Oil flows through the veins of Venezuela, accounting for 95% of exports. It dominates national politics and influences foreign representations of the country, as it has since its first discovery. Extensive studies on oil in Venezuela deal with either the scientific and technical aspects of production or the political, economic, and—more recently—the cultural and social conditions generated by the industry. Yet despite the oil industry's prominence in the national political discourse, its environmental consequences have received limited attention.
Throughout Venezuelan statehood, oil production has generated tremendous expectations for elites who controlled the state and the middle classes hoping to attain power. Oil means progress. In the 1920s, government publications regularly alluded to the impending transformation that Venezuela would experience as British and U.S. oil companies’ uncovered new deposits. The uncritical acceptance of this narrative by those in power, and those hoping to gain power, muted criticism of the dramatic environmental consequences that the industry generated in Venezuela. As importantly, the connection between oil, modernity, and the nation of Venezuela influenced how certain segments of society fashioned their identity.