Name: David Garcia
Date: August 2, 2018
Age at Time of Interview: 56
Circumstance of Call: Over the Phone. Mr. Garcia was at his office in Philadelphia, PA. I called from Silver Spring, MD.
Part One: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pUmZ0DXYYVkMpPN3toLsCPewkDYBGjeG/view?usp=sharing
Part Two: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wj-Du00SEQ2g0N_yEsS_NGvEDbKLVl_p/view?usp=sharing
Details: While most US citizens who spent their childhoods in Venezuela’s oil camps had parents who were engineers or otherwise worked directly in the oil fields, David Garcia offers a different perspective. His father was brought to Latin America as a director of security. I thank him again for his graciousness in making this interview happen, despite my scheduling shortcomings.
David Garcia (DG): What can I help you with?
Trent Kannegieter (TK): Yeah, so I know you’ve read what Ms. McAllister had posted about me. I’m interested in compiling as many stories as possible about people who lived in and around oil camp life in Venezuela. I’m interested in hearing about your experience both educationally and socially.
DG: Sure. Want me to start? Tell you how we got there?
TK: That would be great.
DG: Our experience was a little different. My father was not an engineer by trade. He was a former Green Beret. Myself and all my siblings were born at Fort Bragg. And my dad at the time, he had just come back from Indochina, and he was assigned to go to Panama. The Canal Zone was still there at that time, and it was either Fort Davis or Fort Bullock. My father was already in Panama when I was born at Fort Bragg, premature. I was supposed to be born in the Canal Zone, but that didn’t happen. So, my mother and my two older siblings. I guess in the next month or two we went to Panama. The reason my father was there in Panama in 1961-62, as a part of Special Forces, was to train National Guard officers in Caracas at their National Academy. Just prior to this, Venezuela had overthrown the dictatorship of President, Marcos Perez Jimenez. He was overthrown and there was a ruling Junta. Eventually there were elections. But this was also the time of Fidel Castro, Che Guevarra, internationalized revolutions. They had some guerillas in Venezuela that were blowing up oil installations, pipelines. The way the fields are set up, they had long pipelines that ran from the oil camps to the nearest port. They were blowing those things up and other installations. My father was training National Guard officers in methods of combat insurgency. That evolved into my father retiring and first working for Mobil in 1963-64.
We ended up moving to a town called Anaco, which is an hour south of Puerto La Cruz which had one of the large oil debarkation facilities. His job was providing security for oil installations at the oil camp and directing the local National Guard. My father used his connections with his former pupils to secure this position with Mobil. I never knew exactly what he did. I would try to pin him down on it. He’s passed away now. I know he worked very closely with the military of that country.
Growing up, we were straddling the fence, most of the folks who came to our house were not so much the expats, but these military officers would just show up. Given my father’s position and job description, I guess he was a well-known entity in that town. In those days, in the oil camps, telecommunications were very restricted. We managed to have the only phone besides the Mobil general manager which had a direct line to Caracas. Our experience in that respect was very different from my peers. My friends’ fathers were all engineers or had something to do with accounting for the product that was taken out of the ground and shipped. So, ours was a little bit different.
TK: Were there other American military there? Or did he mostly interface with the Venezuelan military? (7 min)
DG: When the Green Berets were first established, their mandate was to go behind military lines and train friendlies. So, in terms of American personnel, Latin America is a little sensitive to having a lot of US military running around. So, I believe that the presence of US military personnel was very low. You would see them at the military academies in Caracas or in those days they would ship prominent officers to the School of the Americas in Panama or at times to Fort Benning. Just so you understand, the National Guard…I apologize, this may sound condescending and it’s not. The National Guard, in its heyday, were policemen. They controlled the customs houses, the check points, the kind of security we would rely on the local police or state troopers to provide. The army, the Air Force were separate entities with military responsibilities, but the National Guard were basically an administrative force.
TK: You were there from 1964 to 1979. I think of that as generally being a time without any major political insurrections, a time of relative peace. Was there any time that there was much conflict?
DG: I was a kid when there was an insurrection of some military officers. I think that took place in 1966 or 67. I do also remember as a kid; I knew of one incident when there was an ambush of some National Guardsmen. I was at Escuela Anaco, an American expat school. In terms of actual conflict, no. The years we were in Venezuela were known to many as The Golden Years. That was a time of great prosperity for Venezuela. Politically - conflicts - I don’t recall witnessing any. Venezuela was unique in Latin America at that time. I think Venezuela, Costa Rica and Colombia were the only countries at that time that had continual civil governments. Most of the other Latin American countries had dictatorships. And, if I recall, many political refugees coming into Venezuela would prefer Venezuela over Mexico in those days. Venezuela was a good place to be. The quality of life was high, lot of opportunity. A lot of Americans that we would call roughnecks came down there to drill. In terms of political strife, I don’t remember witnessing any. You had two political parties, Golpe and Accion Democratica, their version of the Republicans and Democrats, but they both ascribed to some socialist tendencies in the distribution of the oil wealth. I really don’t recall political strife.
