After the 1952 Bolivian Revolution, oil assumed an increasingly important role in Bolivia's economy and popular consciousness. Oil nationalists were deeply divided, however. While the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR) regime sought economic modernization, labor and the Left also demanded major redistribution. These divisions influenced the multiple changes in hydrocarbon policy after 1952. An aversion to radicalization contributed to MNR leaders' 1955 decision to promote private investment in accordance with US wishes. Soon thereafter, a growing nationalist coalition challenged this open-door policy, culminating with the 1969 nationalization of Gulf Oil's properties by the military regime of Alfredo Ovando Candía. Ironically, though, the nationalization was driven partly by the same conservative logic that had animated the MNR's liberalization, in that Ovando favored nationalization as an alternative to redistribution. While tracing the rise and impact of Bolivian hydrocarbon nationalism, this case study also highlights common conflicts within resource nationalist coalitions and how those conflicts can influence policy decisions.

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