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Volume 60 / Humanities


19th and 20th Centuries: Venezuela

PETER LINDER, Associate Professor of History, New Mexico Highlands University

AMID VENEZUELA'S CURRENT POLITICAL TURMOIL, the historiography of the 19th and 20th centuries continues to evolve and develop. Indeed, current political controversies have led some historians of modern Venezuela to question long-held beliefs and assumptions about the history of the 20th century. In addition, studies in economic, social, and cultural history continue to illuminate new aspects of the nation's past. Finally, regional and local history are becoming more sophisticated and professional, providing a more nuanced understanding of a history traditionally written overwhelmingly from the viewpoint of Caracas.

The independence period remains a source of fascination for many. Simón Bolívar continues to inspire historical investigation, and the search continues for new directions to explore in relation to his life. Noteworthy recent examples are Alfonzo Vaz's analysis of the Liberator's religious beliefs (item #bi2001004027#) and Beltrán Salmón's discussion of Bolívar's communication skills. Also of interest is a compilation of letters exchanged between Bolívar and Manuela Sáenz, including many never before published in Venezuela (item #bi2001004253#). As the bicentennial of the revolt of 1810 nears, other independence-era figures have become the subject of increasingly intense historical scrutiny. Castellanos examines the role played by José Antonio Sucre in the diplomacy of the postindependence era (item #bi 00002878#), while Sant Roz focuses on Sucre's assassination and its implications for liberal politics in Colombia (item #bi2001004049#). Francisco de Miranda also has received considerable recent attention. A number of biographies and studies explore the career of this controversial figure. Racine has written an engaging study of Miranda's career and impact on the struggle for independence (item #bi2003004194#), while Bencomo Barrios focuses on his military career (item #bi2001004251#).

Venezuelan foreign policy remains an area emphasized by historians. Picón offers a useful, brief history of Venezuelan diplomacy from the First Republic until the mid-1980s (item #bi2001004045#). Hernández explicates the links between political liberalism and Venezuela's international relations through a study of the life of Juan Viso, a 19th-century lawyer and diplomat (item #bi2001004029#). Sanz examines Venezuelan public opinion concerning the Spanish Republic before and during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s (item #bi 00004150#). Finally, Quintero Torres reassesses US-Venezuelan relations during the Pérez Jiménez regime (item #bi2001004252#).

Unsurprisingly given the current political climate, 20th-century political history has received considerable recent attention. Many works represent a reevaluation of—or challenge to—long-standing tenets of Venezuelan historiography. Herrera and Alva explore the complexities of politics in the immediate aftermath of the death of Juan Vicente Gómez (item #bi 00003446#). Battaglini argues, contrary to existing beliefs, that the government of Isías Medina Angarita represented a democratizing trend in Venezuelan politics, and that the 1945 coup that brought Acción Democrática to power lacked legitimacy (item #bi 00002877#). A missive written by Manuel Pérez Guerrero to Rómulo Betancourt sheds a critical light on the AD trienio of 1945–48 (item #bi2001004041#).

Several publications have responded to the trend of reevaluating common historical interpretations. For example, Caldera explores the Pact of Puntofijo and the enduring political accommodation it made possible (item #bi2001004257#). Catalá details the crimes and abuses of the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez, and argues that only ignorance of that period would enable an unfavorable comparison of the governments of the 1960s–90s with the military dictatorships of earlier eras (items #bi 00002880# and #bi 00002902#).

Recent studies in social and cultural history represent significant advances in those fields. Two consequential works focus on African slavery and its aftermath. Pollak-Eltz analyzes the development and subsequent collapse of the institution, and calls for further research (item #bi2001004256#); Rodríguez Arrieta has produced a significant and detailed regional study of the processes of manumission and abolition in the province of Maracaibo, based on in-depth archival research (item #bi 00006933#). Regarding cultural history, Prieto Soto describes the influences instrumental in the development of Zulian popular culture (item #bi2001004031#), while Franceschi González explores the use of the pantheon of the War of Independence in order to promote a national culture and identity (item #bi 00004091#).

Economic history continues to develop as well. Lucas discusses the role of the state in the process of industrialization (item #bi 00004138#); Alcibíades R. provides a fascinating analysis of the links between the cigarette industry, advertising, and publishing (item #bi 00002901#). Two recent studies explore the history of monetary policy in Venezuela: Stohr investigates the role of monetary policy—especially the use of paper money—in the downfall of the First Republic (item #bi2001004044#), while Cordeiro analyzes Venezuela's recent economic woes and advocates a new national monetary policy (item #bi 00004149#). Two commendable studies explore the intersection between economic and environmental history. Zerpa Mirabal analyzes the economic, political, and ecological aspects of the trade in egret feathers in turn-of-the-century Venezuela (item #bi 00002890#). The other study, although not reviewed here, is worthy of brief mention: Kozloff's 2002 doctoral dissertation from St. Hugh's College, Oxford, "Maracaibo Black Gold: Venezuelan Oil and Environment During the Juan Vicente Gómez Period, 1908–1935," which explores the environmental impact of early petroleum development in Zulia and Lake Maracaibo.

As noted in HLAS 58, regional and local studies continue to reflect growing professionalization. In addition to the works already discussed, several others are noteworthy. Botello has written a useful—though still primarily descriptive—history of an important community in the Llanos (item #bi 00002898#). Castillo de López discusses the negative impact of Eleázar López Contreras' nationalization of the port of La Guaira on that community (item #bi2001004047#). Urdaneta's study examines resistance to the regime of Juan Vicente Gómez in the state of Zulia (item #bi2001004038#).

Thus, the quality and professionalization of Venezuelan historiography continues to improve. Political studies and works focusing on the heroes of independence remain a staple, but significant works have also appeared in economic, social, and cultural history. The proliferation of thoughtful and analytical regional studies continues.

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