HomeNewsAnalysisMexico's Eternal Union Boss May Finally Fall

Carlos Romero Deschamps, the longtime boss of the Mexican Oil Workers’ Union, is facing mounting corruption allegations, which could spell the end of one of the country's most powerful political operatives.

Oil workers say Romero Deschamps has not been seen since charges were filed against him at the Attorney General’s organized crime unit (SEIDO), Sin Embargo reported. He was accused by workers last month of involvement in oil theft, a criminal economy in Mexico that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to wipe out.

The newest charges are the latest against the union boss, who was previously accused of embezzling up to $150 million in union funds to finance political campaigns for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI). He managed to escape arrest, however, after a court granted an injunction barring his detention on any grounds.

In the more than two decades that he has run the shop, Romero Deschamps and his family have accumulated vast wealth and flaunted a lavish lifestyle.

Romero Deschamps is reported as owning luxury properties in Miami and Acapulco, a $3 million yacht, and a collection of watches worth in excess of $200,000. His son has been seen driving a golden Ferrari sports car in Monaco, and his daughter regularly shows off her wealth on social media.

But the tide has gradually turned against Romero Deschamps with the election of López Obrador, who has essentially washed his hands of the union boss.

As Mexico’s national oil company, Pemex, prepares to celebrate its 81st anniversary this week, workers have reported seeing trucks carrying furniture and archives out of their headquarters. Speculation is mounting that Romero Deschamps is cleaning house, removing any incriminating materials.

InSight Crime Analysis

Romero Deschamps’ legacy of corruption is particularly egregious even for Mexico, where embezzlement and bribery are rampant in state institutions.

Comparable to Boss Tweed in 1860s New York, he has remained untouchable through a carefully built network of political connections, electoral financing and glad-handing.

Romero Deschamps was first elected as the head of the Oil Workers’ Union in 1993. Taking control of the country's unions was crucial for PRI, which ruled Mexico uninterrupted from 1929 to 2000 and again from 2012 to 2018. Union leaders kept worker unrest to a minimum even in moments of public outcry.

During the mandate of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Romero Deschamps was a vocal supporter of energy reform, which privatized Mexico’s oil and gas industry and allowed for foreign investment. This reform outraged Pemex's workers.

He was also allegedly behind “Pemexgate," the disappearance of 500 million pesos in union funds in 2000, which ended up in the campaign coffers of unsuccessful PRI presidential candidate Francisco Labastida Ochoa.

His political loyalty to the PRI has been well rewarded. Romero Deschamps enjoyed two terms as a senator and three as a federal deputy without ever having to run for election. He was re-elected for a fourth consecutive team as union leader in December 2017, which would keep him in power until 2024.

Although he has faced rebellion from within his union before, it appears Romero Deschamps’ time in power may soon come to an end. Some of the charges brought against him were by his own union members.

The union boss also usually has a front-row seat at Pemex celebrations and events, but it was reported that López Obrador would not include him in this week’s anniversary celebrations.

Amid these mounting charges, he may choose to step aside.

Though Boss Tweed ultimately died of pneumonia in jail, Romero Deschamps may avoid that fate. Mexico's government has said it will not carry out a “witch hunt” within Pemex, making prosecution of the union boss an unsure bet.

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