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18 de marzo de 1938

19 March 2009


You know how hard it is to find a Oil Expropriation Day greeting card since the neo-liberal PANistas came to power?

Though the poster shows Marxist leader Vicente Lombardo Toledano, the timing of the oil expropriation depended very much on another outstanding, but overlooked, 1930s Mexican public figure, Luis María Martínez y Rodríguez, the Archbishop of Mexico City, who could find no theological reason the Mexican government could not expropriate the oil.

Cárdenas announced the take-over on a Saturday night. On Sunday morning, every Catholic Church in the country read the archbishop’s letter justifying the act…and then took up a collection to help pay off the debt!

On Monday morning, there were photographs of Mrs. Cárdenas contributing her wedding ring to the state fund to buy the oil companies. News photos and films soon featured campesinas – farm women – contributing chickens or sacks of grain, and priests blessing the offerings. It was a brilliant stroke, popular with everyone from the Catholics to the Communists…though it soon dawned on everyone that, as with Guerrero’s expulsion of the Spaniards in 1829, the country had lost critical skilled labor.

Of course, the move was not popular with the foreigners. The British acted badly, breaking off diplomatic relations. Together with the U.S. and the Netherlands, where the other companies were headquartered, the British pushed for an international boycott of Mexican oil. Cárdenas played hardball. Unable to buy supplies, or hire technicians from the old companies, the Mexicans turned to the Soviet Union and to Nazi Germany for assistance. Despite very bad diplomatic relations with the fascist countries (Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan), they were willing to buy oil.

In 1938 everyone knew that the next big war was about to begin. While the British were not nearly as dependent on Mexican oil as they were in 1914, they couldn’t hire a mercenary army like they did during the Revolution nor could they do without the oil. Cárdenas told U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt that México was quite willing to pay for the expropriated businesses as soon as a fair price could be worked out. Although the U.S. was the world’s largest oil producer at the time, so there was less sense of urgency about the coming war, it still needed Mexican imports and couldn’t endanger its supply.

Roosevelt agreed to arbitration with the Netherlands quickly joining in. The British were slower to come in, but eventually did. Because of the war (1939–45), when everyone was withholding payments on long-term debts, the repayment was delayed, but the debt and interest were paid off. Britain, the last to join in arbitration, was the last to be paid. The final checks were written in 1962.

Gods Gachupines and Gringos, © 2008, Richard Grabman

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