An Enduring Legacy
he oil industry dramatically transformed the Venezuelan
and social landscape, generating a clash of values
and interests that would persist throughout the twentieth century
and into the twenty-first. The centrality of oil to the Venezuelan
economy inspired a host of debates concerning its role in society.
In 1936 one of Venezuela’s most revered writers, Arturo Uslar Pi-
etri, optimistically suggested that oil’s wealth could be “sowed” to
diversify and expand the economy.1 By 1976, after repeated petro-
booms which generated billions of dollars and with inequality still
a persistent factor, the former minister of mines Juan Pablo Pérez
Alfonzo contended that the country was hopelessly sinking in the
“excrement of the devil.”2 The chasm between the idea of “sowing
oil riches” and the likening of petroleum to diabolical excrement
speaks to the growing disillusionment with oil and the industry as
a source of development and its impact on Venezuelan culture and
values. By the 1990s even Uslar Pietri viewed dependence on oil
as a major calamity not only affecting the economy but also serv-
ing irrationally as a symbol of nationality.3 That oil and nationality
could be conflated reflected the extent to which the industry not
only dominated the economy but also penetrated the national con-
sciousness since its formation in the 1920s.
The association between oil and nationality is directly linked
to the role attributed to the industry in certain quarters. Since its
inception, foreign and Venezuelan advocates of the oil industry
invariably viewed the enterprise within the context of moderniza-
tion and its accompanying economic and cultural discourse. This
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