The one political event which I do remember was Carlos Andres Perez nationalizing the oil industry in 1975-76. That had a big effect. But Venezuela was a wonderful country to live in, and, frankly, it’s a little distressing to see what’s going on there today.
TK: Yes, sir. How old were you in 1964 when you moved there?
DG: I was about a year and a half when we moved to Venezuela. We left December 31, 1979. My dad was sent to Nicaragua, and I was attending boarding school at St. Marcus Academy in Texas. It was not unusual for children whose parents worked abroad to attend boarding high schools. While some of my peers stuck to themselves, we had the good fortune of creating ties with many Venezuelans, some of whom I still keep in contact with.
TK: Why do you think you ended up keeping friendships with Venezuelans when others didn’t?
DG: I think part of it is. Spanish is my first language. Learning English was difficult in the early grades. Also, we’re Hispanic. Bilingual. It wasn’t by design. The folks my dad was talking to and doing business with were Venezuelan. I’m not saying we didn’t socialize with other Americans or oil families; it just seemed like my parents’ friends were Venezuelan. Of course, I had my friends I grew up with and I went to American schools.
TK: Were there many Hispanic Americans working on the staff?
DG: Yes, but not as many as you’d expect. My recollection is that the Americans living in the oil camps were from the Texas/Oklahoma/Louisiana region. I guess that’s because those are the states that had the experienced labor force for the petroleum business. Many Canadians and Trinidadians also.
TK: You mentioned you went to a staff school. Was that Escuela Anaco?
DG: Yes, it was called Escuela Anaco. That was a school that all the expats would go to, but there were some Venezuelans as well. I would guess that was so they could learn English and culturally rub shoulders with some of the gringos that were there. We later moved in 1972 to western Venezuela, near Maricaibo. A city called Tia Juana. My dad took another job with the local Exxon subsidiary, Creole.
TK: What year did you move to Tia Juana?
DG: We moved from Anaco in 1972.
TK: You were 9 years old during the move?
DG: Correct. I was in fourth grade.
TK: What were the differences between Anaco and Tia Juana.
DG: They were very different. Anaco was in a very rural area. Basically, a town that grew up around the oil industry. It seemed like all the expats were right on top of each other.
Tia Juana was a little bit different. It was so near to Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city. And there were other towns nearby Cabimas, Lagunitas, that were all very close to each other on the eastern shore of Lake Maracaibo. Lake Maracaibo had 2,000-3,000 oil wells at that time and represented the majority of Venezuela’s oil revenue. It was a little more diverse. You didn’t necessarily know everyone. There were more oil supply companies there. Quite frankly, western Venezuela was a lot different from eastern Venezuela.
TK: You mentioned in Anaco you were on top of each other. In Tia Juana did people not live in the same area?
DG: It was a bit spread out. We actually lived in a development called Tamari that was a few miles outside of Tia Juana. The country club where all the families would go was right in Tia Juana. The country club was the equivalent of a student rec center; there was bowling, movies, dances/parties, swimming, tennis. That’s where everyone congregated.
TK: Did either the Anaco school or Tia Juana school have more Venezuelans?
DG: The odd thing was the Tia Juana school, Campo Verde, was divided in half. One side was the Americans and the other side was Venezuelans. The only thing we had in common was that all of our parents worked for Creole. It really caused some friction. Many of my friends there were on the other side of the school. By the time I was hitting sixth and seventh grade, due to the nationalization of the oil industry, the class sizes were diminishing. I think there were only 8-10 of us for 8th grade graduation.
TK: Were the curriculums the same?
DG: I really can’t recall. I don’t remember anything particularly. There was
science, math, reading, writing…. I would doze off in Spanish because I knew that.
TK: I’m wondering if you know the impetus in dividing the class between the Americans and the Venezuelans?
DG: I think it was a big enough facility, that’s just what they did. I know the year after I left, they started sending the Americans to Escuela Las Morochas nearby. All the other American and foreign students would go to Escuela Las Morochas, it wasn’t exclusively a Creole school.
The Staff School in Anaco was independent from any individual oil company. Escuela Campo Verde was run by Creole.
TK: You mentioned San Marcos. When did you go there?
DG: I first went to a school my brother had gone to Allen Academy in Bryan, TX,
near College Station; it was horrible. I started ninth grade there but transferred to San Marcos Academy which was a half hour south of Austin. There were a lot of kids there. I went to school with some of the kids I grew up with in Venezuela. Many kids from ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia as well.
