instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Articles

U.S. is Promoting Secession in Bolivia: It’s Not the First Time

To read the article, click here.

Be the first to comment

Venezuela: Secession in the Oil Zone

To read the article, click here.

Be the first to comment

"Asserting State Authority through Environmental Monitoring: Venezuela in the Post-Gómez Era, 1935-1945"

An academic article published in Bulletin of Latin American Research, Volume 25, Number 2 (April 2006), 282-300.  No online link but click here to go to the journal.

Be the first to comment

Antillanos and the Venezuelan State: Caribbean Blacks in the Maracaibo Oil Boom During the Juan Vicente Gomez Period, 1908-1935

(An unpublished historical essay)

 

Between 1914 and 1922 subsidiaries of the British oil company Shell entered Venezuela, transforming the small agricultural nation and giving rise to oil boom towns.  Following a massive oil blow out in 1922, American oil companies, subsidiaries of the giant Standard Oil of New Jersey, joined their British counterparts and a veritable oil boom commenced in the provincial state of Zulia, in the western party of the country.  In addition to contracting Venezuelans, oil companies also imported foreign laborers who joined their co-workers in sprawling settlements.  According to Lieuwen, the companies brought in West Indian blacks due to labor shortages;[1] other evidence suggests that Caribbean workers were brought in because they were considered more disciplined and servile than Venezuelans.[2]  Like Venezuelan workers, antillanos, as they were called, faced racist American and British oil managers.  Much like the Venezuelans, antillanos too were subject to work related abuses and substandard public health conditions.  As skilled laborers, however, antillanos could acquire property and even achieve a measured degree of prosperity.  Despite this prosperity the position of the antillanos was tenuous as they faced resentment at the hands of local residents.  Such a divisive situation was potentially explosive and threatened to derail community relations in the oil zone.  However, the shrewd Juan Vicente Gomez, who ruled in dictatorial fashion from 1908-1935, tactfully turned this situation to his advantage by enforcing racist legislation limiting antillano immigration.  By discriminating against the antillanos the Gomez authorities cynically manipulated public opinion by dividing the West Indian and Venezuelan workforce.  In the process, Gomez sought to create a sense of national identity which would shore up his mission of building up the central state in Venezuela.

 

Background to Gomez Rule

 

By the early twentieth century, that state building project had become a political imperative.  Indeed, during the 19th century Venezuela was hardly what one might call a modern nation state.  Divided along regional lines, the country was prone to divisive civil and political conflict.[3]  Within such a fractured environment, the possibility of a strong central state taking root was hardly promising.  For Gomez, who came to power in a coup d'etat in 1908, the central challenge was how to build a modern nation state.  Of central concern to Gomez was gaining control over the western state of Zulia which had long sought greater autonomy from Caracas.[4]  In an effort to consolidate central control Gomez constructed a national army[5] and built up an impressive network of state presidents who in many cases were sympathetic military officers.[6]  Gomez could keep further abreast of news in outlying states through a network of jefes civiles or district governors, direct and immediate government representatives at the local level almost always chosen by the president himself.[7]  What is more, Gomez could also count on his extensive family network to ensure control.[8] 

 

State of Zulia

 

For the moment Gomez had consolidated his position.  However, he could ill afford political problems in the west.  Measuring 63,100 square kilometers,[9] with 178,388 inhabitants in 1908,[10] Zulia was not only large in terms of sheer land mass, but also economically important.  When Gomez took power, Zulia had the most substantial budget of any Venezuelan state.[11]  For Gomez a crucial question was how to exert control over such a distant region as Zulia.  Transportation from Maracaibo to the interior was arduous and time consuming.[12]  Because of the logistical difficulties involved with travel, merchants frequently resorted to travel along the state's many rivers, such as the Zulia, Catatumbo, and Escalante.  These rivers constituted important means of communication with the Andes and Colombia.[13]  Merchants could in turn follow Zulia rivers by boat into Lake Maracaibo.  The largest lake in South America, it measured 200 km north to south, with a width of 120 km at the lower end and in the middle 85 km, and with a full circumference of 600 km.[14]  Historically the country's lack of transportation infrastructure had encouraged regionalism and caudillismo, and the last thing the regime desired was a powerful caudillo takeover in the economically and politically important state of Zulia.  Not only was internal transport problematic but the region was largely cut off from the rest of the country.  Travelers wishing to head from Maracaibo to Caracas had to endure a long, five day trek to reach the capitol.[15]  Faced with such obstacles Gomez sought to tighten his grip on Zulia.  Relinquishing the earlier policy of appointing "sons of the soil" to state government, he began to rely more and more on andinos and family relatives.[16] 

 

British Oil Companies in Zulia

 

With the arrival of powerful British oil companies in Zulia Gomez was presented with a unique challenge.  Nearly all the concessions awarded by Gómez in the initial years were sold to the British oil company Shell in 1913;[17] the company began commercial production later in 1919.[18]  On the one hand oil revenue stood to bolster state finances and Gomez's ability to centralize the Venezuelan state.  If large deposits of oil were found Gomez could siphon money to his military, expand the administrative bureaucracy and continue his project of national integration through road building projects.  Furthermore, with the money from oil proceeds Gomez could deploy more troops and administrators to Zulia.  With an efficient, centralizing administration in place at the state level, Gomez could head off any secessionist moves in Zulia and preempt any aggressive moves by would be caudillos.  What is more, in the event that oil investment really took off in the state, the companies would contribute to economic development along the eastern coast of Lake Maracaibo, where much of the initial oil exploration took place. 

 

On the other hand, monitoring the oil companies would prove difficult in such an isolated region.  If the oil companies abused the local population Venezuelan nationalism might be incited and cause political problems.  By permitting large and powerful British, and later U.S oil companies to operate in a far-flung region which had only recently tried to shake off government control, Gomez assumed a certain political risk.  In Maracaibo the growing oil presence was a concern for Zulia state president Santos Gomez.  In 1923 he personally wrote Gomez, warning his chief that oil workers could be subverted by enemies of the regime.[19]  Despite the many political risks associated with increased oil development, Gomez avidly embraced the industry's expansion.  One underlying reason for this was sheer greed.  The Gómez family was one of the largest landowners on the east bank of Lake Maracaibo, and stood to benefit from land sales to the oil companies.[20]        

 

Maracaibo Oil Metropolis

 

While certainly spectacular, the growth of the oil industry posed significant social problems for the Gomez regime.  The city of Maracaibo, "a sleepy coffee-exporting port of forty thousand in 1920," experienced the greatest transformation.  Maracaibo became Venezuela's oil metropolis, the country's most congested port, the second city of importance after Caracas.  The city's population more than doubled during the 1920s.[21]  In 1926 contemporary observers estimated that the Zulia state capitol's population could not have numbered less than 120,000.[22]  Meanwhile, the state of Zulia's population skyrocketed, from 117,457 inhabitants in 1920 to 204,075 in 1926, a 73.74% increase.[23]  Though the oil boom brought unprecedented new wealth, the authorities were ill prepared to deal with the vast influx of new migrants in search of work.  The arrival of foreigners, who occupied a privileged position, threatened to give rise to resentment in Maracaibo and the oil zone.  For the authorities the challenge was how to keep the local population satisfied while keeping a lid on social discontent.  The arrival of so many foreigners caused rental costs to skyrocket.  According to Lieuwen, living costs doubled and real estate values tripled in Maracaibo during the oil boom.[24]  While real estate prices affected the oil companies, which owned office buildings, mess and staff houses on the east side of Lake Maracaibo, skyrocketing prices affected the poor to an even greater extent.  Spartan in appearance, rooms in the Bolivar district in the heart of the oil zone displayed no comforts of any kind.  Even more serious from the point of view of poor residents was the high cost of food.[25]  By late 1924, British authorities reported, the situation had become so bad, that "the cost of living in Maracaibo…seemed…over 50% higher than in Caracas."[26]  Clearly, the Zulia state capitol was fast becoming a metropolis and it would take serious political commitment to meet rising social needs.

 

Social problems must be seen against the deteriorating political backdrop in Zulia.  Though U.S. diplomats reported that authorities in Caracas were not overly concerned about rumors that Maracaibo would break free of central control,[27] the U.S. consul in Maracaibo alerted his superiors to widespread disaffection in the city.  He argued that Zulia natives as well as Maracaibo residents "do not now and have not for years felt any great affection for the central government."   Local residents were also incensed "that although there are many quite capable Maracaiberos not one has ever been placed in a position of power in the state of Zulia."[28]  There was also the danger that prominent maracuchos might unite with oil residents.  In March 1926, L. Perez Bustamante, a member of the Maracaibo Institucion Boliviana, wrote Gomez to complain of the "avaricious" companies who had abused workers and Venezuelans.[29]

 

Labor Situation

 

These underlying tensions were underscored when oil workers at the Caribbean Oil Company's Mene Grande camp went on strike.[30]  Not only did workers demand an eight hour day but also a 2 bolivar advance for workers who made between 5 and 10 bolivars a day.[31]  For Zulia state president Febres Cordero the challenge was how to appease workers while simultaneously steering unrest in such a way so that oil companies did not turn against the regime.   At Mene Grande, all operations were paralyzed., casting uncertainty over production and profits.  Even worse from the point of view of the companies, the strike was tightly organized under Antonio Malavet,[32] a charismatic fireman who worked for Pan American Petroleum and Transport Co, subsidiary of Caribbean.[33]  Febres Cordero opted to pursue a more diplomatic solution, traveling personally to Mene Grande[34] to mediate between workers and the oil companies.[35]  Once Febres Cordero arrived at Mene Grande, he held a conference with Caribbean officials.  Startlingly, in a solid rebuke to the oil managers, Febres Cordero "urged that the demands of the strikers be met in some degree."  Febres Cordero's position upset oil managers, who feared that taking a conciliatory approach towards workers "might establish a precedent which would lead to further labor troubles."  Moreover, in a further snub to the companies, Febres Cordero met personally with Malavet and other strike leaders.[36]  Though the companies lobbied the authorities to send in troops, the government dragged its feet by not sending in enough soldiers.  In a revealing personal note to Gomez, Febres Cordero reported that oil company managers wanted him to send more troops to Mene Grande, but he replied that none were available.[37]  Gomez himself communicated with Malavet.  "Apparently," writes Flores, "Malavet wrote to Gomez under no pressure to do so.  He might have felt obligated to write, as Gomez had made clear that he intended to keep in touch with everything that happened in the country."  In his note to the dictator, Malavet passionately sought to convey the plight of oil workers. "Plagued by infinite incommodities and misery," Malavet explained, "we declared a strike against the tyrannical company, the Caribbean Petroleum Company.  Following your honorable Union, Peace and Labor, we implore your moral protection so that the honest and passive worker can obtain what he justly deserves under the wise constitution of Venezuela."[38]  Though Malavet was obsequious towards authority, nevertheless he seemed determined to lead the strike and obtain concessions for his followers.  Malavet never asked Gomez if he could declare a strike.  Rather, he proclaimed that oil workers had started a strike against a powerful British oil company.  What is striking, given this audacious display of independence from Malavet, is that Gomez deigned to personally answer the labor leader.  Though Gomez did not explicitly offer his support, he did not call for an end to Malavet's movement.  In an echo of future exchanges between local residents and Gomez, the dictator instructed Malavet to communicate with Febres Cordero so as to come to an amicable solution.[39]  Shrewdly, then, "Gomez offered some support to Malavet and the strikers by simply not condemning the movement.  But, by not providing an ostensible support, he also allowed the government to back out in case of disruption."  In keeping with the regime's long-term desire to place the companies under pressure without disrupting the industry, Gomez recommended that Malavet respect the law.[40]

 

Gomez and Labor

 

Taking his cue from Gomez, Febres Cordero was diplomatic at Mene Grande.  Meeting personally with both oil company officials and strike leaders, he obliged managers to agree to an eight hour shift for all employees, and an increase of 1 bolivar a day for all workers whose wages ranged from 5 to 10 bolivars daily.  Unfortunately, Malavet had become an inspirational symbol to workers, and the strike had a psychological effect on morale.  In the wake of the strike, foreigners grew alarmed as the laborers had grown restless "and state that they want electric light, sheets on their beds and all conveniences which the company furnishes their drillers, assistant drillers and other foreign labor."[41]  The increasingly militant work force posed problems not only for foreign managers but also for Gomez and his subordinates.  As Flores has written, "the government realized that foreign working methods had deeply altered the traditional minds and aspirations of native workers."  Though oil workers represented only a small fraction of Venezuelan workers (from 1925 to 1936, an average of about 11,500 people worked for the oil companies, just 1.3% of the workforce),[42] the government was concerned about their influence and felt a need to speak to their specific problems.[43]  Industrial unrest outside of government control was unacceptable given the growing economic importance of oil.  By 1928, in fact, Venezuela would become the second largest oil producer in the world and the leading world exporter.[44] 

 

Gomez and Oil Companies

 

Gomez then would have to impose civil order, which in this case meant getting the upper hand over both civil society and the companies.  The oil companies provided much needed revenue for the Gomez state; however the prospect of such powerful corporations operating in a remote area of the country which had longed for greater autonomy was politically sensitive.  The andino, along with his associates in Zulia, watched the political milieu carefully, using a carrot and stick approach to deal with the political exigencies of the moment.  At times Gomez employed repression, but more often than not state officials appeased rising social groups.  Sometimes Gomez even used workers as apparent bargaining chips to exert political pressure upon the companies. 

 

Simultaneously Gomez officials collaborated with the companies in a bid to halt subversion and revolution.  Gomez then was shrewd at playing both sides against the middle.  Still, rumors of oil companies sponsoring Zulia secession concerned Gomez and convinced the dictator of the need to appoint a stronger man as state president.[45]  A key figure who helped Gomez to consolidate the central state was Vincencio Perez Soto, "a strong, active and progressive man, but arbitrary,"[46] in June 1926.[47]  Physically attractive and 43 years old, Perez Soto was active and energetic in manner and prompt in the dispatch of business."[48]  Febres Cordero was transferred to Merida where he took up as state president there.[49] 

 

Arrival of Antillanos

 

One of the vexing social questions confronting Perez Soto was the arrival of the antillanos on the oil fields.  According to Urdaneta, antillanos arrived shortly after the blow-out at Los Barrosos.  In 1924, 1658 whites came into the state of Zulia and 695 blacks.[50] According to a local historian entire families from the Dutch and British West Indies migrated to the oil zone and by 1924 there was a British West Indies colony in the oil town of Cabimas.  The new arrivals worked as electricians, mechanics, carpenters, tractor drivers, and office workers.  They also served as interpreters between Americans and Venezuelan peons, who were often illiterate.[51]  By 1926 there were about 3,000 colored British subjects from Trinidad or other islands of the British West Indies.  This figure dwarfed the number of white British subjects and Canadians, totaling some 800 individuals.[52]  Migrants came not only from Trinidad but also from other British, French, and Dutch Caribbean possessions.[53]  According to Lieuwen, West Indians represented approximately 10 per cent of the unskilled labor force on the oil fields.[54]

 

For Caribbean migrants, Maracaibo must have seemed at least somewhat promising in the 1920s and 30s.  Certainly, conditions on many Caribbean islands were far from hopeful.  As Harrison has written, "during the first few decades of the twentieth century, the sugar industry of the British colonies was a hopelessly inadequate opponent of its American rivals…the situation for the mass of the rural people in the West Indian colonies was one of utter deprivation: they struggled to survive through their own agriculture and whatever work they could get on the estates."

 

Conditions on the sugar estates, adds Harrison, reflected the harsh realities of colonialism: workers were malnourished and underweight, short and inadequately housed, and furthermore suffered from diseases such as malaria, hookworm and tuberculosis.  Many could only obtain temporary work, and employers adopted a policy of 'rotational employment,' where workers were taken on for a fortnight and then discharged to make way for others.  Meanwhile, the landless faced destitution or were forced to migrate.  The Great Depression after 1929 added to the hardship, since the price of sugar fell lower than at any time since the 1890s.  As a result, wages were reduced even further and jobs terminated throughout the Caribbean region.  Faced with such conditions, campaigning individuals such as Marcus Garvey joined the voices of protest as the West Indies witnessed strikes, demonstrations and riots.  Strikes on the sugar plantations spread throughout the islands and agricultural workers were joined by dock workers and industrial laborers pressing for better jobs and higher wages.[55]  Not surprisingly, then, in 1926 there were about 3,000 colored British subjects from Trinidad or other islands of the West Indies living in the Maracaibo oil zone.[56] 

 

Other Groups

 

Once ensconced in oil boom towns antillanos were joined by Chinese migrants.  While it is clear that at least some of the Chinese were from Canton, it is unknown whether they came directly from China or via other stopovers such as Los Angeles or other Caribbean destinations.  There is no mention of Chinese women entering the country.  The Chinese quickly established themselves in the laundry business, or opened dry goods stores, and seem to have achieved some degree of material success.[57]  Other migrants hailed from other British, French, and Dutch Caribbean possessions.  On government reports these migrants are referred to as "colored race"[58].  In 1933, for example, the Venezuelan Minister of Interior gave permission to Esther Ysmay Johnson to land in Maracaibo.  Johnson was of English nationality and "colored race," and was the wife of V.C. Johnson, an employee of the British oil company Caribbean Oil Company.  According to the Ministry of Interior, Esther Johnson hailed from Demerara (British Guyana), and had been on vacation in her native country.[59]  Lawrence Sainsbury, Clothilde Helouise Sainsbury and Frances Brumell, all colored British subjects, were given permission to return to Maracaibo following a trip to Curacao.[60]  Another French subject and woman of color, Alice Pinche, was granted permission to return to Maracaibo from Martinique in 1934.  Pinche had been resident in Venezuela since 1926 and was employed in the Bellavista hospital of the Caribbean Oil Company.[61]  It would appear that the Bellavista hospital was quite a multicultural institution.  Another French subject and person of color, Baptiste Homere Rodriguez, also worked there and had been resident in Venezuela since 1928.  In 1934, Rodriguez was granted permission to return to Maracaibo from Martinique along with his wife, Maville Brune Eleonore.[62]  Lastly, oil boom towns attracted Arabs from the Middle East, mostly British Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.  These immigrants were ubiquitously referred to as "Turcos," and some seem to have worked as moneylenders.  One local Cabimas historian claimed that many of the first arrivals in the oil boomtown were Lebanese Druze.[63]  Government documents suggest that 'Turcos' were businessmen and merchants.  By the early 1930s, at least one Middle Eastern businessman worked in Cabimas,[64] and in 1934 the authorities recorded the death of Mahmud Salami, 65 years of age, single, street vendor, and Syrian by origin.  Salami, from the British protectorate of Palestine, did not leave any goods and had no family members in Cabimas.  Salami, according to the authorities, had been in Cabimas since 1924.[65]

 

Antillano Daily Life

 

Antillano migrants did their best to carve out new lives for themselves in the oil zone.  In Cabimas, antillanos built wood houses elevated on poles.  This type of house was quickly copied throughout the entire oil zone, as it was cooler, cheaper and more comfortable.[66]  Between 1925 and 1927, during the time when the so-called "English Colony" of Trinidadians, Dutch, French and others was established in Cabimas, a Methodist pastor was active in the community while a Protestant church serviced the new residents.[67]  Venezuelans soon developed an entire lexicon designed to distinguish recent immigrants.  Black wives of Trinidadian workers, for example, were referred to as "Madama."[68] According to Brown, supposed conformist Trinidadians were sarcastically named "Mayfrenes," in reference to the English words "my friend."[69]   Despite the disparaging lexicon, "Mayfrenes" and "Madamas" were well received in the houses of Cabimas local residents and Trinidadians were the first to introduce soccer in the area.[70]  West Indian men frequently brought their wives and in some cases even their entire families.  Franklin Philip, a native of Grenada, worked in Lagunillas for the Venezuela Oil Concession's transportation department.  Philip notified the authorities that he would bring his wife from Grenada, Urma L. Philip.[71]  Another West Indian woman, Ida Scott from Trinidad, found employment as a laundress with the Venezuela Oil Concessions in Maracaibo.[72]  Pedro Isaac, a Grenadian, worked for the same company in Lagunillas as a mechanic.  Isaac sought to bring his sister from Grenada and the company attested to Isaac's financial solvency before the authorities.[73]  A Trinidadian woman, May Durant, found employment with the Venezuelan Atlantic Refining Company and according to her employers was a good worker and well-mannered.  Sam Johnson, another Trinidadian, also worked for Atlantic and was employed as master cook for the company.[74]  Paul Robert, a Grenadian, worked with the Caribbean Petroleum Company in Cabimas, and sought permission to bring his wife with him to Venezuela.[75]  In La Rosa, "Stephano" a native of St Lucia, lived with Hortencia Delay, a native of Guadeloupe, until his death in 1926.[76] 

