Former finance secretary Carlos Urzúa said in an interview he disagreed with the government’s decisions to cancel the new Mexico City airport and to build an oil refinery on the Tabasco coast.
Urzúa also told the news magazine Proceso that he was opposed to the move by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) to seek to amend pipeline contracts and confirmed that he was referring to the president’s chief of staff when in his resignation letter he charged that there are “influential people” in the government “with a clear conflict of interest.”
The former secretary said he was in favor of continuing to build the airport at Texcoco, México state, because “the project was very advanced” and cancelling it would cause the loss of significant amounts of money.
Urzúa said that while it was true that a lot of the land around the airport “was controlled by people linked to the previous administration” – President López Obrador has consistently argued that the project was corrupt – “a strong government” could have expropriated it.
The ex-secretary also told Proceso that the plan to build a US $8-billion refinery at Dos Bocas “is not optimal in current conditions.”
He said the government needs to listen to petroleum sector experts, most of whom say the project can’t be completed within a three-year timeframe or for less than $15 billion.
“You can’t persist with an idea when there are companies that know more than you and they say the opposite. The problem of this government is its headstrong nature . . . Another of my differences [with the government] has to do with the Pemex business plan,” Urzúa said.
“I believe that the plan could be very good and could clean up the situation at the company in three years [but] it will only be possible if we avoid projects like the refinery and apply ourselves intensively to the exploration and production of crude.”
Urzúa, described by one analyst as the “adult in the room” in the López Obrador administration, said the decision by CFE chief Manuel Bartlett to seek arbitration to annul clauses in the contract for the Texas-Tuxpan gas pipeline was the final straw that led him to resign.
He said the problem with not respecting the contract is that TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) will sue the CFE and while the legal battle is ongoing the pipeline won’t be put into operation and ratification of the new North American free trade agreement could be threatened.
While the pipeline is out of action, the state-owned utility won’t be able to satisfy one-third of natural gas demand, he added, describing the scenario as “playing with fire and the well-being of millions of Mexicans who live on the Yucatán peninsula.”
Mérida and Cancún have both suffered blackouts this year due to a lack of natural gas to generate energy.
“A senior official and I went to tell the president a few days ago that what the CFE is doing is not for the benefit of Mexico,” Urzúa said. “We signed a contract and we must comply with it.”
The 64-year-old economist described presidential chief of staff Alfonso Romo, a wealthy business tycoon, as “the main conflict of interest” in the government.
Given that the president’s office manages confidential economic information on a daily basis, Romo and his immediate family members shouldn’t maintain any shares traded on the Mexican Stock Exchange, Urzúa charged.
He also said the chief of staff’s ideological and social beliefs are incongruent with those of the president.
“Ideologically, Romo is a man of the extreme right and in social terms he ranges between Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ. How did a man like that, who came to admire [former Chilean president] Augusto Pinochet and [Legion of Christ founder] Marcial Maciel, end up not just being a friend of López Obrador but the head of the president’s office?” Urzúa wondered.
He said Romo was responsible for appointing the heads of the Federal Tax administration and Mexico’s state-owned development bank, Bancomext.
Urzúa was critical of the government’s decision to allocate large amounts of funding to projects such as the Santa Lucía airport, the Maya Train and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec trade corridor before they have even started.
He also said that budget cuts, especially those made since March, have been too excessive and could cause problems in various government departments.
Despite his differences with the government’s agenda, Urzúa said he always got on well with the president.
“. . . I’m convinced that he is by far the best living politician . . . in Mexico today. Seeing him [in action] is very impressive, he has extraordinary social intelligence,” he said.
Urzúa said he believed that López Obrador shared his vision of developing Mexico along the lines of a Scandinavian social democracy but questioned how deep the president’s leftist credentials ran.
“I’ve never been a leftist from head to toe and deep down I don’t think he [López Obrador] is either. I don’t think that he takes Marxism seriously,” he said.
“The fact that he was fiscally conservative and at the same time placed great emphasis on social programs concerned me. The balance concerns me. It’s not easy to have budgetary balance and a lot of social programs at the same time,” Urzúa added.
“The big important difference between us [is that] the president doesn’t want to implement a fiscal reform. I do because I believe it’s the only way to reduce inequality. I don’t know why he doesn’t want to do it, maybe so as not to confront some business people, maybe because of the electoral cost . . .”