BECK index

Venezuela & Guianas 1850-1935

by Sanderson Beck

Venezuela of Monagas & Civil War 1850-70
Venezuela of Guzmán Blanco 1870-87
Venezuela of Crespo & Cipriano Castro 1887-1908
Venezuela of Gómez 1908-35
British Guiana & West Indies 1850-1935
Surinam & the Dutch Antilles 1850-1935
French Guiana 1850-1935

Venezuela of Monagas & Civil War 1850-70

Venezuela 1830-50

      José Tadeo Monagas (1784-1868) used dictatorial power in Venezuela 1848-51. He replaced Conservatives with some Liberals and moved toward that party. He had become rich during the struggle for independence and was considered a war hero. He liked to control things and appointed those who would obey him to the top positions in the government. He closed newspapers that opposed him. Many in Congress submitted to his executive power, though some Liberals joined with Conservatives against him. In 1850 his brother José Gregorio Monagas (1795-1858) was elected, and he was President 1851-55. In May 1853 a revolt broke out in Valencia that spread, and this led to the ending of slavery. On 23 March 1854 the Liberals abolished it, and 40,000 slaves were soon freed. They also ended the death penalty, expanded education to the poor, and made town councils autonomous, though these things were not always implemented.
      José Tadeo Monagas supported his brother Gregorio and was re-elected President by the Electoral College with all but one of the 398 votes in 1855. Two days later the cooperative Congress elected José Tadeo to another term that began on 20 January 1855 with his nephew and son-in-law as Vice President. Political leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties stopped the Monagas brothers’ attempt to extend the President’s term from four years to six with no restrictions on re-election. On 2 March 1857 Tadeo proposed a constitution that was promulgated on April 18 and gave the President the authority to choose the provincial governors and the Congress the power to select the next President and Vice President. Some organized opposition outside of Venezuela, and the Congress of 1858 granted amnesty to political exiles since 1848.
      In April 1856 President Tadeo Monagas had appointed General Julián Castro the governor of Carabobo, and he became leader of the Conservative opposition in March 1858 and launched a revolution. Tadeo Monagas resigned on 15 March 1858 and took refuge at the French embassy. Congress elected a provisional government. Castro arrived in Caracas on March 18, and he claimed the presidency in a coup d’état announcing, “No party has triumphed. The whole nation has triumphed. Let us all unite.”1 The Conservatives’ slogan was “Union of the Venezuelans and forgetting the past.”
      General Juan Crisóstomo Falcón Zavarce led a revolt at La Guaira that was put down by troops led by Carlos Soublette who had been President of Venezuela for six years between 1837 and 1847. On 27 August 1858 the foreign diplomats and the commissioners agreed to let the Monaga family leave, and the Convention expelled the Monagas for life. On December 31 a new Constitution was promulgated that gave the people more power in elections and in Municipal Power over local government. Conflict between the Conservatives and Liberals caused a civil war called the “Federal War” to begin in February 1859 that would last until July 1863 as local caudillos (political and military leaders) fought for power. Liberals supported federalism while Conservatives wanted centralized power. The guerrilla war was fought only in some areas while in the capital at Caracas they debated the issues.
      President Julián Castro included in his cabinet Fermín Toro who demanded inspection of peculation in the Treasury. Castro’s administration was marred by corruption and attempted coups. Wenceslao Urrutia arranged for French and British diplomats to escort the ex-president Monagas out of Venezuela, and this was challenged and led to a conflict in which the French and British broke off relations and blockaded Venezuela with warships in May. A National Convention met at Valencia in July to draft a new charter. Liberals planned a revolt, but Toro was president of the Convention. They gave Castro dictatorial power to handle the revolt.
