In many respects this is an impressive monograph. It is based almost exclusively on primary materials. Government documents are the principal source— United Kingdom Public Record Office general correspondence files, United States National Archives Department of State papers, and Venezuelan Ministerio de Energía y Minas Archives. Two hitherto unused gold mines of information have been tapped: the presidential correspondence and copybooks of the Gómez era in the Palacio de Miraflores (Caracas), and the private archives of Development Minister Gumersindo Torres (1917-22 and 1928-31).
What is missing, however, are the oil company sources. The author has apparently failed to use the extensive company histories. He seems unaware of Bennett H. Wall and George S. Gibb’s, Teagle of Standard and apparently did not examine carefully George S. Gibb and E. H. Knowltons The Resurgent Tears, 1911-1927. If he had, he would not have repeatedly confused Jersey Standard’s (Exxon) Venezuelan operation with the far larger production (till 1932) of Standard Oil of Indiana. An even more glaring omission is Carl Gerretson’s monumental three-volume history of the Royal Dutch-Shell, Geschiedenis der “Koninklijke,” also in English translation. Failure to consider these company histories has resulted in a study that is overbalanced in favor of the Venezuelan government.
Gómez comes off rather well in this study. While the author shows the dictator to be a corrupt character and a notorious thief (though he says little or almost nothing about Gómez’s brutality), he concludes that “the government. . . was determined to get a fair return from the companies, as well as to establish effective control over the industry” (p. 213). He contradicts this conclusion, however, by asserting that “the government can be severely criticized for its failure to create a force that would control and supervise the industry” (p. 214). Knowledgeable historians of the Gómez era are apt to raise their eyebrows at McBeth’s assertion that Gómez “did not become an instrument of the oil companies . . . and, that considerable protection was extended to the workers in the industry (p. 214).
Although this book is apparently a revised version of McBeth’s 1980 Oxford doctoral dissertation, it is not particularly well written. There are too many irrelevant trivia, and many of the relevant data are poorly digested. It is often hard to see the forest because of the trees.
And yet, this work has considerable merit. No one has done such exhaustive research on this subject. Herein is contained the best available information on the financial relations between the companies and the Venezuelan government. Finally, the author’s treatment of the impact of the oil industry upon the Venezuelan economy and society has never been presented so expertly.