Saturday, July 01, 2006


During the colonial period, Venezuela is economically geared to supply Spain with taxes and benefits and a large part of the products that are created by the workers. This prevents the national economy from developing. Artisan and industrial production is prevented in order to assure the placement of European products into the national economy. Exports are limited, and this gives rise to a thriving smuggling industry. Independence is the reaction of the criollos (large landowners and merchants) who are interested in consolidating political power for their own interests.
1821 — The battle of Carabobo is led by Simón Bolívar against the Spanish domination of South America, and marks the liberation of Venezuela from Spain.
1822 — La Gran Colombia is comprised of Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. The whole region is liberated from Spain and undergoes institutional consolidation. La Gran Colombia signs a pact of mutual help with Perú and under the leadership of Bolívar and Sucre, and defeats the Spaniards in the battles of Junin and Ayacucho, making possible the Republic of Bolivia.
The Industrial Revolution is a technological economic and social revolution that has manufacturing (production without machines), and capitalist factory production based on salaries. This leads to an increase in production which demands an increase in volume of raw materials, which can only be acquired outside the country. The abandonment of the countryside by peasants who crowd into the cities looking for work leads to a greater demand for food that is not produced and has to be imported. Lastly, production requires a market where products can be placed.
1826 — Venezuela is under the control of Columbia and conspires to break away under the leadership of José Antonio Páez.. Bolívar creates a general amnesty and guarantees the personal welfare all those involved in the conspiracy. There is a national convention in which he tries to reconcile federalists and centralists, without success , and is forced to assume a dictatorship in order to maintain unity. Páez rejects Bolivar’s leadership and convokes a Venezuelan Congress to separate the country from Columbia.
1830-1835 — Presidents Páez, Vargas, CarreZo
The Constitution is promulgated as a mixture of federalism and centralism. Local elections are held and those chosen in turn elect the higher members of the executive, the congress and the legislative assembly. Political rights are given to freemen of property. Women, slaves and those without property are excluded. Racial inequality is abolished, but not inequality based on wealth. It guarantees civil liberties, individual security, equality before the law, inviolability of the home and of correspondence, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom to travel. Torture is forbidden, as is confiscation of property. The death penalty is established.
At this time classes are formed by:
These come from the system based on the old landed oligarchy of the colony. During the colony those in power were white, and they excluded the indians, blacks and others. The war of independence changes this by declaring that only landowners can vote or be elected. The landowning class is increased by the ranks of militaries and local leaders that have fought in the independence, some of them people of color, who have taken over lands of their enemies. There are many fighters for independence who start out without land or property and wind up as owners of lands and haciendas. Out of of this sector come subsequent leaders of Venezuela.
Even though some groups are called free peasants, the latifundae system does not allow for true freedom. Paid farm workers and sharecroppers continue to be exploited. Farm workers earn miserable salaries that can only be spent in the company store. Debts are hereditary. Sharecroppers are obliged to give half of their crop to the landowner. Even though independence supposedly liberates the slaves these still occupy the lowest wrung on the ladder.
La Gran Colombia is divided into three new republics, Venezuela, Nueva Granada, and Ecuador. This results in centralism for each country which is an obstacle for smaller regional oligarchies, given the economic and social backwardness of the time, a situation exacerbated by the isolation of the different regions.
After independence, agriculture and cattle raising, which are a main sources of commerce, are in complete ruin. It makes it difficult to organize and administer the new Republic, in addition to which Venezuela has a large debt to pay to La Gran Colombia.
Society is a mixture of feudal relations with slavery and incipient forms of capitalism. After the war, most of the soldiers return to the places of origin only to find themselves homeless and without work. Many of these ex soldiers form armed bands who rustle cattle on the plains in order to have something to eat and to sell. This gives the government the excuse for repression. The Páez government does not exercise real control throughout the country. The local ruling classes are in control of provinces and isolated regions to the point that there is a separatist movement. Páez and his ruling élite convoke a Congress to repudiate Bolívar and put Páez as head of the government. This in turn inspires armed movements against them. Monagas’s plan is to overthrow Páez and return to La Gran Colombia to form an independent federation.
