Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron calls out government over proposed energy overhaul

04/30/2014 7:02 PM

04/30/2014 7:14 PM

Just how much pull does Oscar-winning film director Alfonso Cuaron have in his native Mexico? Enough, it turns out, to get the president’s rapid attention.

Cuaron, the winner of this year’s best director Academy Award for “Gravity,” earlier this week published full-page ads in Mexican newspapers demanding answers to 10 questions about the nation’s controversial plan to overhaul its energy industry and open it up to foreign investment.

On Wednesday, two senior Cabinet secretaries stood at a podium on live television struggling to provide answers to two of the questions.

In response to one of Cuaron’s inquiries _ about when Mexicans might see the prices of natural gas, electricity and gasoline go down _ Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquin Coldwell said that his countrymen would have to wait for “the medium term,” which he later defined as two years.

Answering another question about whether the ruling party can avoid the debacles of past reforms and carry out new ones with efficiency and transparency, Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray, an MIT-trained economist who is seen as the brains behind President Enrique Pena Nieto’s reform drive, said past reforms had occurred when energy policy was “statist and monolithic, without citizen control.” The new overhaul, he said, will be “entirely the opposite” and “establish an open system with intense competition, transparency and accountability.”

Cuaron, who lives in London, did not immediately respond to the event at the National Palace. The 52-year-old film producer and director, who is known for such movies as “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Children of Men,” both released in 2006, is perhaps the nation’s best known figure in the arts outside of Mexico.

Most Mexicans are proud of his Hollywood success. When Cuaron won an Academy Award in March as best director for “Gravity,” a film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, Pena Nieto, who’s championing the energy overhaul, was among the first to offer congratulations.

Some of Cuaron’s questions were simple and direct. One query was: “In a country like ours where the rule of law is weak (and often non-existent), how can we avoid incidents of corruption on a grand scale?”

The two Cabinet ministers chose not to tackle that one.

Cuaron has won fans on social media for his challenge to the government’s energy plans, which would open the energy sector to foreign investment after 75 years of exclusion. The plans are controversial, however, and fly in the face of traditional Mexican ideology that portrays the expropriation of the oil industry as a major source of national pride.

“Give another Oscar to Don Alfonso so that he can keep challenging the gravity of the Aztec political realm,” wrote columnist Alberto Guerra Salazar on the news portal hechoenvictoria.mx .

The back-and-forth marked the second time this month that a Mexican celebrity has come forward in apparent opposition to government policies.

A popular soap opera star, Erendira Ibarra, 28, appears in a YouTube video in English that calls on the Pena Nieto government to amend pending reforms of the telecommunications industry to ensure that they don’t permit government monitoring of Internet traffic, blocking of cellphone signals near public disturbances, or allowing providers to censor content.

“Can you imagine a pay-per-view Internet? We can’t, either. This is censorship,” Ibarra says in the video clip, which has been seen more than 654,000 times.

A Senate panel quickly backed down from a version of a bill that would have allowed the blocking of cellphone signals. The new version of the bill cut that provision but does not address some of the other controversial issues.

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