CANCELLED Petroleum Nationalism in Latin American History

AHA Session 85
Conference on Latin American History 15
Friday, January 7, 2022: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Napoleon Ballroom C3 (Sheraton New Orleans, 3rd Floor)
Miguel Roberto Tinker Salas, Pomona College
Kevin Young, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Session Abstract

Between the 1920s and 1970s, societies and states in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and other Latin American countries established the world’s first state petroleum companies, expropriated oil multinationals or coerced them into tougher royalty deals. They also harbored mass mobilizations for resource sovereignty as well as major improvements in energy-related sciences, technology and management.

Despite national exceptions, uneven chronologies and local oppositions, histories of petroleum prospection, extraction, refining and distribution display key dynamics that were common to different Latin American nations, and often came down to strengthening resource sovereignty. The structuring role of oil issues for debates about economic development and the formation of a powerful oil nationalism feature among these shared trends. The development of a national oil industry also accompanied crucial state-building operations, such as a growing role of techno scientific expertise in governance and asserting the rights of central governments over local powers. Even when a private capitalist model of oil exploitation dominated, debates about petroleum as a collective good blossomed, fueling the growth of powerful workers’ unions favoring fair distribution of natural resources. By the 1970s, oil had been nationalized in most of Latin America. Thanks to an intense circulation of North American experts, goods and technology, countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico began to produce endogenous energy technology and management skills, thus reinforcing their economic independence.

The aim of this panel is to explore the relation between nationalism and hydrocarbons in Latin America by bringing together perspectives about single countries, as well as regional comparisons. It will include a variety of approaches covering economic, political, environmental, and gender histories, and reflect on the impact of energy transitions and politics on Latin American cultures and national imaginaries. Although the history of Latin American petroleum nationalism has been largely underplayed in global history so far, shedding a light on its long-term dynamics can help understand crucial processes of multi-epochal as well as international relevance. The continuity and change in natural resource exploitation, management and distribution since colonial times, and Latin America´s lingering (but constantly challenged from within) status as an economic (semi-)periphery feature among these broader issues. The question of Latin American petroleum can also trigger historical connections with other world regions, in particular within debates about the emergence of Third World resource sovereignty politics in the second half of the twentieth century, making this panel interesting for a wide scholarly public both in the CLAH and more broadly, the AHA.

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