Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2009

Oil in Venezuela: Triggering Violence or Ensuring Stability? A Context-sensitive Analysis of the Ambivalent Impact of Resource Abundance

Annegret Mähler

October 2009

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


This paper studies the causal factors that make the oil-state Venezuela, which is generally characterized by a low level of violence, an outlier among the oil countries as a whole. It applies a newly elaborated “context approach” that systematically considers domestic and international contextual factors. To test the results of the systematic analysis, two periods with a moderate increase in internal violence in Venezuela are subsequently analyzed, in the second part of the paper, from a comparative-historical perspective. The findings demonstrate that oil, in interaction with fluctuating non-resource-specific contextual conditions, has had ambiguous effects: On the one hand, oil has explicitly served as a conflict-reducing and partly democracy-promoting factor, principally through large-scale socioeconomic redistribution, widespread clientelistic structures, and corruption. On the other hand, oil has triggered violence—primarily through socioeconomic causal mechanisms (central keywords: decline of oil abundance and resource management) and secondarily through the long-term degradation of political institutions. While clientelism and corruption initially had a stabilizing effect, in the long run they exacerbated the delegitimization of the traditional political elite. Another crucial finding is that the impact and relative importance of oil with respect to the increase in violence seems to vary significantly depending on the specific subtype of violence.