VENEZUELA: Oil and Politics by R¢mulo Betencourt
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VENEZUELA: Oil and Politics

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This Latin American classic by a prominent Venezuelan politician, who for many decades has been a consistent opponent of dictatorships and an ardent advocate of national sovereignty, was originally published (in the main) in 1956. The English translation is overdue but two main themes of the book, democracy in a developing country and petroleum policy, are as timely now as they were 20 years ago. The core of Betancourt's intensely personal analysis of modern Venezuelan history is the detailed description of the 1945-48 period when he headed the reformist government of a social democratic party, Acci¢n Democttca. Among the numerous social and economic reforms introduced by this government, intent on implementing an oil policy that would primarily benefit the Venezuelan people, was the famous principle of sharing profits 50-50 with the oil companies. A military coup in late 1948 led to Betancourt's banishment but, unlike many Latin American leaders, he was not to become a permanent exile. Shortly after finishing his passionately patriotic book, he returned to his country and was elected president. In the epilogue covering the years 1958-67, Betancourt surveys his second presidential term, which ushered in a democratic system that has lasted in Venezuela ever since. Another culmination of Betancourt's lifelong efforts came just recently: in January 1976, the Venezuelan oil fields were nationalized in the smoothest and most elegant takeover in oil history (which did not, however, prevent future problems). This book thus attests to a fascinating and ultimately very successful political career. It is written in colorful, metaphorical language and it is characteristically Latin American in the author's habit of citing other people's (preferably adversaries') opinions in order to validate his own political views and interpretations. The text is sometimes too densely packed with data and names and hence confusing, but a perplexed reader can always consult one of the two introductory essays (by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and by Franklin Tugwell), which provide a useful framework.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1979
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin