The Enduring Legacy

Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela

The Enduring Legacy

American Encounters/Global Interactions

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Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 1 map Published: May 2009

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes

Oil has played a major role in Venezuela’s economy since the first gusher was discovered along Lake Maracaibo in 1922. As Miguel Tinker Salas demonstrates, oil has also transformed the country’s social, cultural, and political landscapes. In The Enduring Legacy, Tinker Salas traces the history of the oil industry’s rise in Venezuela from the beginning of the twentieth century, paying particular attention to the experiences and perceptions of industry employees, both foreign and Venezuelan. He reveals how class ambitions and corporate interests combined to reshape many Venezuelans’ ideas of citizenship. Middle-class Venezuelans embraced the oil industry from the start, anticipating that it would transform the country by introducing modern technology, sparking economic development, and breaking the landed elites’ stranglehold. Eventually Venezuelan employees of the industry found that their benefits, including relatively high salaries, fueled loyalty to the oil companies. That loyalty sometimes trumped allegiance to the nation-state.

North American and British petroleum companies, seeking to maintain their stakes in Venezuela, promoted the idea that their interests were synonymous with national development. They set up oil camps—residential communities to house their workers—that brought Venezuelan employees together with workers from the United States and Britain, and eventually with Chinese, West Indian, and Mexican migrants as well. Through the camps, the companies offered not just housing but also schooling, leisure activities, and acculturation into a structured, corporate way of life. Tinker Salas contends that these practices shaped the heart and soul of generations of Venezuelans whom the industry provided with access to a middle-class lifestyle. His interest in how oil suffused the consciousness of Venezuela is personal: Tinker Salas was born and raised in one of its oil camps.


“[The Enduring Legacy] adds value in its treatment and description of the social development and activities that took place within the oil industry. The author manages to bring to life an important and fascinating aspect of the oil industry that is not often seen in the literature.” — Brian McBeth, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[A] valuable study . . . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — J. Ewell, Choice

“[A]n outstanding work of social history.” — Charles D. Ameringer, The Historian

“[W]ith a micro-level analysis, [The Enduring Legacy] focus[es] on how the industry affected the everyday lives of Venezuelans. with this ‘sociohistorical approach’ grounded in an exhaustive interrogation of primary sources, Tinker Salas reveals how the industry shaped Venezuelan society, both intentionally and unintentionally.” — Leslie C. Gates, A Contracorriente

“In telling how racial, class, and gender divisions dialectically interacted with the implantation of the oil industry, Tinker-Salas . . . makes us rethink the notion of exceptionalism—in this case that oil production has muted class, gender, and racial tensions during the twentieth century.” — Daniel Hellinger, Latin American Perspectives

“Miguel Tinker Salas’s book on the social and cultural impact of the oil industry in Venezuela from the late 1910s into the 1970s, with a brief but insightful discussion of more recent events, is a welcome addition to Venezuelan historiography. It will find a receptive audience not only among Venezuelanists, but also among scholars of foreign investment in Latin America.” — Doug Yarrington, The Americas

“Tinker Salas provides ethnographic detail not only about social relations in the camps but also about the companies’ internal deliberations regarding both personnel and political influence. . . . [T]he result is a vivid account of both daily life and corporate politics.” — John L. Hammond, Labour/Le Travail

"In this thoroughly researched history of the oil industry in twentieth century Venezuela, Miguel Tinker Salas treats oil not only as an object of historical analysis but as a subject that exerts influence on ideological formations. . . . The Enduring Legacy is of interest to historians of Venezuela, to scholars interested in economics of extraction, and to anyone considering the intersection of economic practices and culture. Salas presents the fascinating idea that, as people reinterpret the symbolic meaning of a commodity, they experience a concurrent change in politics. . . . It is a valuable contribution to the historical study of Venezuelan national identity." — Aubrey Porterfield, AmeriQuests

The Enduring Legacy is a rare exploration of the complex interconnections between the political, economic, social, and cultural aspects of petroleum dependency. . . . Tinker Salas’ unique history is an important addition to the literature on Venezuela and other oil-dependent economies.” — Tom Angotti, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“[A] magnificent survey of the heavy stain of oil that has splashed and seeped across Venezuelan society during the twentieth century. . . . The Enduring Legacy is a sharp piece of writing and research. It complements the existing literature well by providing insight into the human and cultural side of oil operations, and blurring the distinctions between the hegemonic oil companies and exploited Venezuelans.” — Matthew Brown, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Few other historical books have been published with the perfect timing of Miguel Tinker Salas’s excellent study of the oil multinationals’ cultural and social legacy in Venezuela. . . . Covering a period of around a hundred years, The Enduring Legacy provides a concise, well-supported background to contemporary oil politics and social conflict in Venezuela. . . . The Enduring Legacy will undoubtedly become required reading for students of the Venezuelan oil industry. It will appeal not only to scholars and graduate students but also to undergraduates and general readers.” — Marcelo Bucheli, Business History Review

“This book is a good general introduction to some cultural aspects of modern Venezuela, and it shows an important research area in the country’s oil history; Tinker Salas certainly makes a significant contribution to this field.” — Marco Cupolo, Latin American Politics and Society

“Tinker Salas has written a monograph that bridges business and social and cultural history, but he has also written a study in class formation, the Venezuelan middle class, to be specific. The result is not only quite successful but also thoroughly enjoyable. . . . Tinker Salas has written a wonderful book that merits a wide audience, not only among students of Venezuela, but anyone who is interested in learning about the legacies of oil worldwide.” — Myrna Santiago, Enterprise & Society

The Enduring Legacy illuminates a national landscape deeply shaped by the oil industry, yet often analyzed as if this industry were an economic enclave isolated from Venezuelan society. Miguel Tinker Salas convincingly argues that from the outset, this industry was a crucible of social transformations within and beyond itself. By examining the transmutation of this industry from a foreign enclave to a national industry, this valuable book offers a sweeping view of one hundred years of Venezuelan history.” — Fernando Coronil, author of The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela

“Miguel Tinker Salas leaves no stone unturned in his examination of the Venezuelan oil industry and in the process demonstrates its all-encompassing influence on the political, social, economic, and cultural life of the nation throughout most of the twentieth century. One of his most important contributions is to show how the foreign-owned oil companies ingeniously modified policies in order to adapt to the requirements of different regimes, including dictatorships, transitional governments, and democratic ones. At the same time, however, he amply documents how the multinationals generated resentment and resistance as a result of their imposition on Venezuelans of attitudes and patterns from the metropolis and their spurning of local traditions. In short, The Enduring Legacy is a must read for anyone who wants to go beneath the surface to understand the Venezuelan experience in all its dimensions.” — Steve Ellner, author of Rethinking Venezuelan Politics: Class, Conflict, and the Chávez Phenomenon


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Miguel Tinker Salas is Arango Professor in Latin American History and Professor of History and Chicano/a Studies at Pomona College. He is the author of In the Shadow of the Eagles: Sonora and the Transformation of the Border during the Porfiriato and co-editor of Venezuela: Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an “Exceptional Democracy.”

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

Introduction: Oil, Culture, and Society 1

1. A Tropical Mediterranean: Lake Maracaibo at the Turn of the Century 15

2. The Search for Black Gold 39

3. La Ruta Petrolera: Learning to Live with Oil 73

4. Oil, Race, Labor, and Nationalism 107

5. Our Tropical Outpost: Gender and the Senior Staff Camps 143

6. The Oil Industry and Civil Society 171

7. Oil and Politics: An Enduring Relation 205

Conclusion: An Enduring Legacy 237

Notes 251

Bibliography 299

Index 317
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4419-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4400-1
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