      In 1859 most of the wealth in Venezuela was in the hands of a few landowners and merchants. President Julián Castro tried to work with Conservatives and Liberals and formed a cabinet in February 1859. The Federal War started on the 20th when forty revolutionaries took over Coro and then made exiled Ezequiel Zamora their chief. He had taken up arms in September 1846 in the town of Guambra, but his Lions were defeated at the Battle of the Laguna de Piedra on 26 March 1847. A court sentenced him to death. President Monaga commuted it to ten years, but Zamora escaped on the way to Maracaibo Prison. After getting a pardon the next year he fought in the Liberal army for Monaga against the landlords, and he captured ex-president José Antonio Páez in 1849 and took him to Caracas. Zamora was promoted in 1851 and later exiled. He returned on 22 February 1859, and on the 25th he declared Coro a federal state. He gained support at an El Palito meeting, and on March 28 he took over San Felipe which had become part of the federal province of Yaracuy on 15 March 1855. In 1859 General Zamora led the fight in the west and tried to take over Puerto Cabello. General Falcón Zavarce arrived in July and directed the Federalists in the east. President Julián Castro retired in June but resumed a week later causing a period of chaos until he was imprisoned on August 2. Pedro Gual was President until he was succeeded by Vice President Manuel Felipe de Tovar on September 29.
      In a major battle on December 10 at Santa Inés forces led by Ezequiel Zamora defeated the Government’s army. During a battle for the square in the city of San Carlos on 10 January 1860 a sniper shot Zamora in the head, and he died. On February 17 the Government’s army defeated Federalists at Coplé, and Falcón Zavarce fled to New Granada. Conservatives wanted General José Antonio Páez to be dictator, and Tovar resigned on 20 May 1861 and was succeeded by Vice President Pedro Gual who was 78 years old. He asked Páez to resign his ministry, but the Caracas garrison arrested Gual and declared 71-year-old Páez chief on August 29. He became dictator on September 10, though his negotiation with Falcón failed at Carabobo in December. In January 1862 Páez reorganized the ministers and transferred power in Venezuela to Pedro José Rojas.
      In August 1862 General Falcón sent Antonio Guzmán Blanco to Caracas, Aragua, Carabobo, and Guárico, and by early in 1863 the Federalists controlled most of Venezuela. Páez made a treaty at Coche that was signed on May 22 and ratified on June 6 which gave power to the Federalist leader Falcón Zavarce who became President on June 15. In the Federal War about 175,000 Venezuelans lost their lives, most of them from malaria and dysentery.
      Falcón Zavarce shared the spoils of war with his friends, and he published a Decree of Guarantees to affirm democracy and human rights in August. That month the new Minister of Foreign Affairs Guzmán Blanco arranged a loan in London for £2 million based on custom duties, and he was Venezuela’s ambassador to Spain 1863-66. The Venezuelan Constituent Assembly approved the terms of the loan on 14 January 1864, though they actually got only £900,000 at 6% interest. The national debt was up to 51 million pesos. President Falcón let provincial leaders govern. The Constituent Assembly on 24 December 1863 was mostly military.
      Guzmán directed the drafting of a new Constitution that passed on 28 March 1864 and went into effect on April 13 changing the country’s name to the United States of Venezuela with the provinces organized into twenty states. Municipal Power was retained, and the states had judiciaries independent of the federal system. Some uprisings and mutinies broke out in 1864. More opportunity made the nation less unequal and enabled more people to become literate. In October the United States recognized the government of Venezuela.
      Guzmán was Foreign Minister again for 82 days in 1867. That year the Blue Revolution was led by the former President José Tadeo Monagas and Miguel Antonio Rojas, and on 25 April 1868 the Army Chief of Staff Manuel Ezequiel Bruzual was made President of Venezuela until June 28 when he was replaced by the new Foreign Minister Guillermo Tell Villegas. He served in both positions and revived the Federal Constitution of 1864 and civil rights until 20 February 1869 when José Ruperto Monagas, son of Tadeo, became President until 16 April 1870. On that day Villegas came back as President but only for 11 days as the capable Antonio Guzmán Blanco became the Provisional President of Venezuela.

