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Online Symposium

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Mapping the “Venezuelan” Crisis:
Venezuela Through The Looking Glass


Friday 30 April 2021
2.00 – 6.00 pm (CTS)

half-day event online with 3 panels


Dr. Keith E. McNeal
Associate Professor, CCS, UH

Dr. Soledad Álvarez Velasco
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, CCS, UH

Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves on the planet. Its economy became dependent upon fossil fuel extraction over the course of the 20th century, making it one of the world’s primary petrostates and the only founding member of OPEC from the Americas. Indeed, “black gold” bonanza cycles made Venezuela’s 20th-century economy one of the most buoyant in the region, so much so that only several decades ago, Venezuela was a major migrant- receiving country within South America.  Now it is experiencing extreme economic, political, social, infrastructural, and existential duress not only precipitated by the long-term decline in global oil prices, but also exacerbated by a U.S.-led global Northern sanctions regime intended to punish Venezuelans into submission to a dollar-denominated geopolitical hegemony over the global energy industries. The Venezuelan government under the aegis of the Bolivarian Revolution has repeatedly responded problematically and contradictorily in turn at critical junctures since coming to power in 1999, at times betraying the progressive ideals of the revolutionary project.

The sum total of these complex and conflicted developments have generated internal displacements and a growing tidal wave of out-migration and refugeeism that equals the Syrian crisis in terms of numbers of people displaced yet in an ever shorter period of time. Pathologizing Venezuela and portraying it as a failed state in permanent crisis due to its own malfunctioning has been part of the hegemonic globalitarist agenda across the Americas, where mainstream mass media have played a pivotal role in diverting public attention from the complexity of the Venezuelan case and the multiple intersecting entanglements that make its plotline much more than just that of one nation-state alone. This Symposium therefore initiates a critical comparative inquiry dissecting the contemporary Venezuelan situation in hemispheric and global perspective and understating the history of the present promotes deeper understanding of the political economies of under-development and global inequalities; the changing geopolitics of energy; extractivism and dependence in the world-system; the problem of enduring USAmerican foreign interventionism and dollar-denominated hegemony.

We bring together scholars specializing in the situation in various areas of the Western Hemisphere in order to better grasp larger patterns, dynamics, and trends throughout the Americas. We aim to better understand those specificities, but also put them together like pieces in a puzzle in order to compare and contrast the greater hemispheric matrix, thereby attaining deeper insight into the larger macroscopic conjuncture influencing what’s happening both within and outside of Venezuela. We also bring attention to the more recent phenomenon of return migration by migrants and refugees making a U-turn and heading back home as another important piece of the puzzle. We open a necessary conversation about the pitfalls and possibilities of leftist politics and transnational solidarity in the contemporary global moment as refracted by a consideration of the “Venezuelan” case, providing a provocative mirror when seen through the looking glass.

Panel One (half hour) -- moderated by Dr. Keith E. McNeal (UH )
2.00-2.30 pm

The Venezuelan crisis is highly complex. This first panel opens the symposium with a brief commentary by renowned Venezuelan historian, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas, offering a genealogy of the present conjuncture that sets the scene for the contributions of the second panel and political considerations of the third panel. What are the key historical, political, economic and other factors converging to produce the entangled “crisis” we meet in the present? In terms of scale, what are the interlocking local, national, international, and global components of the “Venezuelan” crisis?

  • Introduction by Keith E. McNeal & Soledad Álvarez Velasco (5 minutes)
  • Professor Miguel Tinker Salas (Pomona College, USA): Historical Perspectives on Navigating the Crisis in Venezuela (20 minutes)
  • Q & A (10 minutes)

Panel Two (2.5 hours) -- moderated by Dr. Soledad Álvarez Velasco (UH )
2.30-5.00 pm

From being a migrant-receiving country of intraregional migration, Venezuela has become a major migrant-producer. Nearly five million Venezuelans have by now set into motion searching for a decent and safe place to live outside their home country. In a number of instances throughout the region, borders have been closed and militarized, confining Venezuelans to long waiting times, often in squalid camps, and visas have been imposed. Indeed recognition of refugee status for Venezuelans throughout the Americas has been limited, confining them to poverty, precarity, detention and-or deportation, permanently wandering across borders searching for livability against all the odds. The aim of this panel is to comparatively discern the dynamics embodied by Venezuelan migrant mobilities across the Americas, seeking patterns and variation between and among Latin American and Caribbean border regimes, the parameters and paradoxes of regional solidarity, and the ways the Venezuelan migrant struggles across the region have inaugurated social and spatial transformations in the countries through which they traverse or come to reside.

  • Gioconda Herrera (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales [FLACSO], Ecuador): Venezuelan migration to-through the Andean Region.
  • João Carlos Jarochinski (Universidade Federal de Roraima, Brasil): Venezuelan migration to-through Brazil and the Southern Cone.
  • Natalie Dietrich Jones (University of the West Indies, Jamaica): Venezuelan migration to-through the Dutch Caribbean.
  • 15 minutes Q &A
  • Shiva Mohan (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada): Venezuelan migration to-through Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana.
  • Geographer Marcos Morales (Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo [UASD], Dominican Republic): Venezuelan migration to-through the Dominican Republic.
  • Masaya Llavaneras-Blanco (Huron University College, Canada): Return migration to Venezuela.
  • 15 minutes Q & A

Panel Three (1 hour) -- moderated by Dr. Nicholas De Genova (UH )
5.00-6.00 pm

The final panel queries the parameters and possibilities of leftist politics and transnational solidarity in the contemporary global moment as refracted by a consideration of the “Venezuelan” case, which we see as providing a provocative mirror when seen through the looking glass. How is Venezuela an allegory for the larger geopolitical moment? What needs to be said out loud and clearly about Maduro and Chávismo? And how can we pursue this necessary critique while also avoiding being captured or coopted by critical discourse from the right? What are the possibilities and parameters of sovereignty within the current global dispensation? Our dialogue calls for a renewed leftist agenda in the face of steep social, economic, and political challenges that Venezuelan (im)mobilities are posing to the hemisphere across increasingly hostile terrains that must be contested and countered with practices of international solidarity within and across borders.

  • Dr. Miguel Tinker Salas (Pomona College, USA):  Venezuela, Between State Power and Social Movements, Reflections on Non-Intervention and Solidarity (20 minutes)
  • Dr. Sujatha Fernandes (University of Sydney, Australia): Towards Radical Transnational Solidarity: Centering an Indo-Afro-American Socialism (20 minutes)
  • Q & A (20 minutes)