December 17, 2021 | OPINION | By Javier Cantu | Photo by author

The installment of a wind turbine in a small, nine hectare parcel in Ejido Los Ranchitos, Mexico would have undeniable benefits. It would cement a system of domestic energy production that would provide the residents of this small, northeastern rural community with clean, reliable, and affordable power. The residents’ homes would be powered in the most eco-friendly way possible, and each household’s carbon footprint would decrease. 

This will not happen — at least not until 2024, when Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s (AMLO) presidential term will end. AMLO’s presidency represents the reignition of national-domestic sovereignty over energy resources in a globalized setting. His government is committed to strengthening state-run energy corporations and burning off more fossil fuels as part of its National Energy Plan, one completely antithetical to Mexico’s previous commitments made to the global climate regime to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The residents of Los Ranchitos were clear supporters of AMLO during the 2018 general election. They were part of the 53% of Mexican citizens that voted for the Juntos Haremos Historia(Together We Will Make History) coalition, then composed of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), the Labor Party (PT) and the Social Encounter Party (PES).  

Illustration by Iris Guo

The idea of “resource sovereignty” is the foundation of the country’s environmental political vision; it is the nation’s prerogative to own and manage its own energy supplies. In 1938, President Lazaro Cardenas used Article 27 of the Constitution of 1917 to give the national government the right to expropriate resources found below-ground from foreign oil companies. This caused serious backlash from U.S. and U.K. private companies and state officials, who demanded that Mexico pay millions of dollars in compensation and settlements.  

Eventually, Mexico was able to consolidate its domestic monopoly over oil with a huge price, as is always the case for post-colonial countries struggling against the West’s relentless efforts to retain their economic interests.

The ideology of domestic sovereignty brought about by the Mexican Revolution seems right in theory. It has to be executed properly, though. AMLO taps into this ideology of opposition to private, multinational companies and Cardinismo through his populist rhetoric — the rhetoric that seduced 53% of the Mexican population.  

Apathy fueled by one’s own geographical position in relation to national boundaries is why some issues are considered more important than others. Issues at the border will be noticed and felt most by people living closer to it. For this reason, lesser-known issues must also be brought to light.

It is unquestionably difficult to be individuals engaged in the political processes of those territories we regard as “other”, to those sites outside of our immediate, familiar environment, which are fundamentally different. But understanding this can be a first step and can help us determine our individual role in issues that we do not see.  

If the current Mexican regime wants to rid itself from the encroachment of foreign companies, even the beneficial ones trying to bring clean energy to small, local communities, it must recognize that the current path of achieving “energy sovereignty” by burning through its natural gas and oil reserves in 9.3 years is clearly unsustainable — a practice that has to be replaced, perhaps, by a nationalized “clean energy” frame, one that would be kept in check by the global climate regime.

A country with an anti-neoliberal agenda should not have to face a damning sentence from the neoliberal order as well. As history shows, Mexico’s punishment for nationalizing its oil only exacerbated economic inequality, condemning it to the status of a failing state. The ultimate irony of the country’s current environmental policies is that by adopting the same unsustainable and exploitative practices of the West, it will achieve the neo-liberal standard of economic growth, but at what cost?  

Currently, Los Ranchitos finds itself situated in one of the most violent and dangerous places in the world, where the Gulf Cartel and other drug trafficking groups fight each other for control over power and resources. This means cartels doing everything they can to fund their organization — diversifying their portfolio per se, from stealing gasoline and reselling it at lower prices to extortion and human trafficking.

An imagined environmentally sustainable future and the enactment of a comprehensive environmental plan for Los Ranchitos (and the country) depends on tackling the deeply rooted issues behind drug violence, economic inequality, and political corruption, and thus, must be addressed through all levels of action as environmental injustices. Recognition is only the first step.  

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