Venezuela of Guzmán Blanco 1870-87

      On 27 April 1870 Guzmán Blanco was well received in Caracas, and he was made the Provisional President with dictatorial powers. He led the Yellow Liberals, took command, and pacified the nation in less than two years. On June 27 he decreed that primary education was free and mandatory for all children. In 1871 he issued the venezolano currency with a picture of Simón Bolívar, and he decreed Los Roques and other islands the Columbus (Colon) Territory. That year President Guzmán allowed Cuban exiles in Venezuela to prepare for an attack on the Spanish government in Cuba. He centralized political and economic power and reduced the number of states from 20 to 9.
      Foreign loans and coffee production benefited the nation. The Federal Legislative Palace was built from 1872 to 1877 for the National Assembly. A new constitution in 1872 helped to organize representative government with universal suffrage to elect the president directly. Guzmán made the ports send their customs revenues to the federal government instead of the state governments. He issued bonds to restore credit and gave concessions to foreign investors. His programs developed communication and transportation. He encouraged commerce with the United States and investment in Venezuela. He ended state subsidies to the Catholic Church, proclaimed freedom of religion, confiscated church property, banished the archbishop, closed convents, and legalized civil marriages and created a civil registry of births and deaths.
      Guzmán was easily re-elected in 1873. That year the Venezuela census counted 1,784,194 people, and the state of Carabobo had 449 generals, 627 colonels, 967 majors, 818 captains, and 589 lieutenants. In 1874 Guzmán began the Ministry of Public Works. After his seven-year term ended on 27 February 1877, he went to Europe. His wife Jacinta went on military campaigns with him and attended political meetings. She ran the family business when he was in exile.
      Francisco Linares Alcántara was elected and became President on 27 February 1877. He extended liberal policies, granted amnesty to political prisoners, and allowed press freedom. Some of Alcántara’s policies were opposed by gumancistas who claimed they were vindicating revolution, and Alcántara died on 30 November 1878.
      He was succeeded by his half-brother José Gregorio Valero on December 15, and on 13 February 1879 General José Gregorio Cedeño proclaimed Guzmán Blanco president again. On 27 June 1880 he decreed that all children aged 7 to 14 were required to attend free public schools, and the Ministry of Public Instruction was started in 1881. The census reported that only three cities had more than 10,000 people, and they were Caracas with 55,638, Valencia with 36,145, and Maracaibo with 22,209. In 1881 a new constitution reduced the 20 states to 9, and it made the election of the president indirect for only a two-year term. After Guzmán’s five-year term his friend Joaquín Crespo was elected President in 1883, and he began serving on 26 April 1884. By 1885 Venezuela had nearly 2,000 primary schools with about 100,000 students. Guzmán went to Europe again and returned to become President again on 15 September 1886. The Federal Council, which had one senator and one deputy from each state, elected him for a two-year term. On 8 August 1887 Guzmán retired and let the soldier Hermógenes López, who had governed the Yaracuy state, succeed him for 11 months.

