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Mexican Leftist Leader Vows to Block Energy Reform

Results of an internal party election in Mexico have raised fears of more political turmoil with possible implications for the United States as well. VOA's Greg Flakus has the story from our Houston bureau.

At a time when world demand for oil is growing, Mexico's production is falling and efforts by President Felipe Calderon to reverse the trend are likely to face even stiffer opposition as a result of an internal election within the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.

Last week, Alejandro Encinas claimed victory in the election for party leader, over rival Jesus Ortega. Encinas was backed by radical firebrand Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City who narrowly lost the presidential election in 2006 to Calderon and who continues to claim that he was deprived of victory through fraud.

Ortega, who is regarded as a moderate, might have been more willing to consider reforms proposed by President Calderon. But Professor George Grayson of the College of William and Mary, one of the top Mexico experts in the United States, says Lopez Obrador will fight any energy reform proposal.

"Lopez Obrador, who was just about on death's door politically a couple of weeks ago, now has become Mexico's Lazarus. He has risen from the dead and he is going to turn heaven and earth to make sure there is no progressive energy legislation passed," he said.

President Calderon says his proposal would only open Mexico to limited public-private partnerships so that outside companies with technological expertise can help the state-owned oil company known as Pemex develop oil deposits that are now out of its reach. Production at Mexico's main field is falling and may run out within 10 years.

Grayson says a reform that would save Mexico's energy industry from decline seems unlikely given the PRD's radical position, and there are implications for the United States as well since Mexico is the nation's fourth largest source of foreign oil.

"This should be a wake up call to the U.S," he said. "We have got to move to alternative energy sources and the fact that we are not going to be able to count on Mexico after about 10 years should give impetus to the next president to completely overhaul America's energy policy."

Grayson says the decline in Mexico's petroleum production and looming recession in the United States, which will also affect Mexico, could exacerbate one of the principal areas of friction between the two neighbors - immigration.

"At the same time that grassroots Americans want fewer immigrants coming into the country, Mexico is going to try to export even more of its poor people who cannot find jobs at home," he said. "So I think we are going to see greater tension between the two countries, especially at the border."

Supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador say he will find a way to rebuild the state oil industry without outside help and provide a better future for the poor. They hope his consolidation of power within the PRD will help him launch another bid for the presidency in Mexico's 2012 election.