Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador denied on Tuesday that an investigation of Comisión Reguladora de Energía (CRE) President Guillermo García Alcocer for alleged conflicts of interest was launched for political reasons.
López Obrador first accused García Alcocer of having a conflict of interest last Friday (Feb. 15), two days after García Alcocer, in an interview with El Financiero questioned the suitability of 12 candidates nominated by López Obrador to fill four vacant commissioner spots at the CRE.
The CRE, an autonomous regulatory agency roughly analogous to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, oversees natural gas regulations and permitting. It also publishes the IPGN monthly natural gas price index, a compilation of post-transaction prices reported anonymously by shippers.
On Monday (Feb. 18), the ministries of energy, finance and civil service announced the investigation into García Alcocer. They cited as evidence that his brother-in-law works for the Mexican unit of Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S, and a cousin of García Alcocer’s wife works for Santa Fe Natural Gas, a subsidiary of natural gas pipeline developer Fermaca.
In a press conference later Monday, García Alcocer called the accusations false, citing that a declaration of his interests, including the jobs held by his relatives in the energy sector, had been publicly available since his appointment by the senate in 2016.
He also highlighted that Vestas is not regulated by the CRE, and noted that he had recused himself from a hearing at which the CRE awarded a natural gas marketing permit to Santa Fe.
“I want to express my concern that the institutions of government are being utilized for political ends, given that the remarks against me began after my observations about the backgrounds of the CRE commissioner candidates were made public,” García Alcocer said. “As I’ve said previously, I extend an invitation to open the channels of communication, and for us to work in favor of the Mexican people…
“To that end, from here, publicly, I ask President López Obrador for a meeting. He will see that autonomous [regulatory] organisms are not the enemy of his national project.”
On Tuesday, López Obrador said he would accept a meeting, but he rejected the notion that the investigation had been launched on political grounds.
“We already had, and [García Alcocer] knew it, the evidence that there was a conflict of interest,” López Obrador said, He noted that “before he criticized the shortlist [of CRE candidates], I can prove that we had the investigation...in fact, I even think that for this reason he criticized the shortlist, because he knew that an investigation existed.”
The hashtag #FuerzaGarciaAlcocer was trending on Twitter on Monday and Tuesday, as some of the most prominent voices in Mexico’s energy sector expressed their support for García Alcocer. Fuerza is the Spanish word for strength.
Former deputy energy secretary for hydrocarbons Lourdes Melgar, now a nonresident fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute Center for Energy in Houston, tweeted on Monday that García Alcocer “today gave us an example of strength and dignity. Extremely worrying for Mexican democracy that the apparatus of the state is used to try and vanquish the president of a constitutional regulatory body.”
Duncan Wood, who directs the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, also chimed in with support.
“I have known Guillermo García Alcocer personally for many years,” Wood wrote. “He is a fine public servant who has worked incredibly hard to set Mexico’s energy sector on the right path. The attack on him is really unconscionable.”
López Obrador on Monday referred to both the CRE and upstream oil and gas regulator Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos (CNH) as “a great farce.” He claimed García Alcocer “should not be” in his post because of the supposed conflicts of interest.
This is “not because he questioned us,” the president said. “No, the issue is deeper, it’s that he tricked the people of Mexico into believing that we needed autonomous agencies of independent experts, because the government could not attend to matters” related to the state power utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) and national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos, i.e. Pemex.
Independent regulatory agencies such as CRE are, “in the majority of cases...subordinate to a way of thinking, to the policy of privatization,” he added.
López Obrador has repeatedly expressed distrust of CRE and CNH, whose budgets were slashed this year, and accused them of working on behalf of the private sector and to the detriment of Pemex and CFE.