Mexico and the $3.8-Billion Cost of Heydar Aliyev

Staying true to its foreign policy principle that if you love me, you must love my late leader’s monument, Azerbaijan has halted billions of dollars’ worth of planned investments in Mexico.

At a November 8 lecture to Universidad Iberoamericana students, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Mexico, Ilgar Mukhtarov, claimed that Mexico City’s January decision to remove the statue of the late Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev from its downtown cost the country $3.8 billion in supposedly planned Azerbaijani investments in the oil-refinery business and other sectors. “All these funds have been put on hold,” Mukhtarov was quoted by the Voice of America as saying.

Reactions from Mexican officials have not surfaced in the non-Spanish-language press. The statue, part of a global network of statues to Heydar-Aliyev, was disassembled after reporters and activists looked up who that bronze man was sitting near the Paseo de la Reforma, and decided that you can take a country out of the USSR, but you can't take the USSR out of a country.

Mukhtarov, however, defended Aliyev, saying that the late leader was “not a dictator,” and pointing to his abolition of the death sentence as proof that the president, who died in 2003, cared as much about human rights as the next guy. He also again blamed the apparently omnipresent Armenian Diaspora for causing trouble over the monument.

Mexico and Azerbaijan, though, are not letting this incident mar their friendship in the long term. Mexico is still intent on opening an embassy in Baku and Azerbaijan is eager to host it.

But Mukhtarov’s remarks may be more than just another attempt, ten months after the fact, at damage-control.

In August, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced plans to grant foreign companies the chance to invest in Mexico’s energy sector for the first time in decades. The Financial Times predicted that the decision “could unleash billions of dollars of investment from oil majors struggling to find new resources elsewhere.” Mexico’s state-run oil company Pemex is believed to have access to reserves equivalent in size to those of Kuwait, the newspaper reported.

As a government-owned operation, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR) does not rank as an “oil major,” but, with the rate of growth in Azerbaijan’s own oil production, part of the bulk of its hydrocarbon-based budget, slowing to nil, it has been spreading its investments far outside the South Caucasus, from Vietnam to Switzerland.

Arguably, if Mexico, in the words of The Wall St. Journal, becomes "an energy market . . . based on competition,"  and sees its energy sector expand, investment opportunities there might prove attractive as well.

But, gee, there’s that monument thing.

The ambassador, however, claimed that Azerbaijan spent “nearly $10 million” on fixing up a surrounding area for the statue (now called the Azerbaijan-Mexico Park), without "expecting anything in return.”

At least, not for now.

Mexico and the $3.8-Billion Cost of Heydar Aliyev

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