The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Mexico (Summerlin)

No. 2185

Sir: I am in receipt of your despatch No. 5915 of July 27, 1922, enclosing copies and translations of the four decisions of the Supreme Court of Mexico in the amparo cases which were instituted before that Tribunal by the International Petroleum Company and the Tamiahua Petroleum Company,28 all of which decisions have reference to the application of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution. You say that copies of these decisions were received by you on the twenty-fifth ultimo.

Your promptness in forwarding these documents is appreciated by the Department.

There is enclosed, for your information, a copy of a statement which the Department gave to the press on August 10, 1922, in relation to these decisions.

I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
William Phillips

Press Release Issued by the Department of State, August 10, 1922

In reply to inquiries at the Department of State with respect to the effect of recent decisions of the Mexican Supreme Court, the Department made today the following statement:

“The Department has received the text of four decisions of the Mexican Supreme Court rendered in May last in amparo proceedings instituted by petroleum companies. These four decisions seem to be identical in all essential particulars, and together with [Page 681] the similar decision of that court rendered August 30, 1921,29 in the ampairo case brought by the Texas Company, appear to constitute what is called a precedent in Mexican jurisprudence.

“These opinions set forth that Article 14 of the Mexican Constitution, providing that ‘No law shall be given retroactive effect to the prejudice of any person whatsoever’, does not relate to the provisions of the Constitution itself, and that when the Constitution embodies retroactive provisions these must be applied retroactively.

“It is further set forth that the fourth paragraph of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917, referring to petroleum and other sub-soil substances, cannot be considered to be retroactive, ‘as it does not injure previous and legitimately acquired rights’, but it is apparent that the application of the principle thus declared must depend upon what is considered to be an ‘acquired right’.

“The five decisions creating the precedent in question relate exclusively to cases of leases or contracts which were made by owners of land for prospecting for and working petroleum, and it said that thereby the privileges of the owners of the lands ‘were translated into positive acts’, and accordingly the claimants, as the lessees or holders of these contracts had acquired rights to the injury of which the provision of the Constitution of 1917 for the nationalization of petroleum could not be applied. The inference from these decisions is that petroleum properties in process of development before May 1, 1917, when the present Constitution took effect, are protected from a retroactive application of the fourth paragraph of Article 27.

“These decisions do not, however, effectively deal with the rights of American citizens in lands containing petroleum or other subsoil substances where the lands were owned prior to May 1, 1917, but had not been developed or as to which leases or contract rights to prospect for and work petroleum had not been granted before that date.

“The question whether the owners of the land in such a case have appropriate protection is yet to be determined by the Mexican Supreme Court. It is understood that there are a large number of amparo proceedings before that Court which involve that question and are still undecided.

“The Department has also been advised by the Mexican authorities that the Mexican Congress has sole authority to regulate by an appropriate Organic Law the interpretation of the precepts of the Constitution and that no Organic Law for this purpose has yet been enacted.”

  1. Despatch and its enclosures not printed; see Estados Unidos Mexicanos, Semanario Judicial de la Federacion, ser. 5, vol. x (1922), p. 1308.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1921, vol. ii, p. 464.