Mexico: The Mexican Congress rejects López Obrador’s electricity reform

The Chamber of Deputies of Mexico has knocked down this Sunday night the constitutional reform in electrical matters presented by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to limit private participation in the sector. It was one of the president’s biggest bets and his rejection marks the government’s first major parliamentary defeat in three and a half years. As expected, Morena, the formation of the president, has not obtained sufficient support to achieve a qualified majority of two thirds of the seats, in the face of the refusal of a united opposition. 223 against and 275 votes in favor have been registered, compared to the 334 necessary. The debate, which has lasted for almost 13 hours, has been full of disqualifications and crossed accusations of “betrayal of Mexico.”

The defeat of the presidential initiative had been practically announced for days, despite the pressure exerted by the government on the opposition. During the debate, the minority has remained firm in its rejection, considering that the reform would make electricity more expensive and cause more pollution. Aware that the numbers did not favor them, Morena and his allies have taken advantage of the debate to present the vote as a battle for the “sovereignty” of the country, supposedly threatened by foreign companies, in a series of speeches seasoned with nationalist proclamations. A sign of the importance of the vote, the discussion started around noon with an almost full house, 498 present out of a total of 500 legislators.

Morena had before her the challenge of carrying out López Obrador’s star proposal for the second half of the six-year term. The president’s initiative sought to stop the liberalization of electricity generation, which began in the early 1990s, and “rescue” the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the parastatal company that in recent years has lost ground due to lower costs. production of private plants. For this, the modifications contemplated canceling all private contracts and reserving at least 54% of the generation for the CFE, compared to the 38% it currently has. In addition, the initiative proposed that lithium, a mineral used in the manufacture of electric batteries, be exploited exclusively by the State.

At the start of the debate, the morenista deputy Juan Ramiro Robledo has charged against Iberdrola, one of the Government’s favorite targets, and has asked to read aloud the details of two of his invoices to denounce alleged abuses in the so-called self-supply schemes, between private centers and companies. Later, the coordinator of the majority caucus, Ignacio Mier, took the floor surrounded by deputies who shouted “they want to steal!”. Mier has said that the vote was “surely the most important in the legislature” and that Morena had integrated 10 of the 12 points presented by the opposition in a press conference. He seemed like a hand outstretched to the minority but, shortly after, he has attacked it harshly. “Your bosses are Enel, Iberdrola…!” He has snapped at them, and he has played a recording of the famous speech by former President Adolfo López Mateos to nationalize the electricity industry in 1960.

At the beginning of the session in the Chamber of Deputies, the legislators will discuss the opinion of the Electricity Reform sent by the executive.
At the beginning of the session in the Chamber of Deputies, the legislators will discuss the opinion of the Electricity Reform sent by the executive.Daniel Augusto (DARKROOM)

In the face of Morena’s attacks, dozens of deputies from the Va por México coalition, made up of PAN, PRI and PRD, have taken the podium to reject the reform, shouting “it will not happen!” The PRI leader, Alejandro Moreno, has advanced that the majority bloc would suffer “the most monumental defeat.” Regarding the initiative, the deputy has accused Morena of “turning its back on the energy transition”, by limiting the participation of private renewable plants, and has assured that the reform “would open the door to litigation and compensation payments” for the cancellation of contracts. Along the same lines, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, from Movimiento Ciudadano, has declared that the “homeland is not the CFE” and that the reform “would increase prices and slow down the energy transition.” Gutiérrez Luna has been forced to call the deputies to order several times due to the constant interruptions to the speakers.

Although the electrical reform was being debated, the discussion has at times taken on more general overtones regarding the current political situation. The opposition has predicted that this Sunday a new chapter will open with a Legislative Power more willing to stand up to the Executive. “Today we tell you that we are more united than ever,” declared Jorge Romero, from the PAN, about the unity of the Va por México coalition. The Government will not have an easy time, they have warned, with the approval of the other two constitutional reforms announced by López Obrador to modify the electoral and security regime. On the opposite side, Gerardo Fernández Noroña, from the Labor Party, an ally of Morena, has assured that the “traitor” opposition “digs its own grave” and has predicted the victory of the López Obrador movement in the June state elections and in the presidential elections of 2024. At one point in the debate, Morena has placed a coffin with the initials of the PRI, PAN and PRD in front of the rostrum.

The tension has been present from the beginning. Before opening the session, the two sides have engaged in an endless exchange of profanity. “It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen!” Exclaimed the representatives of the opposition in the plenary hall. “Those are, those are the ones who sell the nation!”, Responded the Morena deputies. One of them was dressed in the uniform and helmet of the CFE mechanics, as a sign of support for the parastatal. Many of the morenista cries were directed at the PRI, the party that they have unsuccessfully tried to convince to vote in favor of the reform. “If the PRI could, he would sell his mother,” they repeated. In the midst of the hubbub, the PRI leader, Alejandro Moreno, said no with his finger. Legislators from Movimiento Ciudadanos walked around the room wearing gas masks and holding posters in favor of clean energy.

Outside the Chamber, several hundred López Obrador supporters have gathered early to follow the debate on a giant screen. Mexican flags knotted around the neck, banners against Iberdrola and images of the president proliferated. “We don’t want the sector to remain in the hands of foreign companies. The State must have control,” said Ernesto Cortés, a 46-year-old merchant, with several little flags in his hand. Cortés assured that he would stay there until the initiative was voted on. The cries of “don’t betray!” of the demonstrators reached the central patio of the Chamber, where deputies, advisers and journalists came and went and became selfie to immortalize the moment.

Deputies show that they are in favor of the Electrical Reform proposed by the Government of López Obrador.
Deputies show that they are in favor of the Electrical Reform proposed by the Government of López Obrador.Daniel Augusto (DARKROOM)

The approval of the reform looked uphill. Morena and allies did not have the 334 deputies needed to reach a two-thirds majority. In recent days, President López Obrador had intensified his pressure on opposition deputies, mainly those from the PRI, whom he had asked to rebel against the decision of his leaders. “How does the president of a party give them orders? Is not correct! Hopefully and the deputies are released, ”López Obrador claimed this week. However, the pressures have only managed to change sides of one legislator, the PRI Carlos Miguel Aysa Damas, son of a former governor of Campeche whose imminent appointment as ambassador depends on Morena.

The reform proposal has been the focus of the public agenda since the president sent it to Congress at the end of last September. Environmental organizations had warned that the modifications would increase the emissions of polluting gases, while the companies had threatened to ask for multimillion-dollar compensation if current contracts were canceled. On the other hand, the initiative had strained bilateral relations with the US government, which threatened to use the North American trade agreement, the TMEC, to sue Mexico if it were approved.

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