Mexican Lawmakers Reject Compromise On Oil-Reform Bill

MEXICO CITY, April 15, 2008 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Left-leaning lawmakers in Mexico rejected an offer to compromise on debating a bitterly disputed energy-reform proposal, vowing late Monday to continue their five-day-old seizure of both houses of Congress.

The protesters from the leftist Democratic Revolution Party and two minor parties took over the legislative chambers last Thursday.

On Monday, they piled heavy chairs around the speaker's platform in the lower house, while their colleagues in the Senate began fasting to demand that Congress schedule a four-month national debate on President Felipe Calderon's energy bill.

Seeking to end the takeover, senators with Calderon's National Action Party and the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, later offered a compromise: to debate the issue for 50 days.

"The uninterrupted 50-day term is broad enough for everyone to be heard," said PRI Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones.

But members of Democratic Revolution, or PRD, refused.

"We won't allow a simulated debate that will force our organization to write a blank check," Sen. Dante Delgado, of the small Convergencia party, told reporters. "We are asking that the legislative recess be used for a wide debate."

The PAN's leader in the Senate, Santiago Creel, said it was unlikely Congress would be able to approve the bill by April 30, when the legislative session ends.

Oil production in Mexico, one of the top suppliers to the United States, is declining, and reform advocates say state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, needs outside resources to explore for reserves. The bill would allow Pemex to partner with private companies for exploration and refining.

Opponents claim the bill would lead toward selling off parts of Pemex and threaten national sovereignty.

PRD Senate leader Carlos Navarrete vowed the protests would continue.

"We have made a gigantic effort - at enormous political and physical costs - to push for a wider debate," he told W Radio.

The tactics in Congress are supported by Mexico's foremost leftist leader, former PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who drew more than 100,000 supporters to a Sunday rally against the oil reform in Mexico City's enormous central plaza.

Mexico's Constitution bans most private and foreign involvement in the oil industry, although Pemex subcontracts some work to private firms. The bill would allow Pemex to pay bonuses to private companies but not give them a share of the oil profits.

Lopez Obrador said the bill aims to privatize Pemex, allowing Mexico's oil revenues -- which provide for nearly 40% of the national budget -- to go to private and foreign companies.

Calderon has repeatedly denied he plans to privatize Pemex.

Lopez Obrador narrowly lost the presidency to Calderon in 2006 and blames fraud for his defeat. He has refused to recognize Calderon's government.

MEXICO CITY, April 15, 2008 (Dow Jones Newswires)