MEXICO CITY — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has never been short of criticisms about his predecessor’s legacy. But he has reserved a special contempt for the sweeping overhaul that opened Mexico’s tightly held energy industry to the private sector.
He has called the changes a form of legalized “pillaging,” the product of corruption and a resounding failure. He has suggested that some foreign energy investors are “looting” the nation and that Mexican lawyers who work for them are guilty of treason.
He is now formalizing his most aggressive attack yet on the measures.
In the next few days, a bill that would strengthen the dominance of Mexico’s state-owned electricity company is expected to become law. The measure, which was recently approved by Mexico’s Congress with the forceful support of Mr. López Obrador, would also limit the participation of private investors in the energy sector. Both effects are central to his long-held aim of restoring energy self-sufficiency and safeguarding Mexican sovereignty.
Mexico’s dependence on foreign hydrocarbons was highlighted last month when a winter storm in Texas led to the interruption of natural gas deliveries from the United States, the source of most of the natural gas used in Mexico. Mr. López Obrador pointed to the ensuing blackouts as evidence of the need to lower dependence on foreign energy.
international business groups and even Mexico’s antitrust watchdog.
Many critics see the bill as a political gambit to excite the president’s base ahead of midterm elections in June, through which Mr. López Obrador hopes to turn his party’s congressional majority into the supermajority needed to make changes to the Constitution.
Opponents of the legislation say that it would not only fail to resuscitate the energy sector or help achieve energy independence but that it would also violate Mexico’s international commitments to reducing carbon emissions, run afoul of trade agreements and further chill foreign investment in Mexico just as the nation is struggling to regain economic momentum amid the pandemic.
The legislation also threatens to throw another wrench into the relationship between the administrations of Mr. López Obrador and President Biden, which got off to a rocky start when the Mexican president became one of the last world leaders to congratulate Mr. Biden on his election victory.
the cancellation of a $13 billion airport project in 2018 and the blocking of a partly built brewery in northern Mexico last year.
Following the Senate’s approval of the new law this past week, the peso dropped to a four-month low against the dollar. And a Reuters poll suggested that the currency could be in for an erratic few months in part owing to concerns over the energy overhaul.
“Investment levels are dropping, and nobody wants to invest here,” said Israel Tello, a legal analyst at Integralia, a Mexico City-based consultancy group. “Legal uncertainty is the most lethal weapon against investment.”