Venezuela of Crespo & Cipriano Castro 1887-1908

      Juan Pablo Rojas Paúl in July 1888 became Venezuela’s first civilian President elected in 50 years. He had been Minister of Finance 1879-84. President Rojas faced violent demonstrations protesting Guzmán’s policies, and he helped found the National Historical Academy. He had been elected to a 2-year term that ended on 19 March 1890. The Liberal Foreign Minister Raimundo Andueza Palacio’s term was to end on 7 March 1892. When he stayed in office to extend his term, General Joaquín Crespo led the Legalistic Revolution. The Federal Council (Ejecutivo Nacional) removed Andueza on June 17 and appointed Guillermo Tell Villegas the Provisional President. He had previously filled in as President for about 8 months in 1868-69 and for 11 days in April 1870. He resigned on 31 August 1892 and was succeeded by his nephew Guillermo Tell Villegas Pulido. In the second half of the 19th century, Venezuela was at peace only in 1885-92.
      In 1892 Venezuela had 5,600 kilometers of telegraph lines, 1,477 telephones, and 875 kilometers of railroads. In the 1890s coffee, cacao, and cattle were 90% of the exports. The 1894 Statistical Yearbook showed that they also produced much corn, black beans, potatoes, sugar, plantains, rice, onions, wheat, and tomatoes as well as tobacco, rubber, and cotton. Venezuela’s census counted 2,444,816 people and 6,345,560 livestock. About 20% of men were literate as were 18% of women. Only 12% of the people were in legal marriages, and about 60% of the children were illegitimate. In 1894 the national government’s revenues were nearly 52 million Bolívares. The Ministry of War and Navy had the highest budget at over 13 million Bolívares. Of the seven ministries the Ministry of Interior Relations was second with about 10.7 Bolívares, and Public Works was third at about 4.4 million Bolívares.
      Joaquín Crespo seized power to become President again on 7 October 1892, and a new constitution increased his term to 28 February 1898. A long dispute with Britain over the Esequiba River territory and Venezuela’s eastern border with British Guiana had escalated with the discovery of gold there in 1877. Venezuela suspended diplomatic relations with Britain in 1887. Crespo asked the United States to help, and in 1895 President Grover Cleveland and Secretary of State Olney persuaded the British to accept arbitration. In 1899 an international tribunal made a decision that gave 60,000 square miles of Venezuela’s territory to British Guiana. In January 1895 about 3,000 unemployed artisans organized the first major protest in Caracas, and the Federal District’s Governor had them arrested for being socialistic. In 1895 Guzmán’s rich financier Manuel Antonio Matos led a conspiracy. Crespo asked him to be Treasury Minister and let him choose the other ministers. Crespo replaced criticized ministers.
      In 1897 Crespo campaigned for Ignacio Andrade, who succeeded him in 1898 as commanding general of Venezuela’s army. Andrade got 406,610 votes, and his opponent José Manuel Hernández (El Mocho) for the Liberal Nationalist Party was second with only 2,203 votes. He charged that the election was fraudulent. He wanted a stronger Congress and opposed the increasing power of the President. Hernández led a revolt that was soon defeated. Other insurrections occurred, and Carlos Rangel Garviras led the Autonomous Party of the Andes from Colombia that invaded Venezuela with 2,000 men; but they were defeated at Capacho and San Josécito. On 16 April 1898 Crespo was killed while fighting the rebels at La Mata Carmelera.
      Cipriano Castro in 1876 had challenged General Francisco Alvarado for the presidency of the Táchira state. In 1884 Castro was imprisoned after a dispute with a parish priest. After six months he escaped to Cúcuta in Colombia. He returned to Táchira in June 1886 as a soldier and was promoted to general for defeating government forces. Castro became governor of Táchira; but when the regime in Caracas was overthrown in 1892, he was exiled to Colombia. In seven years he managed to acquire illegal cattle and gather a private army. On 24 May 1899 Cipriano Castro began his Liberal Restorative Revolution by objecting to letting Congress instead of states ratify constitutional changes to revive the 20 states. Castro’s revolution lasted 153 days. Aided by tachirenses they fought 42 battles without a loss and killed more than 3,000 people. In October they marched on Caracas, and in the Revolución Liberal Restauradora he took the military command over Venezuela. On October 20 he marched into Caracas with 60 men and about 2,000 followers to claim the presidency with his friend Juan Vicente Gómez as vice-president.      In December 1900 Cipriano Castro demanded that the wealthy Manuel Antonio Matos and other financiers give the government a loan, and they refused. He had them jailed in Caracas until the loan was forthcoming. In 1901 the banker Manuel Antonio Matos led the Liberating Revolution (Revolución Libertadora) against Castro’s government. Wealthy foreigners supported the revolt. In Venezuela’s biggest battle Castro led forces that broke the siege at La Victoria on 2 November 1902. The navies of Britain, Germany, and Italy blockaded Venezuela in December. Although Venezuela’s navy was defeated, Cipriano Castro refused to submit. The United States President Theodore Roosevelt claimed that his threats caused the Germans to back down. Castro agreed to international arbitration, and on 13 February 1902 he promised to use 30% of customs duties to pay Venezuela’s debts. The blockade was lifted on February 19. In July 18-21 Juan Vicente Gómez led the restored government’s forces against the revolution and defeated them at Ciudad Bolívar.
      In 1904 a modified constitution enabled Cipriano Castro to remain as President. He ordered five of Venezuela’s main ports closed to trade so that all imports could go through Puerto Cabello or La Guaira. This made the Antilles trade more difficult, and he imposed a surtax on their commerce. He also banned trading by ships under 40 tons. Castro bought military supplies, gunboats, and steam launches from foreign countries for the Navy. He gave to his friends and supporters concessions for monopolies on weapons, sugar cane, textiles, flour mills, guano, tobacco, liquor, matches, and meat. In 1906 Cipriano Castro retired and appointed Juan Vicente Gómez as Acting President. Gómez asked Castro to return, and he also gained the support of Castro’s wife Zoila. Castro did little to relieve the bubonic plague in 1908. That year the Netherlands objected to Venezuela harboring refugees, and on December 12 their ships captured two Venezuelan vessels and then blockaded all of Venezuela’s ports. Castro suffered for four years with a kidney ailment, and on the 13th he left for Paris to get treated for syphilis. He never returned to Venezuela, and Cipriano Castro died in Puerto Rico in 1924.      In 1899 César Zumeta published El continent enfermo warning that Latin Americans must unite to defend their territory and resources from greedy imperialists. In 1907-09 José Gil Fortoul published his Historia constitucional de Venezuela in 3 volumes.

