MEXICO CITY — The world has changed since oil-seekers charged into Mexico early in this century and ran roughshod over small landowners sitting on suspected oil reserves. The day is long gone when oil companies financed troops to maintain the oil-field region in a permanent state of rebellion and thus tax-free. Today, no foreign investor would dream of defying an order of the Mexican Supreme Court, as the oil companies conspired to do in 1938.
In spite of the time elapsed, we Mexicans have not managed to purge ourselves of the memory of historic misbehavior. The lessons have been drilled into us since childhood: Petroleum is an invaluable raw material for chemical products, and it is a shame to burn it. Until we find a substitute source of energy, we should exploit only enough for our own needs. Oil in the ground will not disappear; money in the hand seems to blow away easily, leaving nothing behind. It would be a sin to sell our children's patrimony just so a profligate First World can burn it.
But a country does not always practice what it preaches. In the late 1970s and early '80s, we had a president who violated his trust, and his successors have had to continue exporting oil in order to pay the foreign debts acquired before their time.