An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – A whiff of revolution


PROLOGUE: There are people who insist on an equivalency between the American and South American revolutions and are fond of labeling Simon Bolivar as the Washington of Latin America. It is one of the great inaccuracies that historians love to engage in and based on the results the Latin American revolutions are far more akin to the French, with its Terror, and Bolivar is merely the first in a long line of caudillos who hold power, rather than authority, and still plague these unstable nations.

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The first experiment in globalization – European colonization [be it military or economic] – did nothing to contribute to the progress of the newly independent people or the indigenous peoples who hoped to share in that independence.  José Antonio Páez was succeeded by civil war in which hundreds of thousands died – in a country with a population of not much more than a million people – was succeeded by Antonio Guzmán Blanco who was succeeded by  Venezuela Crisis of 1895 in which the United States took an active role by declaring that the Monroe Doctrine made any matter within the hemisphere an American interest. In 1899 Cipriano Castro, assisted by Juan Vicente Gómez seized power in Caracas and Gomez would by the tyrant of the Andes until his death in 1935 and even though Eleazar López Contreras would be in charge while Bill Leach was in the country it was still a gomecista dictatorship.

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One of the major rules of maintaining a dictatorship is the promotion of xenophobia – if there is an external locus as the source of the country’s problems there is someone else to blame. With a large influx of foreign workers the targets were there. Jose Rafael Pocaterra – who would be in turn a journalist, imprisoned, a revolutionary, the minister of communications and the ambassador to the United States – described the oilmen as “the new Spaniards” when he wrote in 1918, One day some Spaniards mounted a dark apparatus on three legs, a grotesque stork with crystal eyes. They drew something (on a piece of paper) and opened their way through the forest. Other new Spaniards would open roads…would drill the earth from the top of fantastic towers, producing the fetid fluid…the liquid gold converted into petroleum.

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Popular resentment of the foreign oil companies was also evident and expressed in several ways. Rufino Blanco Fombona – another writer and revolutionary [buried in the National Pantheon of Venezuela no less] give a typical account for the conflict between the workers and their foreign bosses in his 1927 novel, La Bella y la Fiera, The workers asked for a miserable salary increase and those blond, blue-eyed men who own millions of dollars, pounds and gulden in European and U.S. banks, refused.

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With no central authority in law to protect either the workers or the investors there is no real surprise to the frequency of violence, the ultimate nationalization and expropriation of property and the continuing failure for any of the process to benefit the workers. Although there were no full-blown revolutions while Bill Leach was in the country and the worst excesses of government seizures were still 30 plus years away there was always an undercurrent of the fear and instability that would culminate in the current dictatorship.

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Here it is January 29th and the days are passing  innocently by.  At last I find something to write  about.  Excitement galore today for a huge fire  swept the village of Caripito in which 46 houses  were burned and a number of people were burned.   One deaf and dumb Venezuelan who was asleep at the  height of the fire was seriously burned and is at  the present time at the hospital. Another one was  admitted the following day but he was not burned as  seriously as the former. A great many of the  inhabitants whose homes were burned were forced to  find both relief and shelter as best they could.   The people are hanging their sleeping hammocks at  the most convenient place and they are strung all  over.

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January 30th: Some more excitement for the  American-speaking Venezuelan and originally from  Caracas, and a member of a prominent family, who  works for the Industrial Relations Department was  killed by a native contractor.  This event was  enough of a spark to create friction among the  natives.  Somehow the natives taking advantage of  this event to create more friction against the  Americans.

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At the present time the Caripito and Quiriquire  camps are undergoing strict guard for the gates are locked and no one is  permitted to go outside the gates unless absolutely  essential.
I imagine that the Caripito Camp is wide awake and  is set for any emergency that may crop up.     Here’s hoping that nothing sets off the mob. The  native mobs are hell when they get started for  there is no controlling any of them once they get  started.

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Excitement is at a high pitch for a number of  circular letters stated that two men were to be  killed and that the tanks of our refinery were to be  set on fire.  This caused much worry on the part of  the officials since one death has already occurred.   Extra guards are placed all around the refinery  and all other necessary points about the camp.

January 31 – All is well so far and nothing has  happened.

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Tuesday, February 1st.  At about 2:00 o’clock early  this morning two of the natives guarding manager  Linam’s home fired on some native prowlers who were  no doubt up to some mischief of some sort.  Before  any damage could be done they were fired upon and  managed to escape down the nearest “Cabrada”. This  incident according to reports had the rest of the  camp up and around and fully armed for the  remainder of the morning.  These natives are so  peculiar that no one knows what to expect from them  next; but it seems that one can always expect  trouble of some sort.  I would not be surprised to hear one of  these days, that some foreigner as we are often  called, would be shot at or stabbed, for they think  little of taking one’s life.  It often makes one  feel rather jittery at times, especially at night  when the camp is asleep.

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