 

Antillanos on the Oilfields

 

Many Caribbean workers prospered on the oilfields.  In 1935, Pedro Gomez de Willet, the government oil field inspector in Mene Grande, reported that antillanos and Chinese were markedly more preferred for office work.  At Mene Grande, the number of Chinese and Antillanos in office work was double the number of Venezuelans.  In particular, within the Production Department all office workers were antillanos and Chinese.  On various occasions, noted de Willet, Venezuelans had been employed as office workers in the Production Dept as well, but all, without exception, had been displaced as the result of "intrigues" encouraged by Europeans and Americans.  Foreigners, claimed de Willet, were intent on keeping Venezuelans in an inferior position within the oil companies.[77]  Statistics provided by the oil companies the relatively privileged position of the West Indians.  In 1936, for example, there were four West Indian employees at the San Lorenzo refinery belonging to Caribbean Petroleum Company.  All were men, and all were in their late 20's or early 30's.  In contrast to other Venezuelan workers in the company, the West Indians were literate and could write.  All earned much more than the average Venezuelan peon working for the company, whose salary averaged about 7 Bolivares daily.  The antillanos, by contrast, made 12, 14, 18 and 11 Bolivares and worked as engineers, accountants, and dispatchers.[78]  At Lago's La Salina refinery West Indians worked in skilled professions, laboring as electricians, mechanics, carpenters and office assistants.  West Indians earned much better on average than Venezuelans, most of whom were classified generically as "workers" and earned a salary of about 7 bolivares.  The average daily salary of West Indians at Lago was 13 Bolivares, with the lowest salary being 7 Bolivares and the highest salary 32 Bolivares.  All West Indian workers at La Salina were men except for Irene Thomas, a nurse from Trinidad.  Thomas was single, literate, 31 years of age, and earned a salary of 10 Bolivares.  She was the only woman on Lago's payroll.[79] 

 

Migrating Antillanos

 

What is more, antillanos commonly made trips to the Caribbean islands during the 1920s and 30s and some West Indian migrants had enough money to periodically return to their families.[80]  It would appear that in some cases, even women were able to make some money in the oilfields;[81] moreover West Indian men brought their wives with them and sometimes their offspring.  For example, in 1935 Cecilia Joseph, a British subject of colored race, was permitted to enter Venezuela along with her five children and their tutor.  Joseph and her children were returning from a trip to Trinidad.  Joseph was married to another British subject, Arnoff Joseph, who lived in the oil boom town of Casigua near the Colombian border.  The couple had two children, born in Venezuela.[82]  What is more, the colored foreigners Rupert Dyer and Iris Simpson, British subjects, son and niece of Alfred Dyer, respectively, were given permission to enter Maracaibo via Curacao.  Both Rupert and Iris were minors and sought to reunite with Alfred Dyer, who worked as a mechanic with British Controlled Oilfields.[83]  In another case, Vivian Cedric Johnson, a colored British subject, and Esther Ismay Johnson, also a colored British subject, were permitted to return from Trinidad to Maracaibo accompanied by their six children.  Vivian was employed by the Caribbean Petroleum Company.[84]  Similarly, Edith Acharbar, a colored British subject, was allowed to enter Maracaibo in 1935 following a trip to Trinidad.  Acharbar had been resident in the oil boom town of Cabimas since 1929, and her three children had been born in Venezuela.  Acharbar was accompanied by her youngest daughter, Rona Irene, also born in Venezuela.[85]

 

Antillano Women

 

Some British West Indian women made it to the oil areas and built lives for themselves.  In April 1934 word reached the Ministry in Caracas that a woman was illegally working as a midwife in the Las Delicias oil camp in Lagunillas.  The authorities asked state officials to look into the matter, as there were already "competent doctors" working within the area.[86]  On 17 April 1934, the local jefe civil in Lagunillas municipality investigated the matter and established that indeed Frances Trinningham, a native of Trinidad, was working as a midwife at Las Delicias. The official added that Trinningham worked in a Venezuela Oil Concessions hospital and was known to the hospital staff there.  Trinningham, added the jefe civil, held a medical certificates from the Medical Board of Trinidad and the Colonial Hospital of Trinidad.  In light of Trinningham's credentials, there were no grounds for taking action against her.[87]  In other government documents, officials pointed out that Francis Trinningham, referred to as Trimingham, had had done well for herself.  In 1934 she could afford to make a trip back to Trinidad and from there return to Maracaibo.[88]  Trinningham was not the only success case.  Daisy Assang, a colored native of Trinidad made a trip to Trinidad, was allowed back into Maracaibo in April of 1933.  A long time resident of Santa Rita,  Assang had goods and property in the town.[89]  Moreover, Mrs Cecilia Victoria Chandler, a British subject and person of color, was given permission to return to Maracaibo from Trinidad in 1934.  She had been living in Cabimas since 1926, and possessed property in that town.[90] 

 

Living Conditions

 

Despite this prosperity new migrants lacked potable drinking water and suffered from some of the same ailments as Venezuelans such as malaria, hookworm, and malnutrition.[91]  Documentary evidence from the period is sobering.  For example, William Goneda, a native of Barbados, married and a painter, died of dysentery on an oilfield belonging to Lago in the oil boom town of Lagunillas.  The oil company provided medical assistance, but to no avail.[92]  Charles Joseph, a four-month old Trinidadian infant, died in Lagunillas in 1928.  The cause of death was unclear.[93]  Celestina Freeman, a Trinidadian infant, died in Lagunillas, also at the age of only four months.[94]  Rodolhus Rose, single, carpenter, and native of Grenada, died young at the age of 34 in a hospital belonging to the Venezuela Oil Concessions in 1928.  No cause of death was listed.[95]  Nevertheless it may be that West Indian workers had more resistance to p. falciparum malaria, although this is controversial.  Scientists note that currently, 10% of the black Caribbean population has sickle cell trait and "there appears to be good evidence that the sickle cell trait confers some protection against malaria during childhood."  Data from Western Kenya indicates sickle cell trait may protect against falciparum malaria at later ages.  However, data on the resistance of subjects with the sickle cell trait to other forms of malaria such as p.vivax are "sparse and conflicting."[96] 

 

Antillanos and Gomecista Authorities

 

In addition to public health challenges, West Indians had to contend with unsympathetic authorities.  Oil companies frequently laid-off workers, and some Trinidadians were unlucky in attaining stable employment.  For example, Samuel Balfourd, a 35 year old single and unemployed Trinidadian, was detained by the police in Bolivar District for drunken behavior and for throwing stones at a policeman.[97]  Another single and unemployed Trinidadian man, Tiffin Hoope, was detained by the Lagunillas police for passing a bad check.[98]  Yet another unemployed and married Trinidadian, Daniel Marujo, was detained after he tried to escape from prison.  He had been languishing in jail for drunken disorderliness and "threatening danger" in a public road.[99]  An interesting case was provided by Andrew Butt, a native of the island of St Vincent, who gave a sworn statement at the Crown Solicitor's office in Port of Spain.  Butt had been employed by various oil companies in Maracaibo for eight years during the 1920's but was subsequently laid off.  In December, 1932 Butt went to the town of Bobures, obtaining employment in a sugar factory.  A year later, Butt left the company with three others.  After leaving his job, he was stopped by the authorities at Barinitas and taken to the police station.  He and his companions were questioned by the Chief of Police.  Butt and the others explained they were British subjects, and the Police Chief asked them to produce their passports.  "I explained to the Chief of Police," Butt remarked, "that we were on our way to Quebrada Seca (sic) in search of employment and that I did not have any passport with me but had left it at Bobures (sic)."  When he failed to produce his passport, Butt was detained at Barinitas for eight days and then sent under police guard to Barinas where he was placed in jail.  According to Butt, he remained in jail for an astounding 14 months.  While Butt and the others were kept prisoner, they were made to work on the road as convicted prisoners.  Butt remarked, "I worked as a laborer repairing and making roads and pulling down old buildings.  I was very poorly and insufficiently fed."  This unpleasant stay was put to an end in June of 1935, when Butt was finally placed on board a ship, fittingly named the 'Presidente Gomez,' and sent back to Trinidad.[100]  Why, or how, the British authorities could have let Butt languish in jail for more than a year without any charge is unclear.

 

Racism and the Antillanos

 

Despite the growing multinational character of life on the Maracaibo oil fields, by the late 1920s the political winds were shifting against the antillanos.  Soon enough West Indians experienced harassment and discrimination not just at the hands of individual policemen but by the larger government bureaucracy.  In Venezuela, as in other Latin American countries, non-whites were looked upon as inherently inferior.[101]  Racist notions were widely accepted by the Venezuelan elite, which took great pride in its European roots.  There are no definite statistics on the racial composition of Venezuela in the early 20th century, but observers agree that approximately 10% of the Venezuelan population was "pure black" and some 80% was a mixture of African, American Indian and European.  During the first years of the 20th century, some members of the Venezuelan white elite blamed the 'racially inferior' population for Venezuela's lack of development.  In 1912 Venezuela passed an immigration law limiting immigration to the "European race."[102]  A subsequent Foreigners' Law of 1918 contained a clause which permitted the entry of racial minorities as long as immigrants did not intend to settle permanently in the country.  This clause, which was preserved in subsequent immigration law, allowed the oil companies to bring in thousands of blacks from the Antilles.[103] 

 

However, pressure was growing by the 1920's to limit black immigration.  In 1926, Alberto Adriani, a Venezuelan statesman, economist and writer of Italian descent,[104] authored an article in the Boletin de La Camara de Comercio de Caracas warning of the dire consequences of lax immigration policy.  "The danger is not imagined," explained Adriani, and "the infiltration of black antillanos has been active in Venezuela in recent years." What is more, Adriani was concerned with Chinese and Indian immigration, however these two groups did not represent as serious a danger as blacks.  Already in 1926, continued Adriani, Venezuela had a sizable black population, which was not "convenient" for the country.  Antillean blacks would not help to improve Venezuela, as their way of life was inferior to Venezuelan nationals.  Even though antillanos might contribute to Venezuela economically, they represented a step back for the country in the intellectual, social, and political realm (interestingly, Antillean blacks frequently displayed a much higher educational level than Venezuelan workers, in contrast to Adriani's statement). What concerned Adriani was racial miscegenation in Venezuela, a "factor of deterioration."  Furthermore, an increase in the black population would menace Venezuela's "democratic institutions" and compromise the country's morale.[105]  It is not clear what institutions Adriani was referring to.  The Gomez Congress, in fact, was a rubber stamp body.

 

Race Relations on the Oilfields

 

Prior to the arrival of the antillanos, observers remarked that Maracaibo residents were more tolerant towards intermarriage between whites with Indians and blacks than Venezuelans from the interior.  Indeed, noted the U.S. consul, "there is hardly a single prominent native family in Maracaibo which has not a streak of Negro or Indian blood.  Prominent natives like A Duluc and J.E. Paris, who are pure whites, have wives with at least a small degree of Negro blood."[106]  Other accounts point to the segregated life in Maracaibo.  The U.S. consul, for example, pointed out that there were trams in the city, "but these are mostly patronized by Negroes, and it is considered a degrading thing for a white man to ride in them, and more so for a white woman."[107]  Whatever the case, once Caribbean blacks came into Zulia to work on the oil fields racial friction increased.  Though it's unclear how much Venezuelan racism existed against the antillanos, according to the British Consul "The colored British subjects are the cause of some trouble in this district…They are very assertive of their rights, and as they are not liked by the natives, are constantly getting into difficulties."[108]  Zulia state president Perez Soto was concerned about the growing antillano presence in the area.  Like Adriani, Perez Soto feared black immigration as a "prejudicial element" for Venezuelan society.  In 1926, he wrote the Minister of the Interior that since 1921 or 1922, about half the foreign immigration into his state had been black.  These immigrants headed to the oil fields and to sugar refineries in search of employment.  According to Perez Soto, the oil companies originally sought to import blacks because they considered Antillanos more disciplined and servile than Venezuelan workers.  However, much to the chagrin of the oil executives, these same blacks promptly lost this servility after about 6 months and became "unbearable."  At this point, the companies sought to rid themselves of these workers and this in turn created a social problem for the state of Zulia as the workers had no where to go and would wing up wandering the streets and stirring up trouble.[109]  Perez Soto was so concerned about the growth of black immigration that he had state officials keep track of colored arrivals in Maracaibo.  Perez Soto's figures were broken down by nationality (i.e., British Subjects, Chinese, North Americans, etc) and by race (yellow, white, black, etc).[110] 

 

Other Discrimination

 

Like Caribbean blacks, Chinese were subject to harassment and discrimination.  In August 1933, for example, local merchants in Cabimas wrote to the local jefe civil, Mario Maya, to complain about the Chinese presence in the area.  The Chinese, the petitioners contended, were "a vagrant race…without law and without nationality, that teems in all parts of the world…and it is a threat for humanity."  The merchants were unhappy as the Chinese were undercutting basic staples.  This was harming their businesses, and local residents hoped the authorities would put an end to the practice.[111]   Though it's unclear what became of the complaints, the authorities, through their actions, certainly exploited racist feeling.  In September 1929, the Minister of Interior wrote to Pérez Soto in Maracaibo, explaining that the Chinese were increasingly monopolizing certain kinds of businesses, including general stores, liquor stores and restaurants.  As this trend constituted a threat, not only to business but also to society as a whole, the Minister urged Pérez Soto to prevent the arrival of Chinese in Maracaibo.[112]  Pérez Soto agreed to comply.   In fact, Pérez Soto proudly announced, he had been restricting Chinese immigration for some time.  He had for example denied applications submitted by Chinese already resident in the area to bring their families into Zulia.[113] 

 

Racial Hierarchies

 

What is interesting to note is that even as the Venezuelan authorities, many of whom undoubtedly prided themselves on their lighter complexions (Gomez was from the Andean state of Tachira, and in photographs looked white in complexion, Perez Soto, the Governor of Zulia state, looked physically more mestizo) took punitive measures against blacks and inferior races, the Americans in Maracaibo and the oil zone discriminated against all Venezuelans regardless of skin color.  According to Luis Calvani, a government inspector of mines, in the early 1920's Maracaibo oil companies had segregated facilities, and a sign over one company bathroom read, "toilet solely for Americans." On another occasion, Calvani went to visit an acquaintance working for British Controlled Oilfields in the state of Falcon adjacent to the state of Zulia.  Calvani's friend later confessed that Venezuelans were prohibited entry into foreign workers' living quarters.  Calvani was allowed to stay in such quarters, however this was only permitted because he was a government employee.  Under other circumstances, he would have been segregated just like other Venezuelan workers.[114]  The episode is reminiscent of the worst type of segregation from the U.S. South, and in fact many of the American oilmen hailed from Texas and Oklahoma.  Racist attitudes towards Venezuelans permeated all the way up the corporate ladder.  William Wallace, an executive with Gulf, blamed the Venezuelan people for their economic backwardness: "When one has lived in the tropics and among, or in contact with, the average natives, and has lived for months and possibly years, one cannot help but wonder why it is they [Venezuelans] are so indolent, so lacking in progressiveness, why it is that the ordinary comforts and conveniences of what we call civilization seem to make no appeal to them whatsoever, and why it is that our so-called Anglo-Saxon sense of justice and fair play and straightforward dealing seems to find no lodgment in their mental makeup."

 

Revealingly, Wallace admitted that "after all is said and done, the best of our people have a secret feeling of their superiority, and while they may refrain from an open manifestation of it, or attempt to do so, nevertheless the sensitive Latin temperament detects the thing whose concealment is attempted."  Wallace went on to say that relations with lower class peons were particularly strained.  Wallace concluded, "it is my observation that the Anglo-Saxon mind and the Latin mind will never completely harmonize…The differences are essentially racial, consequently basic."  Though Wallace conceded that many lower American workers, including drillers, were "roughnecks," and prone to drinking, yet he reserved most of his criticism for the Venezuelans.  The problem, as Wallace described it, was that Americans were accustomed to working with machinery, while Venezuelan peons were unfamiliar with new technology.  Consequently, on frequent occasions, field workers would display resentment of their co-workers' "dumbness," and "to meet this situation we have tried to impress on all concerned that we are dealing largely with people whose mental horizon is that of a child."[115] 

 

Venezuelan Nationalism

 

Such racial hostility threatened to inflame Venezuelan pride and nationalism.  Inciting the populace against the racial injustice of Anglo foremen, however, would have carried certain political risk for Gomez.  Instead, Gomez channeled Venezuelan resentment against black foreigners.  In 1927 there were no less than 3000 British West Indians in the Maracaibo area.[116]  However, Perez Soto, in accordance with the law, had been restricting the "undesirable" immigration of people of color.[117]  In a crackdown on antillanos, the authorities ruled that antillanos on vacation could only return to Maracaibo after they had proven their residency in Zulia. Antillanos who wished to bring family members to Maracaibo would have to apply to the government.  What is more, oil companies which sought to bring black domestic servants into the country would have to acquire permission from the authorities.  As a result of these measures, Perez Soto was proudly able to announce that, "the immigration of people of color, which constitutes a threat, if not a certain danger, for the racial future of Venezuela, has been successfully contained."  Unfortunately, Perez Soto continued, some Antillean blacks were now disembarking in other ports such as La Guaira, Puerto Cabello or Carupano, and would then proceed over land to Maracaibo.  Others entered via the states of Falcon or Trujillo, and since state borders and roads were porous, it was impossible to control the flow of blacks into Zulia.  Perez Soto suggested that black and yellow races resident in Caracas, Valencia, or other cities should be required to obtain a permit from the local jefe civil demonstrating their residency in those areas.  With this documentation, Chinese and antillanos could then travel by sea.  The ship owners could then issue a transportation cedula or identification card to these aliens.[118]  It is not clear why Perez Soto supported the immigration policy.  Clearly, he had fallen under the sway of racist arguments of the day, pushed by Alberto Adriani and others.  Could he have hoped to shore up public opinion, by appealing to more nationalistic workers?  If that was Perez Soto's idea, it was a shrewd move.  By pushing for the legislation, he could gain popularity and divide Venezuelan workers from antillanos.

 

Restrictive Immigration Policy

 

Meanwhile, conflicts between Antillean and Venezuelan workers moved Gomez to issue a circular in 1929.  People of color could not enter as immigrants and all antillanos resident within the country would have to carry papers indicating their legal right to move from one place to place.  This measure was held to be just because "the primordial element to be considered for those who come to settle in Venezuela is race; a race which raises the physical, intellectual and moral level of Venezuelans."[119]  Under the new guidelines, antillanos freedom of movement would be greatly restricted.  When they sought to travel, antillanos would be obliged to provide authorities with a residency certificate.  This certificate would stipulate the time which the alien had spent at a given address, as well as their current job status.[120]  The new law led some white foreign residents to prove their racial status in order to avoid confusion.  For example, in November 1930, the Caribbean Petroleum Company wrote a statement confirming that company employee Robert George Bloomfield was English and white race.  The same company attested to the white race of Jacques Jean Louis van Schaijk, another employee.[121]  As late as 1933, the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation was still sending certificates to the local authorities, attesting to the whiteness of some of its British and Dutch employees.[122]   

 

The new immigration law gave rise to serious complaints from antillanos.  In November 1929, the British Consul, Raymond Kirwin, wrote the Federal authorities in Caracas that "various complaints have been presented recently before this Consulate by British colored subjects, antillanos, owing from the fact that their wives have been denied visas to return to Venezuela after spending some time in the British Antilles visiting with family."[123]  The Minister of Internal Relations sought to clarify, explaining that foreigners of "that class" who resided in Venezuela could travel, as long as they presented the certificate of residence, a job description, plus a note attesting to good conduct.[124]  However, in Trinidad the new law caused confusion.  The Venezuelan Consul on the island wrote the Minister of External Relations that some black people had certificates to go to Maracaibo.  The certificated had been issued by the Zulia state president but had been issued after the Circular went into effect.  The Consul expressed his confusion and asked his superiors what he should do.[125]  The Minister of Interior Relations replied that antillanos could return, as long as they complied with new conditions in the immigration law.[126]  In light of this pressure, employers sent word to the authorities attesting to good conduct of colored British subjects.  Henrietta James, a cook at the oil camp of San Lorenzo, and a likely British West Indian subject, was recommended by her employer at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation as a woman in good labor standing.[127]  Maria Ryan, a native of the island of Montserrat, and employee of the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation in Maracaibo, sought to leave for Montserrat due to reasons of health.  Her employer wrote a note of good conduct on her behalf to the authorities, in order that she should subsequently be allowed to return to Maracaibo accompanied by her sister.[128]  The Caribbean Petroleum Corporation certified that Edith Connell had been working at the company's hospital for some time, and sought to bring her brother to Maracaibo from Trinidad.[129]  For some West Indian residents, the new guidelines made life more complicated.  A case in point was Joseph Stewart, a black British subject who was a carpenter and resident of the oil boom town of Cabimas.  Stewart had been a Venezuelan resident since 1926.  In 1931, he married a black Trinidadian woman.  His wife left Venezuela for Trinidad to be with her family in the same year.  Unfortunately, as Stewart explained, he was not knowledgeable about the "liberal and humane" Venezuelan laws, and had neglected to fulfill the necessary paperwork for his wife's return to Maracaibo.  When his wife attempted to return to Maracaibo, the Venezuelan Consul in Port of Spain refused to supply her with a visa.  Stewart wrote state president Perez Soto personally, begging the latter to change this policy so that his wife could return home after a one year stay in Trinidad.[130]

 

Oil Tankers

 

Perez Soto's efforts to halt antillano arrivals complicated matters not only for Caribbean blacks resident in Venezuela, but also for antillano seamen serving on board foreign oil tankers. According to the German Consul in Maracaibo, many deserters and sailors entered the country by jumping ship.[131]  The authorities were concerned about monitoring these antillano seamen but the question was how to keep track of them.  In 1928 a Gulf repetitive expressed puzzlement concerning state policy towards antillanos.  Under the Perez Soto regime, the British Consul normally deported sailors with "black blood" arriving from England on tankers flying the British flag.  However, the British Vice Consul was not prepared for assuming responsibility for these seamen in port.[132]  One day prior to the arrival of the Gulf tanker Caroni, a Gulf representative wrote: "As our oil tanker CARONI is shortly to arrive in Maracaibo, today, and as the tanker carries colored Antillean crew, in view of the fact that we shall change the registry of the ship to Venezuelan as soon as possible; this letter requests permission for the crew to disembark in Maracaibo while we can acquire passage and arrange for the deportation of the crew.  Naturally the company shall assume responsibility for the seamen while they are on Venezuelan soil."[133] 

 

It is unclear what finally became of the CARONI crew, however it is likely that Gulf concluded that it would have to assume responsibility for the colored crews.  Later that month, the same company representative wrote Perez Soto that Gulf would assume responsibility for deporting colored crews, and not passing on the added responsibility to the British Consul.[134]  Thus, Gomez and his associates had created considerable logistical difficulties for the companies.  The regime might have reckoned, however, that taking such a stand on antillanos would not have wrecked its political relationship with company managers who also held racist views towards Caribbean blacks.  Therefore, the regime only stood to benefit, since it could appeal to more racist Venezuelans who disliked vulnerable antillanos who had no political power.

