This article from Künker highlights an interesting group of Venezuelan coins in their summer 2022 sales.
On National Heroes and Nationally-Owned Enterprises
In 1975, Venezuela nationalized its oil industry – an important step in the long and eventful
relationship between the country and its oil supplies. A gold coin commemorates the event. It
is one of the rarest pieces of Venezuelan numismatics.
In auction 371 Künker offers a great rarity of Venezuelan coinage as lot No. 2421. The 500-
Bolívares gold coin was minted in 1975 on the occasion of the nationalization of the country's
oil industry, the mintage figure amounted to as few as 100 specimens. On one side, we can
see two oil towers. The other side features a portrait of Simón Bolívar, the great freedom
fighter of South America who is still admired in Venezuela and other parts of the continent
today. What is the relationship between the national hero and the nationalization of the oil
industry? The coin throws us right into the complex history of Venezuela.
Venezuela, Republic: 500 Bolívares 1975. Nationalization of the oil industry. Only 100
specimens minted. Proof. Estimate: 10,000 euros. From Künker auction 371 (22 to 24 June
2022), No. 2421.
Venezuela and Its Oil: A Boon and a Bane
For more than 100 years, the rich oil deposits under the Maracaibo Basin have played a key
role for the fate of Venezuela. In 1917, oil was found in the South American country for the
first time ever. Only 10 years later, Venezuela had become the world's second-largest oil
exporter. Many people made a lot of money thanks to the oil, especially the foreign
companies that extracted and refined it.
Obviously, Venezuela would have liked to have a bigger share of the pie for itself. And this
brings us to the mid-1970s. We recall this period as the time of the oil crisis. In Germany,
everybody remembers the car-free Sundays of 1973, when people could go for a walk on the
Autobahn. The situation was due to a cutback in production in the Arab world as a reaction to
the Yom Kippur War. The oil price shot up to unprecedented levels. It was a good time for
oil-rich Venezuela and the foreign companies that were involved in the country's oil production. Their revenues increased further and further.
President Carlos Andrés Pérez nationalized Venezuela's oil industry on 1 January
In this context, the moderate socialist Carlos Andrés Pérez came to power in 1974. He
nationalized the entire oil sector and its huge revenues – and this is the occasion on which the
coin offered by Künker was issued. In the following years, Venezuela became one of the
wealthiest countries in South America. Between 1973 and 1983, the revenues made from the
export of crude oil totaled astounding 240 billion dollars, the equivalent of 696 billion dollars
today. The boom continued until the early 1980s. The state-owned oil company Petróleos de
Venezuela, Petroven for short, even expanded abroad. They bought refineries in the USA and
Europe and became the world's third-largest oil company.
But then the tide turned – not for the first time in Venezuela's history. After all, oil is a
double-edged sword that does not only bring wealth. Do you know the term
Economists use it to describe a complex phenomenon. It can be summarized as follows:
countries that make very high profits from exporting commodities experience slumps in other
economic sectors. Venezuela is considered a prime example of this phenomenon. When the
oil price started to collapse in 1983, the country couldn't compensate for the missing
revenues. The boom was followed by a severe, long-lasting economic crisis. That's why the
oil industry was reopened to foreign participation in the 1990s – and then Hugo Chávez came
to power in 1999. The socialist, who was considered rather problematic by many other
countries, got lucky – in 2007 the oil price rose again to unprecedented heights. Under the battle cry
The oil belongs to all Venezuelans!, President Chávez nationalized the country's
oil industry once again in 2007.
Simón Bolívar, called
El Libertador (the Liberator), is considered the great freedom
fighter against Spanish colonialism in South America. Painting by Ricardo Acevedo Bernal.
Chávez referred to his reforms as a revolution. And he gave it a revealing title: The Bolivarian
Revolution. In this way, Chávez linked his measures to a man whom he considered his great
role model in the
anti-imperialist fight against foreign countries and who enjoyed great
popularity as a national hero in Venezuela: Simón Bolívar – the man we see on the reverse of
the 1975 gold coin.
Bolívar (1783-1830) is an icon of Latin America. In the early 19th century, he led the
continent's war of independence against Spanish colonial forces, and he is considered a
national hero of many South American countries that owe their independence to him. Bolívar
is seen in that way in Bolivia, which was named after him, and in Venezuela, whose borders
include his birthplace – much to the pride of the Venezuelan people.
The fact that Bolívar's death in 1830 was perceived more as a liberation and a relief by his
contemporaries didn't interest anyone anymore just a few years later. To this day, he is
admired, revered, and transfigured. All political camps like to refer to Bolívar. Accordingly,
he often appears on the coins of Venezuela and other South American countries.
Another Venezuelan coin commemorating Bolívar from
Künker's current auction sale:
10,000 Bolívares 1987. Proof. Estimate: 1,250 euros. From Künker auction 371 (22 to 24 June
2022), No. 2423.
Would Bolívar have approved of this nationalization of the oil industry? Well, since he died
in 1830 – long before the combustion engine was invented – he obviously never said anything
about this. From a socialist point of view, however, the nationalization can be perfectly
interpreted as a decolonization and a liberation à la Bolívar given that the act prevents foreign
countries from making money with Venezuelan oil. That might be the reason why his portrait
is depicted on the 1975 coin. By the way, the Venezuelans also named their currency after
him, and this name hasn't been changed since 1879: the Bolívar.
A building of the state oil company Petroven with a Chávez poster.
The nationalization of the oil industry in 1975 was an important moment in Venezuela's
history and brought great prosperity to the country. The second nationalization in 2007
incidentally had a completely different outcome. Since urgently needed investments failed to
materialize and massive mismanagement prevailed, the oil industry – and with it the whole of
Venezuela – fell into a downward spiral. To this day, the country is struggling with an
ongoing economic crisis and is no longer one of the continent's richest but one of the
continent's poorest countries. Every few years, a few zeros are removed from the Bolívar to
fight the never-ending inflation: in 2018 it was five zeroes, in 2021 six.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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