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Oil Expropiation Day

Oil Expropiation Day (March 18th)

Photography by PETROQUIMEX

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In 1938, the President of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas, announced that his government would make the Expropriation Law of 1936 effective.

President Lazaro Cardenas, meeting with his cabinet, announced his decision to expropriate the oil industry. Two hours later, in all the radio stations of the Republic, Cardenas spoke to the entire country and informed them that the expropriation of the oil companies was taking place due to the refusal to submit to national laws. Days later, the entire country supported Cardenas, and a huge demonstration was held in support of him, which is said to have been attended by nearly one hundred thousand people.

The various companies were merged into one, run by the government, Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). The US government, interested in maintaining good relations with Mexico (as there was a danger that a great war would break out in Europe) accepted the decision of President Cardenas. However, Mexico had to resist that for a time no country wanted to buy oil or silver from it. And the oil companies demanded that payment for the expropriation be immediate. The demonstration of solidarity was impressive, the public collections raised the necessary money to compensate the affected companies, which by 1943 had already accepted the compensation.

The dependence on hydrocarbons continues to be an important source of energy in our country, since oil is not only used for the generation of fuels, but also for an infinity of products that have become every day. Some examples of this are: Detergents, synthetic fibers, some fertilizers, and even products such as perfumes and make-up.

However, Mexico did not always have the opportunity to access oil resources directly, according to history, prior to the period of the Law that regulated the constitutional right of the government to expropriate companies and properties for the benefit of the nation, most of the oil resources were in the hands of American and British industries. But not only that, but there was also a frank exploitation of the workers who worked for this industry, since they lacked rights and benefits, such as coverage of expenses for accidents or illnesses, which was something very recurrent in those times, there were also no fixed hours and the payment of salaries was meager and concise.

All these shortcomings were expressed by workers in the petrochemical industry in 1937, carrying out a great strike that paralyzed all activities in the oil sector. However, the companies maintained a firm stance not to comply with these demands. That is why in 1938, President Lazaro Cardenas issued direct application of the Expropriation Law. The impact of this political and social movement has had great importance in the development of our country, since, thanks to this, at present, the oil sector has a more specific regulation to give workers the optimal conditions to work.


Petroleos Mexicanos
Agri-Food and Fisheries Information Service