President López Obrador marked the 85th anniversary of the nationalization of Mexico’s oil industry with a detailed and defiant speech at a massive rally in Mexico City’s central square on Saturday.
According to the Mexico City government, 500,000 people descended on the Zócalo to commemorate the anniversary of the day – March 18, 1938 – on which former president Lázaro Cárdenas signed an order that expropriated the assets of foreign oil companies operating in Mexico.
Later the same year, the Cárdenas government created the state oil company, Pemex, which López Obrador now claims to be “rescuing” after years of neglect.
“This is an event to commemorate the oil expropriation and it’s a national event,” the president declared at the beginning of an hour-long address before a sea of supporters.
López Obrador offered a glowing assessment of Cárdenas’ 1934-40 government, acknowledging its policies in favor of disadvantaged sectors of the population such as campesinos and its nationalization of assets and resources “that were in the hands of foreigners” since the dictatorial three-decade rule of Porfirio Díaz in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Unlike politicians of the elite, General Cárdenas had sincere and profound love for the people. … There hasn’t been a president in Mexico as close to the humble people as General Cárdenas,” he said.
“… The oil expropriation was supported by the majority of people. In photos from the time the majority presence of humble people [at pro-government gatherings] is noted: Indigenous men and women, campesinos, laborers, teachers, employees and members of the lower-middle class. It was the ordinary people who … cooperated with the government for the payment of compensation to foreign oil companies. How can we forget the many poor women who donated their goats and turkeys for that purpose, and even gave up the modest jewels they possessed.”
In addition to “massive and forceful popular support, the Cárdenas government had another favorable circumstance,” López Obrador said, noting that former U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented the Good Neighbor foreign policy and thus “respected the sovereignty of our country” and didn’t oppose the nationalization of the oil industry even though it affected many U.S. companies.
While outlining his own government’s achievements, including its support for the poor through welfare and social programs, the president noted that his administration is pursuing “energy self-sufficiency” and declared that Mexico wouldn’t import any gasoline, diesel or other fuels in 2024 thanks to its investment to rehabilitate existing refineries and build a new one on the Tabasco coast.
“We’re going to process all our own raw material,” he said, referring to crude oil.
López Obrador – a fierce critic of the former government’s energy reform that opened up the sector to private and foreign companies – also touted a section of the North American free trade pact, the USMCA, which his administration succeeded in having added to the text.
It states, the president noted, that “the United States and Canada recognize that Mexico reserves its sovereign right to reform its Constitution and its domestic legislation, and Mexico has the direct, inalienable, and imprescriptible ownership of all hydrocarbons in the subsoil of the national territory.”
Despite that, the United States and Mexico are challenging Mexico’s nationalistic energy policies under USMCA, arguing that they unfairly disadvantage foreign companies that operate here.
After expressing confidence that the Mexican people will continue to support his government’s “transformation” of the country, López Obrador once again denounced the proposal from some Republican Party lawmakers that the United States military be used to combat Mexican cartels in Mexico.
“First I want to make it clear that it’s no longer the time of [former president Felipe] Calderón or [ex-security minister and convicted criminal Genaro] García Luna. It’s no longer the time of murky links between the government of Mexico and agencies of the United States government. Now there is no simulation, organized crime and white collar crime are really combated because there’s no corruption, no impunity and there are no relations of complicity with anyone,” he said.
“… From here, from this Zócalo, the political and cultural heart of Mexico, we remind the hypocritical and irresponsible politicians that Mexico is a free and independent country, not a colony or protectorate of the United States. They can threaten us, … but never, ever will we allow them to violate our sovereignty and trample on the dignity of our homeland. Cooperation yes, subjugation, no! Interventionism, no!”
Among the officials seated behind the president and cheering him on were Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Interior Minister Adán Augusto López and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, the three leading contenders to become the ruling Morena party’s candidate at the 2024 presidential election.
According to an Associated Press report, many of the government supporters in the Zócalo on Saturday agreed that the event was “the de-facto opening salvo to the 2024 elections,” at which both houses of Congress will also be renewed.
“The important thing is for the ideology of López Obrador to continue,” attendee Alberto Martínez told AP.
“This train is already in motion, somebody just [needs] to get aboard and drive it,” said Martínez, who indicated his preferred candidate was Sheinbaum.
In his speech, López Obrador expressed confidence that whoever secures Morena’s nomination would win the election and perpetuate his government’s policies “in favor of the people and nation.”
Another rally attendee expressed support for the president’s opposition to calls from some United States lawmakers for Mexican cartels to be designated as terrorist organizations and for the U.S. military to be deployed to Mexico.
“They are hypocrites because they don’t do anything to reduce drug consumption [in the U.S.],” Blas Ramos, a 69-year-old electrical engineer, told AP.
He also said he was confident that López Obrador’s so-called “fourth transformation” of Mexico would continue when the president’s six-year term ends in September 2024.
“This is a movement that began a long time ago. We have spent our whole lives waiting for this movement. This movement isn’t over in six years. This is a process that will take 30, 40 years.”
Saturday’s rally came three weeks after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across Mexico to protest the federal government’s “Plan B” electoral reform laws and to demonstrate their support for the National Electoral Institute, a key pillar of the country’s democracy.
The Zócalo also filled up with citizens on Feb. 26, but the Mexico City government said that only 90,000 people participated in the demonstration. The difference between that figure and the half a million people said to have been in attendance on Saturday has led some Mexicans to question the accuracy of the Mexico City government’s numbers.