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The Mexican Oil Controversy of 1938-1943 developed out of a twenty year quarrel between the foreign-owned petroleum companies and the Mexican government over such issues as the ownership of the subsoil, titles, leases, concessions, and the rights of labor. After a generation of adversary relationships, both of the parties' positions had calcified to the point where there was little room for compromise. While the companies had staked out their position on the defense of the rights of private property, the Mexican government had come to view the conflict as a struggle in the defense of the basic rights of Mexico's national sovereignty. The end result of these rigidities was the expropriation of seventeen of the companies in a dramatic "coup de main" on March 18, 1939.

Firmly convinced that the expropriation constituted a major threat to the entire system of foreign investment throughout the world, the companies were determined that it should not succeed. Consequently they launched a campaign of economic reprisals against Mexico and invoked the diplomatic support of their home governments of Great Britain and the United States. Because of the dangerous precedents involved in the dispute, both of these governments rallied to the standards of the companies. It then became another episode in the unfortunate and inept diplomacy of that decade.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Noel Pugach

Second Committee Member

Edwin Lieuwen

Third Committee Member

Gerald D. Nash



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