Mexico's Theology of Oil

tags: Mexico, oil



Enrique Krauze is a historian, the director of the literary magazine Letras Libres and the author of Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America. This article was translated by Hank Heifetz from the Spanish.

In almost every country, the availability and exploitation of oil are essentially economic issues — every country, that is, except Mexico, where it is a matter of secular theology. For many Mexicans, the question of whether to open the national oil industry to private investment is much more than a practical decision: It is an existential dilemma, as if permitting foreign investment were to bargain away the country’s soul.

Over the next few weeks, the Mexican Congress will become a kind of theological council to discuss the so-called Energy Reform proposal put forward by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The measure would modify Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution and allow contracts between the Mexican government and private companies to share profits from the extraction of oil and gas throughout the country as well as deep-water sites in the Gulf of Mexico. It would also open the door to free competition along the whole chain of the industry: refining, transport, storage, distribution and basic petrochemicals.

The historical significance of this proposal cannot be understated. In 1938, the Mexican oil industry was nationalized, and in 1960, a constitutional change assigned full control of the industry to Pemex, a state monopoly....



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