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At least 2,500 police officers were deployed but there were no incidents of violence [AFP]
|Tens of thousands of people have marched in Mexico City to protest against constitutional reforms pushed through by President Enrique Pena Nieto to open the oil and gas industry to foreign investment.
An estimated 65,000 people gathered for the protest on Friday in the Zocalo – a main square in the capital city – an official at the Secretariat of Public Safety told the AFP news agency.
At least 2,500 police officers were deployed but there were no incidents of violence, the official said.
The march was organised by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the leftist opposition to the president’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
One of PRD’s founders, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, claimed that the foreign investors “will be interested in extracting the largest amount of petroleum possible in the shortest amount of time”.
The reforms, which open Mexico’s oil industry to foreign investment for the first time in 75 years, were approved in Congress and ratified by a majority of Mexican states in late 2013.
The rule changes are supported by two of the country’s leading parties, the PRI and the conservative National Action Party (PAN).
In 1938, foreign oil companies were expelled by then president Lazaro Cardenas, who is Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ father.
“All types of protest are valid” in opposing the reforms, Cardenas told the crowd in the Zocalo, “including civil disobedience.”
The PRD is hoping to hold a referendum in 2015 to overturn the measures.
Should the primary purpose of Canadian foreign policy be the promotion of corporate interests?
Canada’s business class certainly seems to think so. And with little political or ideological opposition to this naked self-interest, Harper’s Conservatives seem only too happy to put the full weight of government behind the promotion of private profits.
Recently, the Conservatives announced that “economic diplomacy” will be “the driving forcebehind the Government of Canada’s activities through its international diplomatic network.” According to their Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP), “All diplomatic assets of the Government of Canada will be marshalled on behalf of the private sector to increase success in doing business abroad.”
The release of GMAP is confirmation of the Conservatives’ pro-corporate foreign policy. In recent years the Conservatives have spent tens of millions of dollars to lobby U.S, andEuropean officials on behalf of tar sands interests; expanded arms sales to Middle East monarchies and other leading human rights abusers; strengthened the ties between aid policy and a Canadian mining industry responsible for innumerable abuses.
While some commentators have suggested that GMAP is a “modern” response to China’s international policy, it actually represents a return to a time many consider the high point of unfettered capitalism.
Often in the late 1800s wealthy individuals not employed by Ottawa conducted Canadian diplomacy. The owner of the Toronto Globe, George Brown, for instance, negotiated a draft treaty with the U.S. in 1874, while Sandford Fleming, the surveyor of the Canadian Pacific Railway, represented Canada at the 1887 Colonial Conference in London.
From its inception the Canadian foreign service reflected a bias toward economic concerns. There were trade commissioners, for instance, long before ambassadors. By 1907 there were12 Canadian trade commissions staffed by “commercial agents” located in Sydney, Capetown, Mexico City, Yokohama and numerous European and U.S. cities.
Despite this historic precedent, in the 21st century it should be controversial for a government to openly state that economic considerations drive international policy. Yet criticism of GMAP has been fairly muted, which may reflect how many progressives feel overwhelmed by the Conservatives’ right-wing aggressiveness in every policy area.
Or perhaps there’s a more fundamental explanation. The mainstream political/media establishment basically agrees with the idea that corporate interests should dominate foreign policy.
In response to GMAP, Postmedia ran a debate between John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and a member of the advisory panel that helped draw up the Conservatives’ plan, and former foreign minister and leading proponent of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, Lloyd Axworthy.
While Manley lauded the Conservatives’ move, Axworthy criticized it as “bad trade policy” and said: “The best way to enlarge your trade prospects and to develop a willingness for agreements and to improve economic exchange is to have a number of contacts to show other countries that you are a willing and co-operative player on matters of security, on matters of human rights, and on matters of development.”
Axworthy did not express principled criticism of the Conservatives’ move; he simply said that “trade prospects” — a euphemism for corporate interests — are best advanced through a multifaceted foreign policy. Widely lauded by the liberal intelligentsia, Axworthy reflects the critical end of the dominant discussion, which largely takes its cues from the corporate class. And Canada’s business class is more internationally focused than any other G8 country.
Heavily dependent on “free trade” Canadian companies are also major global investors. The world’s largest privately-owned security company, GardaWorld, has 45,000 employees operating across the globe while another Montréal-based company, SNC Lavalin, is active in100 countries. Corporate Canada’s most powerful sector is also a global force. The big five banks, which all rank among the top 65 in the world, now do a majority of their business outside of this country. Scotiabank, for example, operates in 50 countries.
The mining sector provides the best example of Canadian capital’s international prominence. Three quarters of the world’s mining companies are based in Canada or listed on Canadian stock exchanges. Present in almost every country, Canadian corporations operate thousands of mineral projects abroad.
