Challenge of climate justice highlighted by new book on Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution

A Blessing And A Curse

The demand for a just and ethical transition to a decarbonised world faces major barriers in countries like Venezuela, where everyday social and political life has long been shaped by dependence on oil exports, according to a new book by a University of Leicester anthropologist.

A Blessing and a Curse: Oil, Politics, and Morality in Bolivarian Venezuela, published by Stanford University Press and written by Dr Matt Wilde, examines the lived experience of political change, moral uncertainty and economic crisis amid Venezuela's controversial Bolivarian Revolution. 

It argues that everyday life in this period was intimately shaped by a critical contradiction: that in their efforts to capture a larger portion of oil money and distribute it more widely among the population, the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro pursued policies that ultimately entrenched Venezuela in the very position of dependency they sought to overcome. 

The book will be launched at a sold-out event at the London School of Economics and Political Science on 7 December. With the COP28 climate conference in full swing, it comes as a timely reminder of the complexities of so-called ‘just transitions’ when many countries already struggle with the inherent inequalities and volatilities of the global political and economic system. 

Since 2016, over 7 million people have left Venezuela amid a deep economic and humanitarian crisis. This is a far cry from the country’s position 15 years ago, when high global oil prices were powering a swathe of social programs and political reforms – the Bolivarian Revolution, as it became known – under the leadership of the late Hugo Chávez.

A Blessing and a Curse is the only ethnography to chart both the radical promise and the subsequent turmoil that has characterised one of this century’s most consequential political movements. Using an ethnographic lens to explore the revolution's slide into crisis from the perspective of working-class barrio residents, the book explains how both hope and disillusionment are two sides of the same coin: a result of Venezuela’s deep entanglement with the global political economy of oil.

Dr Wilde said: “To live in a postcolonial petro-state is to be haunted by a myth of shared abundance that can never fulfil its promise in a world as uneven as ours. But countries like Venezuela face few viable alternatives to fossil fuel dependency given the complexities involved in transitioning to renewable forms of energy. This poses a serious challenge to the drive for decarbonisation.

“The book’s conclusion argues that governments and populations in the Global North need to acknowledge our complicity in the plight of Majority World countries like Venezuela. It proposes that coming to terms with our mutual dependence is the first step towards developing genuinely equitable forms of climate justice.”

A Blessing and a Curse: Oil, Politics, and Morality in Bolivarian Venezuela is published by Stanford University Press where more information is available.  
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