People who back Vargas propose an alternative, and this unleashes an opposition, headed by MariZo, who feel that they have the right to lead the country because they have fought for the independence on the battlefield. Followers of Vargas believe that civilians have the right to be in power, arguing that the military should return to their barracks, guarantee the Constitution and defend sovereignty, which should be their role in the new Republic.
1835 — José María Vargas is elected president and after five months there is a military coup against him. Vargas names Páez head of the Army to checkmate MariZo, and goes into exile.
1836 — Vargas returns as president but leaves government service for good, naming vice president Narvarte as head of the government. The result of all these maneuvers is to strengthen Páez as caudillo , who distances himself from his military rivals as well as ex-president Vargas.
1843 — General Carlos Soublette, backed by Páez, is elected president.
The difficult economic situation gives birth to a government opposition party which coalesces around the Liberal party. Its paper is El Venezolano, whose slogan is "I prefer a dangerous freedom to safe slavery". The Liberal party is made up of ruined landowners, military leaders who have been cast aside by the government, and intellectuals and politicians who are also out of favor. They fight against the money lenders and usurers, against the national bank and the speculators. They support long-term low interest government loans to be given to the farmers. This project is approved in the Congress but is vetoed by President Soublette. They agitate for the de facto abolishment of slavery and against the death penalty, for a direct universal suffrage, and a federal system of government. In spite of their best efforts, they can not resolve the great problems because the program is purely administrative and legislative, and because they do not address the poverty of the people and the great political and economic power that is in the hands of the landowners.
The right-wing oligarchy is not resigned to losing power and Soublette unleashes a persecution to stop the liberals. They terrorize the countryside. Some liberals fight against the government while others, such as Guzmán, continue in elections in the opposition. Guzmán is arrested as a conspirator and sentenced to death.
The program of the conservatives in power, on the other hand, is to maintain intact the economic and social conditions of the colonial period for their own use under the new Republic ,which conveniently gives political power only to property owners . Their social base is formed by usurers, money lenders and commercial monopolies. The bureaucracy is made up of public employees and those who are working in the government through friendship or parentage. Powerful military strongmen and large landowners who are backers of Páez make their mistake by establishing an unpopular oligarchy that prolongs slavery, the death penalty and centralism.
1847 — Páez backs José Tadeo Monagas as president, whom he wants to fight the liberals with, while at the same time getting the backing of the military and expecting him (Monagas) to submit to his will. Páez makes a mistake that costs the conservatives their seats in the government. While Monagas apparently continues the conservative agenda, it is not long before he has freed the liberals, and commuted Guzman’s sentence. This prompts the resignation of many of the conservatives in the Congress who regroup to confront him, while at the same time the liberals mobilize in support of the president.
1848 — The conservatives accuse Monagas of abusing power illegally, and of using the army without the consent of congress. The Liberals mobilize the population and form militias. Páez leads an uprising against Monagas, is defeated and has to seek refuge in Nueva Granada. Eventually he is caught and jailed. Congress ceases its opposition and Monagas is allowed to bring about liberal reforms unopposed. Nevertheless, the Monagas administration is marred by nepotism, misuse of public funds, speculation, administrative corruption, and lack of adherence to stated principles.
1849 — Gold is discovered in El Callao. The amount of export surpasses that of cacao in value and half of the value of coffee, whereupon it comes under the control of foreign companies, in violation of the Constitution that declares mines to be the property of the nation and their exploitation granted only by the executive.
1854 — Work in the countryside is done by slaves and by peasants working on someone else’s land. The pay rent by working, and by exchange of goods and money. Other social groups are the indians, artisans, small merchants and bureaucrats. Workers own only their instruments of work (such as machetes) while their places of work belong to the owner. The exception is the indigenous population that is organized in collective communities. Merchants make their profits by selling products at higher rates and also by usury in lending money to the landowners.
Capitalist production functions in two main areas: consumption and investment, which must increase the productive apparatus for future needs in order to perpetuate itself. These fall under two other categories, one social and the other one technical. The factors of production are; the land, labor and the means and instruments of production. In a capitalist society each factor of production is the property of a social class: the land owners have the land, the capitalist have the means of production, and the workers their labor force that they sell for salary.
