An Outpost of Progress – The Heart of Darkness


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Patio of La Rotunda – Caracas, Venezuela.   Jail Chief Pacheco earned a unique reputation in murdering political prisoners. While Pacheco’s underlings tortured prospective corpses, Pacheco drowned out the victims cries with sentimental strains of the harp. He was christened NERO. He is now serving a 25 year sentence in jail.

One of the essential elements of travel is that you often find yourself in a place that does not share the political system that you live with at home on a daily basis. For many Americans that means they may be visiting a county that has little or no use for political dissension and absolutely no scruples about how they suppress it. The myth of Simon Bolívar is that he played a key role in Latin America‘s successful struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire and was the Washington of South America. The reality is that he was closer to Napoleon having finally proclaimed himself dictator on the 27th of August 1828 just as the little corporal had himself crowned emperor. Much of Venezuela‘s 19th century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule. In 1899 Cipriano Castro, assisted by his friend Juan Vicente Gómez, seized power in Caracas, marching an army from his base in the Andean state of Táchira. Castro defaulted on Venezuela’s considerable foreign debts, and declined to pay compensation to foreigners caught up in Venezuela’s civil wars but when Castro left for medical treatment in Germany and was promptly overthrown by Gómez.

The Rotunda viewed from above - the same yard served for exercise and execution.

The Rotunda viewed from above – the same yard served for exercise and execution.

The discovery of massive oil deposits in Lake Maracaibo during World War I prompted an economic boom that would make Venezuela’s per capita gross domestic product Latin America’s highest.  Gómez benefited handsomely from this, as corruption thrived, but at the same time, the new source of income helped him centralize the Venezuelan state and develop its authority. He remained the most powerful man in Venezuela until his death in 1935. The gomecista dictatorship system largely continued under Eleazar López Contreras until 1941 with only the periodic nods to democratic reform that have passed like breezes through the savannah from time to time. Prehaps Bolivar’s words, All who served the Revolution have plowed the sea, are prophetic and only in the rarest and happiest of circumstances can people truly enjoy the fruits of a republican government. Although Standard Oil practised politics only at the highest level during his service there and the workers were shielded from most of the political instability Bill still witnessed the aftermath of horror. Bolivar, being sterile, left no heirs but that has not stopped the sterility of ideas that have filled the political vacuum from Bolivar to Chavez – and beyond.

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Hole in Wall. President Gomez used to put his political prisoners in such a cell where the prisoner was cramped for room. Light came from a small hole about the size of a brick. Prisoners were poorly taken care of and usually went crazy or died of starvation. The prison is now demolished. [pictures taken in 1937]

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