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Volume 52 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Venezuela

WINTHROP R. WRIGHT, Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park

VENEZUELAN HISTORIANS HAVE FINALLY ABANDONED the patron saints of national independence as a major focus of their attention. The move away from the cult of heroes has encouraged a new generation of Venezuelans to treat a rich variety of post-1830 topics, including questions related to the nation's troubled agro-export economy and her difficult political history.

Two works on the labor policies of commercial farming demonstrate the high level of historical analysis now given to agriculture and labor. The first, by Gastón Caravello and Josefina Ríos de Hernández (item bi 90010221), explains the long decline in the role of haciendas in the export economy, which the authors attribute to an inability to control their labor forces. The second, by Aníbal Arcondo (item bi 90010222) shows that coffee producers failed to attract labor because of their unwillingness to offer incentives. Morella Barreto's guide to labor newspapers from 1846-1937 (item bi 89004252) complements these studies.

Thanks to the ongoing efforts of Ramón J. Velásquez, Mary Floyd's excellent dissertation on the Guzmán Blanco Administration has appeared in Spanish translation (item bi 90011930). Three other works on 19th-century politics merit attention. Nikita Harwich Vallenilla (item bi 8900-1383) has masterfully challenged Germán Carrera Damas' emphasis upon the cult of Bolívar in an analysis of the origins of the "official history" taught at Venezuelan secondary schools during the 19th century. Similarly, Domingo Irwin G. (item bi 89017050) has written a provocative study of the different types of caudillos and caudillism found in Venezuela. A short biographical sketch of Codazzi's military/political career in Barinas (item bi 89004242) offers another insight into Venezuelan politics during the 19th century.

Works on the 20th century offer an equally broad and rich list of topics. Susan Berglund (item bi 90010223) and Ermila de Veracoechea (item bi 89004229) have provided comprehensive studies of immigration, the former dealing with the post-World War II period, the latter giving an overview of policies during the entire national period. Like Berglund, Margarita López Maya (item bi 89001061) has turned to unused archival material to give a statistical analysis of voting patterns during the elections of 1946 and 1947, patterns which proved essential in legitimizing Acción Democrática's rise to power through an open system of voting. Winthrop R. Wright (items bi 89000989 and bi 90014292) has provided two studies of racial attitudes, one which focuses on a racial incident in 1945, the other a larger study of changing racial and national images since the colonial era. In an essay on Venezuelan positivism and modernity, Harwich Vallenilla offers a philosophical analysis of the contributions of the positivists to the evolution of modern Venezuela (item bi 90008471).

Trinidadian historian Kelvin Singh has made two significant contributions to Venezuelan history through the use of Trinidadian and British records, as well as US and Venezuelan archives. His well-documented study of attempts by 19th-century Venezuelan rebels to launch attacks from Trinidad (item bi 90001323) not only illustrates a basic cause of tension between Britain and Venezuela, but also underlines Venezuela's weakness at the negotiating table. Singh's other work (item bi 89002770) points out the ineffectiveness of the López Contreras Government to follow Mexico's lead in establishing real control of the nation's petroleum reserves and is a well-balanced picture of the post-Gómez political scene in Venezuela.

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