TK: As an America, returning to the United States after spending your life overseas, what was it like going to school in Texas?
DG: That’s why my father said we needed to go to boarding school. We needed to rub shoulders with Americans. I will tell you it was culture shock the first few years. I came from a controlled environment and was suddenly on my own with kids who were very different; they see things different. I was raised to think about the world growing up, and at San Marcos the kids thought locally (meaning the US). It was a great experience; there were kids there from all over the world. It was a melting pot, but, yeah, it was culture shock. We had organized sports. I liked sports. I would have liked to think I was a big time jock, but playing organized activities was different. It was difficult to call home. But, all in all, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
TK: What kind of extracurriculars were in Venezuela?
What I recall was that every so often, there was something. I played baseball in Venezuela, but it wasn’t through the school, it was a local Little League. Sports like football would be a pick-up game. Every once in a while, we’d have soccer games against other schools or baseball or softball. Here there’s a schedule with seasons. We didn’t have uniforms. We didn’t train. We didn’t run sprints, etc.
TK: Was there anything other than sports that was quite popular in Venezuela?
DG: Fishing was great, frankly. It was fantastic in those days. That’s a good question. In those days we’d just hang out. It’s not like it is here today. My wife and I laugh at playdates. We’d go run through the fields, climb the water tower, see-saw on the oil jacks, just stupid stuff. But we were kids. We’d go by the river. Try to fish. Or go to the Andes with my parents. My mother would have custom furniture made there. The only place I experienced cold was in the rivers/streams of the Andes. Absolutely wonderful. We lived a pretty privileged life. My father could get in places and do things that the average Venezuelan could not do.
TK: Was it common for Americans to go to the Andes?
Most expats went to the Andes. Our main travel was going to the States every summer with our mother and buying good, reliable consumer goods.
TK: On the note of consumer goods, when you went to boarding school, what differences did you note in the commercial availability of things and food?
DG: I don’t think there was a lack of consumer goods in Venezuela, we just did have the choices/selection that you have in the US. But, the food; meat was so fresh. Fish and seafood were extremely fresh. Some of it was ignorance. I remember as kids we wanted to identify with something, we wanted to be Americans, and one of the biggest treats in Venezuela was having a Hershey bar. It just occurred to me, some of the best chocolate comes from Venezuela. Good quality clothing is not available in Venezuela. You get spoiled in the US by the availability of choices.
We had a very privileged life. When I would fly back to Maracaibo from boarding school, my father and a colonel would be waiting on the tarmac with an orderly to look at my passport, and we’d go home… No customs, no waits.
TK: You mentioned that Venezuela had a global perspective. When you would discuss world events, the news, would you be more likely to talk about the US or the Venezuela?
DG: I’ve always felt more like a citizen of the world. It has only been the last ten years that I’ve watched Venezuela so acutely because I care about the people there. It was a stable place when I was a kid. We’d watch the Shining Path of Peru, the Guerillas of Colombia, the military dictatorships, Operation Condor…. Venezuela was an oasis.
TK: For people who do try to follow Venezuela, but are only reading a headline or two, what are common misperceptions of Venezuela?
DG: My pet peeve is this argument that all the ills of Venezuela are tied to socialism. Quite frankly that is so incorrect. The problem is you have a criminal organization which has usurped the government and all of its functions. The gang that is running that country. There were large social programs in the 1970s: building homes for those who needed them, funding overseas college tuition, a BECA paid 100% of your college tuition and room and board. The problem isn’t socialism; it’s that criminals are running the country.
TK: What do you think precipitated the rise of this group?
DG: It’s because, and I think it’s by accident, after oil prices fell, they were in trouble. Chavez had pegged the economy to the price of a barrel of oil; he never diversified the economy. Everything was tied to the price of a barrel of oil. The guys at the top were taking a skim, and you started to see a separation of the classes. When you have that situation, a demagogue usually steps in, and that’s what happened. They ran the country into the ground.
TK: Are there any other major misconceptions of Venezuela that you see?
DG: The only misconception that I see is the association with a socialist government being the cause of the country’s ills today. It might be, but socialist policy has been in place in Venezuela since I was there. The bigger point is as long as you have a commodities-based economy, and you don’t move to diversify, this is what is going to happen.
TK: I don’t have any more questions. I’m sorry to take so long to make it happen.
DG: You know who you may want to speak with also. I think he’s around. There’s a former congressman, Tom DeLay, from Texas. He spent part of his youth in Anaco, that school I went to. I think he’s part of a consulting group. I don ‘t know if you recognize the name, Tom DeLay, the Democrats kind of ambushed him. He ended up leaving office, but the Court of Appeals exonerated him. But you may be interested in speaking with him
TK: Thank you for your help. I’ll definitely reach out to him. Thank you again.
DG: You’re welcome. Good luck with your project