We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

MEXICO: PEMEX Privatization Rejected in Referendum

This past Sunday in Mexico a referendum organized by the opposition PRD party of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was held in Mexico City and 9 other Mexican States. The 'citizen consultation' was an attempt to employ direct democracy to the question of President Calderon's proposed measures that would allow partial privatization of Mexico's state owned PEMEX oil company. The measures would allow foreign oil companies to partner with PEMEX in future exploration and development. Although turnout was lower than expected, the non-binding referendum resulted in a resounding NO to the privatization efforts. The hope of the PRD is that the vote will both enlighten the people about the need for more direct democracy while at the same time influencing lawmakers who are currently debating the changes to energy policy. Here are two pieces from the LA times on the subject. The first gives a summary of the results of the referendum and the second provides some more backround information. - Editor

Mexican voters oppose Calderon's plan for oil industry

In the capital, more than 80% issue a resounding 'no' to the proposal to allow private firms a greater role. In the nine states that also voted, more than 90% give the plan a thumbs down.

By Marla Dickerson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 29, 2008


MEXICO CITY -- Turnout was light, but voters in a nonbinding referendum gave an overwhelming "no" to President Felipe Calderon's proposal to give private firms a bigger role in Mexico's government-controlled petroleum industry.

More than 80% of those who cast ballots Sunday in Mexico City opposed the plan, according to the official tally of the federal district released Monday. The results were even more lopsided outside the capital, where nine of Mexico's 31 states also participated. With about two-thirds of the ballots counted, more than 90% of those voters gave the president's proposal a thumbs down.

Slightly more than 1.5 million people cast ballots Sunday. Organizers had been hoping for a turnout twice that size in the greater Mexico City area alone.

Orchestrated by the opposition Democratic Revolution Party, the so-called Citizen Consultation was the first of three public referendums to be held throughout Mexico over the next month to gauge public opinion on pending energy reforms.

The results have no official bearing on legislation being hashed out in Congress. But the left-leaning PRD is gambling that strong public opposition will force lawmakers to back off proposals to open portions of the state petroleum monopoly to private or foreign firms.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD member and potential presidential candidate in 2012, praised the event as a way for ordinary Mexicans to be heard on a matter vital to the nation's future.

"The will of the people that was expressed freely is clearly opposed" to the president's legislation, Ebrard said.

Critics lambasted the event as a politically motivated stunt to embarrass Calderon in the middle of heated negotiations. Members of the president's National Action Party had charged that one of the two questions on the ballot was worded to elicit a "no" response, making the results a foregone conclusion.

The head of Pemex, the state-owned oil company, dismissed the significance of Sunday's results.

"The turnout was limited . . . the conclusions were expected," said Director-General Jesus Reyes Heroles.

Mexico is the world's sixth-largest petroleum producer, and the industry is the nation's largest taxpayer. But output and proven reserves are sliding badly after years of government neglect. Pemex lacks the expertise and capital to tap Mexico's deep-water crude deposits. Mexican law prohibits foreign and private firms from investing in the energy sector.

Calderon in April sent legislation to Congress that would loosen some restrictions on Pemex, enabling it to team up with foreign oil companies to extract the nation's undersea oil. His plan also calls for more private investment in areas such as refining and storage.

Opponents say Calderon's real objective is to privatize Pemex, a charge the president denies.


Mexico's capital, 9 states vote on nation's oil industry

By Marla Dickerson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 28, 2008


MEXICO CITY -- A bitter debate on how to rescue Mexico's troubled state-owned oil company went directly to the people Sunday as residents of the capital and nine states voted in a nonbinding referendum on President Felipe Calderon's plan to open some portions of the petroleum industry to outsiders.

The vote, organized by the opposition Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, has no official bearing on energy legislation making its way through Congress. But opponents of Calderon's reforms hope a decisive "no" vote will force legislators to back off.