 

British Consul

 

Facing hostility from the authorities and, it seems, from much of the public, antillanos held few options.  It was unlikely that the companies, dominated by racist managers, would come to their assistance.  In desperation the antillanos turned to the British Consul, Robert Cameron, who "has had a great deal of trouble since General Soto assumed the duties of his office here…This has in the main been caused by the methods used in handling colored British subjects from Trinidad."  The problem according to the U.S. consul, was that "these men, being as a rule more intelligent and better workers than the native laborers, get better pay from the oil companies." 

 

Unfortunately, "this has aroused the ire of the native labor and has in turn reacted against the Trinidadian in official circles."  In a personal aside, the U.S. consul remarked, "moreover the Trinidadian is an individual who is not easy to get along with.  He is insolent and overbearing when he thinks he can afford to be so and he looks upon the Venezuelan as his social inferior."  Nevertheless, Sloan, the U.S. consul, admitted candidly that "this attitude has led to what appears to be discrimination and numerous cases of seeming unjustified arrest and cruel treatment of prisoners in the jail have been reported to the British Vice Consul."  Sloan reported that this situation was made more complicated by the fact that the British Vice Consul, Cameron, was an employee of the Caribbean Petroleum Company and could not devote all his time to consular duties.  Cameron, confided the U.S. consul, "has not handled these cases in a diplomatic manner, because he has often listened to the complaint and without further investigation has assumed it to be the truth and has demanded redress.  A feeling of mutual dislike exists between the British Vice Consul and the officials of the Government stationed in Maracaibo."[135]  Sloan did not outline the individual cases, so it is difficult to assess the veracity of the American Consul's comments.

 

Word of Cameron's actions in Maracaibo reached high British authorities.  Far from expressing any concern about the plight of antillanos, they were troubled that Cameron was jeopardizing British-Venezuelan relations.  In July 1927, the British Charge d'Affaires in Venezuela notified British authorities that the Zulia state government had recently complained to Caracas about Cameron.  "This gentleman," stated the report, "is reported as interceding on behalf of the British West Indian subjects living there every time one of them is fined or arrested by the Police because of misdemeanors (drunkenness, insulting behavior, fighting, etc) and it is pointed out that Mr. Cameron gives always more credit to the guilty men than to the authorities."  The British Charge further charged that in one instance Cameron took the side of a West Indian subject "who became very dangerous on account of a fit of madness, and was confined to a madhouse after proper medical examination.  Mr. Cameron did insist on urging his release, although even the friends and countrymen of the man were convinced of his madness."[136]  The author of the report concluded that, "I may be allowed to remark that although there are in Maracaibo quite many Dutch and French West Indian subjects, their Consuls do not place any unusual claims upon the Authorities.  This no doubt co-operates in making such subjects more obedient to the Police regulations than the British West Indians, who almost always find support in their Consular Representative."

 

In addition to these transgressions, the Charge d'Affaires also accused Cameron of using abrupt and discourteous language when dealing with Maracaibo authorities.[137] 
While it is entirely possible that antillanos were disorderly and sought trouble, this was hardly unique behavior in the oil zone.  Unruly American rough necks had been a constant eyesore in the Maracaibo oil zone.  Additionally, according to reports, British subjects, who were not referred to by race, were constantly drinking aguardiente, "about as potent as a mixture of sulphuric acid and methylated spirits."  The British hobos and roughnecks, and "various other undesirable gentry," became down and out and unemployable, and had to be repatriated by the Maracaibo Vice Consulate.[138]  Furthermore, though drunken disorderliness was a feature of oil field life, Venezuelan police methods were arbitrary and consular intervention with the authorities was a frequent occurrence.[139]  Interestingly, Cameron fell under scrutiny not only by his diplomatic superiors but also by oil company managers.  Doyle, the manager of Caribbean Petroleum Company where Cameron worked as an accountant, complained to the British Legation in Caracas that his subordinate was "inclined to be too credulous in espousing the complaints of coloured British subjects and too zealous in pressing them on the local authorities who, Mr Doyle thought, had shown some forbearance in their desire to avoid trouble with the Vice Consulate."  Doyle had spoken to Cameron and thought the latter would be more prudent in future.  In this case, intervention by British corporate interests was decisive in influencing official government policy.  Instead of investigating the matter of the West Indians, the Caracas Legation took Doyle's side and replaced Cameron with one Colonel Seagrim.[140]  Seagrim was an agent for a number of commercial firms in Maracaibo.  Following his appointment, one British diplomat remarked "in attempting to gauge the situation in Maracaibo, I have discomfited the unfavorable reports which I heard about Colonel Seagrim---that he took the Vice-Consulate merely in order to obtain Lloyd's agency and other agencies, and that he has neglected the Consular work.  The heads of the oil companies do not respect him…"[141]  Thus, despite their reservations about Seagrim, British authorities were so anxious to rid themselves of Cameron, a loose cannon, that they were willing to put up with Seagrim and his shady business dealings. 

 

Triangulating Gomez Dictatorship

 

Thus, by discriminating against the antillanos the Gomez state had shrewdly appealed to racist public opinion and not suffered any political damage whatsoever.  Gomez's policy had not endangered his relationship with the companies or the British government, both of which wanted to rid themselves of the antillanos.  With the departure of Cameron West Indian workers lost a valuable ally.  By 1933 the colored West Indian population was on a steady decrease and might not again increase, "as the Venezuelan government now prohibits the entry of members of the coloured races…"[142]  Nevertheless, those West Indians that did make it to Maracaibo, according to Venezuelan government officials, became a kind of privileged caste.  One government oil inspector remarked "the Companies do not care anything about the Venezuelan worker, the housing, the jobs and all the best is reserved for black antillanos.  It is a crime that the Companies continue to employ blacks and dismiss Venezuelan workers." One oil inspector remarked that Lago Petroleum Corporation employed 140 Black West Indians, which meant 140 Venezuelans without work.  Every day, the inspector continued, trucks full of Venezuelans were leaving for the states of Falcon and Lara, not to mention ships full of workers headed out of the Maracaibo area.  The inspector concluded, "the Companies should dismiss those blacks and protect the sons of the nation, who are generally good peons, workers, docile and honorable."[143]  What is interesting to note is the inspector's language, for example when he referred to the "crime" of employing blacks instead of Venezuelans, many of whom were likely black or meztizo themselves, or hailing from Margarita Island. 

 

The inspector's complaints about West Indian labor and the underprivileged position of Venezuelan workers was not new.  In fact, as early as 1927, there is evidence of friction between Venezuelan workers and West Indians.  For example, in January of that year, a group of workers employed by British Controlled Oilfields working on the Mene de Mauroa field approached Perez Soto, complaining of a West Indian "antillano," who ran the local supply store.  According to the workers, the antillano was a drunk and "treated Venezuelans very poorly."  The workers demanded that the West Indian be fired from his post.[144]  In other instances, natives and foreigners competed for jobs.  At one point, Gomez even became involved in labor disputes in the oil zone, ordering Perez Soto to investigate the case of some Venezuelan workers who complained of having been fired unjustly.[145]  Perez Soto promptly swung into action, requesting that the Venezuela Oil Concessions explain its labor policies.  G. Witteveen, a company manager, explained to Perez Soto that the company had indeed let go of 21 workers, however "amongst cooks, kitchen assistants, dish boys and waiters, not all of the dismissed workers were Venezuelan, as Joseph Newfield is a colored Trinidadian antillano, and others are also colored foreigners."[146]  Interestingly then, the company representative seemed defensive, justifying the firings by saying that not just Venezuelans had been fired, but also at least one Trinidadian.

 

What is more, the oil companies, because they felt increasing pressure from the authorities, sought to get rid of their black West Indian labor force.  On 12 October 1927, Perez Soto proudly wrote Gomez that an administrator at Venezuela Gulf, Mr. K Winship, would shortly fire all black workers in the company's exploration and exploitation departments, and replace these workers with Venezuelans.  A contented Perez Soto reported to Gomez, "one clearly sees the hand of God helping you for the greater good of the Nation."[147]  However, the new policy, pushed for by local officials, was not met with universal acceptance by oil men.  According to Gulf's Pablo Polakis, the company's General Superintendent of Drilling, Mr. Newton, was unhappy about the new instructions.  Apparently, Winship had made it known verbally, without explaining any concrete reason, that Newton should promptly start to fire all Antillean or other foreign blacks, and to replace these workers by the end of the year with Venezuelans.  Newton did not protest the measures on moral grounds, arguing instead that Winship's reform would be prejudicial to Gulf's operations from an economic standpoint.  The blacks, stated Newton, were already trained and it would require some work to train new Venezuelans.  For his own part, Polakis was nervous about public exposure.  In a confidential note, the company man remarked that, "these instructions have been given verbally to avoid evidence (in case the English Consul would learn about this officially---and in such case without written evidence he will not be able to complain nor present official complaints to his government."  Polakis felt sure that the recent decision would not be popular and would be opposed by drilling chiefs, however Polakis was confident that the instructions would ultimately be carried out.  While arguing that he was not a racist, Polakis stated that he simply wanted a better future for Venezuelan workers.  On the other hand, Polakis was not opposed to white immigration, and commented that "if arms are missing----let this be filled at least by the White Race and above all by Latin Race---the only way of advancing the country in moral as well as material terms."[148]  Thus, Gomez's racist moves to expel the antillanos from the oil companies met with a mixed response from oil men.  Lower level foremen, who worked with antillanos, were reluctant to part with their colleagues and may have even developed social bonds with the Caribbean workforce.  However, foremen did not make company policy and Gulf oil managers showed indications that they would comply with government directives.  Thus, for all intensive purposes Gomez's draconian policy on antillanos had not harmed relations with the companies.

 

It is not clear whether Gulf ultimately followed through on its promises to dismiss West Indian workers.  However, there is some evidence to suggest ongoing West Indian presence in the Gulf workforce.  In 1933, for example, the British subject and man of color Cuthbert Robertson, a longtime resident in Venezuela returned to Grenada and was granted permission to return to Maracaibo.  Robertson was a Gulf employee at the time.[149]  Perhaps, the government backed off or the companies reached some type of compromise with the regime.  In the 1930s oil inspectors reported that there were 70 Antillean women working as domestics in employ of foreign oil workers in Cabimas. Gulf was one of the primary companies operating in the Cabimas area.[150]  In any case, if Gulf did make moves to get rid of its West Indian workforce, there is no evidence that other companies followed suit.  In the case of Lago Petroleum Corporation, which operated in the Cabimas area along with Gulf, documentation is readily available for later years and it is clear that West Indians were kept on the payroll.  In 1933 there were 35 Antillanos working for Lago in Lagunillas and the company also had West Indian employees in Cabimas.[151]  Clearly, at least some oil companies had reservations about getting rid of the West Indian workforce.  West Indians were more highly skilled than Venezuelan peons, and many Trinidadians were surely familiar with the Spanish language, making excellent interpreters or office workers.

 

Curious Case of Percy Creaves

 

Nevertheless, growing pressure on West Indians from local officials and some company officials would lead antillano workers to complain to the British government.  A case in point was Percy Creaves, who worked on the Mene Grande field with the Caribbean Petroleum Company.  Creaves suffered an attack of "temporary insanity" in May 1930.  He noted that he had left his duties as fireman, running  in the direction of the hospital.  Creaves arrived at hospital, only to find the premises filled to capacity.  As his "torture of head was unbearable," he went to his room and used a mixture he had prepared himself.  Creaves went to bed and after some sleep felt refreshed but still suffered from intense headache.  Creaves complained that "no medical aid or Company official came near me."  Creaves claimed that he "saw strokes of fire coming down to me from the air representing fork lightning.  I got up speedily to see if rain was coming in my wildness of mind.  I noticed it was a flash light used up and down in the adjacent room by the occupants," and the light hit him in the head.  About 7 o'clock that night Creaves went to the adjacent room with a wood cutting axe and asked the occupants why they were flashing the flashlight.  Creaves claimed that before he could get an answer, he was pushed back.  Creaves was then held by three other workmen of the company at Mene Grande.  Creaves claimed that he was beaten and unable to defend himself.  After Creaves arrived in his room, "bottles upon bottles showered on the door luckily for me it was closed."  Creaves claimed that the police then came and arrested him without saying word.  He was taken to the police station where he stayed for three or four days, and the company never inquired as to his health.  Creaves said that his attackers were not arrested, and that he went without food for some time. 

 

Creaves' odyssey was far from over.  Following his ordeal, he was conveyed to San Lorenzo, and from there to the San Timoteo Police Station where he was confined for another three days.  Creaves claimed that he was shackled and then placed on a launch headed for Lagunillas.  His clothing and house furniture were confiscated and never seen again.  At Lagunillas, Creaves was again imprisoned for three days without food, and on the fourth day the antillano was released and "told to go to hell."  "I could not find hell on earth," remarked Creaves, "so I went back to Mene Grande."  As soon as Creaves arrived at the oil field, he was again arrested, confined, and kept in prison for four days.  He was then released, placed on a 4 wheeled truck, and driven to the Central Railway Station of the Caribbean Petroleum Company.  In arguing his case before British officials, Creaves argued that he had never done his company superiors any harm, and that he had worked at the firm for six consecutive years.  Creaves finally found his way to Maracaibo, and paid a visit to the British Vice Consul.  Creaves explained his story and asked if he could claim some kind of gratuity.  Eight days later the Vice Consul replied that Creaves was not a British West Indian.  Creaves, however, countered that "as far as I know I was born in the Island of Barbados in the 1881 July 3rd."   Creaves then became an invalid and a beggar on the streets of Maracaibo and "I can firmly state that my livelihood was ruined by the command of the Caribbean M.G. Petroleum Company during the year 1930."  In concluding, Creaves remarked "I am now informing my High Court officials of England my Mother Government that my life is still a wreck…I am asking my Government to take my case into consideration, and find out for me, by the Law-Courts of England, if my ruined life; by the command of the C.P.C. [Caribbean Petroleum Corporation] worth me anything.  Since the beating I received from 5 persons in number and the continuous locking up of the company police I am still unable to earn my daily bread."[152]

 

The British Legation was not sympathetic.  In a terse dispatch, A.B. Hutchinson wrote, "…his [Creaves'] behavior at the time of the incidents referred to appears to have been such that the authorities and other people with whom he came in contact believed him to be insane and even dangerously so, and it is not altogether surprising that they took the measures they did against him…It is not seen how any claim can be made on the man's behalf and the only way of helping him that I can suggest would be to have him repatriated on the ground of destitution.  There appears to be no doubt as to his nationality, as he holds a British passport, which describes him as a native of Barbados."[153] 

 

Not all British officials took the same view, however.  In a note, Colonel Seagrim disparaged West Indians overall as a troublesome lot.  However, in the specific case of Creaves, Seagrim took an understanding view.  "I had quite a long conversation with Creaves [sic]," wrote Seagrim, "and as a result of this, I consider that he appears perfectly sane, but liable to work himself up into a passion when discussing the matter of his grievance.  He is an elderly man, far more likeable than the average West Indian, and, from what I gathered, he is going through a rough time, having no means, sleeping out in the streets, begging food, etc.  He seems very respectable, his face and manner show no signs of dissipation or vices, and I consider that his is a case that deserves sympathetic treatment." 

 

Furthermore, Seagrim remarked that "he has been a fireman for the last six years, he says, and attributes his illness to the excess of heat when on his job and also to domestic troubles, his wife having deserted him in 1928."[154]  Seagrim's more upbeat appraisal had little impact upon the British authorities in Caracas, however, and there is no record that they spoke to the Caribbean Petroleum Company regarding his dismissal. 

