By KELIN DILLON
As 90,000 workers from Mexico’s state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) prepare to vote in the first-ever direct election for leadership for Pemex’s Oil Workers Union (STPRM) on Jan. 31, tensions are heating up between the election’s 25 candidates as the vote grows closer and closer.
The union vote stems from recent reforms to Mexico’s labor legislature, which granted Pemex’s roster of oil workers the chance to choose their own representation for the first time since the union’s formation in 1936.
The STPRM’s reputation had previously been marred by the controversial leadership of Carlos Romero Deschamps, a member of Forbes’ “10 Most Corrupt Mexicans” 2013 list who has been long suspected of illegal personal enrichment throughout his lengthy tenure as the union’s leader, a role he was later forced out of in 2019 under alleged corruption charges.
Similarly, several potential candidates in the upcoming election for STPRM leadership have called out negative interference by Romero Deschamps into the electoral process, claiming the former boss is attempting to remove them from the race.
Still, Romero Deschamps’ influence within the union allegedly remains strong, as anticipated winner and current Pemex Treasurer Ricardo Aldana continues to maintain close ties to long-term collaborator Deschamps. This relationship has only been bolstered by the duo’s veteran political roles within Mexico’s centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), causing Aldana’s electoral aspirations to draw negative reactions from his fellow candidates.
“We can’t say ‘yes’ to this candidate and ‘no’ to that one, or claim that ‘this one has certain ties, he has this back story;’ It’s the workers who will decide,” said Mexico’s Secretary of Labor Luisa María Alcalde ahead of the vote, following the controversy of Aldana’s candidacy.
As the Jan. 31 vote approaches, Alcalde has given all 25 candidates the opportunity to present themselves and their policy beliefs to the union through televised press conferences held throughout the week at the National Palace in Mexico City, with five candidates able to speak per day. With two days of speeches complete, many candidates took the chance to air their grievances against Romero Deschamps and skepticism of Aldana’s candidacy to the public.
”Electing Aldana is camouflage to carry on the corruption of Carlos Romero Deschamps,” said candidate Maria Cristina Alonso at the Monday, Jan. 24, press conference. “How dare they try to represent us?”
“It’s all been robbery and looting,” said Daniel Aranda that same day, referring to both Aldana and Romero Deschamps. “They live in sumptuous houses, homes with yachts, even with airplanes and helicopters.”
Meanwhile, at a 2,000 worker-strong rally in the STPRM auditorium, Aldana defended his candidacy to the Pemex laborers, claiming the Jan. 31 leadership election would be open and democratic, and running on a platform of full fiscal transparency to workers who pay their union dues, though maintaining restriction to the public.
“That commitment is with all of you, with no one else,” said Aldana. “We don’t have to give satisfaction to outsiders.”
Aldana went on to use the opportunity to dissociate himself from Deschamps, claiming he cannot be directed and that his former boss’ influence went with him when he left the company in 2019.
To close the rally, Aldana promised to make the STPRM a fully modernized union “that allows us to recover the credibility of all workers” if he gains election to the union’s top spot on Jan. 31.