Oil, Revolution and Capital

Yesterday, in what will probably be seen as a fairly momentous vote, Mexico’s parliament approved the opening up of the national oil market (exploration and extraction) which had previously been under the sole charge of the nationalised company PEMEX. PEMEX (short for Petróleos Mexicanos) was created by the government of President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938 in what many feel was the apogee of revolutionary nationalism. PEMEX has been a clunky, increasingly conservative and inefficient beast without doubt, but it is a huge employer and a source of around 2/5 of the government’s revenue. I fear this marketisation of oil will inevitably lead to a situation as in so many Latin American states historically (including Mexico prior to 1938) of extraction with minimum taxation. Aside from that, the employment situation could be another ticking time bomb as relative revenues fall. That said, this has been pretty much inevitable, certainly since the accession of the Salinas government in 1988 signifying the beginning of the end of state capitalism in Mexico. So I see this not as a major watershed, but as a stepping stone on a preordained path. As we are finding now in Britain, many will miss the hulking, inefficient yet public-owned behemoth once it has gone.

The PRI and Pandora’s Box (or other preferred cliché)

Barring a monumental shock, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI has won the Mexican presidential election at a moderate canter. The PAN – the slick, pro-business, somewhat norteamericano incumbents – have been punished for (delete as applicable) opening Pandora’s Box / kicking the hornet’s nest / pulling the tiger’s tail of the narcotraficantes and plunging the nation into what – in some areas – resembles civil war. The PRI was the lumbering authoritarian regime which had influence over the minutiae of ordinary Mexicans’ lives for seventy years. Those sometimes inept one-party impulses will no doubt still be there, but one thing that Peña Nieto will not be able to do is put the many post-2000 (and often post-2006) cartels back in Pandora’s Box. Or wherever. Mexico’s problems have always been determined by supra-national concerns, from the extractive colonial period via the emergent commodity capitalism of the nineteenth century into the post-revolutionary years when the relationship with the United States was absolutely crucial. So it remains with drugs – Mexico is merely one piece (albeit a large and bloody one) in the jigsaw of the global drug trade. Without hemispheric action, no domestic government can deal with this gargantuan problem, yet there appears to be an air of nostalgia in this election result: sure, the PRI was undemocratic, inefficient, economically supplicant and monumentally hypocritical, but at least we didn’t have scores of headless bodies hanging from our road bridges, eh? While the PRI no doubt has inroads with many criminal networks and can exert some sort of influence, the fracturing of both the cartels and their state-employed opponents into warring factions cannot, I fear, be undone any time soon.

Mexican Roundup: 01/07/12