'Gasolinazo' protests rock Mexico

Several states across Mexico have been shaken by days of angry protests in response to a jump in the price of gasoline sparked by a new deregulation policy. Protests, road blockades and civil strikes are reported from 12 states since the new policy was instated Jan. 1. Looting was reported in Hidalgo, Veracruz and México states, with over 350 stores sacked. Several federal police agents were briefly taken hostage by protesters when they tried to break up a roadblock in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo. Two protesters were killed in the Ixmiquilpan clash, while one Federal District police officer is reported dead in rioting on the outskirts of Mexico City. Police also fired in the air to scatter protesters in Ecatepec, México. Nearly 900 have been detained nationwide. (Sol de Mexico, Jan. 6; Animal Politico, Jan. 5; Apro, Jan. 4)

Oaxaca: six dead as police fire on striking teachers

Federal police opened fire on striking teachers blocking a road through Mexico's southern Oaxaca state, leaving six dead—a significant escalation in the battle over the government's proposed education reform. Some 50 civilians and a similar number of federal and state police officers were also reported injured in the May 20 clash at Nochixtlán. Striking teachers and their left-wing supporters set vehicles on fire at the roadblock. Followers of the dissident CNTE teacher's union have been blocking roads across Mexico's south to oppose the reform program. The state-owned oil company, Pemex, has warned that it may be forced to close a refinery in the area if the highway linking Oaxaca to Mexico City remains blocked. The clash comes two days after the leader of the Oaxaca section of the CNTE, Rubén Núñez, was ordered imprisoned by federal authorities on corruption charges that are rejected as political by the union. (Animal PoliticoThe Guardian, June 20; El Universal, PubliMetro, June 18)

US eases oil export ban

The US Department of Commerce on Aug. 14 agreed to allow limited crude oil trading with Mexico, easing a ban on crude exports that has been in place for 40 years. Members of the US Congress were informed by the Department of Commerce that it plans to approve an application by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's state-run oil company, to trade heavy oil pumped in Mexico for light crude pumped in the US. Despite applications from some dozen other countries, which were denied, Canada is the only other nation currently exempt from the ban. Unlike in the agreement with Mexico, Canada is not required to export similar crude quantities to the US. An end to the ban has been called for by both members of Congress and oil producers, including Exxon Mobil Corp.

Mexico sells offshore oil blocs, but majors are shy

For the first time in nearly 80 years, Mexico opened its oil industry to foreign companies, offering 14 offshore exploration blocs in a July 15 auction. However, only two of the blocs were sold, falling short of expectations. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total all passed on the first 14 shallow-water oil blocs in the Gulf of Mexico. A consortium of Mexico-based Sierra Oil & Gas, Texas-based Talos Energy and UK-based Premier Oil Plc won Bloc No. 2 after the first bloc didn't receive a bid, Mexico's National Hydrocarbons Commission and Energy Secretariat announced. Only nine companies took part in the auction, fewer than the 25 originally planned. A larger auction is planned for next month. The blocs are near the US-Mexico transboundary waters, and close to some of the most significant discoveries of the past 15 years on the US side. A new Hydrocarbon Law, allowing for production-sharing and profit-sharing, was instated in 2014. Over the past decade, Mexico has fallen from the world's fifth oil producer to tenth. (FuelFix, July 16; FuelFixBBC News, July 15; WSJ, July 12)

Mexico: violence continues in wake of elections

After an electoral season marred by narco-violence and assassination of candidates of all parties, the results from Mexico's June 7 vote are in. The coalition led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico as a one-party state for 80 years, maintains its slim majority in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies, although it lost some seats. Gubernatorial races were also held in several states, including some hit especially hard by the cartel violence. The PRI gained the governorship of Guerrero, but lost control of Michoacán to the left opposition. In one upset, the PRI lost northern Nuevo León state to an independent, Jaime "El Bronco" Rodríguez Calderón—the first independent candidate to win a governorship in Mexico. The gadfly rancher survived two assassination attempts by the Zetas when he was mayor of García, a Monterrey suburb. His son was killed in an attempted abduction, and his young daughter kidnapped, although returned unharmed. El Bronco beat the PRI and other estabished parties with a populist campaign and invective against entrenched corruption. With the state's establishment press bitterly opposed to him, he made deft use of social media to mobilize support. (Reuters, BBC News, Televisa, CNN México, June 8)

Mexico cracks down on narco-oil

In an open acknowledgement that it cannot secure its pipeline system from plunder by criminal gangs, Mexico's state oil monopoly Pemex announced Feb. 18 that it will no longer pump refined gasoline and diesel through the duct network. Mexico lost $1.14 billion last year to pipeline thefts last year—a 70% increase over the previous year. This is an ominous sign that the drug cartels are becoming the real power on the ground throughout much of the country—moving beyond their mainstays of illicit substances to contraband control of legal commodities like oil and minerals, establishing a virtual parallel economy. Pemex will now only send "unfinished" fuel through its more than 14,000 kilometers of pipeline, reported El Universal. The company said in a statement: "Customers should make sure that the fuel they buy has been delivered from Pemex terminals, and not buy gasoline or diesel from anyone other than gas stations or authorized dealers, given could damage motors."

Obama's new offshore plan: don't believe the hype

This week, the Obama administration released a draft of its next five-year plan for offshore drilling—opening up a previously off-limits area along the Southeastern coast, from Virginia down to Georgia, as well as offering many new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. And while it would protect some key areas north of Alaska from drilling, it would open other Arctic areas up. The plan designates 9.8 million acres of Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas off-limits to oil-and-gas leasing, and asks Congress to set aside 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as "wilderness area," affording another level of protection. Daily Caller is outraged that the Alaskan waters are to be off-limits; Grist is outraged that the Southeastern waters are to be opened up; Bloomberg tries to play it objective. However, read the small print last line of the White House memo on the supposedly new polcy: "Nothing in this withdrawal affects the rights under existing leases in the withdrawn areas."

Mexico: more Pemex contract scandals exposed

Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's giant state-owned oil monopoly, signed contracts worth $149 billion with outside companies from 2003 to 2012, according to a Jan. 23 investigative report by Reuters wire service; about 8% of the contracts were cited by a congressional watchdog, the Chamber of Deputies' Federal Audit Office (ASF), as having irregularities "ranging from overcharging for shoddy work to outright fraud," Reuters wrote. The problems involved more than 100 contracts with a total value of $11.7 billion.

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