Primarily, human labor acts directly on nature. Secondarily, human labor acts over nature and transforms materials into finished products, which are then placed before the consumer by means of transportation and commerce. In order to maintain the system, a political superstructure is required, one which expresses the interests of the ruling class, although it is also true that the class that is being ruled can form its own independent organizations such as unions and political parties, which act as pressure groups and to provide certain limits to the dominant group.
At this time, Venezuela is in a relative state of backwardness. It depends on other countries for its survival. It does not have a diversified production, which makes it relatively mono-productive and a mono-exporter. It can only produce what other countries want to buy, and this prevents it from developing independently. Added to these difficulties is a low level of communication. This economic isolation allows for the traditional forms of paternalism and local caudillos, inherited from Spanish domination, to flourish. The internal market has little interest for the ruling class which derives most of its money from exports, as does the state which collects taxes on those transactions.
Slavery is definitely abolished, but this does not affect the interests of the slave owners because slavery has become uneconomical and it is cheaper for them to buy the labor force that they use on the haciendas. Landowners are paid for the slave’s freedom, which turns it into a good business for them. This has the effect of making the landowners more powerful.
1857 — A new Constitution abolishes the death penalty and ratifies the abolition of slavery, allowing for universal suffrage. It establishes the presidential term for six years and permits reelection.
After independence, the interests of the land owners and merchants of the Latin American colonies coincides with those of the capitalist class in Europe. This leads to further dependency based on economics, in which Venezuela supplies raw materials in exchange for industrial goods. This strengthens the merchant capitalist class and the large landowners in Venezuela during the whole post-independence period up to modern times. In order to finance the War of Independence and their investments, they have created a public debt which is to prove a heavy load for the population.
1858 — Julián Castro. Corruption in the Monagas administration gave rise to a conservative coup d’etat known as the March revolution , which ushers in the presidency of Castro. A new persecution of Monagas supporters takes place. Some of the former régime’s international treaties are violated, which causes France and Great Britain to blockade Venezuelan seaports. Monagas is declared a traitor, expelled from the country and his property is confiscated. These measures serve to start a Civil War which brings down the Castro régime.
Some of the problems at this time are massive illiteracy, distrust of the rich by the poor and the conflict between conservatives and liberals.
1859 — There follows the short-lived administrations of Pedro Gual and Manuel Felipe Tovar, which culminate in the Páez dictatorship once again. Gual is placed under house arrest. Páez issues a decree that anyone who communicates with the enemy will be summarily shot. This terrible repression, however, is not enough to stop the Federalists and the government from falling eventually. 12 provinces come under the control of the revolutionaries.
This war is characterized by the participation of the popular masses under the direction of the Liberal party against the oligarchy. It is caused by economic and social problems, fundamentally the problem with land; the great masses of peasants who are dispossessed and exploited, and the persistent problems of slavery, which although abolished, had thrown 40,000 slaves without land or jobs to shift for themselves. These are forced to again become servants of their former masters, who fix their salaries and working conditions as they see fit.
Other causes of the war are the international monetary crisis which ruins many of the landowners, who immediately join the rebellion. Intellectuals awaken the aspirations of the people for justice and for land. The Federalists form a patriotic junta which take over the city of Coro, used as a beachhead for a long war. 100,000 lives are lost during a five-year period. 12 million head of cattle are reduced to 5.8 million in the slaughter of war itself. In order to fight the war, the government borrows money overseas and raises taxes. This plunges people further into poverty. The country falls heavily into debt. There is a 90% illiteracy rate. Illnesses caused by malnutrition are endemic. Pitiful salaries were often paid in script, which has the effect of having a population endlessly owing their creditors. The majority population lives in shacks. Forced military conscription is the most feared of all. In spite of the progressive agenda of the Federation, it is unable to bring about real reforms. The Federalists pact with their old rivals and leave the caudillos alone, gathering power only in the urban centers.
1861 — Páez is forced into exile.
1863 — Juan Crisóstomo Falcón becomes a Federalist president. Liberal ideas are betrayed as his government gets rich at the expense of public monies, treaties are manipulated, and deals are made with the landowners. To cover the deficit, Falcón borrows more money, turning over import rights to foreign companies. After all the graft has been paid off, the government receives 2 million pesos on a 20-million peso, 25-year loan. Falcón is in that habit of writing IOUs against the treasury to satisfy his friends and supporters. Parasitism and mendacity at the expense of the state increases.