With $711.6 billion in foreign direct investments last year, Canadian companies push for (and benefit from) Ottawa’s diplomatic aid and military support. As their international footprint has grown, they’ve put ever more pressure on the government to serve their interests. There is simply no countervailing force calling on the government to advance international climate negotiations, arms control measures or to place constraints on mining companies.
There’s also limited ideological opposition to neoliberalism. Few in Canada promote any alternative to capitalism. Until unions, social groups and activists put forward an alternative economic and social vision it’s hard to imagine that Canadian foreign policy will do much more than promote private corporate interests.
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to open up the country’s oil and gas sector to private investment in the biggest overhaul of the industry since it was nationalized in 1938.
After a whirlwind final passage through Congress, President Enrique Pena Nieto’s bill will offer companies the chance to operate oil wells, commercialize crude and partner with state oil giant Pemex as Mexico seeks to revive flagging output.
Facing down accusations they were betraying their homeland to foreign oil majors, Mexico’s two biggest parties approved a series of changes to the constitution that could radically transform the fortunes of the world’s No. 10 oil producer.
At more than 10 billion barrels, Mexico has Latin America’s third-largest proven oil reserves after Venezuela and Brazil. It also has nearly 30 billion barrels of prospective resources in the country’s territorial deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Pemex has struggled to exploit those reserves due to a lack of investment, a crippling tax burden and persistent allegations of corruption. Since peaking at 3.4 million barrels per day in 2004, Mexico’s crude output has fallen by more than a quarter.
Proponents of the reform argued Mexico would fall further behind its peers without finding new investors to help exploit its deep water and subterranean oil and shale reserves.
“Today, the name of the game is greater economic competitiveness,” Javier Trevino, a lawmaker in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on the lower house energy committee, said in a debate that went through the night.
END OF AN ERA?
Pena Nieto first presented his bill in August, and after weeks of negotiations with the center-right opposition National Action Party (PAN), the PRI unveiled a revised plan at the weekend in the Senate that was far more radical.
The new draft bore the stamp of the PAN, which had urged the government to offer companies full concessions at a time the president was only talking about profit-sharing contracts.
The revised bill did not go that far, but it opened up the prospect of production-sharing contracts and licenses, and both parties were keen to pass it this week.
Barely 24 hours had elapsed since Senate approval when PAN and PRI lower house deputies signed off on the reform, packed into a smaller chamber of the house after a group of left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) legislators tried to derail the reform by blocking access to the main floor.
Supported by the Green Party, a group allied to the PRI, lawmakers from the three parties gave final approval to the bill with 353 votes in favor and 134 against after rejecting a long list of objections to the bill argued by left-wing opponents.
Critics lamented the energy reform as an act of submission and the end of an era, tapping into the pride many Mexicans still feel over President Lazaro Cardenas’ move to expropriate foreign oil companies’ assets in 1938 and create Pemex.
“Today is a black day,” said Ricardo Monreal, a trenchant critic of the government and leader of the leftist Citizens’ Movement in the lower house. “More poverty for everyone, which has been the rule for Mexican privatizations.”
One leftist lawmaker stripped down to his underwear on the podium during the overnight debate, accusing the backers of the reform of leaving Mexico naked without its oil wealth.
OPENING THE DOOR
The floor of the lower house started to debate the bill just a few hours after it arrived from the Senate. In a swipe against the PRD and other left-wing lawmakers trying to derail the reform, legislators from the PRI, PAN and Green Party voted to bypass the committees usually consulted.
Following congressional approval, the constitutional changes must be ratified by a majority of the 32 regional assemblies in Mexico, most of which the PRI and the PAN control.
However, experts say the shake-up is some time away from yielding fruit, not least because the government must still draw up secondary legislation to implement the reform.
“They removed the lock from the door, but do you want to go through?” said Alberto Ramos, an economist at Goldman Sachs.
Seeking to lure billions of dollars to Mexico, the reform formally puts an end to Pemex’s monopoly in oil and gas and will offer companies the right to be paid in barrels of oil.
That is a big departure from the service contracts now on offer, in which firms are paid a fee and can recover costs.
But how lucrative the new regime will be is not yet clear.
“They still have to determine royalty rates and tax structures and national content requirements,” said Carlos Sole, an energy specialist with law firm Baker Botts in Houston.
“All that will determine the scope of potential investment,” he added. “But given Mexico’s market has been mostly closed to investment for so long, this is really a transformative change. The lion’s share of the excitement is on the upstream side.”
(Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Miguel Gutierrez, Ana Isabel Martinez, Tomas Sarmiento, Lizbeth Diaz, David Alire Garcia and Michael O’Boyle; Editing by Simon Gardner, Alden Bentley and Andrew Hay)
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- Earthquake strikes in Mexico city (independent.co.uk)
- Power outages hit Mexico City after quake in country’s center (scooprocket.com)
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- Earthquake jolts Mexico City, no damages reported (panarmenian.net)
- Magnitude 6.0 quake hits Mexico, tremors felt in Mexico City – Reuters (reuters.com)