Barter & Petrobarter

‘Barter’, as US anthropologist David Graeber (2011) and others have noted, is not an economic technique that pre-exists capitalism. The commonly assumed teleological subsumption of barter into money, neatly subordinates alternate political economies to the economic metaphysics of the North Atlantic. This should be avoided, as should just about all theoretical subsumptions… Instead, barter should be seen as coeval to other forms of exchange to which it may relate, supplement or stand in opposition. Indeed, Douglas Rogers, another US anthropologist, will speak of “barter articulat[ing] with currency” (2014, p. 133) and in this fashion alludes to the manner in which ‘petrobarter’ may contribute to the making of complex economic realities. This is an important theme that should allow us to show how petrobartering enacts, through the Venezuelan backed Petrocaribe oil energy cooperation program, a particular economic reality. Rogers has for several years studied petrobartering in the Russian context in the early years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The image makes a direct reference to the exchanges between Venezuela and Nicaragua, and Dominican Republic, where black beans or caraotas and black gold have been at the centre of the novel economic practice between all three countries. In the case of the Dominican Republic, after several years, Venezuela agreed to sell the $4 billion owed to it by the Dominican Republic for $1.7 billion to Goldman Sachs in January 2015.

I have taken the term ‘pertrobartering’ from Rogers and intend to develop in a somehwat broader manner, not only in relation to the Venezuelan case of Petrocaribe, where exchanges are clearly visible, and barter is more or less spoken about in direct terms, but also with reference to the now defunct Ecuadorean case of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, where less visible ane controversial exchanges premised on oil where also at stake.

For its original formulation, see Douglas Rogers, “Petrobarter: Oil, Inequality, and the Political Imagination in and after the Cold War,” Current Anthropology 55 (2014), 131-153.

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