However, the discovery of oil in the early twentieth century completely changed the entire ballgame. The powerful agricultural aristocracy would be supplanted by an industrialist class that sought to open its oil markets to multinational exploitation and foreign investment. For the first time in its history, Venezuela had a relatively liberal, free market economy and it would reap countless benefits in the decades to come.
From the 1910s to the 1930s, the much-maligned dictator Juan Vicente Gómez helped consolidate the Venezuelan state and modernized an otherwise neocolonial backwater by allowing market actors, domestic and foreign, to freely exploit newly discovered oil deposits. Venezuela would experience substantial economic growth and quickly establish itself as one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries by the 1950s.
…Betancourt’s vision was finally achieved in 1975, when Carlos Andrés Pérez’s government nationalized the petroleum sector. The nationalization of Venezuela’s oil industry fundamentally altered the nature of the Venezuelan state. Venezuela morphed into a petrostate, in which the concept of the consent of the governed was effectively turned on its head.
Instead of Venezuelans paying taxes to the government in exchange for the protection of property and similar freedoms, the Venezuelan state would play a patrimonial role by bribing its citizens with all sorts of handouts to maintain its dominion over them.