By RICARDO CASTILLO
On Sunday, June 2, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) flagged the initiation of the construction of a new oil refinery at the Tabasco double-cove port known as Dos Bocas.
Unlike in the case of his initial move to bring an end to the massive fuel theft that was going on at the state-owned company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) last January, for which he received general applause as he successfully managed to mobilize the armed forces against the gasoline pirates, reducing theft by “95 percent,” at Dos Bocas, AMLO does not have a full public consensus.
Critics of the refinery construction run the gamut from those who claim it is the “idea of a madman” to doomsayers offering prophesies that the now-underway refinery “will be a total failure.” And that’s not even the worst of it. In social media – “the blessed social media,” as AMLO quips – the president is the target of a mixed bag of insults so petty and so offensive that they not worth mentioning.
On Tuesday, June 4, AMLO said during his daily morning press conference that he admits to having “polarized the nation” with his anticorruption campaign. The truth is that he has also irked many people – who did not like him to begin with – with his “me canso ganso” way of doing things.
“Me canso ganso” is an old rhyming expression that Mexican zoot-suit comedian Tin Tan invented back in the 1940s. It literally nonsensically means “I tire goose,” but being Mexican slang, it unequivocally implies “I’ll have it my way.”
The bad news for the throngs of critics AMLO is now confronting is that whatever he is doing today – including the Dos Bocas refinery – is part of a program he announced throughout his electoral campaign last year, which placed him in the presidency with 53 percent of the vote for a landslide victory.
Even today, AMLO’s popularity is not diminishing, despite the nasty barrage of attacks from the “conservative press,” who even attack him for the way he breathes. And in the social media, while he may get blasted, he also gets cheered on by former voters who admiring him for keeping his word and his “me canso ganso” attitude, particularly when confronted by an extremely corrupt society that is losing its wit after having lost control of the previous Institutional Revolutionary Party-National Action Party (facetiously known as PRIAN), that, at least for now, is absolutely rejected by a majority of Mexicans.
But – as the old Casa Blanca movie endgame phrase has it after Humphrey Bogart kills a German military official – there is a group of “usual suspects” who are leading the not-so-hidden movement against the Dos Bocas construction.
The most obvious and visible one are the U.S. refineries, which definitely disagree with AMLO’s theory of pushing Mexico back into being self-sufficient fuel-wise. They were the ones behind the “neoliberal” policies (although, I’m not so sure that’s neoliberalism, but that’s what it’s called nowadays) that led six consecutive administrations into abandoning the construction of oil refineries, the last of which (at the Salina Cruz port on the Pacific) was completed in 1981.
Since then, there have been two fronts that have consistently opposed the new construction of refineries representing, in the case of Mexicans, political interests and, in the case of foreign corporations, money, what else?
Since 1981, U.S. refineries have been progressively replacing Pemex’s output as the nation’s consumption grows. Now, foreign companies sell eight of every 10 gallons fueling Mexican vehicles.
These U.S. interests have even pushed international credit rating companies like Moody’s Analytics and Fitch Ratings to downgrade Pemex’s international debt standings, threatening AMLO with financial disaster, not just for Pemex (rightly so, since it is now $105 billion in the hole – the legacy of the PRIAN regimes), but for the nation as a whole.
AMLO’S answer to these vested political and economic interests is the go-ahead at Dos Bocas. The first step is to select the land for the construction, planned by Pemex petrochemical engineers. By the end of June, Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle García will announce the bidding for the construction of the six different sections the refinery is made up of. The news here is that the companies participating in the partial contracts are the very same ones as those who recently made bids to construct the whole enchilada.
A different approach to the construction of the Dos Bocas refinery is that available jobs will go to residents of Tabasco. In fact, even after the announcement was made on Sunday, June 2, there was an immediate line of applicants that soon grew into a row of several thousand unemployed Tabasco laborers, all eying the project – and AMLO – as a blessing.
This hire-the-people approach AMLO is taking is also a warning shot to the powerful and super corrupt Mexican Oil Workers Union leaders, since it will be the various companies building each of the six refining sections of the plant that will do direct hiring.
“I’m asking the Oil Workers Union leaders to behave,” AMLO warned. “Corruption is over and I will go every week to see how construction is coming along.”
There’s still a lot of spec as to whether AMLO’s $8 billion budget forecast for the construction will be met. Most of the companies that made bids for the original construction presented budgets ranging from $13 to $25 billion. For many, AMLO’s $8 billion budget is a pipedream, but for others, following his advice, it can be met if you leave out kickbacks and bribes and stick to the barebones of the project.
Like in all things, there are two sides to the Dos Bocas refinery project, which starts from scratch and builders promise – with the aid of upscale tech – will be ready in three years.
The only certainty is that AMLO is walking all the way to Tabasco, shouting to the people, “me canso ganso.”