Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Social Sciences - Berlin Graduate School of Social Science

Ivan David Capriles Zacarias

Ivan David Capriles Zacarias

BGSS Generation 2010



National Oil Companies and the State in times of political transitions: The struggle for autonomy and control between the Venezuelan state and PDVSA.



Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Merkel



Research done on the link between natural resources and political regimes, has focused on rent appropriation by the governments of resource-wealthy autocracies and democracies. Since oil makes up about 80% of the global natural resource exports income, this commodity is the most studied so far. Hypotheses hinted at a correlation between oil wealth and autocracy, although recent studies have challenged this. But not only is the link between resource wealth and political regimes far from settled, also the body of research often overlooks the process that turns a natural resource into dispensable funds. Most rentier governments do not exploit oil directly, but outsource it to national oil companies. These, in turn, become over time institutions whose proximity to extraction activities leads to a struggle with their owning state. Companies demand more autonomy; the state, more control. But in most top oil exporters, this struggle, though at times conflictive and immersed in revolutions, regime changes and political instability, has in most part allowed for a continuous functioning of both state and national oil companies. However, in 2002, the Venezuelan national oil company and its owning government, engaged in a three month conflict that asphyxiated the economy and turned an oil strike into a conflict of survival for the government and the oil industry workers. The government neutralized the strike, 18,000 workers were purged from the oil company and the government ensured control. Through process tracing, the aim of the research is to define which conditions, events and mechanisms allowed for such a conflict to occur in Venezuela and not in other oil exporting countries since the wave of nationalizations in the 1970s. Especially since the principle-agent problem between oil companies and owning governments is present in most oil exporters around the globe, without necessarily translating into the events that unfolded in Venezuela.