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Mexican Opposition Leader Calls for Consensus for Reform

The president of Mexico's largest opposition party says he would like to reach consensus with President Vicente Fox in order to move forward with needed reforms. The opposition leader also favors a partial opening of Mexico's energy sector to private investment.

Speaking to foreign reporters Thursday, Roberto Madrazo, president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, said he believes a consensus can be reached through dialogue. But, he said, the president must be flexible. Mr. Madrazo said the legislative and judicial powers had awakened and that Mr. Fox will have to work with them.

Mr. Madrazo's party, the PRI, ruled Mexico uninterrupted for 71 years before Mr. Fox won the July, 2000 election. In years past, the PRI-controlled Congress differed little with the PRI president and the PRI-appointed judiciary. Today, however, President Fox finds many of his initiatives stalled by the PRI and other opposition parties.

One of the president's most urgent priorities is energy reform, which would allow more private investment and participation in the state-owned oil industry and the government-controlled electricity generation sector. Although the PRI has opposed most proposals for opening these industries to private investment, Mr. Madrazo said his party would back some limited form of private participation.

He said it would be possible for the Federal Electrical Commission (la Comision Federal de Electricidad)and the state-owned oil company, Pemex, to issue stock that could be traded on the Mexican stock market. He said this is not impossible and that it would allow the state-run entities to expand projects.

However, Mr. Madrazo provided few details of how this could be done without upsetting nationalists in his own party as well as in other parties. He also conceded that a change in the constitution, which makes these industries part of the public sector, is unlikely at this time.

Mr. Madrazo said his party is seeking a meeting with Energy Minister Ernesto Martens to discuss these ideas in more detail.

President Fox has said the energy sector should be maintained as national patrimony, but that some opening to private investment is necessary in order to meet the nation's energy needs. An estimated three to five billion dollars in investment in electricity generation will be needed in the coming year in order to maintain economic growth.

As for the oil industry, Pemex is currently unable to increase exploration or take advantage of some known reserves because it does not have sufficient money to invest in improving its technology. Pemex provides the Mexican government with over one third of its current funds, leaving it with little left over for expanding its own operations.