Name: Peter Tveskov
Date: November 4, 2017
Circumstance: In-person interview at Saybrook College at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. He was accompanied by his son, Mark.
Details: I owe much of this project to Peter Tveskov. As I began my research in the fall of 2017, I discovered a message board of former alumni of Venezuelan oil camp schools. Luckily, I stumbled upon a comment from a user who said he was from nearby Branford, Connecticut. I was able to talk to reach out and, with the help of his son, Mark, have a conversation with him about his illustrious life, which would have merited being recorded even if his entire childhood was omitted. While his story is different from the typical “oil brat”—he went to high school in Venezuela, too—many of his experiences are nevertheless relevant, and the unique facets of his time only further enrich his source. My conversation with Mr. Tveskov inspired me to seek out these other stories in the first place. Aside from my mother and my advisor, I look forward to showing him this finished work the most.
Note: The transcript of this interview begins when we were already about five minutes into our conversation. This is attributable to my own forgetfulness and failure to turn on the recorder, not any purposeful omission.
TK: One quick question, when you say, by necessity, your social life revolved around other people who worked with Mobil was that a population problem or was there a schism between the people who worked in the petroleum industry and the people who didn’t?
PT: Well, we all worked in there, one way or another. I sold equipment. My company made and sold equipment. So, we were all there in that business in one way or another. These people, in effect, were my customers. As were the ones who worked for Texaco and Gulf. But socially, in our case, it was all centered on the Mobil Oil Company facility where they had schools, and they had little theatres. Sort of, on a tangent, our town had a very nice shopping center with a great supermarket called Cada which was owned by the Rockefellers who back then had a lot of involvement in the cattle industry in Venezuela. They imported the (it’s called I guess) the Santa Castruda (?) cattle from West Texas. It was bred to be immune against whatever that affects cattle. The Rockefellers were in there too.
So anyway, they nationalized the oil companies, and, basically in the beginning, nothing changed. The same people were in there, running everything. Then, Colonel Chavez became dictator of Venezuela. And all these Venezuelan oil workers went on strike. So, he canned them - 20,000 skilled people. 20,000 people in the core industry of his country. Fortunately, for them, they were all skilled, and the oil industry all over the world hired them. So, he ruined the one big industry that Venezuela had. That’s stupid. Well, looking at the country now, it’s all screwed up, but that’s another story.
TK: So, if I have this right, did those skilled workers were all hired by outside, non-Venezuelan companies?
PT: So as far as I know, I corresponded with several people who told me about what happened to them.
Mark: When you lived there, they were employees of Mobil and Texaco, but then, when they were nationalized, they went to work for the Venezuelan government. And what year was that?
PT: We lived there1960-62, and it was just happening. It was around 1970.
Mark: And the town where you lived, it wasn’t just Mobil; it was Texaco and other companies too?
PT: Neighbor towns. It was all one town. Maybe you went to the movies at the Texaco camp.
TK: Did they share public facilities? communal facilities? Was there a communal hospital for a number of camps?
PT: I assume there was one. We used Mobil for everything.
Mark: So, Mobil had its own clinic? Was there one for the town?
PT: I don’t know. I assume there was one for the town, but I don’t know. Because that’s where we went.
TK: And, did Texaco have a place for Texaco employees?
PT: Yes. I can go on tangents. The town at Texaco’s camp had an excellent restaurant where, when I was in that neck of the woods, I used to eat lunch. It was owned and run by a woman who had been a prostitute. So, she turned her place into a well served restaurant.
TK: How old was she?
PT: I don’t know.
Mark: She was local, you think?
Mark: Was there a middle class there independent of the oil? Or an upper class?
PT: I would say by Venezuelan standards, it was mainly middle class. There were no slums in that area because everybody there was fully employed. And the Venezuelans who were big shots in the Mobil and Texaco companies, there weren’t that many of them, they were engineers.
Mark: But they moved there, they didn’t grow up there. What was the core of the original town?
PT: Blank spot, there was nothing there before. It’s like Texas. Probably, cattle. In that part of Venezuela, there was no major agriculture, food stuff. In other parts. So, my experience with the Venezuelan culture was Caracas. [With fish and fresh bait.] Least half of the people are European immigrants who came right after the War. But we were taught there in the sciences.
When I came to Yale as a freshman engineering student, we had a very fixed curriculum and what I had had in Venezuela: physics, chemistry, math was several steps ahead of what was taught to freshmen at Yale. My physics class was so easy as a freshman at Yale, I actually fell asleep during an exam. I didn’t fill in half the exam, and I had to go to the professor and apologize that I fell asleep and, so I didn’t answer the questions. He forgave me. (You hear that Mark.) [Editor’s note: Mark works as a professor in Oregon.]