 

Plight of Antillano Workers

 

Creaves' case was not isolated.  Other West Indians, who were unfortunate in obtaining work, wound up in hospitals.  An interesting case was Samuel Agard, who like Creaves seems to have suffered some kind of psychological disorder, referred to by the British Consul as "infantile imbecility."  The British Consul wrote Perez Soto, requesting that Agard be deported to Trinidad so as to avoid additional hospital expenses accruing to the British government.  Already, Agard had spent six months under observation and treatment.[155]  The Zulia Secretary General responded that Agard would be declared an "undesirable immigrant" and presumably deported back to Trinidad.[156]  While it is unclear why Agard and Creaves suffered psychological trauma, it seems at least possible that the everyday stresses of life in the oil zone hastened, rather than slowed down, mental breakdown.  Far from expressing interest for West Indian workers, British officials did not seem to express much sympathy for West Indians in Maracaibo, nor did they intercede on their behalf.  The lack of encouragement or support from higher officials must have come as a blow to West Indians, who faced an unclear and uncertain future.  Nor did the fall of the Gomez dictatorship in 1935 help to improve the lot of West Indian laborers.  According to a local Cabimas historian, an increasingly more nationalistic and militant oil work force pressured to have a 1936 Work Law enforced which sought to place tighter controls over the number of foreign workers laboring on the oil fields. These provisions were applied to the Trinidadians, "the majority of whom returned to their islands." To see fellow oil workers turning against them surely was distressing for the antillanos, who had been living in the oil zone for more than ten years and had built a life for themselves.  While it is unclear just how massive this outflow of labor was, many Trinidadians were successfully able to stay in the country as they had children born in the country or they had married Venezuelan women.[157]  According to British observers, the British West Indian community was still considerable after World War II, though diminishing, and there were antillanos living in Cabimas and Lagunillas.[158]  The British West Indians represented a floating population, their jobs of insecure tenure, "in the sense that they are liable to transfer constantly, not only overseas, but up country to the camps or anywhere in this vast territory."[159]

 

Conclusion

 

The arrival then of antillanos in Zulia provided authorities with the opportunity of promoting national identity and xenophobic racism.  However, the Venezuelan case is hardly unique.  In Cuba, for example, Haitians, Jamaicans, and others played an important role in the U.S. dominated sugar industry, and by the early 1930s there were between 150,000 and 200,000 Caribbean immigrants in Cuba,[160] a much more substantial community than the antillanos in Maracaibo.  As in Zulia, the Cuban authorities, in this case the regime of Gerardo Machado y Morales (1925-1933) appeased Cuban nationalist sentiment by initiating the repatriation of Haitian and British West Indian workers at the end of the 1920s.[161]  However, "large scale unemployment and the sudden appearance on town and city streets of tens of thousands of sugar workers, many of them native-born blacks and Caribbean braceros, increased the elite's apprehension of the risk of social unrest." Cuban fears about unemployed Caribbean blacks roaming the streets are, again, similar to moves by Zulia authorities to clamp down on antillanos.   Anti-antillano discourse, predicated on fears of unfair competition and "a general dilution of Cubanidad," were promoted not only by intellectuals but also by workers,[162] similar to what occurred in Zulia.  Furthermore, in a clear parallel to the Zulia case, "Cuban anti-imperialist discourse was also deeply influenced by fears of Antillean immigrants, whose movements to and from Cuba were attributed to foreign domination of the sugar industry."[163]  As in the case of the Zulia antillanos, Jamaicans had a higher literacy rate than many Cuban workers, which earned the antillanos promotion to higher paying jobs.   Just as antillanos requested the assistance of Robert Cameron in Maracaibo, Jamaicans and other antillanos in Cuba enlisted British consular support to uphold their rights when dealing with employers or local authorities.[164]  In Costa Rica, antillano workers competed with local workers in a depressed labor market on United Fruit company banana plantations,[165]  however "racially charged jingoism served to divide the labor force along lines of nationality."[166]  In Dominican Republic, antillanos were recruited as seasonal cane workers from the late 19th century onwards, however legislation became increasingly hostile to Afro-Caribbean immigration[167] and both the elite and workers organized to oppose West Indian immigration.[168] 

 

Zulia Antillanos found themselves in a paradoxical situation: on the one hand they were often skilled laborers who received higher pay than many Venezuelans.  However, within the racial hierarchy, antillanos were at the bottom of the ladder.  As a result, they had to be constantly wary of the Venezuelan workforce, which complained to higher authorities about the West Indian presence.  There is some evidence to suggest that antillanos were accepted to a degree in local oil boom towns, however West Indians had to be careful.  As skilled laborers, the antillanos could acquire property and even achieve a measured degree of prosperity, but that material success was in constant danger of being taken away.  There is no evidence that West Indians participated in labor disputes during the Gomez era, for example during the 1925 oil strike.  Could it have been that antillanos, having acquired some goods and prosperity in the oil towns, were upwardly mobile and did not wish to associate with Venezuelan workers?  Such a conclusion is possible.  However, an equally suggestive possibility is that West Indians were leery of participating in such actions due to their precarious status in Venezuela.  In backing racist and xenophobic legislation, Gomez exploited racist sentiment latent in Venezuelan society.  It was a shrewd move.  Appealing to workers on the basis of race stood to undermine class solidarity and ensured that the workers would have difficulty launching a serious political challenge to the regime.  By getting workers to think of themselves as Venezuelans and not part of a wider class struggle including antillanos, Gomez was probably able to benefit somewhat and diffuse political and social discontent directed at the regime.  What is more, in picking on the antillanos Gomez did not jeopardize his relationship with the companies.  Wary of Caribbean blacks, oil managers rarely defended their migrant workers and in some cases even acceded to racist government directives.  Thus, while the arrival of the antillanos was potentially worrisome in that it threatened to destabilize social relations Gomez turned this unfavorable situation to his advantage.  By playing the race card Gomez was able to shore up his state building project and foster  Venezuelan nationalism.

 

Notes:

[1]  Lieuwen, "Petroleum in Venezuela, A History" 49
[2]  Ministerio de Fomento, Memoria del estado zulia 1927 (Caracas: Editorial Sur America, 1928), "Inmigracion," Perez Soto to Ministro Relaciones Interiores, Presidencia No 26, 8 July 1926, 67
[3]   Angel Ziems, El gomecismo y la formacion del ejercito nacional (Caracas: Editorial Ateneo, 1979) 21
[4]  See BAHM, "El Zulia en 1926 and 1929," No 90 April 1976, Ano XVII, Hector Garcia Chuecos to Gomez, Maracaibo 21 April 1926, 61
[5]   Ewell, Venezuela and The United States,  115
[6]   Tomas Polanco Alcantara, Juan Vicente Gomez, aproximacion a una biografia (Caracas: Grijalbo, 1990) 439
[7]   Polanco, Juan Vicente Gomez, 440
[8]   Bautista Urbaneja, "El sistema politico gomecista," in Caballero, et. al., Juan Vicente Gomez y su epoca, 56
[9]   Ministerio de Fomento, Anuario estadistico 1938 (Caracas: direccion general de estadistica, imprenta  nacional 1939), 5
[10]   Ministerio de Fomento, Anuario estadistico 1908 (Caracas: direccion general de estadistica, imprenta nacional 1910), 11
[11]   Ministerio de Fomento, Anuario estadistico 1908, 414
[12]   Carmen Amanda Perez, Maracaibo y la region andina, encrucijada historica (Maracaibo: Corpozulia, Centro de Estudios Historicos Universidad del Zulia, 1988), 36
[13]   Amanda, Maracaibo y la region andina, 33
[14]   Venezuela Up To Date, Vol 1 1927 (Caracas 1927) 575
[15]   Amanda, Maracaibo y la region andina, 33
[16]   Linder, "'Con Un Panuelo de Seda:' 6
[17]    Edwin Lieuwen, "The Politics of Energy in Venezuela," in John D. Wirth (ed.), Latin American Oil Companies and the Politics of Energy (Lincoln: University Nebraska Press, 1985), 194
[18]   George Philip, Oil and Politics in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 19
[19]     Sandra Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers" (Venezuela, 1908-1935), MA, UT Austin, 2001, 22
[20]     AHZ, Tomo III 1922, Registro Público, Actos Registrados en la Oficina Subalterna de Registro Durante El Mes de Mayo Proximo Pasado."
[21]     Edwin Lieuwen, Petroleum in Venezuela (Berkeley, University California Publications in History Vol 47, 1954) 53
[22]     PRO, FO 369/1924, K 5360/4288/247, Foreign Office Minutes, 26 April 1926, 473
[23]     Gonzalez, La revolucion de los barrosos, 104
[24]    Lieuwen, Petroleum in Venezuela, 53
[25]    NA, 831.5017/1, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo April 30, 1926
[26]    PRO, FO 369/1924, K 11187, T.D. Dunlop, 20/9/26
[27]    NA, 831.00/1290, Wainwright Abbott to Secretary of State, Caracas April 3, 1926
[28]    NA, 831.1292, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo March 31, 1926
[29]  BAHM, "El Zulia en 1926 y 1929," L. Perez Bustamante to Juan Vicente Gomez, Maracaibo 25 March 1926
[30]   NA, 831.504/9, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo July 30, 1925
[31]    Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 14.  According to Lieuwen, a five bolivar daily wage in 1925 was worth $1 U.S.  See Lieuwen, Petroleum in Venezuela, 50
[32]   NA, 831.504/9, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo July 30, 1925
[33]    Julio Quintero, "Los campamentos petroleros de la costa oriental del lago de maracaibo: el sindicato como factor de integracion comunitaria, caso maraven" (Maracaibo, Magister Universidad del Zulia, 1991), 247
[34]    NA, 831.504/9, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo July 30, 1925
[35]    Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 16
[36]    NA, 831.504/9, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo July 30, 1925
[37]    Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 16
[38]    Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 29, 30
[39]   Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 31, 32
[40]   Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 32
[41]    NA, 831.504/9, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo July 30, 1925
[42]    Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 24
[43]    Flores, "The Gomez Administration and The Oil Workers," 25
[44]     Ewell, Venezuela and The United States,  135
[45]     McBeth, Juan Vicente Gómez, 143
[46]    NA, 831.00/1298, Willis Cook to Secretary of State, Caracas June 7, 1926
[47]    NA, 831.00/1315, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Maracaibo November 26, 1926
[48]    PRO, FO 371/14300, A 7369, Mr O'Reilly, Leading Personalities in Venezuela, 17 October 1930
[49]    NA, 831.00/1298, Willis Cook to Secretary of State, Caracas June 7, 1926
[50]   NA, RG 59, 831.122, Feb 27, 1925. American Foreign Service Report from Maracaibo Consulate.
[51]   Humberto Ochoa Urdaneta, Estampas de cabimas (Maracaibo: Centro Histórico de Cabimas, 1993), 44-5.  It is perfectly understandable that Trinidadian workers would have knowledge of Spanish, as Trinidad was a former Spanish colonial possession.  Even under English rule, Spanish continued to be spoken and by the late 19th century English speaking teachers were frustrated by their child pupils, many of whom only spoke Spanish or an 'unintelligible' patois.  See Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition, The Years After Slavery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 34, 229
[52]  NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.00/1304, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, August 5 1926 
[53]   AHZ, unmarked folder 1933, Caracas 27 December 1933, Pedro Tinoco, Minister of Interior, to President, Estado Zulia.
[54]   Lieuwen, "Petroleum in Venezuela," 52
[55]   Michelle Harrison, King Sugar, Jamaica, The Caribbean, and the World Sugar Industry (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 120-27
[56]    NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.00/1304, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, Aug 5 1926. 
[57]   AHZ, unmarked folder 1935,"Novedades Policiales del Municipio Cabimas, 25-5-35, and 24-5-35."
[58]  AHZ, unmarked folder 1935, Notas Ministro Relaciones Interiores Agosto 1935, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia, Caracas 29 August.
[59]  AHZ, unmarked folder year 1933, Caracas 27 December 1933, Pedro Tinoco, Minister of Interior, to President, Estado Zulia.
[60]  AHZ, unmarked folder year 1933, Caracas 24 June 1933, Pedro Tinoco to President State of Zulia.
[61]  AHZ, unmarked folder 1934, Notas Ministerio Interior Mayo 1934, Caracas 29 May 1934, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia.
[62]    AHZ, unmarked folder 1934, Notas Ministerio Interior Mayo 1934, Caracas 29 May 1934, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia.
[63]   Ochoa, Estampas de cabimas, 76-7
[64]   AHZ, unmarked folder 1933, section correspondencia personal 1933 dirigida al Gral Vincencio Pérez Soto, L Pinto Salvatierra, "Memorandum para el Gral Vincencio Pérez Soto en relación con la oposición a embargo habida en el juicio seguido por Benzecry & Benmergui contral Nasib Salomon I Chemel Halim."
[65]   AHZ, unmarked folder 1934, Legajo, Telegramas Jefes Civiles Distritos Foráneos Julio 1934.  La Rita, 18 July 1934, Mario Maya to Secretario General Estado.
[66]    Ochoa, Estampas de cabimas, 44-5
[67]    Natanael Maria Pinero, "Penetracion del Evangelio en Cabimas," in Primer congreso de la historia de cabimas (Maracaibo: Produccion Editorial Edinson Castro, Ediciones del Centro Historico de Cabimas, 1993), 130
[68]   Ochoa, Estampas de cabimas, 45
[69]   Brown, "British Petroleum Pioneers in Mexico and South America" 24
[70]   Ochoa, Estampas de cabimas, 45
[71]    AHZ, Vol 16 1929 "Inmigracion, Certificados de Buena Conducta Para Obtener Permisos Para Entrar a Venezuela"  Statement, VOC Inter-Office, Shore Lagunillas, 15 July 1929.
[72]    AHZ, Vol 16 1929 "Inmigracion, Certificados de Buena Conducta Para Obtener Permisos Para Entrar a Venezuela" Statement, signature illegible, Maracaibo VOC 17 June 1929
[73]    AHZ, Vol 16 1929 "Inmigracion, Certificados de Buena Conducta Para Obtener Permisos Para Entrar a Venezuela" Inter-Office VOC, East Lagunillas, Departamento de Construccion, 20 June 1929
[74]    AHZ, Vol 16 1929 "Inmigracion, Certificados de Buena Conducta Para Obtener Permisos Para Entrar a Venezuela" JF Emanuel A to Presidente Estado Zulia, Maracaibo 27 June 1929
[75]    AHZ, Vol 16 1929, "Companias Petroleras."  Statement James Williams, Jefe Taller Caribbean, Cabimas 25 July 1929
[76]    RP, Defunciones 1926 Municipio Cabimas, 12 July 1926.
[77]    AHMEM, Ministerio Energia y Minas, Ministerio de Fomento, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Maracaibo, Informe Mensual 1935-36, Pedro Gomez Willet to Inspector Tecnico de Hidrocarburos, 9 September 1935
[78] AHMEM, Ministerio de Fomento, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Maracaibo, Censo de Empleados y Obreros de las Diferentes Companias del Estado Zulia.  Occidente del Pais, 1936, The Caribbean Petroleum Corporation, San Lorenzo---Installation, Censo del Pay Roll diario del campo de San Lorenzo para el dia 30 Junio 1936
[79]    AHMEM, Ministerio de Fomento, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Maracaibo, Censo de Empleados y Obreros de las Diferentes Companias del Estado Zulia.  Occidente del Pais, 1936, Lago Petroleum Corporation, La Salina refinery, empleados mensuales, Lago Petroleum Corporation La Salina, lista de empleados (Diarios) 15 Mayo 1936
[80]   AHZ, unmarked folder 1933, section, "Entradas de Extranjeros."  Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia, Caracas 10 March 1933
[81]   AHZ, unmarked folder 1934, section, Legago No 2, Notas Ministerio Interior, Mayo 1934, Caracas 24 May 1934, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia.
[82]  AHZ, unmarked folder 1935, section, "Notas Ministerio Relaciones Interiores, Oct 1935" Caracas 15 Oct 1935, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia
[83]  AHZ, unmarked folder 1935, Notas Ministerio Relaciones Interiores, October 1935, Caracas 25 October 1935, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia
[84]  AHZ, unmarked folder 1935, telegramas copiadores 1935, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia, Caracas 19 November 1935.
[85]  AHZ, unmarked folder 1935,telegramas copiadores 1935, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia, Caracas 14 November 1935.
[86]    Ministerio de Salubridad y de Agricultura y Cria, Direccion de Salubridad Publica, Memoria presentada a las camaras legislativas de los estados unidos de venezuela, Tomo I (Caracas: Lit y Tip Vargas, 1935), No 956, Caracas 4 April 1934, H Toledo Trujillo to Medico Sanidad, Maracaibo
[87]    Ministerio de Salubridad y de Agricultura y Cria, Memoria, 1935, oficina subalterna de Sanidad Nacional, No 2242, Maracaibo 22 Abril 1934, A Castillo Plaza, to Ciudadano Ministro de Salubridad y de Agricultura y Cria, Caracas. 
[88]    AHZ, unmarked folder 1934, "Notas Ministerio de Relaciones Interiores Junio 1934." Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia, Caracas 6 June 1934.
[89]    AHZ, unmarked folder year 1933, "Entradas de Extranjeros, Abril 1933" Caracas 5 April 1933, Pedro Tinoco to President State of Zulia.
[90]    AHZ, unmarked folder 1934, Legajo No 2, Notas Ministerio Interior, Mayo 1934, Caracas 24 May 1934, Pedro Tinoco to Presidente Edo Zulia.
[91]   Siro Vázquez, "The Conquest of Maracaibo," United Nations World, July 1951, 61
[92]    Registro Principal (Maracaibo) [hereafter referred to as RP] Defunciones Lagunillas 1927, Lagunillas 17 Marzo 1927
[93]    RP, Defunciones Lagunillas 1928, Lagunillas 20 Apil 1928
[94]    RP, Defunciones Lagunillas 1928, Lagunillas 16 July 1928
[95]    RP, Defunciones Lagunillas 1928, Lagunillas 24 May 1928
[96] Graham R. Serjeant, Beryl E. Serjeant, Sickle Cell Disease, Third Ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 21, 28
[97]    AHZ, unmarked folder 1934, Novedades occurridas en el Cuartel del Policia durante el dia de ayer, 20-5-34"
[98]    AHZ, unmarked section 1935, Novedades policiales municipio Lagunillas Nov 1935. "Novedades policiales durante el dia 19 Noviembre."
[99]    AHZ, unmarked folder 1935, Novedades Policiales del Municipio Cabimas Nov 1935." Novedades policiales durante el dia 24-11-35.
[100]   PRO, FO 369/2441, K8362, 22 July 1935. 
[101]     Susan B Thompson, "The Musiues in Venezuela, Immigration Goals and Reality" (PhD. diss, Cornell University, 1981), 22
[102]     Thompson, "The Musiues in Venezuela," 23
[103]    Thompson, "The Musiues in Venezuela," 24
[104]   Alberto, Juan Vicente Gomez y Eustoquio Gomez, 215
[105]    Alberto Adriani, "Venezuela y los problemas de la inmigracion," Boletin de la Camara de Comercio de Caracas, 1 November 1926, No 156,  3485
[106]    NA, 831.00/870, Emil Sauer to Secretary of State, Maracaibo November 14, 1918
[107]  PRO, FO 369/1924, K 5360 Memorandum for Mr Hobson, 26 April 1926
[108]   NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.00/1304, Alexander Sloan to Secretary of State, August 5 1926. 
[109]   Ministerio de Fomento, Memoria del estado zulia 1927 (Caracas: Editorial Sur America, 1928), "Inmigracion," Perez Soto to Ministro Relaciones Interiores, Presidencia No 26, 8 July 1926, 67
[110]    Memoria estado zulia 1927, "Inmigracion," Segundo Trimestre 1926, "Movimiento Inmigracion Maracaibo," 68
[111]   AHZ, unmarked folder 1933, Eliseo Villareal, Hernan Arias, Claudio Silva, etc. to Mario Maya, 26 August 1933
[112]   Ministerio de Relaciones Interiores, Memoria ministerio de relaciones interiores 1930, "Inmigracion,"  88, Rubén González to Presidente Estado Zulia, Caracas 5 September 1929
[113]   Ochoa, Estampas de cabimas, 76-7
[114]    Calvani, Reminiscencias, 24-5
[115]    NA, RG 59, 831.504/28, Wallace to FA Leovy, New York Oct 27, 1926.
[116]    PRO, FO 369/2003, Hobson Feb 8 1927, Consul Hobson's Tour of Inspection to Willemstad, Aruba, and Maracaibo, in File No K 3689, 48, 50. 
[117]    Ministerio de Fomento, Memoria del estado zulia 1928 (Caracas: Editorial Sur America, 1929), "Inmigracion,"  Perez Soto to Ministro Relaciones Interiores, Maracaibo 5 May 1927, 72
[118]    Ministerio de Fomento, Memoria del estado zulia 1928 (Caracas: Editorial Sur America, 1929), "Inmigracion,"  Perez Soto to Ministro Relaciones Interiores, Maracaibo 5 May 1927, 72
[119]   Thompson, "The Musiues in Venezuela," 24
[120]   Ministerio de Relaciones Interiores, Memoria ministerio de relaciones interiores1930, "Circular Sobre Entrada Al Pais de Individuos de Raza de Color," Document No 111, Caracas 5 October 1929, Ministro Relaciones Interiores to Ruben Gonzalez
[121]    AHZ, Vol 1 1930, "Companias Petroleras."  Statement, Caribbean Petroleum Company, 17 Nov 1930
[122]    AHZ, unsorted folder 1934, statement Caribbean Petroleum Company 20 November 1933, November 20 1933, Maracaibo.
[123]    Memoria ministerio de relaciones interiores 1930, "Circular Sobre Entrada Al Pais de Individuos de Raza de Color," Doc No 124, JM Garcia to Ministro Relaciones Interiores, Caracas 16 November 1929, 137
[124]    Memoria ministerio de relaciones interiores 1930, "Circular Sobre Entrada Al Pais de Individuos de Raza de Color," Doc No 125, Ministro Relaciones Interiores to Gobernador Distrito Federal, Caracas 19 November 1929, 138
[125]    Memoria ministerio de relaciones interiores 1930, "Circular Sobre Entrada Al Pais de Individuos de Raza de Color," Doc No 126, Ministro Relaciones Exteriores to Ministro Relaciones Interiores, Caracas 16 November 1929, 139
[126]    Memoria ministerio de relaciones interiores 1930, "Circular Sobre Entrada Al Pais de Individuos de Raza de Color," Doc No 127, Ministro de Relaciones Interiores to Ministro Relaciones Exteriores, Caracas 19 November 1929, 139
[127]    AHZ, Vol 7 1928, Companias Petroleras.  Statement Senor E Redden, San Lorenzo, 22 October 1928
[128]    AHZ, Vol 7 1928, Companias Petroleras.  Statement signature illegible, Maracaibo 9 July 1929
[129]    AHZ, Vol 16 1929, Companias Petroleras, Caribbean Petroleum Company, Maracaibo 17 June 1929
[130]    AHZ, Documentos Particulares y Sin Lugar de Origen 1932, Maracaibo 12 November 1932, Joseph Stewart to Gral Presidente Edo Zulia
[131]    Memoria estado zulia 1928, Leonte Olivo to Jefe Civil Distrito Maracaibo, "Inmigracion," Maracaibo 3 March 1927
[132]    AHZ, Vol 10 1928, Companias Petroleras, Wm Clark to Vincencio Perez Soto, Maracaibo 4 June 1928
[133]    AHZ, Vol 10 1928, Companias Petroleras.  Wm Clark to Vincencio Perez Soto, Maracaibo 11 June 1928.
[134]    AHZ, Vol 10 1928, Companias Petroleras.  Wm Clark to Vincencio Perez Soto, Maracaibo 28 June 1928.
[135]   NA, RG 59, 831.00/1318, Sloan to Sec State, December 16, 1926
[136]    PRO, FO 199/241, K 9988/9988/247, Extract from note No. 147 from the Venezuela Charge d'Affaires, 20 July 1927.  It is unclear here whether the Charge d'Affaires was referring to the Creaves case, mentioned later and originally reported in 1930, or to another case altogether.
[137]    PRO, FO 199/241, K 9988/9988/247, Extract from note No. 147 from the Venezuela Charge d'Affaires, 20 July 1927
[138]    PRO, FO 369/2117, K 3748 20 March 1929, letter dated February 22 1929
[139]    PRO, FO 369/2003, Hobson, Feb 8 1927, in file No K3689, Consul Hobson's Tour of Inspection to Willemstad, Aruba and Maracaibo, 52
[140]    PRO, FO 199/271, British Legation, Caracas, September 1927, O'Reilly (?) to Chamberlain 
[141]    PRO, FO 369/2117 K 8221 5 July 1929, TD Dunlop, Inspector of Consular Establishments, 10  
[142]    PRO, FO 369/2382, K 2067, Feb 1934.  John MacGregor, memorandum on the status of the Maracaibo Consulate, 23 Nov 1933. 
[143]    AHMEM, Ministerio de Fomento, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos.  Informes.  Maracaibo 1931, C.A. Velutini to Oficina Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Cabimas 8 June 1931
[144]    AHZ, Vol 4 1927, Companias Petroleras.  Vincencio Perez Soto to Gerente, British Controlled Oilfields, Maracaibo 7 January 1927
[145]    AHZ, Vol 4 1927, Companias Petroleras.  Vincencio Perez Soto to Juan Vicente Gomez, Maracaibo 5 May 1927
[146]    AHZ, Vol 4 1927, Companias Petroleras.  G. Witteveen to Secretario General del Estado Zulia, Maracaibo 3 May 1927
[147]    AHM, 607 C, Oct 1-15, 1927, Perez Soto to Juan Vicente Gomez, Maracaibo 12 October 1927
[148]    AHM, 607 C, Oct 1-15, 1927, Pablo Polakis to Manuel Belisario, Maracaibo 11 October 1927
[149]    AHZ, unmarked folder 1933, Caracas 2 June 1933, Pedro Tinoco to President State of Zulia.
[150]    AHMEM, 1932-33, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, asunto: Correspondencia e Informes, CA Velutini to Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Cabimas 8 March 1933
[151]    AHMEM, 1932-33, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, asunto: Correspondencia e Informes, G Gabaldon P to Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Lagunillas 12 March 1933, 1932-33, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, asunto: Correspondencia e Informes, Carlos Perez de la Cova to Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Mene Grande 8 March 1933
[152]    PRO, FO 369/2297, K 10795 13 September 1932. 
[153]    PRO, FO 369/2297, K14447, 14 December 1932
[154]    PRO, FO 369/2297, K14447, 14 Dec 1932.
[155]    AHZ, Vol 10 1928, Consulados, Seagrim to Perez Soto, 14 June 1928.
[156]    AHZ, Vol 10 1928, Consulados, Secretary General, to Seagrim?
[157]    Ochoa, Estampas de cabimas, 45
[158]    PRO, FO 924/441, LC 1196, 20 February 1946, "Report by Mr AD Francis on visit to Maracaibo and Western Venezuela".
[159]    PRO, FO 924/441, LC 2759,  "Memorandum, Visit to Maracaibo Regarding Formation of a New Anglo-Venezuelan Association". 
[160]   Barry Carr, "Identity, Class, and Nation: Black Immigrant Workers, Cuban Communism, and the Sugar Insurgency, 1925-1934," HAHR, Vol 78 Issue 1 (Feb 1998), 83
[161]   Carr, "Identity, Class, and Nation," 84
[162]   Carr, "Identity, Class, and Nation," 86
[163]   Carr, "Identity, Class, and Nation," 87
[164]   Carr, "Identity, Class, and Nation," 90
[165]   Carr, "Identity, Class, and Nation," 114
[166]   Carr, "Identity, Class, and Nation," 115
[167]   Samuel Martinez, "From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand: the State, and Migrant Labor in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, LARR, Volume 34 Issue 1 (1999), 62
[168]   Martinez, "From Hidden Hand to Heavy Hand," 64

