MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s president on Monday slammed criticism of new rules giving the state more control over electricity production, likening the private sector to colonial plunderers and lashing out at prominent international media as stooges of big business.
Responding to business groups’ complaints that the new regulations to govern power supply threatened old contracts, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he was leveling a playing field previously beholden to private interests.
“If we don’t put things in order, things will stay the same,” Lopez Obrador told a regular news briefing. “They’ll continue seeing Mexico as a land of conquest. As they did. Foreign companies came to plunder.”
“They plundered more during the neo-liberal period than they did in three centuries of colonial domination,” the veteran leftist added, referring to the 36 years of “neo-liberal” rule he says preceded his presidency, which began in December 2018.
Lopez Obrador has pledged to revive heavily-indebted state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and national power company the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) as part of his plan to bolster the public sector’s role in the energy sector.
In order to help the two state-owned companies, Lopez Obrador has walked back parts of the liberalization of the energy market undertaken by the previous government.
That process has caused repeated friction with business groups and foreign allies, which view his inclination to revisit contracts signed under previous governments as a violation of the law and Mexico’s international treaty commitments.
Shrugging off threats by businesses to take the government to court over the rule changes, Lopez Obrador said they could try. He accused them of being upset that he was thwarting their plans to carve up the energy market among themselves.
“And they were conspiring to destroy Pemex and the Comision Federal de Electricidad,” he said.
The European Union and Canada on Friday raised concerns about the moves in letters to Energy Minister Rocio Nahle, pointing to an April 29 order that suspended the operation of new renewable plants on the grounds that the government needed to safeguard power supply during the coronavirus outbreak.
Then, late on Friday, the energy ministry published rules that give the government more scope to control the approval of new renewable energy projects, sparking an angry response from several of Mexico’s top business associations.
Nahle said on Monday morning she would respond to Canada and the European Union this week.
Business groups believe the law is on their side, pointing to some court decisions that have gone in their favor in various ongoing energy-related disputes with the administration.
Lopez Obrador, whose poll ratings have improved during the past few weeks, charged that his detractors were using the international media to attack him.
“Because their disinformation efforts in the Mexican press aren’t working, they’ve gone to newspapers from other parts of the world,” he told the briefing, citing papers such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The newspapers mentioned, along with other media, have offered critical appraisal of his administration, which has so far failed to meet targets he set for increasing economic growth and reducing record levels of violence plaguing the country.
“So what characterizes these newspapers, speaking frankly?” he continued. “They have also been taken by the big international, economic and financial corporations.”
Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Raul Cortes; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Paul Simao, and Aurora Ellis