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Mexican oil town not afraid of gringo invasion

Ciudad del Carmen fisherman Jose Ramon doesn't want to see foreign competition in the Mexican oil industry, even though he blames the state-run oil company for contaminating the waters where he fishes.

 

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan to reform the oil industry isn’t popular. Polls show that most Mexicans especially oppose allowing foreign investment in the industry. But the proposal gets a very different reception in, of all places, an oil town.

Ciudad del Carmen used to be a little fishing village until oil was discovered off the coast. Now it’s an oil boom-town. This is where workers start and finish contracts on the oil platforms out in the muddy-green Gulf of Mexico.

For the last 40 years, those oil platforms have been like magnets for job seekers, who come from all over the country.

Manuel Castro, 49, traveled from Veracruz. Here, on a wall overlooking the water, he sat next to Jaime Ruiz, 41, from the state of Chihuahua. Both hoped to find work on the oil platforms.

What did Castro think of president Peña Nieto’s proposal to allow foreign investment in Mexico’s oil industry?

“Foreign companies come to invest, and they pay their employees very well,” says Castro.

That pragmatic view is not the norm across the country.

Foreign companies have been unpopular in Mexico since they were kicked out of the country in 1938. The oil industry was nationalized. And the state-run oil company, Pemex, has been like the country’s piggy-bank ever since. Every year, Pemex pays billions of dollars in taxes to the federal government.

But some say private foreign investment would shake-up Pemex.

Nicolas Hernandez Gomez works as a cook on an oil platform -- two and a half hours away by boat. He also likes the idea of more foreign companies coming to the area.

”If they bring more companies from other places to work here, there will be more work for the people,” says Hernandez.

He says Mexicans who fear foreign companies are misinformed. Already, he says, half the contractors and subcontractors on the oil platforms come from other countries.

Moving along the waterfront, I came to the dock where fishermen unload their catch. Pelicans bob in the water, alert for scraps. Jose Ramon, 45, has fished off the coast here for decades. He says contamination from the oil industry has reduced his catch.

“There’s less fish. Less sea-bass. Less shark. And only a little bit of shrimp,” says Ramon.

Fishermen are supposed to get compensated from Pemex, but Ramon says he never got any money.

So you might expect his bad feelings for Pemex would make him welcome foreign competition. But no.

“It’s not a good idea because gasoline is already too expensive for us fishermen,” says Ramon.

He expects gas would be even more expensive if foreign companies own a piece of it. With fewer fish in his nets, Ramon says he can’t afford to pay more for gas.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.
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