World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
Turkey's TRT World runs a report Aug. 15 recalling the Chontal Maya blockades of the Pemex oil installations in Mexico's southern state of Tabasco in 1996, to protest the pollution of their lands and waters. This is a struggle that is still being waged today by the Chontal of Tabasco, but back in 1996 the figurehead of the movement was Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO)—now Mexico's left-populist president-elect. The report asks if AMLO as president will remain true to the indigenous struggle that first put him on Mexico's political map. In a segment exploring this question, TRT World speaks with Melissa Ortiz Massó of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg.
As "NAFTA 2.0" negotiations open, a provision that essentially locks in Canada's current levels of oil exports to the US is drawing opposition from unlikely allies across the Canadian political spectrum but winning staunch support in the "Oil Patch," as the country's petroleum industry is colloquially called. The "proportionality clause" originally appeared in the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement of 1988 and became a major issue in that year's national election that returned Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to office. It was replicated six years later in the North American Free Trade Agreement—although Mexico won an exemption. The clause can be invoked if a government in Canada reduces US access to Canadian oil, natural gas, coal, electricity or refined petroleum products without a corresponding reduction in domestic access to those resources.
Several states across Mexico have been shaken by days of angry protests in response to a jump in the price of gasoline sparked by a new deregulation policy. Protests, road blockades and civil strikes are reported from 12 states since the new policy was instated Jan. 1. Looting was reported in Hidalgo, Veracruz and México states, with over 350 stores sacked. Several federal police agents were briefly taken hostage by protesters when they tried to break up a roadblock in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo. Two protesters were killed in the Ixmiquilpan clash, while one Federal District police officer is reported dead in rioting on the outskirts of Mexico City. Police also fired in the air to scatter protesters in Ecatepec, México. Nearly 900 have been detained nationwide. (Sol de Mexico, Jan. 6; Animal Politico, Jan. 5; Apro, Jan. 4)
Federal police opened fire on striking teachers blocking a road through Mexico's southern Oaxaca state, leaving six dead—a significant escalation in the battle over the government's proposed education reform. Some 50 civilians and a similar number of federal and state police officers were also reported injured in the May 20 clash at Nochixtlán. Striking teachers and their left-wing supporters set vehicles on fire at the roadblock. Followers of the dissident CNTE teacher's union have been blocking roads across Mexico's south to oppose the reform program. The state-owned oil company, Pemex, has warned that it may be forced to close a refinery in the area if the highway linking Oaxaca to Mexico City remains blocked. The clash comes two days after the leader of the Oaxaca section of the CNTE, Rubén Núñez, was ordered imprisoned by federal authorities on corruption charges that are rejected as political by the union. (Animal Politico, The Guardian, June 20; El Universal, PubliMetro, June 18)
The US Department of Commerce on Aug. 14 agreed to allow limited crude oil trading with Mexico, easing a ban on crude exports that has been in place for 40 years. Members of the US Congress were informed by the Department of Commerce that it plans to approve an application by Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's state-run oil company, to trade heavy oil pumped in Mexico for light crude pumped in the US. Despite applications from some dozen other countries, which were denied, Canada is the only other nation currently exempt from the ban. Unlike in the agreement with Mexico, Canada is not required to export similar crude quantities to the US. An end to the ban has been called for by both members of Congress and oil producers, including Exxon Mobil Corp.
For the first time in nearly 80 years, Mexico opened its oil industry to foreign companies, offering 14 offshore exploration blocs in a July 15 auction. However, only two of the blocs were sold, falling short of expectations. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Total all passed on the first 14 shallow-water oil blocs in the Gulf of Mexico. A consortium of Mexico-based Sierra Oil & Gas, Texas-based Talos Energy and UK-based Premier Oil Plc won Bloc No. 2 after the first bloc didn't receive a bid, Mexico's National Hydrocarbons Commission and Energy Secretariat announced. Only nine companies took part in the auction, fewer than the 25 originally planned. A larger auction is planned for next month. The blocs are near the US-Mexico transboundary waters, and close to some of the most significant discoveries of the past 15 years on the US side. A new Hydrocarbon Law, allowing for production-sharing and profit-sharing, was instated in 2014. Over the past decade, Mexico has fallen from the world's fifth oil producer to tenth. (FuelFix, July 16; FuelFix, BBC News, July 15; WSJ, July 12)
After an electoral season marred by narco-violence and assassination of candidates of all parties, the results from Mexico's June 7 vote are in. The coalition led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico as a one-party state for 80 years, maintains its slim majority in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies, although it lost some seats. Gubernatorial races were also held in several states, including some hit especially hard by the cartel violence. The PRI gained the governorship of Guerrero, but lost control of Michoacán to the left opposition. In one upset, the PRI lost northern Nuevo León state to an independent, Jaime "El Bronco" Rodríguez Calderón—the first independent candidate to win a governorship in Mexico. The gadfly rancher survived two assassination attempts by the Zetas when he was mayor of García, a Monterrey suburb. His son was killed in an attempted abduction, and his young daughter kidnapped, although returned unharmed. El Bronco beat the PRI and other estabished parties with a populist campaign and invective against entrenched corruption. With the state's establishment press bitterly opposed to him, he made deft use of social media to mobilize support. (Reuters, BBC News, Televisa, CNN México, June 8)