I research corporate social responsibility, management reform, and economic nationalism in the Venezuelan petroleum industry.
I am currently a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Texas at Austin. My dissertation currently entitled: The Price of Doing Business: Foreign Capital and the Venezuelan Oil Industry (1939-1976) studies the presence of US oil firms in Venezuela and the close relationships they established with the local population. In this interview, I elaborate more on the main topics of my research.
My dissertation seeks to answer how foreign capital persisted so long in the Venezuelan hydrocarbon industry while avoiding the economic nationalism that confronted it elsewhere in Latin America. My research reveals that unlike the politically aggressive foreigners in countries such as Mexico (1938) and Iran (1951), US and British corporations in Venezuela adopted strategies of embracing the government’s goal of modernization. Standard Oil Company of New Jersey’s subsidiary, the Creole Petroleum Corporation, for instance, participated in joint ventures to finance agro-industrial, infrastructural projects, and educational initiatives. This oil firm integrated locals at all levels of the management hierarchy. It provided social services for oil workers and local citizens. This unique, mutually beneficial relationship mellowed Venezuelan nationalism into a more tempered policy. Political discourse denounced the country’s dangerous dependency on foreign oil capital. However, in practice, government officials pursued national development without alienating American and British petroleum interests. Even when the oil nationalization came in 1976, the state carried it out in a way that mutually benefited both foreign and domestic interests.
I engaged with concepts from sociology and business history to analyze the particular brand of social corporate responsibility that American petroleum companies implemented in Venezuela. I also illustrate the success these firms achieved in integrating themselves within the local culture of the country through the adoption of the native language and social customs of Venezuela.
I have employed digital humanities tools such as Gephi and Onodo to reconstruct the networks of influences that these foreign oil firms developed with different local groups like business associations and oil unions. To that end, I have also built a database of Venezuelan professionals within the foreign-owned petroleum industry. It tracks their professional trajectories and the social mobility policies promoted by US and British firms during this period. My dissertation draws from US embassy cables and corporate publications and papers. In Venezuela I found government documents, citizen petitions, union records and correspondence from local business groups.