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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.