After the Chamber of Deputies, the Mexican Senate has also voted in favor of the reform of the law on mining. Lithium is now a public good, and its extraction and trade will be managed by a new company which is soon to be established. Lithium is thus categorized as a strategic mineral for national development.
Both inside and outside the country’s institutions, there are three different and competing models of the country which are clashing: the neoliberal model, defended by the traditional parties and the current opposition; the anti-capitalist model, which finds its most advanced expression in the EZLN – CNI axis; and, finally, the model embodied by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who would like to return Mexico to its condition before 2013, that is, to a status of formal energy sovereignty (sanctioned by the Constitution) in order to develop state-run capitalism in the name of social liberalism.
This head-on clash of models is certainly connected to the institutional policy of the PRI – PAN – PRD alliance, which was able to block the constitutional reform on electricity, which also contained the nationalization of lithium. Lopez Obrador would like to repeal the energy reform signed during the previous government, which changed the Constitution to realize the neoliberal “dream” for which Salinas de Gortari laid the foundation with his government and the signing of NAFTA. Then, the government of Enrique Pena Nieto definitively broke the state monopoly on the exploitation of energy resources, bringing in private capital in the extraction and trade of oil, gas, electricity and much more.
Right after the rejection of his constitutional reform, Amlo accepted the “constitutionality” of the current law on electricity, passed and blocked last year on the grounds that it was potentially damaging to free competition, to the advantage of the centrality of public companies in the energy market. The result was a “plan B” on lithium, and the idea of amending the law on mineral resources to nationalize it. While waiting for the verdict of the Constitutional Court, Amlo had toyed with the idea of modifying the Constitution itself, both to avoid having the law rejected for “unconstitutionality” and to protect its contents, so that a future government that would want to repeal it would need 2/3 of Parliament to approve.
The radical left is watching carefully. While they are interested in the idea of keeping private companies away from natural resources, they are also worried about the examples of Venezuela and Bolivia, where social pacts between the government and the social movements – especially indigenous ones – fell apart precisely because of extractive policies. If the state-owned company will use the same logic as the private ones, conflict will only be a matter of time.
“There are a lot of things written in the laws, some of which would establish collective ownership over goods such as water, for example,” said Juan Bobadilla, spokesman for CNI. “But if we look carefully, water is de facto under the hegemony of big business. Furthermore, in Mexico, laws are not respected. It is likely that some politician will find a way to expropriate lithium. We’ve already seen it done with other resources, and it might happen again. And at this point, we don’t know what this government’s response would be.”
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