Theses Doctoral

Agrarian Reform, Oil Expropriation, and the Making of National Property in Postrevolutionary Mexico

del Palacio Langer, Ana Julia

This dissertation explores the property regimes of postrevolutionary Mexico through a multi-layered analysis of struggles over territory in the oil-producing areas of the state of Veracruz. I analyze land petitions made by oil workers to establish the relationship between the 1930s agrarian reform program and the nationalization of the oil industry of 1938 in the context of a general re-definition of citizens’ property rights after the revolution of 1910-1920. These events were essential in the construction of a revolutionary nationalism in Mexico.

Arguably, in fact, Mexican nationalism has been built over specific legal and cultural notions of what constitutes the patrimony of the nation and citizens’ right to participate in the national project by obtaining a piece of that patrimony, even if it is by force. I contend that the same laws that allowed the governments of the postrevolution to enforce the agrarian reform and to nationalize the oil industry, also gave them the power to organize, regulate, and limit land possession among regular folk with the goal of de-radicalizing dissident groups after the armed struggle.

Throughout the five chapters of this dissertation, I provide examples of individuals and communities that consistently competed for land and territory with foreign oil companies first and with Mexican Petroleum after the oil nationalization of 1938. These examples show the ways in which postrevolutionary leaders’ constant debates about property were understood and experienced on the ground. These instances also show how people living in or near the oil fields of Mexico fought for their property rights in part by engaging in these discussions—through letters and petitions—and in part by acting for or against the laws that since the enactment of the Constitution of 1917 regulated citizens’ access to property. Actions included land invasions, the breaking of fences and other enclosures, and the organization of cooperatives and other coalitions to petition land or to occupy territory. These debates over property reveal the collision between the “ideal types” of social organization, political action, and property holding advanced by the postrevolutionary regime and the reality that citizens experienced every day.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lomnitz, Claudio W.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2015