Between January 1927 and October 1940, Mexico expropriated more than six million acres of land owned by some 319 Americans and redistributed the properties to the nation’s campesinos. Most of the transfers occurred during the aggressively reformist administration of Lázaro Cárdenas in the mid to late 1930s. Mexico agreed to pay the owners for their losses, but how, when, and how much became contentious issues between the governments of the two countries. U.S. “hawks” threatened sanctions, even war, if Mexico did not promptly pay its due, but cooler heads contained the dispute within diplomatic bounds, where Mexican negotiators proved to be clever, able adversaries and eventually won the day. The give- and-take between the arbiters makes for suspenseful, dramatic reading, and in The Agrarian Dispute John J. Dwyer tells the story well.

The most famous expropriation of the period occurred on March 18, 1938, when Cárdenas nationalized the properties of...

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