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Lower house in Mexico approves oil reform measure

Lower house in Mexico approves oil reform measure
Opposition lawmaker Luis Martinez talks on his cellphone as dozens of leftist lawmakers take over the lower house late Wednesday trying unsuccessfully to block passage of the energy reform bill in Mexico City. (Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

MEXICO CITY -- The lower chamber of Mexico's Congress followed the lead of the Senate on Wednesday night by approving an energy reform bill that would open the country's nationalized oil and gas industry to foreign investment.

The bill, which proponents say will help Mexico reverse its declining oil production with the help of foreign capital and expertise, passed on a 354-134 vote, clearing the two-thirds vote hurdle necessary for passage. The Senate approved the bill late Tuesday.

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As a change to the Mexican constitution, the proposal also must be approved by a majority of state legislatures. They are expected to do so, though opposition to the measure in some quarters remains fierce.

Members of the lower house were forced to hold a voice vote on the bill in an alternate location Wednesday night because members of leftist parties had blocked off access to the main congressional chamber.

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The reform is supported by President Enrique Peña Nieto and his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, and by the conservative National Action Party. The left considers the opening of the national oil company, Pemex, to be a sellout to foreign interests.

Wednesday's vote occurred in a tense atmosphere, with some pushing and shoving among lawmakers, and the hurling of insults. Mexican newspapers reported leftists called the bill's supporters "traitors to the homeland."

Supporters of the bill were able to use a parliamentary maneuver to call a vote of the full lower chamber without first allowing committees to consider the proposal.

The left has promised to call a national plebiscite in an effort to overturn the reform, but some supporters have argued the constitution prohibits such a move.

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Twitter: @richardfausset

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