Venezuelan Oil Complicating crisis in the Petro-state

In May, Vice President Mike Pence met with heads of states of Latin American countries at the Organization for American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington D.C to discuss the “Crisis in Venezuela.” Undemocratic elections, irrationally high inflation, the criminalization of political dissent, some of the highest murder rates in the world, and a refugee emergency straining neighboring countries’ welfare systems were all used as proof that Venezuela is now a failed state.

But Venezuela is not just any failed state for the leaders of OAS, Venezuela was a true tragedy. As a country with the largest known oil reserves in the world could be one of the richest countries in the world. Yet, according to most international news outlets and OAS, the fault from Venezuela’s tragedy falls on the leftist populist leadered mismanaged Venezuela’s the gift of oil, spent too much money, and lead the country to collapse.

In this vein, leaders of OAS as well as Venezuelan opposition leaders in exile have been pushing for US intervention, humanitarian and military, in Venezuela. American leaders like Senator Marco Rubio has also met with opposition leaders and is pushing for American intervention in Venezuela. President Donald Trump has also considered military intervention.

If the United States intervenes, it would be the first military operation in the Americas by the United States since 1989 in Panama. Yet, this intervention would be different. With Venezuela, the crisis is framed by Venezuela as an “oil nation” and, therefore, a country that should have wealth and prosperity. This view articulates what extractive economies should do, namely, provide a certain kind of developed, industrialized, and capitalist lifestyle for its citizens in the style of the Washington Consensus. Yet, Venezuela is understood as an example, as a country run by a socialist and populist government, of how to ruin the potentials of extractive wealth. US intervention would then not just be about crisis and humanitarian aid. Rather, under the pretense of humanitarian aid, US intervention would also propose what kind of states, political structures as well as what kind of relationship Venezuela should have with its oil and, by extension, nature.

It should be said, strongly and clearly, that Venezuela is in crisis. Hunger, inflation, crime, and the depopulation of the country are all real and serious concern. Venezuela’s neighbors should do what they can to help. Yet, when the United States is considering military intervention and, therefore, choosing to force political and economic change upon Venezuela’s society. It is important to think critically about the premise of this intervention. What caused this crisis? How is oil related to Venezuela’s political, economic, and social ordering?

This project attempts to unpack what it means to be an “oil nation” in order to problematize the current diagnosis of Venezuela’s crisis. Oil has been at the core of Venezuelan society for only a short period of time, less than a century. In this time, it has effectively transformed the country from a small agrarian former-colony, to one of the most important countries within the western hemisphere. This project breaks down Venezuela’s relationship to oil along three dimensions.

Firstly, we will look at Venezuela’s relationship to the world through the international community’s consumption of Venezuela oil. Who gets to consume Venezuela’s oil and who doesn't? Why? How does Venezuela’s global role as a major exporter of oil influence its internal institutions?

Secondly, we zoom into Venezuela. How has Venezuela been transformed by oil spatially and physically. In this section we take a closer look at car-culture in Venezuela as a social phenomenon that arises from oil production that transforms Venezuela spatially into an oil nation.

Lastly, we go to an even smaller unit of analysis to the body. Here, notions of hunger that are at the core of any analysis of contemporary Venezuela get complicated. What place does hunger have within an oil nation? How does it reflect Venezuela’s relationship to its citizens?

By the end of this project, the contemporary moment that Venezuela finds itself in should be understood within a larger framework of extractive economies and how along multiple dimensions, life in Venezuela has been shaped by the extraction of its natural resources.

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