We had calculus in Venezuela, which most of my classmates at Yale hadn’t had calculus.
Trent: If you had completed the fifth year at Andres Bello, would you have completed calculus? Or was that something that you did because you were accelerated?
PT: Yes, we all did.
Trent: Wow. Do you know why the mathematics curriculum was more advanced in Venezuela? Was that more of an emphasis for them?
PT: I think, they placed, the Venezuelan system, based their programs on European models, not American. And, therefore, you were expected to take calculus at some point. As a partial answer to one of your questions. I would say that the only contact I had with American high school programs was when the SAT came to Venezuela. They gave the SAT at an American high school, Clark. The STEM part of it had nothing to it for us, but the English part was tough because we only had basic speaking English. I passed, but that was the difference. The STEM part was a joke, but English was tough. I can’t answer your question. We didn’t learn anything about US History in Venezuela except how it affected us, the War of Independence, the War with Spain, Spanish American War, Imperialismo Yanqui.
Trent: Was that official term for it? Was that the language they used?
PT: Of course.
Mark: The Jesuits said that?
PT: Oh, no, no. They didn’t bother with that. They were good teachers in fact.
Trent: Would you say that the stance at Andres Bello was either pro-United States or anti-United States?
PT: I don’t remember if we ever talked about that.
PT: It was more a class for the kids of European immigrants, at least half. Because I remember, I think the upper-class Venezuelans would send their kids to a place like the Jesuit school in Caracas. I wish I had gone there. I don’t really know why I didn’t.
TK: There must have been barriers to entry to the public school system for the lower-class Venezuelans. Were there barriers to entry? I’ve heard about the steep cost of textbooks, for example., which weren’t covered by the government.
PT: For a lack of a better word, I’d say social. They had to go to school to a certain age, but they had to work. Just like, if I lived in Venezuela, I would never have sent my two daughters to any Venezuelan school because their social attitude toward women was exclusively macho: they’re supposed to get married, look good, education wasn’t part of the program. That may have changed by now.
TK: At what age were Venezuelan kids sent to work? Similar to lower income children working agriculture?
PT: I really can’t answer that question because I don’t know if they had an unemployment problem but they worked at a low sustenance wage. There were poor people. There was a growing middle class, primarily immigrants, like the kids in my Jesuit school. One became governor of the state. I’m sure they all did well.
TK: Was that camp in Zuilia?
PT: In Merida. Beautiful place. I would love to go back, but now I wouldn’t. It’s too dangerous. When I went back to work there, my wife and I went into Maricaibo, to pick up a company car. We drove half across the country, but we were safe. We had an incident that was typically Venezuelan. We came across a taxicab with a flat tire but no spare. It was the same kind of car as ours; I lent him my spare. We went to the next village, he got his car fixed, and he gave me back my spare. Today, I wouldn’t have stopped. It’s not safe. But in those days, you did.
TK: I know this is a bit of an ambitious question, but if you had to guess. What would you say changed?
PT: It’s hard to say because Venezuela has a 250-year history, and, except for maybe 50 years, it has always be a dictatorship. Between 1948 and Chavez, they did have a working democratic system. There was a man named Bettancourt, he was a democratic leader. Then he was thrown out by a junta with 3 generals.
So Chavez started out as a colonel. He, in the beginning, was fighting for Cuba who was trying to infiltrate. He became the boss. It was so Venezuelan; all his buddies from the military academy were majors and colonels. He made them all generals, and he got their permanent support. Until this day, the army supports Maduro. As long as he has that support, he’s going to be in there.
TK: I’m interested in the legacy and how people considered the Era of Gomez and Contreras
PT: Gomez ran the country for 30 years. He was one of these generals who marched down from the Andes to Caracas, killed everyone, and then took over. In the 40’s he died of old age, amidst his 200 concubines,. Medina was a traitor, trench history period. He took democracy, it didn’t last long.
How do you know names like Gomez and Contreras? Are you studying Venezuelan history?
TK: Yes, sir. I embarrassingly didn’t know much until two months ago, but it’s taken over my life.
Mark: Why? What got you interested?
TK: I’m taking a class here. It’s called Oil and Empire. It’s got me interested in the interaction between petrocompanies and states, and how it’s changed world history. The capstone is a moderately large project at the end of the year.
Mark: What really strikes me in this conversation is how the nationalization of these oil companies corresponds to the rise and fall of the country. That’s exactly when the democratic period aligns. Isn’t that kind of ironic?