Venezuela of Gómez 1908-35

      Juan Vicente Gómez seized power on 19 December 1908, and he would rule Venezuela for the next 27 years as commander-in-chief. His first term as President lasted until 13 August 1913. He replaced Cipriano Castro’s Restaurción with his Rehabilitación. He used the slogan Peace, Union, and Work, and he ended the Dutch war. His domination of Venezuela was so effective that the traditional political parties had little influence. During the centennial of Venezuela’s independence in 1910-11 Gómez increased the military and organized national accounts and tax collection. Critics of his government could become martyrs, prisoners, or exiles, and the prisons in Caracas, Maracaibo, and Puerto Cabello became notorious for torturing and mistreating political prisoners. In 1913 General Román Delgado Chalbaud challenged Gomez’s cancelling the 1914 elections, and Gomez had him incarcerated for 14 years. His son José Vicente Gómez was put in charge of torturing prisoners, and he got a reputation as a sadist. The violence of the Castro years faded away until the Great War began in 1914. Venezuela’s military budget increased by 180% from 1908 to 1914. Román Cardenas was Minister of Public Works 1910-13 and then as Minister of the Treasury 1913-22 he planned a network of highways connected to Caracas and with the Trans-Andean Highway. The Government funded the Aeropostal national airline.
      Gómez had Venezuela’s constitution revised in 1909, 1914, 1922, 1925, 1928, 1929, and 1931. The 1909 Constitution confirmed the 20 states, and they would remain but without autonomy. Gómez set up a Council to advise the Government, but he removed it in the 1914 Constitution. Congress would elect the President until the Constitution of 1947. The army and his la Sagrada secret police imprisoned tens of thousands, and many suffered or died from torture or starvation. Gómez ruled for President Bustillos Márquez for eight years. He canceled Cipriano Castro’s import-export taxes and revived trade. Three families acquiring the most wealth were Boultons, Vollmers, and Zuloagas.
      Venezuela’s first insurance company, La Previsora, began in 1914 and later expanded into beer, cement, glass, and other industries. By 1914 Venezuela was harvesting one million bags of coffee per year, and only Brazil exported more coffee. Gómez declared neutrality during the Great War, though he admired the Germans. After the war students in Venezuela celebrated the victory by the democratic nations, and Gómez sent a new generation into jails or exile. Venezuela built its first oil refinery in 1917. During the influenza epidemic of 1918 Gómez’s son Alí died among the 22,000 Venezuelan fatalities.
      In 1919 Gómez decreed a law prohibiting people from carrying guns, and officials confiscated any that they found. In 1920 Venezuela joined the League of Nations. On 3 May 1923 Venezuela was one of the 15 Latin American nations and the United States to sign the Pan American Treaty in which they promised not to use armed forces against each other, and they formed the Pan-American commission of inquiry to investigate grievances.
      Gómez oil petroleum exploration and production. The Minister of Development Gumersindo Torres supervised the mining law in 1918, and he attempted to regulate companies with the petroleum code of 1920. Oilmen wanted a new law, and Torres was dismissed. Gómez asked for advice from three United States oil companies and their lawyers, and the Venezuelan Congress passed a new law in 1922 that benefited foreign companies. The 1922 Constitution had two Vice Presidents, and President Gómez chose his brother Juancho and his son José Vicente. Juancho was assassinated in 1923. José Vicente and his mother Dionisia were suspected and went into exile. In the 1925 Constitution states were prohibited from having military forces. In 1926 Venezuela had diplomatic relations with the United States, the Vatican, 9 Latin American countries, and 8 European nations. In 1928 Gómez set up the Agriculture and Livestock Bank in order to give farmers mortgages.
      During the 1920s resentment of pollution by the oil industry was growing. In 1925 workers in oil areas demanded a wage increase and the removal of Dutch supervisors they hated. Gómez canceled the strike, sent troops, and urged companies to raise wages a little. He had strike leaders jailed, or they disappeared. Also in 1925 a new law authorized him to enforce the conservation of natural resources. In 1926 the Workers’ Federation of Venezuela was founded. The Government used some of its Public Works’ budget to help struggling farmers. In 1926 some Motilone Indians attacked oil camps, and Gómez sent soldiers to drive them away. By 1928 Venezuela had 107 oil companies operating in the country with Dutch Shell, Gulf, and Standard Oil controlling 98% of its production which at about 100 million barrels per year was more than any other nation. Oil would dominate Venezuela’s economy for a century, and in 1972 Arturo Uslar Pietri wrote,

