Reverse Curse: The Everyday Ethics of Resources amongst the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia

Amy Penfield

This paper explores how the Sanema of Venezuelan Amazonia experience the petroleum economy through their everyday handling of large quantities of highly subsidised petrol (gasoline), which has become a remarkably ubiquitous substance in social and political life. The paper critiques the theory of the so-called ‘resource curse’ by exploring local-level experiences with petrol, and in particular its role in the extraction of another important resource: gold. The model of the person presented in the resource curse literature¾and the self-serving individual at its core¾has been useful for making sense of the failures of petro-states in their strategies of economic growth and development. For the Sanema, however, such models are not consonant with daily experiences of extractive industries and petro-state objectives because both petrol and gold actually facilitate community well-being rather than merely individual self-interest. Drawing on Coronil’s (1997) work on the moral ambiguities of oil in Venezuela, I explore how encounters with the materialities of energy can shed light on how resources shape local imaginaries of citizenship and morality, but also opportunity and intimate expressions of compassion.