The Course of Mexican History

By Michael C. Meyer; William L. Sherman et al. | Go to book overview

44
The Tensions of Development and
Democratization, 1976–88

JOSé LóPEZ PORTILLO AND PETROPOLITICS

On December 1, 1976, José López Portillo, the presidential candidate of the PRI, replaced Luis Echeverría in the Mexican presidency. While a few Mexicans evidenced optimism on that inauguration day, the vast majority found little cause for celebration. Sixty-six years had passed since Francisco Madero’s Plan de San Luis Potosí, but many believed that the same old problems had emerged once again.

Prior to the famous Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s, the world thought little about energy, conservation, or the influence of petroleum and petroleum by-products on inflation and power politics. But these issues dominated the national and international press in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In some circles it became archaic to speak of the First, Second, and Third worlds. It seemed more appropriate to categorize nations as oil producers and oil consumers, and this, in turn, necessitated new conceptualizations of dependency and interdependency.

The large petroleum discoveries made in southeastern Mexico (primarily in the states of Tabasco and Chiapas and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico) antedated the inauguration of President José López Portillo in 1976, but their extent and influence grew markedly during his administration and came to overshadow everything else. The figures for proven and probable reserves have varied tremendously since the discoveries were first announced in 1974. But in 1980, López Portillo verified that proven reserves topped 60 billion barrels, while probable reserves approached 200 billion.

From the outset, López Portillo followed a policy of gradual, not dramatic, daily increase. Although Mexico had the necessary capital and technology to increase production with great rapidity, it resisted pressures from the United States and other foreign powers to do so. The economic infrastructure was not prepared to digest suddenly huge infusions of foreign capital without negative side effects. More im

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