Members from the Union of Oil Workers (STPRM), which represents Pemex employees, spoke to the press on October 10 denouncing alleged corruption schemes by the union’s leadership, further stating that leaders are harassing critics. The allegations centered on Carlos Romero Deschamps, who remains STPRM’s Secretary-General since 1993. Besides this role, Deschamps has served as Congressman for three terms and Senator for two terms, the latest of which ended on August 31. On September 15, dissident leaders from 30 out of the 36 local chapters of STPRM had already held an open congress in the city of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, to demand transparency in the union and oppose Deschamps.
As it is often customary in Mexico and Latin America, union leaders tend to hold on to power for long periods of time, exercising considerable levels of political influence without necessarily being held accountable by union members or civilian authorities. Deschamps is known for having amassed a great personal wealth over the years, raising suspicions of corruption and influence peddling. Taking into account Deschamps’ traditional ties to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the electoral defeat of the latter in the last elections in July has likely encouraged his detractors to speak up against the contested leader. This assessment is underscored by the electoral victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who is slated to take office on December 1. AMLO is widely considered an outsider and his victory at the polls is attributed to his pledges to curtail corruption in the country. Furthermore, bearing in mind that Deschamps’ term as senator has ended, the union leader has lost parliamentary immunity, making him liable to face criminal charges or stand trial. Although Deschamps’ formal term as head of STPRM lasts until 2024, surmounting public scrutiny on the union’s leadership raises the likelihood of such scenario. These factors explain the reluctance some influential STPRM members are expressing toward celebrating elections of the union’s local chapters, slated to take place in December. Deschamps’ detractors are trying to postpone elections until reforms sponsored by AMLO are enacted, namely to ensure secret ballots. Whether or not these reforms materialize, corruption in unions is unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future, even if Deschamps is removed from the STPRM. That said, if the reforms are not enacted over coming months, disfranchised members of the union could potentially take industrial actions to raise attention about their grievances.