Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview
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structure of schools, health facilities, and (to a much lesser degree) housing than would otherwise be the case. However, as we have indicated in this chapter, the vast income from oil has also provided temptations for misuse and even illegitimate use of some of these resources.

Also, the instability of an economy depending as heavily as does that of Venezuela on a single product, petroleum, has presented very serious problems for the country's democratic leaders. The depression that characterized the oil industry and the whole Venezuelan economy during the early 1960s (with which we have not dealt extensively here) was a major challenge to the first president of the Venedemocracia, Rómulo Betancourt. Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso, Betancourt's petroleum minister, always argued that it was a blessing in disguise, forcing the government to concentrate on the development of other aspects of the Venezuelan economy.

In the period that we have covered in this chapter, it is obvious that the oil industry has presented the Venezuelan democratic leaders with both opportunities and major problems. The boom of the 1970s gave them resources for economic and social development such as had never been dreamed of before. But at the same time it encouraged waste and misuse of those same resources, as we have documented. The sudden collapse of the oil boom in the early 1980s forced on the country's political leaders a challenge to reassess their policies and reorient the whole program of economic and social development. The continuation of the Venedemocracia for the rest of the twentieth century will to a large degree depend on how they meet this challenge.

Interview with Gumersindo Rodríguez, head of Cordiplan, Caracas, July 31, 1974.
David Blank, Venezuela: Politics in a Petroleum Republic ( New York: Praeger, 1984), pp. 157-58.
"Caldera Defends the VEBA Contract", Latin America Weekly Report, London, August 3, 1984, p. 8.
James Petras, Morris Morely, and Steven Smith, The Nationalization of Venezuelan Oil ( New York: Praeger Special Studies, 1977).
Blank, Venezuela, p. 173.
The New York Times, February 8, 1984, Section 4, p. 2.
Blank, Venezuela, p. 171.
1982 Statistical Yearbook ( New York: Department of International Economic and Social Affairs, Statistical Office, United Nations, 1985), p. 705. (Hereafter referred to as UN 1982 Statistical Yearbook.)
The New York Times, May 28, 1979, Section 4, p. 4.


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