TK: That’s why I’m interested in the Gomez period. How these oil companies changed their messaging, changed the perception of the history and the trends the oil companies would support. Tariffs so they could move in easier, take land more easily..
PT: Gomez was a guy who brought in the American oil companies. I guess, before that,no one realized how much oil there is. When I was a kid, the state run oil well near me, Tatia?, near the border. It wasn’t worth developing. Then, they found all that oil in Trulia and eventually in the east. Again, the oil at least in Venezuela is like tar. I put a can of it upside down on my desk and it never ran out. My company made a subsurface pump where you inject a light oil in the pump that would mix with the tar to pump it out. To this day, I read about it, they still can get this damned stuff out of the ground. They’ve brought in the Chinese to try and get it out. And, as broke as Venezuela is, they’re still importing light oil from the US to mix in so that they can pump their oil out of the ground.
TK: Yes, sir.
PT: They would spend good money on light oil, like kerosene, so they can pump it out.
Mark: I wonder how much in the way of public education they had?
TK: I do know the actual numbers on that are very small. In 1929 the official report was that there were only 100 schools in Zulia and that was the most schools of any state. So, very scant resources. The Ministry of Public Instruction or Department of Educationstated that you had to have a certain quota of students per grade (say 15) to have a unitary house. Rural areas made that unsustainable because people had to go work.
PT: Have you ever heard of a system called Fe y Alegria?
PT: Well, it happens to coincide, Rector of my school, Father Delas. After he ceased being the rector, he had an idea how to bring education to the poor. In the state of Media, called Faith and Happiness. Using money from individuals to build schools and uses nuns to teach. Using religious people, to teach. The idea was to bring in kids and educate them and teach them practical skills. It was a roaring success and spread all over South America. His name pops up all over when you read about education in South America. Fe y Allegria.
TK: What were the differentiators of Fe y Allegria compared with Venezuelan public schools?
PT: I guess there weren’t any for people of that level. He put pressure on the Venzuelan Ministry of Education to get support. But from Day 1, Venezuelans got education from people.
TK; Father Velas was around in the 1940s?
PT: the school where he was the rector in San Jose in 1950s. When kids died in a plane crash in 1951. School owned a big territory, farm, land. Started out as a retreat house and used that as a base for the entire country. They still have the retreat house and a hotel. It’s a beautiful place. Stream running through and a waterfall. DC-3 propellers in the waterfall. He was a man who was dedicated to education and did well. He died 25 years ago. That is a side light. We all went to the place where the plane crashed. We brought back the suitcases. One of the boy’s fathers was Italian, he made a huge wooden cross that was placed there. It’s strange how one thing runs into another.
TK: One more question. Did you write a book about living in Denmark during World War II?
TK: How would you describe the differences in political climate between growing up in Venezuela, United States and Denmark? I know it’s a loaded question, but I had to ask…
PT: Denmark is basically a homogenous, civilized country. Socialist tradition going back some years. A Danish conservative is to the left of Bernie Sanders. A homogenous place. Venezuela is a medieval country, and the United States is what it is. I’ve lived here 50 years now. I can’t say I don’t like it. I could never live in Denmark; it’s too damn regulated. It was so funny; my cousin came over to visit from Washington. Early in the morning we go out for a walk. There’s not a car in sight. We start to walk through an empty intersection, but I tell him you can’t walk…there’s a sign. It was so Danish. My cousin was so pissed off.
Mark: So, there’s a way to do things in Denmark, and you don’t deviated from those ways…
PT: Yes. And that’s all right, but I want to cross the street when I can.
Mark: You want to keep your wild life style………
PT: My wild life style, I can’t talk, I can’t hear…….
TK: I feel like Danes would do poorly in New Haven.
Mark: I had a Dane visit me in Oregon, where it’s beautiful. He’s looking around and says “It’s Un-Danish”. That’s literally what he said.
PT: Who was that?
Mark: It was Ken. It just didn’t fit. (All 3 laugh.)
PT: They don’t have mountains. It’s windy and hilly. They talk funny.
Mark: They do talk funny.
TK: I don’t want to take up any more of your time, but I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for coming as well (to Mark).
Mark: It’s very interesting.
TK: is there anything I can do for you guys?
Mark: No nothing. It’s good to be in a university like this. I haven’t been in a while.
PT: He learned how to swim
TK: Our Master [Head of College] has two young daughters. It’s a highlight when they come in.
TK: I will definitely be in touch if I have any further questions.
PT: Please do.
TK: And please let me know if I can do anything for you.