| MEXICO CITY, March 17
MEXICO CITY, March 17 Waving party flags and
shouting their support, tens of thousands of leftist party
members rallied on Sunday against government plans to overhaul
Mexico's energy sector, a preview of the tough road ahead for
President Enrique Pena Nieto's reform push.
Organized by the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution,
or PRD, the rally took place on the eve of the 75th anniversary
of the nationalization of the country's oil industry, the
historical pivot that gave birth to state oil monopoly Pemex.
Speakers denounced any move to privatize the government-run
oil giant, even though Pena Nieto and other members of his
centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, have
consistently denied any plans to sell or privatize Pemex.
"We are being loyal to this historical legacy that has given
our oil riches to the nation and we are going to defend it with
everything we've got," said Jesus Zambrano, the PRD's national
president, to rousing applause.
He later told reporters that its "absolutely false" that
Mexico's constitution must be amended to lure significant
private investment into the country's flagging oil sector.
Analysts say decades of mismanagement and a heavy tax burden
have hobbled Pemex while its oil output has fallen by over a
quarter since reaching a peak of 3.4 million barrels per day in
If major reforms are not undertaken, the government warns
one of the top oil suppliers to the United States could itself
be importing crude as soon as 2018.
Pena Nieto commemorated the anniversary of the 1938
expropriation in a Sunday speech at a Pemex refinery in the city
of Salamanca, in Mexico's central Guanajuato state.
Without going into specifics, Pena Nieto emphasized the need
for major changes in the sector.
"The transformation of Pemex is indispensable to free up
Mexico's great economic potential," he said.
Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a past PRD presidential candidate and
the son of former President Lazaro Cardenas who ordered the 1938
nationalization, also struck a nationalistic chord.
"We have a framework for the (energy) industry that will
serve the country, and above all, that will strengthen our
national sovereignty," he said without going into details.
Mexico's constitution says all hydrocarbons are owned by the
state and only the state can exploit the country's energy
wealth, limiting the level of involvement by private companies
to essentially service contractors for Pemex.
PRD officials said the rally attracted more than 60,000
people from all across the country.
"We're defending what is ours," said retiree Hector Pedroza,
69, from the nearby state of Mexico, shortly after the rally
Pedroza said he'd like to see a growing domestic oil
industry, but he's skeptical that ordinary Mexicans will benefit
from potential reform.
"Reform would be a good thing, but not one that treats
Mexico like a slave. Foreign companies that come here to invest
pay us so little," he added.