The Oil Nationalizations in Bolivia (1937) and Mexico (1938): A Comparative Study of Asymmetric Confrontations with the United States

Abstract: In the 1930s the Bolivian and Mexican governments decreed the nationalization of their respective oil industries, thus starting a juncture of tensions in their relationship with the United States government and companies. In both cases foreign companies quit the respective host countries, but Bolivia was less successful than Mexico in maintaining its initial stand in face of the external pressure. Following a most-similar-system design strategy to compare both cases of asymmetrical confrontation, which share a similar set of conditions regarding simultaneity, starting causes of the conflict, actors involved and international context, we contend that the difference in the confrontation’s resolution is mainly attributable to differing domestic variables. Controlling for the similarity in external conditions, we show that the building and maintenance of a strong internal support coalition was critical for the capacity of the weakest part to advance its interest in an asymmetrical atmosphere.