shows in this notion that public discussion belongs exclusively to experts. Only we have the elements to discuss the energy reform, they tell us. Others have to shut up and vote when the day comes; and that that, and that alone, is democracy. We will give you clear options so you are capable of making a sensible decision (they say).

Therein lies the immense service provided by Alfonso Cuarón’s questions. To show that the technician’s arrogance cannot suppress the people.”

The Oil Novel – First Chapter

“How do you start a novel? Well, you just begin. And then wait until the explanations, i.e. the rest of the novel, catch up with you.”

Chapter 1 ~ Sleep (Early Draft)

The bus was a 1934 Ford, with one wooden bench running the length of each side of the bus and two back-to-back benches running down the middle, forming two aisles. Sometime around midnight, the bus driver—whom I also knew as Enrique, a part time labor organizer in Tampico, where we were going—opened the door from the outside and came up the three steps to our level, holding his hand over his right forehead, as if someone had just hit him there. He walked stiffly like a condemned man. Someone was coming along behind him and kept his head behind Enrique’s, as if trying to hide.

I had been holding my travel duffle on my lap for warmth. I reached in and found the heavy Colt that had belonged to my father-in-law, the national rural policeman—before they finally managed to accuse him of treason for helping the Yaquis around Guaymas and put him against a wall in front of six shaking Mauser rifles, all of which missed—probably intentionally—except for one that caught him in the heart and took his life away from him.

I pulled back the hammer one click, then two, to its firing position, and held weapon under the bag, the butt resting on my left thigh, pointing up the aisle.

Mariana had been stretched out on the bench, with her feet toward me and her head toward them.

“What are you doing?” she said.

The bus driver was about eight short steps away. He brought his hand down away from his forehead. As if someone had ordered him to.

With the flat of my hand, I indicated to Mariana that she should neither get up nor continue speaking.

Mariana usually doesn’t do what I say, and this time she didn’t either.

I shifted the duffle to one side and raised the revolver. The angle had changed and I should have been able to see much more of the second man—but I couldn’t. I turned more toward them, and toward Mariana.

“It’s a .45,” I said, softly.

“I know that,” she said.

“I’m not talking to you,” I said, just as softly.

The driver stopped.

“If I fire,” I said, “the bullet will go through both of you. Your stomachs.”

I added my left hand to the grip to still the nervous trembling. The driver remained mute, confirming that things were not normal.

“Raise all four hands. If I see a pistol, I fire.”

Something was delaying the man in back. Then his hands went up. I assumed that the pistol was now in his belt.

“Back away,” I said.

I hoped they were thinking how un-armored their stomachs were.

Mariana was shaking her head in disapproval. I assumed it was meant for me—but maybe not. Maybe just in general.

At the door, the men turned and clumped down the steps. I got up, went down our aisle toward the back of the bus and came up the right side aisle. Passengers lay stretched out on that side-bench as well, and I slid into a slot between two of them.

Outside my window, there was some moon, but not enough to make out the features of the second man. The men moved away and I lost sight of them through the dirty window. No one was looking at me.

I got up and went back to Mariana. She was sitting up now, looking pretty and unhappy—the wife that had never forgiven me.

“What was that?” she asked.

“No idea,” I said, which was not true.

I told her to go ahead and sleep, that I would keep watch.

And I did, for the rest of the night. A noble impulse, you might think, but in reality because I am an insomniac, the perfect watchman—and the one that can fall asleep for a moment, in mid-sentence, during the day.

I wondered whether the Second Man could determine exactly where we were sitting and put a bullet or two through the thin wooden side of the bus. At first, there were muffled voices outside, hard to hear over the snoring passengers. Then there was nothing.

Someone—a male passenger, irked—got up and shut the bus’s door, for warmth, then lay down again. I was pretty sure he had completely missed what had just happened.

Mariana had rejected my suggestion that she lie back down and go back to sleep. Instead she tried to sleep sitting up. But her head sank lower and lower, and finally lean over and rested against my shoulder.

I lowered the Colt’s hammer to its safety position—where it would not fire if something jarred it or brushed against the trigger. I kept it under my right thigh. After a while, I scooted back and let Mariana down on the bench. She brought up her knees and put her hands under her head. I took off my jacket, folded it and put it under her head. She put her hands between her knees. Feeling sorry for myself, I wrapped my arms around myself. With most people, cold works against insomnia—but in my case, it has no effect.

At dawn, someone came to the door and said there was a dead man at the bottom of the steps. People registered the information slowly. A few sat right up and looked around to see if they could spot anyone that was missing. A young man raised his arms over his head, his hands laced. The crime had already been committed and he had decided there was no reason not to stretch.

I got up to have a look. On the last step, and holding the grip, I had to step over the corpse and on down to the ground. I could tell from his uniform it was Enrique. The air was dry and smelled of oak. My hips hurt, and it was cold.

“I’m a policeman,” I said to the man standing in front of me. I saw no need to tell him I was actually Auxiliary Police, Anti-Corruption, answerable directly to Lázaro Cárdenas, President of Mexico. Actually retired. Actually fired—for misconduct.

The bus driver had been dragged about six meters from where he was murdered, to the bus’s steps. Someone had poured oil, thick and crude, over his head. The black liquid had pooled at the top where someone had crushed his skull. Blood had oozed out from under the liquid tar and fallen down over the head in thin streams that entered under his collar and traveled below his shirt, down to the round of his belly, where they flowed sideways and dripped on the ground. All of it was nearly as dark as the oil on his head.

