Reassembling Caribbean Energy? Petrocaribe, (Post-)Plantation Sovereignty, and Caribbean Energy Futures

Abstract / Resumen / Resumo

In this paper, we probe the possibilities and limits of Petrocaribe, a Venezuelan-led oil alliance that has shaped energy and development initiatives in the Caribbean basin since the mid-2000s, as well as the US responses to the program. Drawing from a range of sources, including interviews with regional actors and leaked diplomatic cables from Wikileaks, we describe some of the contours of these competing regional energy assemblages, and analyze how they intersect with both the legacies of colonial dependency and more recent neoliberal models for development within the Caribbean region. We contextualize and frame these initiatives by drawing from the rich Caribbean scholarship on regional history and contemporary change, and focus in particular on the continuing role of the plantation model in shaping regional affairs. We place this Caribbean scholarship in conversation with recent work in the social sciences utilizing the concept of assemblage which, we suggest, can be usefully adopted to trace how Caribbean energy networks and relations are structured and change over time. We argue that while Petrocaribe has successfully provided opportunities for new forms of Caribbean development, the program had to be layered onto an already-existing oil assemblage comprised of durable infrastructures, private sector actors, and geopolitical interests, conditions that limit the available options for truly transforming energy relations within the region. While such conditions opened up space for a viable US response to Petrocaribe, we argue that US initiatives in the region have consistently embraced a private sector approach that reproduces existing dependencies rather than enhancing the region’s energy sovereignty.

JLAG_Fig1.jpg (1025 kB)
Petrocaribe members and US Embassy locations

Table1.docx (13 kB)
Interview participants