The balloting was the first of three so-called Citizen Consultation referendums over the next month that will eventually cover Mexico's 31 states and federal district. Organizers were gearing up for as many as 2 million people to cast ballots in the capital alone Sunday, although a light turnout was reported at some polling places.

Mexico City's historic center was bustling with poll workers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with "I decide," the referendum's slogan. A six-piece band performed "The oil isn't for sale," a popular refrain among Mexicans wary of privatizing Pemex, the state oil company.

A mix of urban youth, working people and seniors, some wearing sombreros and traditional garments, lined up at the outdoor polling stations. Some said they viewed participation as a civic duty.

"The petroleum . . . belongs to the people and to the Mexican nation," said Rafael Mendoza Villeda, an agricultural consultant. "We are defending the oil that's at the heart of the country."

Shoemaker Jose Picon Fuentes said he doubted that Mexico's industry could be strengthened with more private-sector help. "The people want the oil to stay in the hands of the state," he said.

Foreigners "are going to obtain the earnings and take them all," he said.

The PRD has promoted the referendum as an exercise in direct democracy and a way for ordinary citizens to have a voice in a vital issue.

Critics have dismissed the event as political theater directed by leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the PRD candidate who lost to the conservative Calderon by a razor-thin margin in 2006. Many voters in Mexico City were expected to be party members or employees of the capital's PRD-controlled government. Media reports suggested some were being pressured by their bosses to participate.

The wording of the two questions on the ballot was drafted by academics from respected Mexican universities. But Calderon's National Action Party has charged that at least one of the questions is structured in such a way as to elicit a "no" response from voters.

Pemex is the world's No. 6 oil producer, a major supplier to the United States and the Mexican government's largest taxpayer. It's also a powerful symbol of national sovereignty.

Mexico annually celebrates the 1938 nationalization of its petroleum resources. Booting foreigners from its oil patch, chief among them America's Standard Oil, was one of the country's proudest moments.

But legislators for decades treated Pemex like a cash machine, siphoning its revenue while reinvesting little in exploration and development. Now Mexico has less than a decade's worth of proven reserves remaining. Pemex lacks the expertise and capital to drill deep-water wells, which can cost more than $100 million.

Through the first six months of this year, Mexico's total oil production averaged 2.86 million barrels a day, the lowest output since 1996.

Calderon in April introduced legislation that would allow Pemex to team up with foreign oil companies to extract Mexico's undersea oil. His plan also calls for more private investment in areas such as refining and storage. Opponents say Calderon's real objective is to privatize Pemex, a charge the president denies.

PRD lawmakers paralyzed the House and Senate chambers with a two-week sit-in to prevent a speedy vote on Calderon's reforms. They were helped by brigades of working-class women who camped outside the buildings to prevent legislators from rival parties from entering.

A pro-Calderon group countered with television spots comparing Lopez Obrador to Hitler, Mussolini and the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who shut down their nations' legislatures.

The standoff ended with an agreement to hold hearings in which dozens of experts testified on many issues related to Pemex. The public remains deeply divided. A poll conducted this month by the national daily Reforma showed that 48% of those surveyed supported Calderon's legislation, while 52% were either opposed or undecided.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades, has come forward with its own energy reform proposal. The plan puts stricter limits on the role of the private sector than the president's version.

Analysts say the PRI's involvement is a sign that a compromise will probably be reached when lawmakers return from their summer recess. But some doubt that any reform crafted to appease bickering politicians will be enough to turn around Pemex.

And at a time when other Latin American governments are asserting greater control over natural resources, persuading Mexicans to loosen their grip on their petroleum won't be easy.

"Everyone in Mexico knows that Pemex needs to change," said Enrique Bravo, Latin America analyst at the Eurasia Group, a New York-based risk consulting firm.

But with oil selling near record prices "it's hard, politically speaking, to convince people that they should share it with private companies," Bravo said. "That's a tough sell."

Times staff writer Deborah Bonello contributed to this report.

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