Be the first to comment

Battle for Maracaibo Black Gold: Zulia Oil Fields in World War II

(From a historical talk delivered in 2004)
 

During World War II, the oil rich Maracaibo fields, located in the westernmost Venezuelan state of Zulia, were considered a crucial resource for both the axis and allied powers.  In the war years Venezuela was able to benefit economically from the hostilities and reap huge profits from oil revenue.  However, the Venezuelan government's decision to sell oil to the allies resulted in Nazi counter measures, namely a submarine offensive in 1942 against oil tankers belonging to British and American oil companies.  Nazi submarine attacks tilted Venezuelan public opinion against the Axis and would eventually lead Venezuela to declare war on Germany.  Though Venezuelan leaders were somewhat cooperative on allied military war aims, they also exploited the new international political context after 1939 to wrest concessions from the companies.  Through such nationalistic moves, both the Eleazar Lopez Contreras administration (1937-1941) and the Isaias Medina Angarita administration (1941-1945), which were not democratically elected and which were headed by military men associated with the previous Juan Vicente Gomez dictatorship (1908-1935), sought to woo support from nationalist critics and their rising working and middle class allies.  Wartime hostilities, then, exposed political tensions in the country and forced the Venezuelan government to undertake a delicate balancing act.  Meanwhile, the war gave the United States a unique opportunity to increase its economic, diplomatic, and military ties to Venezuela.  By war's end the U.S. was able to head off German influence and to largely supplant the British in Venezuela.  However, closer ties between the United States and Venezuela did not place the oil companies in a beneficial position in this particular case.  Under the stresses of the war, the companies could not count on unconditional support from the U.S., and had to be more conciliatory towards increasingly more nationalistic regimes.

 

Historical Background

 

British and American oil subsidiaries of Royal Dutch Shell, Standard Oil and Gulf had long operated in the Maracaibo Basin prior to the outbreak of European hostilities in 1939.  The companies hastened to Venezuela due to the country's low transportation costs, rich deposits, and iron fisted government, headed up by the dictatorial Gomez.  By 1928 Venezuela had surpassed Mexico as the world's leading oil exporter,[1] and during the 1920s boom the country became the largest foreign oil supplier to the United States.[2]  Growing oil wealth allowed the Gomez state to expand its bureaucracy, support a burgeoning army, and carry out national integration through a road program.  Foreigners created oil enclaves in the state of Zulia, built roads and provided health care.[3] However, most oil camps were segregated with separate living areas for foreigners and Venezuelans.  North American and British racism fueled Venezuelan resentment on the oil fields, and some of the earliest strikes on the oil fields were prompted by arrogant foreign overseers.  Those companies that did provide housing for Venezuelans did so only reluctantly and housing was of poor quality.[4]  The oil companies showed scant regard for the safety and lives of local residents, and placed oil derricks and other machinery in close proximity to human settlement on the east bank of Lake Maracaibo.  Though Gomez monitored the oil companies in Zulia through local subordinates, he did not successfully regulate the oil industry.  "By and large," writes Ewell, "Gomez's relations with the companies remained in the spirit of the 1922 law in which the companies had secured generous concessions."[5]  However, Oil revenue helped to pay for automobiles, radio broadcasting, and eventually for newspapers and magazines.  Through such new media, literate working and middle class people became aware of national problems and would later clamor for tighter fiscal regulation of the oil industry.[6]

 

End of Gomez Rule

 

With vital economic ties to preserve with Britain and the U.S., the Venezuelan government had to tread carefully with the coming of war.  On many levels, the political position of Lopez after 1935 was delicate.  On the one hand, the regime, according to one observer, was "charged with an enthusiasm, born of relief at the ending of the Gomez tyranny."  Venezuelans, having endured 25 years of brutal Gomecista rule, displayed an instinctive revulsion of fascism and dictatorship.[7]  Resentment of the oil companies had burst forth in January 1936 when protests, looting and vandalism erupted after the death of Gomez.  The violence hit the oil camps, and represented the most serious disturbances the country had experienced in a quarter century.[8]  Clearly, any Venezuelan government perceived as being too conciliatory towards the oil companies risked public displeasure.

 

During the Lopez period, the oil companies continued to be a source of resentment within the Maracaibo Basin.  Unruly oilmen were only part of the problem.  Insufficient housing, unsafe working conditions and accidents, unsanitary boomtowns, high cost of living and low wages, were all sources of tension.  In 1936, there were 259 recorded accidents at Lago Petroleum Corporation which caused a loss of workdays.  That year, the company had an average of 2,650 workers on the payroll, so one may estimate that about 10% of the workforce could have experienced a serious accident on the job.[9]  Unions, which had been illegal under Gomez, now represented a growing pressure group on the government.  By 1936, a number of oil unions had emerged, including the Maracaibo, Cabimas, Lagunillas, Mene Grande, and Casigua Union of Oil Workers.  Crewmembers aboard oil vessels were also unionized.[10]  In late 1936, there was still no company doctor at the San Lorenzo oil camp, a chief grievance of oil workers on the east bank of Lake Maracaibo, the Sindicato de Obreros Petroleros Distrito Sucre.[11]  The government Ministry of Development wrote the Caribbean Petroleum Company stating that under the law the company was required to hire a company doctor at San Lorenzo.[12]  Oil inspectors themselves, working with the government's Ministry of Development, complained bitterly to superiors that oil companies would not pay for sick leave, only for time lost from industrial accidents.[13]  A year after the end of the Gomez dictatorship, in 1936, oil workers' total weekly expenses amounted to about 43.50 bolivares.  However, workers' salaries at this time were estimated at only 42.00 bolivares, thus leaving a weekly deficit of 1.50 bolivares.[14]  Many of these abuses would not be lost on a nationalistic and left leaning press.  Though Lopez had re-imposed censorship in February 1936,[15] one newspaper, Petroleo, whose editors were subsequently jailed for allegedly defacing the president, denounced one Gulf foreman for his "despotic" behavior towards subordinates[16].  The surly conduct of oil company men would not be reined in, however, because the state authorities were rough handling the workers themselves.[17]  The editors of Petroleo, furthermore, were pessimistic that any action might be taken at the state level as the new Zulia state president, Luis Roncajolo, "does not belong to the left."[18]

 

Political Climate of Late 1930s

 

In late 1936 this growing resentment became explosive.   Following the death of Gomez, "Oil workers in the Maracaibo Basin initiated a strike that shook Venezuelan society to its foundations."[19]  Demanding recognition of their unions and improvements in pay and working conditions, the workers challenged the hegemony of some of the largest oil companies in the world for an unprecedented 42 days.  Exports of crude oil dropped by nearly half during the strike, and practically all exploration and drilling operations ground to a halt.[20]  Creole, Shell, and the other companies were alarmed.  Suddenly, their position had become more vulnerable; it seemed that now the companies might have a more difficult time in always getting their way.  The political environment within the country had become increasingly more volatile and hostile towards foreign interests.  Even worse from the point of view of the oil executives, Communist organizers had come to exercise a substantial degree of influence over the oil workers.  Reacting with contempt, the companies refused to negotiate with any unions during the strike, or to accept any of the workers' demands.  For its part, the government harassed and jailed strikers.[21] 

 

By late June 1936, conditions on two important oil fields, Cabimas and Lagunillas, were quiet, however at Mene Grande the situation was still unsettled.  On that field, a clash had taken place between several hundred workers and government troops, resulting in four deaths and the wounding of several others.[22]  According to a US official, Colonel Isaias Medina Angarita, who would later become president in 1941, was in favor of furnishing the oil companies with the fullest protection from the army.  Indeed, when the President of the State of Zulia asked the government for an additional two hundred men to deal with the situation during the strike, Colonel Medina was reported to have favored sending six hundred instead.  Colonel Medina's intervention raised the total number of troops in the oil fields to at least one thousand.  Colonel Medina, interestingly, was at odds with other members of the government who were adverse to making a show of troops in the oil district.  A U.S. official wrote that, "the policy he [Medina] has so far carried out seems to have met with their [the companies'] approval."[23]  In January 1937, Lopez decreed an end to the strike and 20,000 workers were ordered back on the job.  In a small concession, the government ordered a tiny raise in wages for the poorest paid oil workers. In January 1937, the workers interpreted the end result of their titanic effort as a failure.[24]  Breaking the oil workers strike was somewhat risky from a political standpoint, but such a move would not spell disaster.  "While militantly organized," remarks Karl, "…the oil workers' small numbers and isolation in camps far from urban centers hindered their ability to influence national politics, even though they were able to organize several important strikes.  They could not unite with their industrial counterparts in the cities until the 1950s because a politically significant working class in manufacturing simply did not exist before that time."[25] 

 

Situation at Lagunillas

 

Despite government repression during the 1936-7 strike, Lopez did create a new Ministry of Labor and Communications, and under his administration a new labor law was drafted in 1936.[26]  Evidence also suggests that some elements within the Lopez regime were concerned about social conditions on the Maracaibo oil fields.  Interestingly enough, when the League of Nations requested information about oil contamination in the twilight of the Gomez dictatorship, Lopez himself ordered the armed forces to conduct a review of environmental conditions in Lake Maracaibo. [27]  Once Lopez came to power, some of his officials, such as Nestor Luis Perez, the new Minister of Development, criticized the oil companies' contamination.  In 1936, he remarked that the waters around Lagunillas, a town built on stilts in Lake Maracaibo, were completely polluted and mixed with human waste.  The wooden houses were covered in oil.[28]  Lagunillas was rapidly becoming an eye sore, not only from an environmental but also a political perspective.  Since the death of Gómez, Lagunillas had been a 'focal point of lawless elements', according to the US Charge d'Affaires.  The official added that the population of Lagunillas, approximately 1,500, "lives in decrepit buildings, some of which are on stilts in the waters of the lake, others behind a wooden dyke ten feet or more in height, flimsy houses, disease, and lack of sanitation or protection from the heat have contributed to the reputation of Lagunillas as a breeding spot for petty crimes, radicalism and attacks on the oil companies."  According to the U.S. official, the oil companies were very pleased with government initiatives to move Lagunillas, as such a measure would 'materially assist in the solution of the present strike problem.'  Moving the population would also relieve oil company managers, who were worried that agitators might dynamite a dyke in the vicinity.[29]

 

Unfortunately for the oil companies, the inhabitants of Lagunillas showed little desire to leave the town, despite the fact that many oil wells were still located close to the town, with the nearest derrick some 200 metres distant, and Ojeda, an on land site, had a much healthier location with good drainage.  In 1939 the residents of Lagunillas suffered when a fire damaged the town.  According to the US Charge d'Affaires, the fire was caused by an accidental explosion of a gasoline or kerosene lamp in a bar room located on the main boardwalk of the town.  'With the help of the wind,' added the U.S. official, "the fire swept rapidly throughout the town, burning down all but twelve shacks at one end of the rectangle.  The bridge connecting to land was burnt down at the outset, and a large portion of the inhabitants were cut off from shore.  Since the walled dike prevented inhabitants from swimming to shore, most of these residents were rescued in boats.  Some however drowned or burned to death.  Some thirty corpses were later found."[30]

 

Lake Maracaibo was covered with a patchy scum of petroleum, but the Charge personally doubted that this surface oil, which had lost its volatility, could have caused the fire, as such slicks had to be subjected to intense heat before they would burn.[31]  This time, unlike previous fires, the accident would exact a substantial death toll.  The state president reported that 1,240 houses had been destroyed, and more than 4 million Bolivares in damages sustained.[32]  By the time the fire was extinguished, 24 people had died and the town was left in ashes.[33]  In the wake of the fire, Standard Oil published an account of the Lagunillas fire in its official magazine, El Farol.  In its account, the oil magazine did not seek to address the causes of the fire, preferring instead to dwell on measures which Lago Petroleum Corporation had taken to extinguish the fire, to provide financial assistance for displaced residents and to improve the sewer system and other infrastructure within the new settlement of Ciudad Ojeda.[34]

 

The 1936-7 strike and oil pollution in Lake Maracaibo only served to underscore the view that companies frequently disregarded the needs of local residents and workers.  Politically, Lopez could not afford to be perceived as too closely allied with foreign interests.  Of key concern to the regime was a rising nationalist middle class, which outnumbered a slowly growing working class, and which rose from 37 percent to 54 percent of the nonagricultural workforce between 1936 and 1950.[35]  Lopez, the first Venezuelan president to speak to the people over the radio,[36] had to reckon with nationalist critics who had long charged that oil companies had bilked the Venezuelan treasury of much needed revenue during the Gomez years.  Following the fall of the Gomez regime, Venezuela saw the emergence of diverse political groupings such as the National Democratic Party, known by its Spanish acronym PDN and founded in 1936, which grouped together Communists as well as future nationalist figures on the left such as Romulo Betancourt.  The PDN, which would later reorganize as the political party Accion Democratica in 1941 and urge tighter controls over the oil industry, took a strong stand against Lopez and as a result was soon operating in secret.[37]  Furthermore, in 1937 Lopez used alleged Communist activities as a means of exiling a number of labor and political leaders.[38]  From the spring of 1937 to the end of his constitutional term then, Lopez, who had formed his own government party, governed without any effective organized and open opposition.  Though Lopez' chief base of support came from the army, and the president himself was under considerable pressure from military and business sectors who longed for the iron fist of the earlier Gomez regime in dealing with communists in Venezuela,[39] Lopez could not ignore his critics on the left who represented a growing force within the country.  Accordingly, under the new Development Minister, Nestor Luis Perez, Venezuela passed a petroleum law in 1938 which provided for greater government control and monitoring of the oil industry, as well as greater revenues for the government. 

 

"Unfortunately," writes Ewell, "it remained a paper tiger, since the companies refused to surrender the privileges they had under previous or existing law.  They simply ignored the new legislation."[40]  Lopez, then, pursued a dual track policy towards his erstwhile left wing critics: on the one hand, attempt to wrest concessions from the oil companies, on the other, pursue a crack down on political opponents.  Such a draconian position smacked of Gomez tyranny and also put Lopez at odds with growing international revulsion of fascist authoritarianism after 1939.  On the eve of the Second World War, Venezuela was long established as the world's leading oil exporter (30% of the total by 1939), and petroleum accounted for some 50% of Venezuelan government revenue .[41]  By 1940, Britain received fully 40% of her total oil imports from Venezuela,[42] and during the first years of the war that total jumped to as high as 80 percent of oil imports.[43]  Oil production in 1941 was concentrated in the hands of American firms, with 70% of total oil output.[44]  Moreover, in 1941 there were 1,000 British citizens and 1,100 Americans living in the Maracaibo Basin; a large number of Americans worked as oil company executives.[45]  Transportation of crude from Jersey Standard's producing fields in Lake Maracaibo region was carried out through use of specially constructed shallow draft tankers. A refinery owned by Royal Dutch Shell located on the island of Aruba, which processed Maracaibo crude, was strategically important as it supplied products not only to Britain, but also to France, "and the operation is practically dependant on the continuous movement of the small British tankers out of Lake Maracaibo."[46]  A British observer was concerned about the "serious possibilities of sabotage, or naval attack, in the area."[47] 

 

German Interests

 

Venezuelan oil also represented a vital commodity for the Nazis and the ability of the German state to wage war in Europe.  In fact, as late as 1938 oil produced from Aruba, Curacao and Venezuela accounted for 44% of German oil imports.[48]  Germany did not buy oil directly from Venezuela but from US and British-Dutch oil companies, which shipped Venezuelan crude to refineries in Aruba and Curacao and then sold the final product in Europe.[49]  Not only did the Nazis look upon Venezuela as vital to its economic interests, but also made an effort to increase German political influence in the country.  Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels urged German diplomats to organize German nationals living in Latin America into local National Socialist parties to promote the ideas of the fuhrer and devotion to the Nazi fatherland.  However, Count Franz von Tattenbach, the German minister to Venezuela, reported that Venezuelans were unenthusiastic about National Socialism.  The Nazis encountered an obstacle in the Catholic church, which derided the "neo-pagan" characteristics of the Nazi movement. 

