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From Emperor Maximiliano to AMLO… The oil is ours!

9 September 2013

Judith Amador Tello, in Proceso (translated by Jane Brundige for Mexico Voices) writes that the nationalistic sensibility which surrounds PEMEX, and makes it so hard for foreigners to understand why it is that Mexicans overwhelming reject any foreign intervention in their oil industry is not a new issue dreamed up by the Mexican left, but one that goes back to.. of all people… the Emperor Maximiliano:

Maximilian of Hapsburg [Emperor of Mexico, 1864-1867] decreed “eminent domain of the State over oil, bitumen and coal”, but granted some of the first concessions [licenses] to foreign companies. Sánchez also relates the animosity that these [foreign companies] aroused in workers and residents for their abuse, and how the idea of oil as a national good began to emerge, since the “oilmen were ‘thieves’ who had come to ‘deprive us’ of something that was ‘ours'”. Thus, he concludes that

“one of the great successes of General Lázaro Cárdenas was, of course, having been able to capitalize on these anti-foreign sentiments in relation to oil.”

But he explains that the fears were not unjustified, as there was definitely abusive treatment, which was not only unfair and discriminatory in labor practices, but caused environmental and cultural damage.

The researcher does not stop to detail the time of the expropriation, as it has already been “recounted many times”, but he emphasizes that

“never shall Cárdenas’s courage and political acumen be sufficiently lauded for making a decision so risky as that of expropriating the [oil] companies.”


Sánchez Graillet also recognizes the Mexican scientific community of the early twentieth century, such as the geologist Juan de Dios Villarello, Ezequiel Ordóñez, Miguel Bustamante and many others, who contributed their knowledge and the idea that Mexico could exploit “their” oil without foreigners. As always, he relates, there have been voices that say there is no capacity and it is not advisable. By the 1930’s, however, Petromex, the first Mexican company, had been established.

Not ignored is the fact that after the expropriation by Cárdenas and the birth of Pemex, the National Action Party [PAN] emerged to oppose “statist” policies in general, particularly the nationalization of oil, but the then president achieved majority public support, and he recalls the “famous popular collections”. Those collections, he argues, may not have entirely helped to cover the payments to the [oil] companies, but they definitely contributed in a “valuable” way to

“creating a bond of solidarity among Mexicans, and consolidating the general feeling that the nationalized oil industry was the property of each and every one of them.”

That effort led to a sense of belonging. So in 2008 (still before Enrique Peña Nieto’s new reform proposal) the Mexicans considered the oil to be their own, because “it was our grandparents who paid for it with their belongings”.

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