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Published by: Aristegui Noticias on May 12, 2014
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05/16/2014

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How Gravity Director Alfonso Cuarón Stirred up Mexico’s Oil Politics

Ioan Grillo
Alfonso Cuarón's call for a crackdown on corruption, environmental reforms and
more transparency has shaken up Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's plans
to give private companies a share of its oil wealth.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto appeared to have outmaneuvered all
opposition for his reforms to give private foreign companies a share of the nation’s
oil wealth. Street protests in defense of oil nationalism attracted thousands instead
of millions. Calls for an immediate referendum on energy laws were dismissed as
unconstitutional. Key opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former
presidential candidate, even suffered a (non-fatal) heart attack.
But he didn’t count on the power of Hollywood. At the eleventh hour, as lawmakers
looked set to approve the new rules, the Oscar-winning Mexican director
of Gravity stormed onto the scene, to call for a deeper debate on what will be the
biggest change to Mexico’s energy politics since it nationalized the black gold in
1939.
In a newspaper ad on April 28, Alfonso Cuarón asked tough questions about
uncomfortable issues such as taking on the oil-workers’ labor union (a traditional
supporter of Peña Nieto’s party), stopping corruption in new energy contracts, and
protecting the environment. Finally, on Monday, he published a new ad calling for
three primetime TV debates on the energy laws.
“We should hold a plural and open debate about the reforms, a debate that the
citizens deserve,” wrote Cuarón in the ad, also placed on the internet. “The quality
of a democracy goes beyond the electoral process. And it goes beyond the
discussions and votes of Congress. The quality of a democracy depends on a large
part on its public debates.”
It is yet to be seen how much impact the first Mexican to win the Academy Award
for best director will have on the final laws. But his words shook up the discussion
of the energy reform in Mexico’s Congress and media. Senators for the former
ruling National Action Party on Tuesday rallied in support of Cuarón’s proposal for
TV debates. “It is a good idea to keep giving coverage of the issue of oil reform,
because it is better if citizens know all the details,” Sen. Salvador Vega, head of the
energy commission, told reporters. The leftist Democratic Revolution Party went
even further, calling for Cuarón to personally come into the Senate to speak about
the subject.
The momentum of Cuarón’s call could make it difficult for Peña Nieto to refuse the
demand. When Cuarón won his Oscar in March, Peña Nieto tweeted on how the
success was good for Mexico. When Cuarón released his first ad, Peña Nieto
tweeted again, thanking him “for enriching the debate,” before his administration
released a 13-page PDF document defending the reforms. However, prime time TV
debates could add strain on Peña Nieto in rallying lawmakers to support the new
oil laws, which they are expected to vote on in the following weeks. Constitutional
changes to Mexico’s oil laws that would allow a greater role of foreign companies
were already approved in December. But the new rules to be voted on will spell out
the vital details of the historic energy reform.
The government document that responded to Cuarón reiterated many of the points
that Peña Nieto has raised since he took office in 2012. It said that allowing more
involvement of foreign companies could increase Mexico’s oil production, creating
wealth that will boost the economy. It said the government will also support
alternative green energy. And it said that new contracts and the union are open to
public scrutiny.
The movie director’s stance has won both support and criticism in mainstream and
social media in Mexico. Leftist newspaper La Jornada, long an opponent of oil
reform, applauded Cuarón. However, Ana Paula Ordorica wrote
in Excelsior newspaper that Cuarón was abusing his fame. “Cuaron should talk, ask
and be active in everything to do with cinema and leave energy politics in the hands
of those that know the issue and are available to discuss and debate it,” Ordorica
wrote. The tag #Alfonsocuaron also went wild on Twitter. “I think the profession of
good citizen has fallen on Alfonso Cuaron,” tweeted Christian Gutma. “He shows us
that we have the right to demand, confront.”
Whatever happens to the oil reform itself, Cuarón’s position could set a new
precedent in Mexican politics. Mexican actors and directors, many who won fame
in the nation’s steamy telenovela soap operas, long stayed largely clear of
government debate. Cuarón, who directed Children of Men and Harry Potter and
the Prisoner of Azkabanbefore shooting into Hollywood’s A-list withGravity, has
pushed into new frontiers. But while finding his fame abroad, Cuarón says he has
deep roots and loyalty to his homeland. “I am living outside [of Mexico] for
circumstances of life, but I have my cultural roots in Mexico,” Cuarón told a news
conference in Mexico City, following the first ad. “I think like a Mexican.”

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