 

Adding to the difficulties, Venezuela received its international news from non-German sources, mainly North American-based wire services.  Venezuelans routinely read unflattering accounts of Adolf Hitler's rise to power and the Nazi state's persecution of Jews.  Furthermore, Venezuela's Germans, who numbered between two thousand and three thousand, had assimilated into Venezuelan culture and did not adopt National Socialism's racial policies.  In fact, a Venezuelan Nazi party had existed since 1926, but as late as 1936 it had only eighty-six members.  In early 1937, Dr Edwin Poensagen replaced Tattenbach, a Weimar Republic appointee who had not promoted National Socialism in Venezuela, as minister to Venezuela.  "It is unclear however," writes Rabe, "whether the appointment of Poensagen, who had previously served in the South American section of the German Foreign Office in Mexico, signaled a new Nazi interest in Venezuela.  Making one of its first surveys of foreign influence in February 1938, the US legation in Caracas reported that it knew of no Nazi subversives."[50]  Though Nazi Germany faced diminishing returns in political terms, it rigorously pursued its economic ties to Venezuela.  In fact, Germany was Venezuela's second leading source of imports after the United States and purchased substantial amounts of coffee.[51]  In 1937, seeking to increase its oil imports, Germany proposed that Venezuela accept its oil royalties in kind (barrels of oil) instead of taxes and sell the royalty oil to Germany.  The sale of oil, Germany proposed, would be directly linked to German purchases of coffee. Germany would purchase the bags of coffee when Venezuela agreed to the royalty oil scheme.  However, Germany failed to convince Venezuela into accepting this trade proposal and by mid-1938, the Reich lost any chance of gaining special access to Venezuela's petroleum.  Venezuela had instead entered into a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States, which was well aware of Germany's trade efforts in Venezuela.  In an effort to preempt German efforts, the US granted Venezuela additional trade concessions to ensure that it accepted the reciprocal trade agreement.  Venezuelan-German trade remained at normal levels but ended abruptly in September 1939 with the beginning of the British naval blockade of Germany.[52]

 

Wartime Climate

 

By 1940, with Britain increasingly isolated as the result of German attack and prior to the entrance of the US into the war, one observer remarked that "Venezuelan sentiment was bitterly anti-German, and…since the fall of France it had in addition become markedly pro-British."[53]  In 1941 oil shipments to Britain were cut off, however Venezuela was able to sell its oil to the United States which replaced lost European sales.[54]  In September 1940, as a result of intense lobbying by President Roosevelt, Congress increased the lending authority of the Export-Import Bank from $100 million to $700 million.  Venezuela was a recipient of part of the US economic aid package.[55]  Meanwhile, Lopez enforced neutrality legislation with a benevolent eye towards the British, and the government declared it illegal to send any propaganda into Venezuela or to make propaganda in the country.  No foreign political organization was allowed within Venezuela. [56]  Meanwhile, the government moved against private German citizens which it viewed as a potential threat.  As early as 1939, the Venezuelan government forced all German employees of Standard Oil companies in Venezuela to leave the country.[57] 

 

In clamping down on the German community, the Lopez regime was responding to international initiatives: it approved of inter-American resolutions recommending the strict supervision of foreigners, and furthermore outlawed political activity by foreigners residing in Venezuela.[58]  In Maracaibo, noted one observer, there had formerly been a number of Germans and Venezuelans of German origin working within the oil companies.  However, by 1940 all of these German employees had been discharged, in all three major oil companies.[59]  Thus, far from confronting the oil companies, the Lopez Contreras regime worked in tandem with them in an effort to combat German influence.  Though certainly bold, Venezuelan policy towards foreigners was hardly unique.  During the war, in fact, "Latin American republics showed a profound disregard for the concept of nationality and citizenship as inalienable rights…Nationality was casually revoked in the name of internal security and 'political defense.'  Nationals were transformed into enemy aliens or stateless persons by executive fiat, merely as one phase of a program of internal security."[60]  Latin American republics, furthermore, may have been motivated by fears, "probably exaggerated, of the machinations of Axis sympathizers and the threats posed by fascist organizations.[61]

 

In moving towards the allied side, Lopez had shrewdly outmaneuvered Venezuelan communists, who had discredited themselves by seeking to implant popular frontism in Venezuela in early 1941;[62] their opposition to the war against Germany proved a miserable failure and did not gain the party support from Venezuelan workers.[63]  In fact, Communists had moved to support the regime even before the Hitler-Stalin Pact, as they were concerned about the Fuhrer's claim to Venezuela as Germany's first colony.  Germany had made the claim, based on the business activities of a sixteenth century German company.  Communists feared that such claims could find a receptive audience among reactionary elements within the Lopez regime.  By emphasizing Lopez's positive attributes, they reasoned, and drawing close to some of his supporters, Communists hoped to drive a wedge between the president and this potential Fifth Column.[64]  On the other hand, Accion Democratica, a permitted political party after 1941 and led by nationalist Romulo Betancourt, denounced the Communists for maintaining exclusive allegiance to the Soviet Union.  Betancourt accused the Communists of practicing 'revolutionary gymnastics' within Venezuelan trade unions in order to score points with their Russian masters.[65]  Thus, the left had different views on the proper course of Venezuelan foreign policy at this early point in the war.  Such divisions and internal squabbles only helped to solidify Lopez further.

 

Venezuela and the Allies

 

On the other hand, though Lopez' pro-ally foreign policy did not result in any dire political consequences for the former Gomecista general, the growing war in Europe allowed the Venezuelan government more space to maneuver vis-à-vis the oil question.  What British observers feared most was that the president, bowing to public pressure in the midst of the global fight against fascism, might move against the oil companies. "Whilst Venezuela could not venture on any open form of hostility to Britain under present circumstances," remarked an observer, "she could be troublesome, especially by harassing the oil companies; and her attitude therefore matters."  According to the American OSS, the precursor to the CIA, some resident Americans in Venezuela were concerned that if Venezuela participated more actively in the war, the government might seek to expropriate foreign oil properties.[66]  The irony of this situation, however, was that any Venezuelan president who sought to take advantage of the new international context to exact leverage from the oil companies, also risked further radicalizing Venezuelan public opinion.  For Lopez, the challenge was to outflank nationalist and left wing critics through tough legislation, while simultaneously containing popular and nationalist mobilization which could result in the demise of his military regime.

 

As Lopez and his foes jockeyed for influence amongst the Venezuelan masses, events in the oil zone of Maracaibo would soon set Venezuela on a more direct collision course with Nazi Germany.  Correspondence by oil company executives in the early years of the war reveals a certain level of concern about German employees and the potential for sabotage.  In 1940, the Shell representative in Venezuela, Godber, received a telegram from his New York representative stating that, "in view of international situation it is necessary to provide adequate protection of property and continuance of oil movement.  In this connection we have taken up similar precautions respecting fleet and German crews are being replaced."  Wilkinson, the New York representative, added that, "all staff records to be subject to a careful scrutiny and replacements obtained where necessary.  In this connection loyalty of medical director is open to question and this must be considered together with any similar individuals in the event of real emergency."  Wilkinson added that New York was unable to give definite advice and had to leave Henry Linam, the head of Creole Petroleum Corporation, wide discretion to take any steps which he deemed necessary.  Linam would take any steps in joint consultation with Shell representatives and high government officials.[67] 

 

In September 1939, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, Gulf Oil Company and Shell approached the Venezuelan government, with the result that "necessary steps" were taken to protect the fields and Maracaibo Bar.  Godber, it seems, understood that Standard had already given instructions for enemy employees to be paid off and sent out of the country and that his own people were urging Gulf Oil Company to take similar action.[68]  At this early point in the war, observers did not seem to give much credence to possible German para-military activity within Venezuela.  As for Maracaibo, "extensive sabotage…is not regarded locally as a serious danger, although steps have been taken to guard against it."  The problem, as one observer explained, was that "the wells are too numerous, the bar difficult to block and easy to clear…In any case, the refineries are so much more valuable than the wells that any attack is likely to be made on them."  At the time of a British officer's visit to Venezuela, "the Germans were not much in evidence," but were known to be conspiring with the left and right prior to the presidential elections of 1941.[69]  US diplomats were also concerned about the dangers of Nazi sabotage.  They conceded that rumors abounded in Venezuela and that they lacked concrete proof to substantiate their fears, however they were concerned that Venezuela's Germans were tightly organized and that the Venezuelan government was not alert to the danger of German influence in the country. Ultimately, US and British fears were not realized, and between 1937 and 1945 no sabotage attempts were recorded in Venezuela.[70] 

 

German Community of Maracaibo

 

British naval intelligence, however, had long been concerned about the large, influential German community in Maracaibo.  According to a report, the German community in Maracaibo numbered some 1,000 in 1943.[71]  The German community was economically influential, noted the report, as it managed powerful trading houses in Maracaibo.[72]  Germans still retained interests in the coffee export trade and "their presence is a danger point."[73]  No Germans had shown interest in acquiring foreign property near the sea, however a semi-military organization and intelligence service probably existed.[74]  As early as March 1938, central groups of the German National Socialist Labor Party's Foreign Organization formed at Maracaibo.  The purpose of the Foreign Organization was to bind Germans living abroad more closely with each other and with the National Socialist Party in Germany.  Membership was restricted to German nationals.  Although the German Minister stated that members of the Foreign Organization could not participate in local politics, or to make any statements, the Venezuelan government refused recognition to the group. [75]  According to the OSS, in the first few years of the war a couple of known Germans in Maracaibo allegedly had Nazi sympathies or ties to the Nazis, including Hartwig Von Jess, the ex-German Consul at Maracaibo and apparently a leading Nazi in the city; Dr Frederich Pohrt, a former German military engineer and known Nazi, who left Maracaibo at the government's request "because of the strategic location of his house," and "Dr Weiss," the German head surgeon at Standard Oil of Venezuela, who had become a Venezuelan citizen shortly after the outbreak of war.  Weiss retained dual citizenship and frequently traveled between Standard Oil camps.  He was discharged by Standard in 1942.[76] 

 

Though Germans within the oil zone did not exert an impact on the outcome of the war, growing German submarine warfare in the Caribbean would shortly lead to serious political repercussions.  By 1941, the Lopez era was drawing to an end.  The president sought to show that he did not have dictatorial ambitions, and reduced the presidential term to five years with no immediate re-election.  The left opposition pressed for the election of the president and Congress by direct popular vote.  However, "Lopez and the conservative Congress refused…to change the system of indirect elections by which the Congress elected the president, and the state legislatures elected the congressmen.  Since the government had a substantial majority in Congress, the person Lopez Contreras nominated as his successor was certain to be elected."[77]  Oil workers remembered Lopez's successor, Isaias Medina Angarita, as the man who had been called in to put down strikers in 1936-7, and who had earlier served as Lopez's Minister of War.[78]  Ironically, once in office Medina proved to be much more democratically inclined than his predecessor, "one of the most atypical presidents in Venezuelan history…he was an intelligent, cultured, and humane individual…he was a sincere believer in the free expression of political opinion."  During Medina's tenure in office, the government did not hold a single political prisoner nor send a single Venezuelan into exile.[79]  Medina formed his own government party[80] but he also allowed most political parties to operate freely and legally.  By the end of his term all political organizations, including the Communist party, were operating freely in the country.[81]  Romulo Betancourt's political followers formally united to found Accion Democratica (AD) in September 1941, which became the principal opposition party to the government.[82]  Furthermore, in a departure from the earlier Lopez administration, which had imposed press censorship in 1936,[83] Medina proclaimed freedom of the press.[84]  As one author has written, "the period from 1941 to 1945 saw more political discussion, organizing, and activity than had occurred at any time since the nineteenth century."[85]  Such openness came at political cost.  Shortly, AD would gain control of the labor movement;[86] additionally many middle-class professionals found AD's multi-class political platform appealing.[87]  Moreover, Betancourt and his followers would come to eclipse the Communist party, some of whose branches had been allowed to operate openly after 1941.[88] 

 

Medina then had to appeal to the rising nationalist middle class, as had been the case with Lopez.  However, unlike Lopez, Medina faced stiffer competition for the allegiance of these middle classes.  Though Medina had demonstrated that he was flexible and liberal, AD maintained a strict policy of opposition, arguing that a gomecista could not lead the country down the path of true reform.[89]  However, in the short term international circumstances reinforced, rather than hindered, Medina's position.  The State Department, buffeted by Mexican nationalization of the oil industry in 1938 and concerned about antagonizing Venezuela during wartime, urged US oil companies to be more responsive to Venezuelan demands.[90]  Sensing an opening, Medina was aggressive by setting up a new exchange control in July 1941 which was less beneficial to the companies and a new income tax law in 1942 which reserved additional oil money for the state.[91]  Through such moves, Medina effectively took some wind out of the sails of AD's platform, which stressed Venezuelan economic nationalism and greater control over the country's natural resources.

 

Meanwhile, the U.S. government took advantage of wartime hostilities to increase its influence.  The U.S. State and Treasury departments, for example, provided Venezuela with financial advice, thus ensuring that the South American nation would not seek out such assistance from Nazi Germany.[92]  Furthermore, in July 1941, Washington promised to sell Venezuela $20 million worth of military equipment for approximately $9 million.  In that same year, US military advisors were sent to Venezuela.[93]  In further developments, in early 1942 Venezuela concluded a military collaboration agreement with the US which provided for US ground, naval, and air forces to enter Venezuelan territory in an effort to help defend oilfields.  By concluding this agreement with the United States, the Medina government was taking a slight political gamble: the Venezuelan constitution expressly forbade the leasing of national territory to a foreign power.  It also forbade foreign troops from entering national territory.[94]  Though Medina had moved against the companies, such diplomatic and military moves could go too far and expose the regime to criticism from left wing nationalists such as AD. 

 

Just as international developments served to bolster the Lopez regime, so would the course of the war after 1942 also help Medina.  Within two months of Medina's election, in fact, the German army invaded the Soviet Union.  Venezuelan communists abandoned their previously unpopular position of neutrality, and as a result the path was now clear for a closer convergence of views between the government and Communists.  By the end of 1941 Medina moved to sever diplomatic relations with the Axis powers; the Communists in turn launched a rigorous defense of the allied cause which now gained them a wider following amongst the anti-Nazi Venezuelan working class.  In a further startling development, Communists called on all non-reactionary forces to close ranks behind Medina and exhorted organized labor to desist from striking.  In the volatile international context, the Communists argued that strikes should only be used as a weapon of last resort.[95]  For all intensive purposes, AD mimicked the government as well, advocating a policy of 'benevolent neutrality' in favor of the allies.  AD however, was quick to temper this support by arguing that the war as essentially an inter-imperialist conflict, whose 'booty consists of the markets of underdeveloped nations.'  Furthermore, argued adecos, if Venezuela contributed to the war effort, it deserved a fair economic return for its moves against Axis powers.[96] 

 

Local Maracaibo Politics

 

In the oil zone in Zulia, AD followers who stood to be outflanked by Medina on the war sought to prove their patriotic credentials.  Through their official party newspaper, the party denounced alleged German influence.  In January 1942, the paper claimed that "correspondence" from Zulia revealed Nazi activities within Zulia state.  Recently, a button with a Nazi insignia had been found on the street in Maracaibo, which apparently had fallen from a necktie pin.  The button was found "in the vicinity of a commercial house belonging to a German firm, and belongs undoubtedly to some active member of the shadowy organization [presumably the Nazi party]."  The paper added that up until then, there was little indication that the resident German community of Maracaibo had been submitted to special police surveillance.  This was a matter of grave concern, as the Germans had extensive connections in Zulia, and "it is obvious what this proximity [of the German community] to the oil zones will mean."  In Zulia, the paper claimed, Nazi-fascist groups abounded, and "rumors were flying" that these groups, composed of foreigners and Venezuelans, might be active.  Accion Democratica concluded that persecution of Nazi fifth columns was important in this time of crisis and added that the local government should crack down on foreigners and suspend their rights.[97]  It is not clear whether the party pursued the story of an alleged Fifth Column in Venezuela, and claims by the newspaper have a ring of sensationalism.  AD was an opposition party in the state of Zulia, and it is tempting to surmise that adecos sought to discredit the local government or appear more patriotic than state officials.[98] 

 

More determined than ever, AD would shortly question the democratic principles of Zulia authorities.  With the intensification of the war in the Atlantic, state authorities debated the contentious issue of wartime censorship in a series of reforms to the state Constitution.  This debate proved to be ironic in many respects.  In addition to banning Communist doctrine and ideas, the state legislature also proposed banning "Nazi-fascist" doctrine.  Such a motion was obviously controversial, given the long history of press censorship under the Gomez dictatorship.  The debate was rapid, and the majority of state representatives voted against the measure.  The publishers of Accion Democratica, which criticized Zulia authorities for not taking a firm hand against foreigners, now posed as defenders of democratic freedom.  The paper remarked that the majority of the legislature was composed of closed off anti-democratic cliques linked to the state, "elected" in October 1941 during voting which did not allow for open monitoring and accompanied by almost complete abstentionism from "popular sectors."  Accion Democratica argued that the legislature was not morally qualified to take an ethical stand against Nazi-Fascist ideas.[99]  It is not clear from the evidence, however, whether AD defended the right of Communists, the party's political rival, to free speech or even Nazi sympathizers for that matter.

 

Military Matters

 

International developments would shortly draw Venezuela ever closer into the war, however, and render outright political feuding increasingly more difficult. Two days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Venezuela declared its solidarity with the United States and on December 31, 1941 the Andean nation severed relations with Germany, Italy, and Japan.  Initially, US military officials preferred that Venezuela stay neutral in an effort to preempt any German moves to shell Venezuela's coast.  Venezuelan neutrality, however was a mere legal fiction: in reality, Venezuela had granted US ships and airplanes special access to ports and airstrips.[100]  By siding with the United States, however, Venezuela exposed itself to German submarine attack.  Although the supposed Nazi fifth column failed to materialize or to organize any significant threat to state or local authorities in Zulia, AD continued its anti-Nazi campaign.  The party was particularly concerned about a menacing Nazi radio broadcast, threatening Latin American countries which had severed ties with Axis nations following a recent conference held in Rio de Janeiro.  AD claimed the Nazi warning was particularly directed at three countries, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia, nations that had spearheaded the anti-axis effort at the Rio conference.  Venezuela was the most threatened nation in the Americas, the party felt, because of its special strategic, military, and economic position.  Allied land, sea, and air power relied on Venezuelan oil; moreover Venezuela possessed "extensive Caribbean coastline, with numerous open bays, which could serve as naval and aerial bases to be used against the Panama Canal."[101]

 

AD's concerns were in fact not unfounded.  Tankers carrying petroleum from the western hemisphere had always been a primary objective in the German submarine campaign.[102]  In February 1942 German submarines plied Caribbean waters and sank 25 tankers in one month.[103]  One strategic objective for German submarines were the Dutch islands of Curacao and Aruba, Dutch colonies where US forces had set up defensive fortifications[104] and home to refineries which processed Venezuelan crude from Maracaibo.  With an estimated crude capacity of 480,000 barrels a day,[105] the Aruba refinery, owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey, and the Curacao refinery, owned by Royal Dutch Shell,[106] outranked Abadan in Iran with 250,000 barrels; the Baku complex in the USSR with about 230,000 barrels; and the largest plants in the United States at Baytown, Port Arthur,[107] Bayonne, Baton Rouge, and Whiting with over 100,000 barrels each.[108]   

 

On 15 February 1942, a convoy of oil tankers and ships left the Maracaibo Bar.  The first ships in line were the 'Monagas,' of the Mene Grande Oil Company, followed by the 'Tia Juana' and 'Pedernales' both belonging to the Lago Petroleum Corporation.  These tankers were followed by the 'Rafaela' belonging to Shell, and the 'San Nicolas'and 'Orangestad,' belonging to Lago Oil and Transport Co, based in Aruba.  A number of other tankers joined the column.  Suddenly the 'Monagas' received a strong impact, sinking immediately.  Three Venezuelan crewmembers were killed in the attack, as well as one of the commanding officers.  Twenty-one crewmembers were saved as well as the Captain.  After witnessing what had happened to the 'Monagas,' the other tankers changed course and proceeded to Aruba and the Venezuelan coast.  The tankers 'Tia Juana,' 'Pedernales,' 'Rafaela,' 'San Nicolas,' and 'Orangestad' were all hit by torpedoes and sustained casualties.  In all, four lake tankers were sunk and two were damaged.[109]  On the same day, the oil refinery on Aruba was attacked by German submarine shellfire.[110]  The refinery suffered minor damage and no casualties.[111]  Typically, tankers docking in Maracaibo would carry from 25,000 to 35,000 barrels of oil, so this German submarine attack would have resulted in substantial environmental damage, about 100,000 barrels of oil as a conservative estimate near to the Venezuelan coastline, plus an unspecified amount of oil possibly draining from the damaged tankers.  The action was the beginning of the Battle of the Caribbean from February 1942 to August 1943.  Termed PAUKENSCHLAG or "ROLL OF DRUMS" the U-boat operation in Western Atlantic/Caribbean waters was approved at a conference attended by Hitler and his naval advisers on December 12, 1941.[112]  It was not until 1943 that the tide turned in the battle for oil, and gradually the submarine menace was overcome in the Caribbean.[113]

