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Bush Strongarms Mexico For Share Of Oil

by Christopher Brauchli

Oil And The Permanent War
The Mexicans just don't get it. That's probably why they have so many poor people living in their country. Americans get it and that's and why everyone in the United States who isn't poor, is rich. It's been a long time since Mexico has waged war, much less won one, this column is intended to instruct Mexico on the benefits of winning wars.

War gives the victor all kinds of rights. The United States' most recent war was not against Mexico. It was against Iraq. And it wasn't about oil, of which there is a great deal in Iraq, but about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq of which, as far as anyone has been able to determine as of this writing, there is none. Ignoring that, however, the point is we won and are now beginning to reap the rewards among which is being able to boss other countries around. Syria and Iran have been recent beneficiaries of this instruction and thanks to the observant John Price, a reporter with the Associated Press, we have learned, so has Mexico.

As this is written, Mr. Price's report is the only report available having been quoted in newspapers around the world. By the time this is read there will surely be considerably more available. Nonetheless, enough is known to permit us all to once again take pride in our new found muscle.

On May 11 Mr. Price reported that the U.S. Congress thinks that U.S. oil companies should be able to own part of Mexico. That is not to suggest an invasion. It simply wants to buy part of Mexico. The trouble is that the part of Mexico the Congress wants to buy isn't for sale. The part of Mexico referred to is Pemex, the state owned oil company.

The House International Relations Committee wants American oil companies to be able to own part of Pemex. On May 8 the House International Relations Committee approved a measure that says that if Mexico wants an accord on immigration issues, then Mexico must sell part of Pemex to U.S. companies. The resolution is a non binding "sense of Congress" that was added to a State Department funding bill and must be approved by both houses of Congress. Pemex was created in 1938 and its existence was written into the Mexican constitution. Early in his administration, President Vicente Fox suggested privatization would be a good idea and was resoundingly rebuked for even hinting at such a thing. Since then he has repeatedly assured his countrymen that he will not privatize the company.

The motives of Cass Bellenger, the North Carolina congressman who sponsored the resolution, are above reproach. Just as the Iraqis were the victims of a dreadful regime from which they have now been liberated, the Mexican state owned oil company is in desperate need of reform. Pemex is, says Mr. Bellenger, "inefficient, plagued by corruption and in need of substantial reform and private investment" (like Enron before it collapsed, although he didn't mention that.) If reformed, Mr. Bellenger says, the company can "fuel future economic growth, which can help curb illegal migration to the United States." That explanation neatly ties together what would otherwise appear to be the completely disparate issues of immigration and oil. And it demonstrates that now that we've helped Iraq solve its problems we can help other countries solve theirs. Of course, not all Mexicans welcome our help.

In a particularly crabbed response, Mexico City Mayor, Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador, was quoted by Mr. Price as saying: "The oil belongs to all Mexicans. It's the nation's-not that of the state or the government." Economy Secretary Fernando Canales Clariond was no more gracious. He said "Pemex definitely will not be opened to foreign capital." The newspaper Excelsior referred to "the arrogance of Washington's imperial power, set on the crest of the military victory over Iraq." And most distressing of all was the lead editorial in El universal which unfairly said: "Swelled by their military victory in Iraq, some sectors . . . are trying to carry out a policy of imposing might over right in all areas of their relationship with the rest of the world."

It is obvious that these commentators have never heard the expression "to the victor go the spoils." The fact that the spoils are in another country shouldn't matter. And what's more, the only reason this is being proposed is so that Pemex will be better run and when better run will give employment to the thousands of Mexicans now illegally immigrating to the United States.

The Republicans on the International Relations Committee are not insensitive to the appearance of what they are doing. The last thing Republicans want is for the U.S. government to appear to be overbearing. That is not in the nature of this administration.

Sam Stratman, a spokesman for the Committee's Republicans, said that immigration in the U.S. and Pemex in Mexico "are very emotional issues that are very difficult to discuss rationally." In an especially sensitive comment he said: "We certainly understand that the final decision in issues concerning Pemex rests with the Mexican government and the Mexican people. This resolution is not aimed at promoting ownership of any piece of Pemex by American oil companies." He didn't say what the language in the resolution about allowing American companies to invest in the company referred to. He probably doesn't know.

Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for Boulder Daily Camera and the Knight Ridder news service

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Albion Monitor May 14, 2003 (

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