“When did you find him?” I asked.

He said his wife found him. She had come outside to get charcoal for the comal so she could make his breakfast and saw the oil on Enrique’s head and knew wasn’t just drunk and sleeping next to the bus.

I asked him whether he had a tarp. He said he did. An old one. I said that was fine and we would drag him behind the little restaurant and cover him—so no one would see him when they went to have their breakfast. Plus, it would help keep off the flies, until we decided what to do with him.

“Have your wife sweep over our marks.” I said. “But not over the ones leading to the bus.”

I watched him react to me ordering his wife to do something—instead of him ordering her to do something.

His face hardened.

“By the way, let me see your hands.”

“I didn’t kill him,” he said.

His hands were covered with a uniform layer of old dirt, with no sign of oil or washing.

“I know you didn’t,” I said. “And you weren’t the victim.”

Why I said it that way, I wasn’t too sure. Except that I was thinking of other possible victims—such as myself, who I thought was probably the one meant to be wearing oil on his head.

For a moment, I also thought of taking this man on to Tampico and pinning the murder on him, to redeem myself. But that would have been continuing in the old ways, and I just didn’t have the heart for it any longer.

Sniffing Out a Possible Third Novel

If you write two historical novels—spaced sixteen years apart, then you have to write a third one, so you’ll have a trilogy. Which I suppose is something like a triptych – a painting with three panels, an idea—in writing at least—originating with the Greeks themselves.

Because of the spacing between the first two novels—1900 and 1916 in the history of Mexico, and following the rules of compulsion, mixed with a little obsession, the third novel should be either sixteen years earlier, 1884, or sixteen years later, 1936.

Right away I see trouble with 1936. It is too close to my birth date of 1937. I don’t want to diminish the importance of that historic date, even though I was born in Morristown, New Jersey and not in Erongaricuaro, Michoacán. A better date would be 1884, when Porfirio Díaz was beginning the second part of his thirty-year reign, though he had really never given up power during the interregnum when others seemed to take over, Juan Méndez and Manuel González. In all, the old devil served seven terms as president of Mexico. Surely, that must provide a good deal more material.

But what about elements of Novel One and Novel Two? Why not the grandson of One coming together with the daughter of Two? Of course, some mathematics would be involved to get them together in a plausible time and place. The there would have to be a plot that was somehow related to the two earlier plots—suppression of the Yaquis in the first, and a glimpse of the Mexican Revolution in the second. Perhaps—looking forward again—something to do with Lázaro Cárdenas’s land distribution or his nationalization of foreign oil companies, specifically of American and British-Dutch oil companies.

We know this happened, but we don’t know why those countries didn’t react by invading Mexico in order to set this right, since there is a long precedent for this kind of behavior. This is the first of the questions that come up. And so we begin to speculate, so that we will know what we don’t know. The answer lies in this direction. Porfirio Díaz had seen to it that the Americans and British had built a system of railroads. From then until 1936, Mexico had imported a lot of weapons and studied enough warfare in order to know how to leave one million of their own dead in the Revolution. Perhaps there was a certain parity in weaponry at that time. The losses to the U.S. and Britain would have been considerable. Not to mention again to Mexico.

Plus, the Depression was still making itself felt in the U.S., and Germany and Japan were rearming. The U.S. and Britain had to do the same. Perhaps they made a deal with Cárdenas, that Mexico would keep selling the oil and agree to pay for the expropriations. Until that agreement was reached, there must have been some skullduggery. And since I like skullduggery—at a distance, it seems as if this period could be a fruitful time for the Third Novel.

I have arrived at this point without doing any research. Guided only by the Mexican saying: Te conozco, Mosco, por tu zumbidito – I know you, Fly, by the way you buzz. Which is as much to say, I know enough about Mexican-American history to be able to predict certain patterns. Up to this point, I have been sniffing only.

I have read a little since.

There was a strong Mexican Petroleum Workers Union—the formation of which the outsiders had tried to block, sometimes by illegal tactics (hopefully a source of skullduggery); the foreign petroleum companies were making much higher profits Mexico than in the U.S; a strike ensued with popular support; the Mexican Supreme Court sided with the strikers, as did the president of Mexico; the Court ordered the foreign companies to pay 26,000,000 pesos in back wages; the companies resisted; a boycott of Mexican goods and products ensued; the U.S. press vilified Mexico; in the U.S. State Department, a war was underway between friends of Mexico and potential enemies of Mexico—the latter fearing a Bolshevik-communist adversary, or a Fascist one at their border; in order to survive the boycott and embargo, Mexico had to trade oil for money and machinery with European fascist countries; a political faction inside Mexico, in disagreement with Cárdenas’s nationalizing, threatened internal revolt; Josephus Daniels, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico liked president Cárdenas, and vice versa; Roosevelt listened to Daniels and saw a kindred soul Cárdenas; and so there was no invasion of Mexico; Cárdenas went to the conservative Catholic bishops of Mexico and asked for help in raising the cash to pay compensation for the nationalized oil companies; the bishops ordered the word spread throughout Mexico by dint of his priests’ sermons; thousands of women responded by assembling in front of the Palacio de Belles Artes, Mexico City, on April 12, 1938 with donations—from chickens to jewelry—to pay off the foreign debt; on June 7, 1938 President Cárdenas issued the decree that created Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), “with exclusive rights over exploration, extraction, refining and commercialization of oil in Mexico.”

Is there material enough in this saga of Mexicanization? I think so. But I have more research to do, I think, in order to find a yarn to spin.