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. Understanding this 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 Western dollar-denominated hegemony; and the parameters and possibilities of leftist progressivism in the contemporary geopolitical moment.
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 as 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.