Petroleum is the fundamental and basic fact
of the Venezuelan destiny.
It presents to Venezuela today the most serious
national problems that the nation has known in its history.2

Venezuela used less than 3% of its oil domestically and exported the rest as crude oil. Petroleum areas drew people into new cities. Many black oil workers came from Dutch islands, Trinidad, and the Caribbean. About 10% of the skilled laborers were from the Antilles by 1929, and that year Gómez decreed that no more Antilleans would be allowed in Venezuela. Ramón Díaz Sánchez in 1836 wrote the novel Mene about an oil worker from Trinidad, who for using a whites-only restroom, is fired and blacklisted. Some Trinidadians felt superior to those Venezuelans who discriminated against blacks.
      Gómez was concerned about what the United States might do to take part of Venezuela, and he refused to let them make a channel at the bar at the mouth of Lake Maracaibo. Gómez let a friend start the Compañía Venezolana de Petróleo to sell concessions to foreigners. Gómez rehired Minister of Development Gumersindo Torres as Minister of Development in 1929, and he estimated that from February 1927 to January 1931 Standard Oil of Indiana had stolen 26 million Bolívares from the Government of Venezuela. The press supported Torres, but he lost his job. Gómez controlled labor relations, banking, and the subsidies for agricultural exports. In 1930 there were over 107 oil companies operating in Venezuela which surpassed Mexico to become the world’s greatest exporter of petroleum. Revenue from oil paid off Venezuela’s debt in 1930 and financed a highway system for automobiles, radio broadcasting, newspapers, and subsidies for the states during the economic Depression, which because of oil was not as difficult as it was in the United States. Socially it increased the conflicts with foreigner workers who were favored by the Government. In December 1930 William Phelps began Broadcasting Caracas on radio.
      Students protested the Gómez dictatorship in 1912, 1917, and 1921. In February 1928 when students at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas criticized the policies of Gómez, he had them arrested. Some were wounded or killed, and Gómez closed the university and sent some students to prison. Workers in Caracas came out in support of the students, and some military officers formed a conspiracy. War Minister Eleazar López Contreras put the leaders in jail including his son who became ill in prison and then died. Gómez banished López to the Andes Mountains for a while. The students became known as the Generation of 1928, and in 1939 Miguel Otero Silva published his novel Fiebre about the student revolt in 1928.
      Juan Bautista Pérez served as President of Venezuela from 30 May 1929 until 13 June 1931 when Gómez resumed his presidency. He rehired López Contreras as Minister of War. In 1932 the United States imposed a tariff on imported oil. In 1933 the International Committee for Political Prisoners of New York sent a letter to Venezuelan ambassador Arcaya and the Minister of Foreign Relations Chacín protesting Venezuela’s political prisoners, and it was signed by Roger Baldwin, Clarence Darrow, W. E. B. DuBois, Waldo Frank, Sinclair Lewis, Luis Muñoz Marin, and Norman Thomas. In 1934 Gómez granted subsidies for agriculture exports. He died on 17 December 1935.