 

The political fall out of the attack was predictable: by the 17th, street protests had hit Caracas, with angry Venezuelans demonstrating against German aggression.[114]  Within Zulia, oil workers at Mene Grande requested military instruction and great anxiety and shock reigned throughout the state.  A substantial number of crewmembers on board the oil tankers were Zulia natives.  Some of the wounded men were first brought to hospital in Maracaibo.  AD, seeking again to display its nationalist credentials, argued in February that the authorities should clamp down more harshly on supposed fifth column elements within Venezuela.[115]  Such charges would seem baseless: a full three weeks before AD issued its charges, Medina had issued Decree No 16, which provided for the control of the movement of Axis nationals and sympathizers in Venezuela.  Under the Decree, ex-Axis nationals who had become naturalized Venezuelan citizens and Venezuelan and Spanish nationals in the country suspected of pro-Axis and pro-fascist leanings would also be monitored.[116]  Meanwhile, Venezuela gave the United States permission to use its airfields in the Lake Maracaibo area for anti-submarine operations along the tanker shuttle route.  In March 13, 1942, US forces entered Puerto de la Cruz to help with coastal defense, and in June 1942 the United States was allowed to install and operate coastal batteries on Patos Island.  Such moves, however, were politically risky and in March 1943 the government sent the US force out of the country owing to strong pressures on President Medina.[117]

 

Oil and Wartime Production

 

In the short term, German U-Boat attacks signified serious economic losses for the Venezuelan state.  As a result of the lost tankers, production in the Lake Maracaibo Basin had to be cut back by nearly 100,000 tons of crude daily.  By July 1942 the situation was still dire, with tankers operating at only one-third their average capacity of 30,000 barrels and with a longer six-day turnaround as opposed to a normal one of two days.  As a result, Aruba and Curacao refineries operated at reduced capacity.[118]  Even more seriously, following the submarine attack many Maracaibo oil field wells were shut down and by May had still not been started up again.[119]  Overall, damage to the Venezuelan economy was devastating.  According to the Venezuelan Ministry of Development, in 1942 Venezuela produced only 148,154,365 barrels of oil, a significant drop from earlier years ( 226,780,800 barrels in 1941, 183, 830,117 in 1940, and 204,533,563 in 1939).[120]  The reduction resulted in decreased Venezuelan government revenues by 22 percent, and cut deep into the nation's foreign exchange reserves.  Venezuela could ill afford a reduction in oil exports: in 1942, petroleum represented 90% of the nation's exports and accounted for 40% of all government revenue.  The oil industry represented about 25 to 30% of gross domestic product.[121]  Annual production would pick up somewhat by 1943 at 179,383,349 barrels, an increase over 1942 but still below 1939 and 1940 levels, owing to scarcity of transport and some slight, ongoing submarine warfare.  All of this represented a serious set back for the oil industry.  "While this situation prevails," noted the American Consul in Maracaibo, "no oil is moving from Lake Maracaibo and most of the wells must be shut down.  A convoy system as now contemplated will greatly lengthen the turn-around of each tanker in the shuttle service."[122]  Spurred by greater demand and soaring prices, production would only increase by 1944, reaching 257,036,678 barrels during the year, and climbing to 323,405,191 in 1945. [123] 

 

Psychological Impact on Labor

 

Venezuelan labor, pinched by the economic slow down which had come about with German U-Boat attacks, radicalized.  The German submarine attack rattled many sailors, who had abandoned their ships and refused to continue work.  According to the US Consul, the Venezuelan crews were holding out for more advantageous employment terms, and were negotiating with the Venezuelan Minister of Labor and the heads of the various oil companies.  "Some local observers," said the Consul, "believe the seamen will not return to their tankers unless they receive a bonus of 50% over their basic pay." [124]  By May 1942, an agreement was negotiated with Venezuelan crews and the Mene Grande Oil Company, whereby the war bonus was increased from 10% to 20% as per before, with minimum wages of Bs 120 per month on the run from Lake Maracaibo to Las Piedras and Bs 170 per month on the run from Lake Maracaibo to Aruba.  This arrangement was designed to bring Venezuelan tankers into line with British ships, which had already fixed a war bonus of twelve pounds a month for every officer and crewmember.  Indemnities were increased by 100% for personal injury or death.  Under these terms, mediated by the authorities, Venezuelan crews went back to work.  Still, crewmembers did not achieve all of their goals: one demand of the workers, which would have required that tankers proceed only in daylight hours between the exit of Lake Maracaibo and Las Piedras, "has since been withdrawn."  "This demand," stated the American Consul, "greatly retarded the movements of the vessels…" According to the Consul, "most of the seamen wanted an escort vessel to accompany them and did not at first take kindly to the fact that the escorting ship was not always in sight."[125]

 

Though Venezuelan crews were at least successful in achieving some of their demands, other crewmembers were not.  On sea, it was largely Chinese and West Indians who manned oil tankers and who sustained the greatest casualties.  Chinese crewmembers on board tankers belonging to the Caribbean Petroleum Company had been recruited directly from China on a two-year agreement.  After service was disrupted following the German U-boat attack, a few Caribbean tankers were supplied with improvised crews.  The Chinese demanded a wage increase, perhaps a reasonable demand given that they had been excluded from a war bonus paid on Dutch ships.  When the Chinese refused to return to work, some 300 were treated as mutineers and put in a concentration camp on Curacao.  When a riot ensued, 12 were shot and killed.  The American Consul in Maracaibo commented, "even among certain officials of the Caribbean Petroleum Company in Maracaibo there is the feeling that the Chinese, active and important allies of the United Nations, were treated in a most disreputable way, likely to bring condemnation from the Government of China at Chungking."  In May 1942, the Chinese were so disgusted with their treatment that they refused to work under any terms.  They could not be repatriated and were held indefinitely by the Curacao authorities.[126]  The oil companies had long discriminated against Venezuelans and Antillean blacks, and the treatment meted out to the Chinese in this instance suggests that racism still shaped company policies.  Thus, even as oil companies proudly displayed their patriotic credentials by collaborating with the allied cause against a racist Nazi Germany, they continued to discriminate against their own workforce.

 

Though war represented a slight economic boom for sailors who were in the position to request bonuses, on land and in oilfields severe unemployment resulted from work stoppages. [127]  In May 1942, Accion Democratica related that on the Cabimas field oil companies had fired many workers.  It was unfair, argued the paper, that workers should be the ones to pay the price for Nazi submarine attacks.  The paper was quick to point to inconsistencies in the companies' wartime position.  If the companies wanted workers to be loyal and to protect oil installations from the threat of sabotage, then they should not let go of the workforce.  The paper argued furthermore that the government had not shown much patriotic spirit: it should protect workers and make sure Venezuelans were not fired during wartime hostilities.  Unlike Venezuela, pointed out Accion Democratica, the Chilean government had been more responsive to its people by signing an agreement with copper companies, ensuring that the latter would not lay off workers during the war.[128]  Thus, Medina profited from Venezuelan nationalism in the wake of Nazi submarine attack, however he was also coming under attack for not heeding the needs of Venezuelan labor.  The evidence suggests that despite combative editorials in Accion Democratica, workers continued to feel the pinch from wartime hostilities and the fall off in oil production.  In late 1942 the oil workers union of Cabimas sent a letter to Medina, expressing the need to continue and expand an oil company program which allowed laid off workers to acquire farming land.[129]

 

Oil Companies and War

 

With labor resentment growing in the oil zone, oil companies could ill afford to appear antagonistic towards the government.  However, old guard company managers, such as Creole Petroleum Corporation's Henry Linam, stood in the way of progress.  As the British representative at the Ministry of Fuel and Power put it in 1942, "Mr Linam…is a rough, tough, self-made American businessman, who, to borrow the phrase he would probably use himself, 'hates Roosevelt's guts,' is fanatically anti-New Deal, and is not persona grata either to the Venezuelan government or to the United States Ambassador at Caracas."[130]  Linam antagonized senior figures in the Medina government such as Attorney General Manrique Pacanins,[131] a figure who had sought the help of the oil companies in the drafting of a new oil law.  "But," noted the British authorities, "instead of giving it to him, they had produced a counterdraft which was inspired solely by selfish ends…a fact which he [Pacanins] attributed primarily to the Standard Oil Company and Mr Linam."[132] 

 

By November, it seems that not only was Linam viewed as a loose cannon by the Venezuelans but also by the Standard board, which relieved him as president.[133]  The British Foreign Office was pleased with the new switch, as Linam "had not the first idea of dealing with Latin Americans when the latter have most of the cards."[134]  Meanwhile, oil companies during the 1940s saw they would have to improve public relations.  Particularly keen on marketing public relations strategy was Creole Petroleum Corporation, a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.  Under the leadership of Proudfit and Linam, Creole would start a so-called "indoctrination school" to hire Berlitz instructors to teach Spanish on the fields.  Management increasingly realized that it could not achieve its objectives without appearing more sensitive to Venezuelans.  According to World Oil, the English instruction was positive, because "...students show remarkably keen insight into the aims behind the company's program, and realize that an American in a responsible job with no knowledge of the language, customs, laws, policies and relationships in a foreign country, is a definite, and sometimes dangerous, liability to his country." 

 

Another step initiated by oil companies was to provide medical assistance for squatters who lived outside the oil camps.  Creole started to construct schools and stores, provide medical services for workers and their families, operate extensive transportation systems to get workers from their homes to the worksites and back, and saw to sanitation, water supply and electricity.[135]  Simultaneously, the oil companies began to develop a public relations program.  Topicos Shell, the glossy magazine published by Shell in Venezuela, started publication in 1939.  The magazine was meant for internal company distribution.[136]  Topicos Shell provided articles dealing with technological innovations in the Venezuelan oil industry, staff and personnel, as well as news about the company's workers and oil field life.  El Farol, Standard's oil publication, was published bi-monthly and started in June 1939.[137]  At first, El Farol was mainly designed as a tool for management to communicate its views to employees.  Later, however, the emphasis changed and the magazine began to address social issues.[138]  Creole also had a radio show, "El Reporter Esso," transmitted from Maracaibo at the Ondas del Lago radio station.  The first transmission of the program was 2 March 1945.  Many of the same personalities who worked on El Farol and for Creole's public relations program also worked on the show.[139]

 

Medina and War

 

With the companies on the defensive, and with Creole in the midst of the furor over the Linam affair, Medina pressed his advantage.  The president announced that a new petroleum law would include provisions for refining oil in Venezuela, and that Henry Linam was persona non grata.  In a public effort to assert his nationalist oil policy, Medina made a celebrated visit to the state of Zulia.  Venezuelan Communists, eager to cultivate a burgeoning alliance with the president, organized mass demonstrations in support of the regime.  Medina allegedly made his Zulia tour at the behest of the Communist-controlled oil union, the Union Sindical Petrolera.[140]  The president's trip came at a sensitive moment for residents of Lake Maracaibo.  Three years after the tragic fire at Lagunillas, former natives of the town still suffered.  After the lake town had been destroyed, residents were forced at long last to emigrate to a nearby site on land, Ciudad Ojeda. 

 

However, the new settlement was hardly ideal for the newcomers, and in 1942 residents displaced from Lagunillas submitted a list of grievances to Medina when he arrived in Zulia.  Residents requested a medical dispensary, access to promised funding for the displaced, creation of a girl's school and water for rural homes and agriculture.  Residents had not received state, federal, or municipal monies to pay for supplies, firemen or repairmen.  Residents also claimed they were exposed to malaria despite improved drainage.  Another problem, complained the residents, was that Ciudad Ojeda was not located on municipal or federal lands but on property belonging to the British oil company Venezuela Oil Concessions.  As a result, no one had the right to build within the urban fabric of the town.  Residents wrote Medina that they had petitioned municipal, state, and even national authorities about this question, but their needs had not been attended to.[141]  Ranchers, who had been displaced by oil development in the vicinity of Lagunillas and who had relocated to the Ojeda area, also petitioned Medina.  They remarked that their cattle had no water to drink, and requested improved highway networks.[142]  Thus, Medina arrived in the state of Zulia at a moment of high political and social tension. 

 

The president rose to the occasion.  The international press described his main address at Maracaibo as hitting Venezuela 'like a bomb…setting off an explosion of nationalist sentiment.' It highlighted his statements that "oil should be a stable source of work," and that "Venezuela should have a major share of the wealth of the soil." At one point during the Maracaibo gathering, a Communist labor leader, Jesus Faria, remarked that the war paved the way for Venezuela to now request a fair share of its oil wealth.  Given that the United States and England were in the midst of global conflict, they would be more receptive to such a modest request.  Medina shrewdly realized that he might outmaneuver the Communists.  After Faria had finished his delivery, the president stood up and objected to the way in which the argument had been presented, arguing that Venezuela was a sovereign nation and that it did not have to ask Mr Roosevelt nor anyone else for permission to claim what rightfully belonged to Venezuela.[143] 

 

While it is unclear from the evidence whether Medina personally attended to all of the diverse needs of the Zulia population following his trip to Maracaibo,[144] the president did move aggressively to push a new petroleum law which was passed by Congress in March 1943; the new law stipulated that the Venezuelan government should receive 50 percent of oil industry profits.[145]  The law furthermore unified and updated previous oil legislation, the promotion of domestic refining, a broadening of government influence and powers, and the end of oil company customs exemption privileges.[146]  The US State Department, in no mood for trouble, urged the companies to work with the Medina administration.[147]  In the short-term, Medina had blunted the cries of nationalist critics.  Ominously, however, AD delegates in Congress protested that the government had not done enough to exert control over Venezuela's natural resources.[148]

 

Unlike AD, the Communists had supported Medina and played a combative role in criticizing the oil companies through their newspaper Aqui Esta!.  Interestingly, however, the paper did not limit itself to company abuses; it also attacked derelict local government officials within the oil zone.  Oil field life was hardly idyllic, according to the paper, especially in the large oil field of Cabimas, where workers did not receive adequate safety equipment[149] and were burned in industrial accidents.[150]  The paper also denounced oil company accidents on the water, as well as authorities' failure to ensure maritime safety.[151]  The companies had set up safety committees but these rarely carried out their mission.[152]  Meanwhile startling sanitary conditions prevailed on the oil fields; worker's houses were completely dirty; and garbage was not picked up.[153]  Even worse, in Lagunillas, some oil companies, particularly the Venezuela Oil Concessions, employed minors aged 16 to 18 for difficult physical work.[154]  Meanwhile, appalling public health conditions prevailed on the oilfields, and local residents suffered from malaria and gastroenteritis.[155]  Aqui Esta! reported that the companies did not provide adequate medical care[156] nor did they supply pure drinking water.[157]  Unfortunately, lake residents could not use lake water for domestic purposes as it was contaminated.[158]

 

Not only did Aqui Esta! tackle company abuse, but also publicized the shortcomings of the authorities.  The paper denounced allegedly derelict and corrupt oil inspectors working in areas inhabited by Motilon Indians, to the southeast of Lake Maracaibo.  One oil inspector, charged the paper, did not report oil spills by the Colon Development Company.[159]  The specific charges prompted the inspector to write a note to the paper defending the government's record in monitoring spills.[160]  The paper frequently published open letters written by government officials in response to community complaints.  For example, the Zulia Unification League, Lagunillas section, wrote to the Executive Assembly Ad Honorem in Charge of Price Regulation in Bolivar District, raising the question of the spiraling cost of local rents in Cabimas and Lagunillas.  Local authorities responded  publicly in the paper that they would promptly look into the matter and investigate.[161] 

 

Not only did workers have to put up with high rents, but also with elevated costs for food.  Within the town of  Mene Grande, for example, Aqui Esta! called on the authorities to normalize prices.[162]  Aqui Esta! also took up the needs of local residents in Mene Grande, where the authorities, argued the paper, had to do more to improve services at a medical dispensary.[163]  In Lagunillas, the town was in need of a slaughterhouse, a public market, a medical dispensary, and proper sewer system and aqueduct.  The perimeter of the city and adjacent areas needed to be cleaned up, cost of living reduced, and freedom of public meetings for political parties guaranteed to all.[164]  Aqui Esta!'s reporting of oil field life was corroborated by correspondence reaching the Venezuelan President's office.  According to the Cabimas Union of Petroleum Employees and Workers, families living on oilfields were subjected to very unsanitary conditions, but oilfields housing single men were even worse.  The union pleaded with Medina to supply an aqueduct for the community, more medical supplies, and obstetric assistance. The union went on to note that on different occasions, it had brought this dire situation up with the oil companies, which had in turn ignored the complaints.[165]  Another source of public health concern in Cabimas was roads, however following a lengthy press campaign, Aqui Esta! proudly reported that local streets had been paved over with oil, thus eliminating unhealthy dust that had plagued the community.[166]  At the local level, then, Communists and Zulianos lobbied the government and were at least somewhat successful in getting the authorities to acknowledge material problems within the oil zone.  Documentary evidence also suggests that the authorities took a keener interest in overseeing environmental conditions on the oilfields under Medina.  From 1942 onwards,  inspectors working with the Ministry of Development's Technical Office of Hydrocarbons recorded not only large spills in the Maracaibo Basin, but very minute ones as well.  Even more impressive, oil inspectors actually fined companies for their spills.[167]

 

German U-Boats

 

Though the Nazis attempted to disrupt allied shipping further, they did not represent a serious threat in the Caribbean after 1943.[168]  In July of that year German U-boats made one last serious attempt to damage the Venezuelan oil industry, when a submarine torpedoed and sunk the SS Rosalia, holding a full cargo of 4,000 tons of Venezuelan crude, near Curacao.  Not only did the incident create yet another environmental hazard in the area of the Dutch islands, but resulted in a high human toll. The crew on board the SS Rosalia was West Indian and Chinese.  Only thirteen men survived the attack after the ship went up in an explosion.[169]  Though the Nazi threat was receding, the OSS, the precursor of the American CIA, was concerned.  In a report submitted to the spying agency, a "qualified" observer, a historian on a trip to Latin America, set forth his remarks about the Maracaibo oil region.  The historian noted, "I have just returned from a trip through the oil country of Venezuela.  It was necessary for me to travel from Maracaibo to Merida and back in order to undertake a mission I had there. Travel in the oil country is extremely difficult.  The police are very vigilant in an awkward pestiferous sort of way."[170]  Notwithstanding this, added the historian, "it was my impression that with a good forged cedula No 4, foreign agents could move as easily through this area as I did."  In any case, however, the historian was skeptical about Nazi plans for the area, and tended to dismiss what he viewed as a sensationalist press: "While passing through Valera [sic] I came upon a sheet called Aqui Esta…which carried an article entitled "Submarinos Nazis en el Caribe: Relato de un Contrabandista."  The implication of the article is that preparations for submarine bases have been made in the Caribbean."  This, concluded the historian, was an "odd and apparently harebrained story."[171] 

 

FBI and Maracaibo

 

Nevertheless, by 1943 the US had an undercover FBI agent working with Creole Petroleum Corporation and about 80 American coast-artillery men stationed at Las Piedras, on the Paraguana Peninsula, to the North and East of Maracaibo.  It was thought that the area was vulnerable and exposed to enemy shelling from the sea, and submarine nets were placed before the entrance to the harbor.[172]  During the war, both Harry Prioleau, the executive vice-president of Creole Petroleum Corporation based in New York, and Arthur Proudfit, who ran Creole's operations in Venezuela, worked behind the scenes with the FBI.  The Bureau had two agents working undercover with Creole.[173]  In an FBI memo, the FBI remarked that "Mr Proudfit, who has his office in Caracas, Venezuela, has at all times been very cooperative with the office of the Legal Attache, is a great admirer of the Bureau and has been very discreet concerning the Bureau's connections with his company.  He has worked very closely with the Bureau agents using his company as a cover."[174] 

 

In March 1943, the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS prepared a report entitled "A Short Guide To Venezuela," presumably directed at US agents expected to work in Venezuela.  The report noted, "with respect to your mission you are in a tighter spot than your buddies in other continents.  The peoples of Asia and Africa know that we have traditionally had no national ambition for their resources or their land.  To them we are the defenders of the common man.  In Latin America this same view is not so widely held.  American firms doing business there have not always concerned themselves with the living conditions of their workers, nor shown proper regard for democratically established local government."  The report went on to spell out exactly what kind of behavior was expected of its agents in Venezuela: "In countries such as Venezuela, where American industrial activities predominate, American executives and engineers have sometimes refused to mingle freely with the people, have dealt only with the upper crust of society, and have worked closely with unpopular dictators.  Some of these Americans have done a disservice to our country.  Fortunately, however, there have also been scrupulous and sensible Americans who have tried to be 'good neighbors.'"  In another interesting aside, the report pointed out that, "there is no race prejudice in business and public life; don't be the first one to try it…Treat colored people without condescension and don't expect humility or inferiority from them."[175]  As US government officials worried about offending Venezuelan sensibilities, Medina continued to navigate a middle course on German nationals.  Venezuela only sent diplomats and their families to the United States for repatriation.  Meanwhile the authorities agreed to intern German sailors at various sites but under comfortable conditions.  To the concern of US officials, who sought a crackdown, ordinary German residents were left alone.  Venezuela ran its own internment facility, and declined US overtures to deport ordinary German residents to the United States.[176] 

 

Conclusion

 

Following the fall of the tyrant Gomez in 1935, Venezuelan politics was radically transformed as the result of dramatic social and political change.  Lopez and Medina, both military figures from the old gomecista tradition, sought to come to terms with these momentous changes, in the first case through repression and in the second through accommodation.  When war erupted in Europe in 1939 and both sides raced to control Venezuela's oil supply, the small South American nation was forced to take sides.  Though Venezuela paid a human and economic cost for its allegiance to the allied effort in the short term, the war probably bought political leaders some valuable time.  As long as Venezuela faced an external enemy, leaders could rally nationalist forces and blunt the strength of nascent political movements.  Oil companies for their part had to confront a hostile new environment where Communists openly agitated in the press against corporate abuse.  The unusual international climate allowed both Lopez and Medina to extract concessions from an increasingly more vulnerable oil industry which could not rely on host governments to provide a united front.  While the lull in naval combat from 1943 to 1945 did enable Venezuela to recoup its oil exports, politically such a pause in wartime hostilities did not perhaps work to president Medina's advantage.  By the fall of 1945, the war now ended, Medina and AD now vied for control of the country.  When Medina attempted to appoint a presidential successor at the end of his term, AD protested.  Young, modernizing officers feared a possible return of Lopez and old gomecistas on the right (which, they feared, would impede the advancement of their careers), and Medina's communist allies on the left who had been advocating for workers in such publications as Aqui Esta!.  The officers, along with their AD allies, participated in a military conspiracy to remove Medina from power.[177]  The rise of AD represented the triumph of emerging middle classes in Venezuela which had been clamoring for a voice in the nation's affairs ever since the death of Gomez.  Gomez' military successors had tried to contain or outflank this phenomenon during the war years, but ultimately only managed to postpone the day of reckoning.

