I've been idly watching this unfolding drama for some time. There have been some mutterings in the news from time to time about the monetary costs of various Pemex spills, explosions, pipeline ruptures and ship sinkings. Now comes Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera. And he comes out swinging.
Herrera says Pemex owes the state of Veracruz 100 billion pesos in damages. That's about 9.3 billion dollars if you don't have your calculator handy. And Herrera says that this 9.3 billion dollars is a minimum because much of the environmental damage is irreversible, so how can you put a price tag on that?
Herrera read off a litany of Pemex disasters which have occurred in the state, beginning with a massive leak from the well at Dos Bocas in 1908. They include everything from tankers overturning on the highways to massive explosions and fires to spills and pipeline ruptures.
Here are the ones he named and he emphasized that there are many more.
Dos Bocas, Tamalin
Coatzacoalcos river valley
Zapatero, Ignacio de la Llave
Ixhuatlán del Sureste
San Andrés Tuxtla
Ignacio de la Llave
The port of Veracruz
To be fair to Pemex, the oil company did accept responsibility for the 1908 Dos Bocas spill -- in 2005 -- a mere 97 years after the fact. Pemex would probably be happy to pay reparations to anyone still alive who may have been affected. "Just roll yourselves down to the Pemex office in your wheelchairs and pick up your checks! PARTY!!!"
The governor said that if anyone at Pemex cared to see his list, "We've got every incident well documented." The governor said that in spite of the fact that Pemex does by far the most damage to the state's roads and highways, "They don't even have a policy for repairing the damage that they cause."
The governor said, "This is a very profound and painful discussion for the citizens of Veracurz. We give them (Pemex) gas, oil and energy and they leave us with nothing but potholes in all the roads."
To be more charitable to Pemex and a bit less so to the earnest governor, Pemex also pays his salary. The federal government acquires between 60 and 70 percent of its total annual budget from Pemex. In Veracruz state, the center of Pemex operations, that percentage of the state's budget is probably more like 90-95 percent.
To be further charitable to Pemex, as an institution, the federal government used to take an eye popping 60 cents out of every dollar of Pemex income right off the top. President Fox lowered this skim job, effective January 1 of this year, to a merely vein bulging 58 percent. Whoopee.
The federal legislature has leaped (leapt) into action. Demonstrating that they intend to earn every peso of their Pemex-financed, laughably overinflated paychecks, the House of Deputies passed a "Punto de Acuerdo" (declaration with no weight of law behind it) "exhorting Pemex to fulfill its obligations relative to the natural environment and give maintenance to its facilities".
This major meaningless declaration was signed by 282 of the 500 or so deputies, meaning that some 218 of them still think everything is just hunky dory. Or maybe thay are the smarter ones who realize that Pemex just doesn't have the money available to fix or maintain its installations and infrastructure. Especially so after the deputies, senators and all the other hundreds of thousands of hogs at the various federal, state and local government troughs take theirs.
The fact is that Pemex corruption is estimated to cost the company, and the federal government, since it owns the company, a cool billion dollars a year. Pemex money kept the PRI in power in Mexico for 52 years (and skimming foreign oil companies' money for 23 years before that). Pemex money paid for political campaigns, federal, state and local. Pemex money bought votes by the tens of millions and probably hundreds of millions over time. Pemex money bought mansions in Mexico City, beach homes on the Mexican and California coasts, villas in Europe and plantations from the Caribbean to Pago Pago. Pemex money financed high level political murders, the machine-gunning of protesting students and massacres of campesinos from Tijuana to San Cristobal de las Casas.
Pemex money pays the wages and salaries of an estimated 40,000 unnecessary and unneeded employees that bloat its payroll. When Pemex tried to cut into that fat, the oil workers union hit the company with 15,000 individual lawsuits on behalf of laid-off, er, workers. How many Pemex, er, workers does it take to replace a lightbulb? Apparently one to carry, set up and take down the ladder, one to climb and replace the defective bulb, and 6 to stand around and watch.
I drove from the airport into Acapulco once and as we passed through the foothills bristling with mansions, my wife muttered, "American movie stars and Mexican politicians with all of our money."
A deputy, one Fernando Quetzalcóatl Moctezuma, emphasized that Veracruz state alone has almost 1000 miles of pipeline, 80% of which is obsolete. Furthermore, "Eighty percent of all the Pemex pipelines (25,000 km - 15,000 miles) throughout the entire country are outside of quality norms and their useful life and could cause incidents."
Until the morons in Mexico City can come to grips with the fast approaching armageddon that is the backruptcy of Pemex, Veracruz governor Herrera is just whistling in the wind. And no amount of "Puntos de Acuerdos" are going to fix that.
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