These settlers and explorers truly exposed the indigenous people to the
Europeans. However, it was the shift from seeking quick riches to cattle
ranching and farming (over time cocoa proved to be the most valuable of these plants)
that ended the historic culture of the people and this settlement brought in many
Europeans as these settlers took most of the fertile land in the region.
As farming and herding took control over the Spanish-led economy,
primarily in the 1600s-1700s, many indigenous people were used as labor, while others
fled to the jungles and mountains. The settlers needed more labor though so began
bringing in slaves from Africa. This time created an odd
culture in the region that has significantly led to today's culture. The indigenous
people sought freedom and retreated to maintain their way of life, the African population
increased while bringing with them new foods, music, and clothing, and the Spanish
settlers became the dominant force in politics and economics.
Through trade and settlement, in addition to Venezuela's
location, the people became closely tied, economically, with the Caribbean
in addition to other Spanish colonies. In many ways, the region became a median
between the Spanish colonies of South and Central America
and the British and French
colonies of the Caribbean. This expanded trade, knowledge, education, political
beliefs, and even settlement as Europeans (and not just of
Spanish origin) continued to settle Venezuela.
Throughout the 1600s and 1700s the culture in Venezuela
continued to change dramatically, however most of those changes came on the side
of the European settlers. The indigenous people continued
to live primarily in the jungles and mountains, maintaining a fairly loyal culture
to their past as they lived off the lands. The European settlers created a culture
very distinct from that of Spain and the indigenous people.
Due to heavy European influences from the Caribbean, due to settlers from numerous
countries, in particular Germany, due to the slaves, and
even due to the contacts and marriages the people had with the local people, the
culture and people were transformed from living a "Spanish" lifestyle
to something entirely unique to Venezuela.
These differences in culture became very apparent in 1811 when
Venezuela declared independence from Spain (which
came with the help of France invading Spain at the time).
The early years of independence were slow as internal conflict and wars continued
for a number of years. After their initial declaration of independence, but not
full independence, Simon Bolivar led battles for full independence in 1812 and again
This independence was not sought by everyone and the wars killed a huge percentage
of the population. There seemed to be a divide between the people regarding economic
standing and education. The educated and wealthy population generally sought independence
to lift trade restrictions and for intellectual and cultural growth. Most of the
people in the lower economic classes wished to remain under the control of
Spain, hence making a divided country and a very brutal war. Once independence
was gained, Venezuela was joined with modern day
Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador
as an independent country called Gran Colombia.
In 1826 Venezuela then declared that it was going to separate
from Gran Colombia to form its own country. Bolivar, who ruled over Gran Colombia
and was from Venezuela, fought this separation and declared himself dictator, but
the movement was already too far along and the people wanted independence, which
they gained in 1831.
While the move to separate from Gran Colombia was primarily economic in nature,
it also had cultural implications as each of these new countries continued to form
very distinct societies. First as a separation from Spanish
culture, and later as a separation from each other as each had different lifestyles.
For example, Venezuela was well educated, had large pasturelands,
and was home to a very diverse population.
Despite the changing culture, Venezuela was more concerned about the changing political
scene and the rest of the 1800s was a time when the country was filled with a series
of rotating leaders often referred to as caudillos (strongmen). This led
to incredible political turnover, as a new leader (or dictator) took over the country
every few years. This instability meant Venezuela fell
behind many countries in terms of economic growth and social issues.
Most of these numerous leaders were ethnic Europeans who
had enough power and money to raise an army personally and take power. This didn't
mean they had to have any experience or know what they were doing, which was one
of many reasons for the regular changes. Among these many leaders, the first and
one of the most influential in the 1800s was Jose Antonio Paez. Paez had strong
support and used numerous puppet leaders to rule the country from about 1829-1847
then again as a dictator during the Federal War of 1858-1863.
From 1847-1858 the Monagas brothers, Jose Tadeo and Jose Gregorio, ruled the country.
These brothers abolished slavery in 1854 and ended capital punishment, which, in
a way, encouraged later coups as the worst a potential dictator could face was prison
or exile. Again their rule was short-lived and the Federal War broke out in 1858,
ending in 1863 when the Federalists came to power.
Guzman Blanco came to power in 1887 and tried to implement numerous social changes,
such as education and an expanding infrastructure. The attempts had some success,
but the country didn't have the money to finance these projects and the people
remained divided. As in the past, change and turnover was regular as the people
struggled to unite as one people. This disjointed country continued after Blanco's
rule with civilian presidents, who ruled until nearly 1900.
In 1895 and again in 1908 the country faced international conflicts, first with
the United Kingdom over their border with
Guyana and then with the Netherlands. As this
second war was breaking out, Venezuela's president,
Cipriano Castro fell ill and went abroad for treatment. As soon as he left Juan
Vicente Gomez, his general, took over and held power until 1935.
The early 1900s were a huge change from the past century as stability was guaranteed
and oil was discovered. This led to the country paying off their foreign debts,
building infrastructure, and it allowed the former general to build a standing army
to prevent another coup or foreign invasion. While he vastly improved the economic
and military states, social rights lagged behind during his rule and most of the
population remained poor and uneducated.
In 1945 the Democratic Action party led a coup and took over the country. They initiated
universal suffrage and were legally voted into office, but by 1948 another coup
had removed them from power. This new coup led to a military-styled dictatorship,
which lasted until 1958. This political instability continued through the 1960s,
1970s, and 1980s. Many people took control for long periods of time, but the economic
situation rarely improved as the country began to rely almost entirely on oil production.
In 1992 an attempted coup failed as one soldier in this coup, Hugo Chavez, was captured
by the government. Although not the leader of this coup, he wisely negotiated between
the government and those involved in the coup. During these talks he proved himself
an excellent negotiator and spokesman, making him a well-known figure throughout
the country. Despite this, the government in control maintained power until the
next election, at which time Chavez and other coup members were released from prison.
In 1998 Chavez won the presidential election in Venezuela
and he undertook major changes to the government as a new constitution was introduced
and the country became very socialist in many regards. Chavez has continued to make
changes to the government and has maintained control over the government since this
time, although there have been regular protests against him and numerous foreign
countries have openly protested his actions.