 

Notes:

[1]  Charles Bergquist, Labor in Latin America, Comparative Essays on Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia.  (Stanford, 1986), p. 206
[2] Carl Soberg, Oil and Nationalism in Argentina (Stanford,  1979), p. 55
[3] Judith Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change (C. Hurst and Company, 1984), p 63
[4] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change , p 64
[5] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change , p 66
[6] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p 62
[7] Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives [hereafter LHCMA] University College London, Report by Colonel CG Vickers, V.C., on his mission to the British Communities in Certain American Countries and in Portugal, pp. 37, 38
[8] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p 74
[9]   Archivo Historico Ministerio de Energia y Minas, Caracas [hereafter referred to as AHMEM], Informe Annual Presentado al Ministerio de Fomento por la Lago Petroleum Corporation, 1938
[10]   Rosalba Monet, Sindicalizacion y Conflictos Laborales 1936-1941, Aportes Para El Estudio del Movimiento Obrero Venezolano, Magister Historia UCV Caracas 1986, p 341
[11]   AHMEM, Ministerio de Fomento, Direccion de Minas Correspondencia del Sindicato de Obreros Petroleros Caribbean Petroleum Estado Zulia, letter, Sindicato de Obreros Petroleros Distrito Sucre (San Lorenzo) to Ministerio de Fomento (Caracas) 20 April 1936
[12]   AHMEM, Ministerio de Fomento, Direccion de Minas Correspondencia del Sindicato de Obreros Petroleros Caribbean Petroleum Estado Zulia, letter, Nestor Luis Perez to WTS Doyle, Caribbean Petroleum Corporation, Caracas 15 June 1936
[13]   AHMEM, Ministerio de Fomento, Direccion de Minas Correspondencia del Sindicato de Obreros Petroleros Caribbean Petroleum Estado Zulia, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Maracaibo ( M Guadalajara G.) to Ministro Fomento (Caracas), 30 May 1936.
[14]   Laura Randall,  The Political Economy of Venezuelan Oil (New York: Praeger, 1987), pp.62-63
[15] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p 75
[16]   Petroleo, 21 Oct 1936, "De Lagunillas," p 3
[17]   Petroleo, 21 Oct 1936, "De Lagunillas," p 3
[18]   Petroleo, 21 Oct 1936, "Presidencia del Zulia---Notas Editoriales."
[19]   Bergquist,  Labor in Latin America, p.230
[20]   Bergquist,  Labor in Latin America, pp.230, 236
[21] Berguist, Labor In Latin America, p 240
[22]   National Archives, Washington [hereafter referred to as NA], RG 59, 831.00/1631, Nicholson to Secretary of State, Caracas June 29, 1936
[23]   NA, Internal Affairs of Venezuela, RG 59, 831.00/1637, Nicholson to Secretary of State, Caracas July 13, 1936
[24] Bergquist, Labor In Latin America, p 240, Winfield Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, 1935-1959 (Missouri , 1972), p. 38
[25]  Terry Lynn Karl, "Petroleum and Political Pacts in Venezuela: The Transition to Democracy," LARR, Vol 22, No 1, 1987, p. 71
[26] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p 75
[27]   AHMEM, Ministerio de Fomento, Inspectoria Tecnica de Hidrocarburos, Informe Contaminacion del Mar Por Los Hidrocarburos, Estado Zulia 1935, Eleazar Lopez Contreras to Ministro Fomento, Caracas 13 April 1935
[28]  Monet, Sindicalizacion y Conflictos Laborales, p 333
[29] NA, RG 59, 831.5045/44, Henry S. Villard to Secretary of State, Caracas 22 January 1937
[30] NA, RG 59, 84/848, Archer Woodford to John Bernhard, Maracaibo 23 December 1939
[31] NA, RG 59, 84/848, Archer Woodford to John Bernhard, Maracaibo 23 December 1939
[32] Boletin del Archivo Historico de Miraflores [hereafter referred to as BAHM], No 147-148-149, Jan 1996-June 1997, Manuel Maldonado to Lopez Contreras, Lagunillas 14 November 1939, pp 232-3
[33] BAHM, No 147-148-149, Jan 1996-June 1997, "La Tragedia de Lagunillas de Agua," telegraph, Manuel Maldonado to Lopez Contreras, 7/8 November 1939 p 223
[34] El Farol, "El Lamentable Siniestro de Lagunillas," November 1939 p 8
[35]  Karl,"Petroleum and Political Pacts in Venezuela," p. 70
[36] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 67
[37] Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, p. 36
[38] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 76
[39] Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, p. 40
[40] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 75
[41] John Knape, "British Foreign Policy in the Caribbean Basin 1938-1945: Oil Nationalism and Relations With the United States," JLAS, Vol 19 Issue 2 (Nov 1987), p. 279
[42]  Knape, "British Foreign Policy in the Caribbean Basin," 280
[43]  Stephen G. Rabe, The Road to OPEC : United States relations with Venezuela, 1919-1976 ( Texas, 1982), p. 73
[44]  Coordinator of Information OSS, Latin American Section Jan 9, 1943, Survey of Venezuela Sections III, IV, and V, No 80, pp. 39, 40, 42
[45]  LHCMA, Report by Colonel CG Vickers, p. 38
[46]  Public Records Office [hereafter referred to as PRO], FO 371/22581, A 6521, p.41, EJ Sadler to British Ambassador
[47]  PRO, FO 371/22581, A 6521,42, EJ Sadler to British Ambassador
[48] Fitzroy Andre Baptiste, War, Cooperation, and Conflict, The European Possessions in the Caribbean, 1939-1945 (Greenwood, 1988), p. 9
[49] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 69
[50] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 67
[51] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 68
[52] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 69
[53]  LHCMA, Report by Colonel CG Vickers, pp. 37, 38
[54]  Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 79
[55] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 71
[56]  LHMCA, Report by Colonel CG Vickers, pp. 37, 38
[57]  PRO, FO 371/22851, A 2348 29 March 1939, p. 21
[58] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 68
[59]  LHMCA, Report by Colonel CG Vickers, p. 38
[60]  Edward N Barnhart, "Citizenship and Political Tests in Latin American Republics in World War II," HAHR Vol 42, No 3 (August 1962), p. 297
[61]  Barnhart, "Citizenship and Political Tests in Latin American Republics," p. 298
[62]  Steve Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front, 1936-1945," JLAS, Vol 11, Issue 1 (May 1979), p. 172
[63]  Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 173
[64]  Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 173
[65]  Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 178
[66] LHCMA, Report by Colonel CG Vickers, pp. 37, 38
[67]  PRO, FO 371/22851, A 2348 29 March 1939, p. 35
[68]  PRO, FO 371/22851, A 6192/480/47, 12 Sept 1939, Mr Starling, Petroleum Dept, to Mr Balfour, 36
[69]  LHMCA, Report by Colonel CG Vickers, p. 38
[70] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 68
[71]  Survey of Venezuela OSS, Sections III, IV, and V, No 80 Jan 9, 1943, Appendix VI, Cities and Ports, Maracaibo, p. 104
[72] PRO, Admiralty Documents, Jan 1938, Major Nelville, Royal Marines, 20 Dec 1938, App B to NIC of 20th Dec 1938
[73]  Survey of Venezuela OSS, Sections III, IV, and V, No 80 Jan 9, 1943, Appendix VI, Cities and Ports, Maracaibo, p. 104
[74]   PRO, Admiralty Documents, Jan 1938, Major Nelville, Royal Marines, 20 Dec 1938, App B to NIC of 20th Dec 1938
[75]  NA, RG 59, 831.00-NAZI/1  LH, Nicholson to Secretary of State, Caracas March 24, 1938
[76]  Survey of Venezuela OSS, Sections III, IV, and V, No 80 Jan 9, 1943, Appendix VIII, Who's Who, pp  34-7
[77] Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, pp 45, 46
[78]  Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 173
[79] Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, p. 49
[80] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 76
[81] Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, p. 49
[82] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 77
[83] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 81
[84] Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, p. 49
[85] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 76
[86] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 82
[87] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 92
[88] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 90
[89] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 91
[90] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 67
[91] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 68
[92] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 71
[93] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 71
[94] Baptiste, War, Cooperation, and Conflict, p. 135
[95]  Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 173
[96]  Ellner,  "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 182
[97]  Accion Democratica, 31 January 1942, "Nazis En El Zulia," p. 6
[98] Though the OSS reported that the state president of Zulia in 1942, Alberto Losada Casanova, had pro-Nazi feelings, it is unclear if other state officials in Zulia had other similar leanings, see Survey of Venezuela OSS, Sections III, IV, and V, No 80 Jan 9, 1943, Appendix VIII, Who's Who, p. 20
[99] Accion Democratica, "Niegase Proposicion Contra el Nazi-Fascismo en La Legislatura del Zulia," 24 January 1942, p. 12
[100] Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 72
[101]  Accion Democratica, "Nos Amenaza El Tercer Reich," Feb 1942, pp. 7, 8
[102]  J.M. Spraight, "The War of Oil," Military Affairs, Volume 13 Issue 3 (Autumn 1949), p. 138
[103]  Spraight, "The War of Oil," p. 139
[104] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 115
[105] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 29
[106] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 31
[107] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 29
[108] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 31
[109] Efrain Barberii, De Los Pioneros a La Empresa Nacional 1921-1975, La Standard Oil of New Jersey en Venezuela (Lagoven, 1997) p. 216, NA, RG 59 831.6363/1279, Maracaibo May 18, 1942, Renwick McNeice to Secretary of State
[110]  NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.6363/1262, McNiece to Secretary of State, Maracaibo February 28, 1942, RG 59 831.6363/1279, Maracaibo May 18, 1942
[111]  Archivo Historico de Miraflores, Caracas [hereafter referred to as AHM], 15 TB, Feb 16-28.  Gilberto Ghersi to Secretary Presidency, 16 February 1942
[112] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 143
[113] Spaight, "The War of Oil," p. 139
[114]  AHM, 15 TB Gilberto Ghersi to Secretary Presidency, Caracas 18 February 1942
[115]  Accion Democratica, 28 February 1942, "Mene Grande Pide," "Repercusion de La Guerra Submarina en el Zulia," p. 6
[116] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 167
[117] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 168
[118] Baptiste, War, Conflict, and Cooperation, p. 145
[119]  NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.6363/1279  PS CLT, McNeice to Secretary of State, Maracaibo May 18 1942
[120] AHMEM [Archivo Historico Ministerio de Energia y Minas, Caracas], Ministerio de Fomento, Direccion de Hidrocarburos, asunto: Panorama Mundial de La Industria Petrolera, 1949, p. 18, WH Bostock, "Conozca Su Compania, 300,000 Barriles Diarios, Un Nuevo Record En La Produccion del Grupo Shell," Topicos Shell, March 1947, p. 4
[121]  David Painter, Private Power and Public Policy: Multinational Oil Companies and US Foreign Policy, 1941-1954 (IB Tauris and Co, 1986), p. 18
[122]  NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.6363/1262, McNiece to Secretary of State, Maracaibo Feb 28, 1942
[123]  AHMEM, Direccion de Hidrocarburos, Panorama Mundial de La Industria Petrolera, 1949, p. 18
[124]  NA, RG 59, 831.6363/1262, McNiece to Secretary of State, Maracaibo February 28, 1942
[125]  NA, RG 59, 831.6363/1279  PS CLT, McNeice to Secretary of State, Maracaibo May 18 1942
[126]  NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.6363/1279  PS CLT, McNiece to Secretary of State, Maracaibo May 18 1942
[127]   AHMEM, Direccion de Hidrocarburos, Panorama Mundial de La Industria Petrolera, p 18
[128]   Accion Democratica, 23 May 1942, p 8 "Despido de Trabajadores Petroleros."
[129]   AHM, Presidential Correspondence, 1-1-3, Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados Petroleros de Cabimas to Medina, 26-11-42
[130] PRO, FO 371/30743, A 9283 Starling, Ministry of Fuel and Power, to Mr Perowne, 7 October 1942
[131] PRO, FO 371/30743, Hopwood to Godber, 18 October 1942 
[132] PRO, FO 371/30743, Godber to Hopwood, 19 October 1942
[133] PRO, FO 371/30743, 19 November 1942 
[134] PRO, FO 371/30743, 1 December 1942, minutes
[135] Bergquist,  Labor in Latin America, pp.239,240, 242, Wayne C. Taylor, John Lindeman, The Creole Corporation in Venezuela, Washington?: National Planning Association, 1955, p.87., Joe Alex Morris, Nelson Rockefeller, A Biography (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), pp.119-120, George Ives, "Creole's Venezuela Indoctrination School," World Oil, September 1, 1947. 
[136]   F Scott Bob, A Comparative Study of Six Corporate Publications in Venezuela and the United States, MA Thesis UT Austin 1975, p 41. 
[137]  Omar Vera Lopez, Doble Via, Ensayo Sobre Comunicacion En La Empresa Moderna, Cromotip 1972, Caracas?  Edited, Creole Petroleum Corporation, p28
[138]  Bob, A Comparative Study of Six Corporate Publications in Venezuela, pp 44, 45 
[139]  El Farol, "Un Cuarto de Siglo de El Reporter Esso de Maracaibo," no 232 March 1970, p22
[140] Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 174
[141] AHM, 1-1-3, Informe Sobre Situacion i Necesidades de Ciudad Ojeda, Junta Pro Mejoras de Ciudad Ojeda, Alberto Nunez, Eugenia Zamarripa, Carlos R. Prieto, to Medina, Ciudad Ojeda 16 November 1942
[142] AHM, 1-1-3, Criaderos de Lagunillas, Rolendio Bracho, Simon Cruel, Ismael Sanchez, others, to Medina, n.d.
[143] Ellner, "The Venezuelan Left in the Era of the Popular Front," p. 175
[144] Documentation suggests that problems within the oil zone were left to fester, and several months later a local community group, the Zulia Unification League, wrote President Medina regarding the town of Cabimas.  The oil settlement lacked an aqueduct and sewer system, and the municipal hospital lacked sufficient resources to attend to the community.  See AHM, Box 1-1-3, Liga Unificacion Zuliana to Medina, Cabimas 16 November 1942
[145] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 77
[146] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 68
[147] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 77
[148] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, p. 68
[149]   Aqui Esta!, "Arbitrariedades en Cabimas," Jan 17, 1945 p.12
[150]   Aqui Esta! 6 Dec 1944, "Informacion de Mene Grande, Un Accidente de Trabajo," p 11
[151]   Aqui Esta!, 2 June 1943, "Notas de Lagunillas---Hacen Falta Boyas Especiales Para Las Gabarras," p. 6
[152]   Aqui Esta!, 16 Aug 1944, "Informacion de Mene Grande, Un Comite Que De Seguridad No Tiene Nada," p 6
[153]   Aqui Esta!, 12 July 1944, "Notas de Lagunillas, Falta de Sanidad en Campo Milagro," p.6
[154]   Aqui Esta!, 12 July 1944, p 12 "Notas de Lagunillas, Las Companias Petroleras Emplean Menores,"
[155]  Aqui Esta!, 28 February 1945, "De San Lorenzo y San Timoteo, Absorviendo Tierra Vive La Gente En San Lorenzo y San Timoteo," p 6
[156]  Aqui Esta!  "Noticias de Mene Grande, Importante Asamblea de LUZ en Lagunillas."
[157]  Aqui Esta!  19 January 1944, "Notas de Casigua"
[158]  Aqui Esta! 23 February 1944, p 6 "Reivindicaciones del Municipio Gral Urdaneta.'
[159]  Aqui Esta!, 6 December 1944, "Desde Motilonia, en El Estado Zulia," p 14
[160]  Aqui Esta!, 17 January 1945, "Estado Zulia---Aclaratoria a Mis Compatriotas de Motilonia," N. Andarcia Arias p 4
[161]  Aqui Esta!  January 5, 1944, "La Junta Ejecutiva ad Honorem Reguladora de Precios en el Distrito Bolivar Contesta a Liga Unificacion Zuliana Seccion Lagunillas."
[162] Aqui Esta!, 12 January 1944, 'Noticias de Mene Grande, Elevadisimos Precios en Los Articulos de Primera Necesidad.'
[163]  Aqui Esta! 12 Jan 1944, 'Noticias de Mene Grande, Proteccion Oficial Para el Sostenimiento de Un Dispensario.'
[164]  Aqui Esta! 26 Jan 1944, "Por Una Unidad de Accion en Bien de Lagunillas."
[165]   AHM, 1-1-3, Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados Petroleros de Cabimas to Medina, 26-11-42
[166]   Aqui Esta! 3 March 1945, "Niegan Petroleo En Las Calles," p 4
[167]   Ministerio de Relaciones Interiores, Memoria y Cuenta, Ministerio Relaciones Interiores 1945, p XXIV, Exposicion, "Aplicacion de la Ley de Vigilancia Para Impedir La Contaminacion de Las Aguas Por El Petroleo."
[168]  In February 1945, when Germany no longer had the military potential to attack the Caribbean area, Venezuela declared war on the axis in order to be eligible for membership in the emerging United Nations.  See Rabe, The Road To OPEC, p. 72
[169]  Stanton Hope, Tanker Fleet, The War Story of The Shell Tankers and The Men Who Manned Them (London: Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company, 1948), pp 59-60
[170]  Coordinator of Information, Latin America Section, April 10, 1942, p. 1
[171]  Coordinator of Information, Latin America Section, April 10, 1942, pp 6, 8
[172]  NA, RG 59, Internal Affairs Venezuela, 831.6363/1279  PS CLT, McNeice to Secretary of State, Maracaibo May 18 1942
[173]  Declassified FBI file, Prioleau to Hoover, Feb 25, 1946, file no 64-28947
[174]  Declassified FBI file, CH Carson to DM Ladd, February 4, 1946, file No. 64-28947-6
[175]  OSS/State Dept Intelligence and Research Report part XIV 1941-1961, "A Short Guide to Venezuela, 12 March 1943, pp 1, 3, 57
[176]  Max Friedman, Nazis and Good Neighbors, The United States Campaign Against The Germans of Latin America in World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp 149, 150, 239
[177] Ewell, Venezuela A Century of Change, pp 94-5

Be the first to comment

Dissertation

 D Phil., (Ph.D.), Modern History (Latin America), Oxford University, July 2002 (Dissertation: "Maracaibo Black Gold: Venezuelan Oil and Environment in the Era of Juan Vicente Gómez, 1908-1935").  No online link.

Be the first to comment