1867 — The minister of the treasury resigns because there is no money left in the treasury and the Congress is dissolved because there is no money to pay salaries. Fed up with the corruption, revolutionary groups close in on Caracas and force the resignation of Falcón.
1868 — José Ruperto Monagas, son of the former president, becomes president in what is known as the blue government.
1869 — Artisan manufacturers (carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, pottery workers, metal workers, etc.) have difficulty because there is a lot of competition from imported products and not very much demand for local handmade products. This leads to the first trade unions guilds and cooperatives, which in turn see the birth of the first workers demonstrations.
The merchant class comes into being through foreign trade and business carried out in the country by foreign companies, who export fruits and other merchandise. In their hands, international capital becomes concentrated. Little by little this becomes the most powerful class by means of loans to the people in the countryside and by insertion in the official sector by means of loans that it makes to the government. Landowners are forced to acquire loans from local business men on one hand, and to negotiate at a disadvantage with foreign capital, on the other. National sovereignty is compromised.
The merchant class represents a backward economic structure based as it is on the reactionary landowners who profit from the exploitation of the peasants. At the same time it is part of the commercial apparatus of developed capitalism, which makes it party to the development of the internal market and to the defense of a centralized government. This creates a conflict with landowners who are interested in isolating the countryside in order to hold onto their power.
The state of Zulia raises a 6,ooo man army in an attempt to keep import taxes for itself, threatening to secede from the Venezuelan union. The conservative holdovers from the former regime organize shock brigades to attack the liberals. Genral Guzmán Blanco, head of the liberals, is forced to hide in a foreign embassy and later escapes to Curaçao. Two years later he returns triumphantly to Caracas to take over the presidency.
1870 — Antonio Guzmán Blanco is president, on and off, for 22 years. He exercises a dictatorship where human rights are not respected. There are political prisoners, raids of private houses, confiscations, forced taxes, tortures and executions.
It is a period of corruption and speculation.
At the same time Guzmán Blanco does away with a feudal regional system and contributes to national unity. He improves communications: roads, railroads, navigation lines, post and telegraph offices. He initiates cartography, census taking, and inventories of the nation. He establishes a stable economy, and restores public credit. He is allied with the rising merchant class who has control of international commerce, and initiates many public works. In 15 years of his term cattle and agricultural production increase greatly.
The United States demands payment for damages of a million and a half pesos. The damages incurred are actually no greater than 5000 pesos, and Guzmán Blanco refuses to pay, whereupon the United States negotiates a more favorable treaty. He breaks relations with Holland and suspends payment on the debt. He alleges that Holland from Curaçao is giving aid and comfort to his political enemies, and he raises the import tax to 30%. He ratifies Venezuela’s rights over the Western region of the Orinoco. He breaks relations with great Britain when they encroach on Venezuelan territory from Guyana. Unresolved vestiges of this conflict remain to this day.
The Catholic Church had been closely allied with Spanish absolutism and was a primary influence in all aspects of Colonial life. Guzmán Blanco declares the state sovereign vis-B-vis the church and forbids religious people to interfere in civil and political matters. He suppresses the seminaries. He prohibits baptisms, marriages or burials without a civil registry. He closes convents, and secularizes the cemeteries. He prohibits the church from owning property and expels the Archbishop of Caracas and the Bishop of Mérida.
Guzmán Blanco declares public education to be free and obligatory. Subjects taught, among others, are morality, reading and writing, arithmetic, the metric system and the federal Constitution. He regulates the functions all of private colleges.
1889 — Juan Pablo Rojas Paúl becomes president upon Guzmán’s resignation. He immediately sets about removing all traces of the Guzmán government from public life.
A new political party is formed, the Democratic Union Society, which promotes; a secret and direct vote for anyone over 18, freedom of speech and press, university autonomy and is against monopolies.
1890 — Andueta Palacio assumes power for two years. He is considered weak, sensual and cynical, more given to gratifying his pleasures than to assuming responsibilities of government. The post is taken over by Joaquín Crespo, who declares a general amnesty of political prisoners. He declares freedom of the press, freedom assembly, freedom of industry, and the inviolability of the home, although he violates these precepts whenever he chooses. England intensifies its encroachment onto Venezuelan territory, unleashing street demonstrations and boycotts of English businesses in response.

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