Mexican Congress approves budget after protests

Mexico’s lower house of Congress has approved the 2020 federal budget after protests and blockades by farm groups forced legislators to meet at a Mexico City convention center

Mexico’s lower house of Congress approved the 2020 federal budget Friday in an all-night meeting at a convention center after protests and blockades by farm groups surrounding the Congress building.

The protests were sparked by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s policy of giving money directly to farmers and poor families rather than distributing funds through groups that claim to represent them.

The farm groups often build autocratic fiefdoms in the Mexican countryside, forcing members to participate in protests in order to receive benefits.

Lopez Obrador’s Morena party instead focused on direct transfers and farm subsidies to prevent such groups from skimming aid money for themselves. Many of the farm groups also functioned as political allies of the old ruling party, which Morena displaced in 2018 elections.

But opposition legislators also criticized Morena for cutting funds for regulatory and watchdog agencies the president has tangled with.

The $315 billion federal budget includes deep cuts in funding for the judiciary, the federal electoral agency and the federal freedom of information agency.

Opponents said those cuts will make it hard to hold free, fair and reliable elections.

Rep. Fernando Galindo of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party said the budget will cut about $77 million from the attorney general’s office at a time when crime is rampant, and about $55 million from the federal election agency.

However, the budget included a large 8.8% increase in the budget for the state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. The money will help the heavily-indebted company build a controversial new oil refinery on the Gulf coast.

More important, from a U.S. perspective, is the $72 million budgeted for implementation of Mexico’s labor law reforms, which are intended to ensure that workers can really vote for the union representatives and labor contracts.

Mexico has attracted huge foreign investments in auto plants, in part because pro-company unions have been able in the past to sign low-wage contracts before plants even open.

U.S. legislators have been angered about U.S. manufacturing jobs moving to Mexico to take advantage of the low wages and have delayed approval of the new-negotiated U.S.-Mexico Canada Trade Agreement, in part, because of doubts about whether Mexico is doing enough to implement and fund the labor reforms.