espite its profound importance in Venezuelan society, the
tapestry of social and cultural relations engendered by
the oil industry has not been the subject of significant scholarly at-
tention. Existing scholarship on Venezuelan oil tends to be divided
between studies that take a traditional approach to production and
economics and nationalistic studies, both of which largely ignore
the lived experiences of employees and workers.1 The literature
typically fails to show how the evolution of the foreign-controlled
enterprises reshaped the lives of those employed by them and how
oil influenced the social and political environment. The handful of
works that do mention life in the oilfields range from romanticized
celebrations of the “best days of our lives” to condemnations of
the experience as the agent of a new “colonizing” order. Also com-
mon are portrayals of the oil industry as “agents of modernization”
that introduced advanced western social practices to a backward
population.2 None of these approaches adequately captures the
complexity of the residential compounds where workers lived or
the lasting impact of the oil industry on the nation. In a country in
which the majority of the population was rural and depended on
agriculture for subsistence, oil production fundamentally altered
the sociocultural landscape.
As in other parts of Latin America, the economic activities of
foreign enterprises often produced unexpected social, cultural, and
racial outcomes. The construction of the Panama Canal in the early
decades of the twentieth century spurred the migration of thou-
sands of Afro-Caribbean people to the isthmus.3 The expansion of
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