On Tuesday, April 12, hundreds of citizens took to the streets in different parts of Mexico in support of the electricity reform promoted by president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). In the capital Mexico City, members of various civil society organizations, social movements, and trade unions held a march from the Zócalo to the Chamber of Deputies. They demonstrated outside the Legislative Palace of San Lázaro, calling on the legislators of the opposition parties to approve the reform to the Electricity Industry Law (LIE), which allows nationalization of the energy industry.
The protesters chanted anti-privatization slogans such as “Join people, today is your day, nationalize energy. Fight by night, fight by day, nationalize energy”, “Free energy is what the people need; private energy can go to hell”, and “No no no, we don’t want to be a North American colony. Yes, yes, yes, we want to be a free and sovereign nation,” among others.
El Frente Nacional en Defensa de la Reforma Eléctrica comenzó las consignas exigiendo un alto a la privatización de la energía.
"Energía gratuita lo que el pueblo necesita; energía privada que se vaya a la chingada". https://t.co/6H78ruRBUO
🎥: Ángel Ortiz pic.twitter.com/TgeFqyQcSi
— @diario24horas (@diario24horas) April 12, 2022
Demonstrations in favor of the reform also took place in the cities of San Luis Potosí and Querétaro. The call for the mobilizations was given by the National Front in Defense of the Electricity Reform, a platform that brings together over a hundred social organizations, trade unions, and progressive political parties, which advocate that the reform will help in the recovery of the country’s energy sovereignty.
Silvia Ramos Luna, general secretary of the National Union of Petroleum Technicians and Professionals (UNTyPP), one of the organizations that participated in Tuesday’s demonstration, in an interview with La Jornada stressed that energy “must be under the direction of the state, because it is a human right, not a commodity.” Luna said that “the electrical reform must be approved because it allows us to recover energy sovereignty.”
The discussion and vote on the electricity reform in the lower house of the Congress was scheduled for April 12. However, it was postponed to Sunday, April 17, on the request of the ruling center-left National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party and its allies, the Ecological Green Party of Mexico (PVEM) and the Labor Party (PT). The coordinator of the bench of deputies of the MORENA party, Ignacio Mier Velasco, reported that the request was made with the purpose of achieving greater public awareness about the content of the reform.
Mauro Espínola, member of the Socialist Alternative organization, highlighted that “mobilization is essential to achieve the reform in the face of the maneuvers of the opposition PAN, PRI, PRD and MC parties, who have expressed to vote against it.”
On April 11, the National Front condemned that “the opposition parties (PRI, PAN and PRD) tried to mount a provocation and limit their rights to mobilize scheduled for April 12 with the clear aim of justifying in some way their vote against the electricity reform, and presenting the demonstrators as violent people.”
El Frente nacional en Defensa de la #ReformaEléctrica informa: pic.twitter.com/Gh8pRoHKZA
— Frente Nacional en Defensa de la Reforma Eléctrica (@Frente_NREmx) April 12, 2022
What is AMLO’s electricity reform?
The electricity reform presented by president AMLO seeks to roll back the opening of the energy industry to foreign and private investment by the far-right government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013. The reform proposes to change electricity dispatch rules to favor state-owned entity Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) over private renewables. It seeks to limit private investment in the energy market and strengthen the state companies. It also suggests exclusively authorizing the state to carry out the exploitation of lithium, and granting the CFE the responsibility of managing the strategic generation and distribution of electricity in the country. The government wants to boost the CFE’s market share to above 54% from a current share of 38%.
The AMLO administration and the MORENA party have stated that the reform aims to modernize and strengthen the energy sector, without having the need to privatize public companies such as Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). The federal government has also stated that the initiative will help establish a competitive public system in order to provide electricity at lower prices, and achieve higher production standards accompanied by transparency and accountability of industry activities. The government has also assured that the reform promotes a successful policy of social and environmental responsibility.
Opposition parties National Action Party (PAN), Institutional Revolutionary (PRI), Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and Citizen’s Movement (MC) have rejected the measure. The parties have alleged that the reform threatens billions of dollars of investment, violates the trade agreements between Mexico, the United States and Canada, and will lead to electricity being more expensive.
Meanwhile, the ruling party has rejected the claims and has accused the opposition groups of defending American and Spanish energy companies operating in the country.
Opposition’s attempts to obstruct the reform
The opposition parties have made several attempts to block the initiative in the past two months, but have failed to stop it so far. They filed an appeal before the Supreme Court to reverse the reform, alleging that it was unconstitutional. However, last week, on April 7, the Supreme Court denied the bid to cancel the reform. The majority of judges voted against the articles of the proposed reform, but the majority failed to reach the votes required to invalidate the bill.
The opposition parties also raised 12 objections to the reform. MORENA’s deputy Mier Velasco, at the session of the united commissions of Energy and Constitutional Points on April 11, assured that the objections had been taken care of and necessary modifications had been made to satisfy the opposition. In the aftermath, the board of directors of the commissions of Energy approved the proposal with 24 votes in favor and 19 against, and of the Constitutional Points with 22 in favor and 18 against.
The reform now faces its biggest challenge in the Chamber of Deputies. It needs two-thirds of the votes to be approved, which is an unlikely scenario with the ruling party and its allies holding 277 of the 500 seats, and the opposition parties having expressed themselves explicitly against the reform.
AMLO’s plan B
Faced with the possible legislative defeat, on April 11, president López Obrador during his daily morning conference reported that in the event that the electricity reform did not pass, he would send a bill to reform the Mining Law to protect lithium.
“If the conservatives win, those who are in favor of foreign companies and against the Federal Electricity Commission, against the people of Mexico; if they succeed, because it can not be ruled out that there are different reasons, they want to continue stealing, the legislators are subjected to strong pressure from the companies; in case the absolute majority is not reached, the next day I send a bill to reform the Mining Law and protect lithium,” AMLO told the press.
He explained that “lithium is a strategic mineral for the independent development of Mexico, which should not be handed over to individuals, much less to foreigners, which should be the property of the people and the nation.” He added that “that specific reform does not require a supermajority, it is approved with a simple majority, half plus one, and I am sure that this will be achieved.”
The president explained that with the Court’s decision to declare the electricity reform constitutional, it would be easy to develop hydroelectric plants and produce clean, cheap energy, and not increase the price of electricity.