British Guiana & West Indies 1850-1935

Guiana 1744-1850

      In the 1830s the British freed the slaves in their colonies and compensated their former owners. From 1838 to 1917 about 340,960 immigrants from India landed in British Guyana. British Guiana banned Portuguese immigration in 1848, though some was allowed from 1850 to 1882. In 1851 Britain revived immigration from India by providing a loan of £200,000. The colonies of British Guiana, Trinidad, and Jamaica absorbed about 110,000 immigrants from India between 1851 and 1870, and 238,960 indentured Indians would come to British Guiana by 1917.
      From 1852 to 1879 over 15,000 Chinese arrived in British Guyana. An Act in 1854 was passed to control immigrant workers, indentured servants, and former slaves. Article 29 allowed any immigration agent or police to stop and arrest without a warrant any African, Indian, or Chinese immigrant not on the plantation “in respect of which his services may be due.”3
      The creole James Sayers Orr organized meetings in Georgetown and criticized the Catholic Church. On 15 February 1856 Gov. Wodehouse prohibited meetings in Georgetown. Orr was arrested for having meetings in a suburb. Angry Africans reacted by attacking the Portuguese and looting shops. In 1859 William G. Sewell visited the British West Indies and reported in the New York Times that freed slaves were making material and moral progress, owning land, paying taxes, and voting. Using statistics he showed that in most colonies they were contributing more to the economy than they had before as slaves. In 1864 Ordinance 4 regulated indentured service by immigrants.
      Henry Barkly governed British Guyana from February 1849 until May 1853. Then he became the Governor of Jamaica, and he commented that the island was no longer being cultivated and that the Negroes were in a deplorable condition. In all the islands the finances were desperate because local treasuries were nearly bankrupt. In 1863 the population of Jamaica was about 450,000 with 1,799 registered electors of which 1,482 voted. The planters retained their majority in the House of Assembly. Britain declared British Honduras a colony with a Lieutenant Governor under Jamaica’s Governor in 1862.
      Edward John Eyre was Governor of Jamaica 1862-65. Early in 1865 Negroes petitioned Queen Victoria describing their poverty and asking for help so that they could cultivate some Crown land. Gov. Eyre did not know how poor the people were, and the Secretary of State responded on June 14 that their petition had been presented to the Queen. She ordered her solution that was for them to work for wages using their own industry and prudence.
      On October 11 at the vestry meeting many Negroes came to the town and were joined by ruffians from Morant Bay. They attacked the police station and took some old weapons. The members of the House of Assembly were terrified of all the Negroes on the island, and the Riot Act was invoked. After stones were thrown at a small Volunteer Force, they opened fire on the mob. The large crowd drove them back, and the soldiers retreated into the Court House. The building was set on fire, and some magistrates and volunteers escaping were killed. The rioters killed 18 persons and wounded 34, and some rioters died. Troops were sent to Morant Bay, and martial law was proclaimed in the area until November 13. More than a thousand houses of the poor were burned.
      A court martial tried and executed 354 persons including seven women. All together 608 people lost their lives, and even more were flogged with 50 lashes with 100 for some. Gov. Eyre was blamed for continuing the courts martial when they were no longer needed. He called for a stronger government with less control by the legislature over the executive. On 2 August 1866 the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Carnarvon, in the House of Lords said,

Pomptitude, courage, fearlessness of responsibility,
if not accompanied by a sound judgement
on the part of the person who possesses them,
become faults rather than virtues….
The first attribute demanded of a Governor is
not only justice but perfect impartiality and the power
of rising above panic and the apprehensions of the moment.
It is to the fatal want of this quality in Mr. Eyre that
we may trace at least half of the mischief
which arose after the outbreak.4

      In 1867 bananas were planted in the British West Indies, and in 1899 the United Fruit Company of New Jersey took over the banana business. In 1882 sugar production in British Guiana was 124,102 tons, and in all of the British West Indies the total was 315,138 tons. The next highest production of sugar in the West Indies that year was 56,592 tons in Guadalupe.
      The estimated population of the British Guiana colony at the end of 1886 was 274,311. In 1910 a special commission was set up to study the instruments of constraint used on Indian immigrants, and the Sanderson Report wrote,

There is, however one unsatisfactory feature
of indentured immigration which is at least
as prominent in this as in any of the other colonies,
and that is the extent to which the employers resort
to the Criminal Courts in order to enforce the fulfilment
by the immigrants of their statutory obligations.
In 1907-08, with an indenture population of 9,784,
there were no less than 3,835 complaints by employers
against immigrants, of which 1,499 were withdrawn,
201 struck off, 116 dismissed,
and 2,019 resulted in conviction.5

In 1898 Britain’s Imperial Department of Agriculture for the West Indies began with headquarters at Barbados.
      In 1907 the principal investor in the British Caribbean, Edward Davson, said,

   I do not believe that in any Colony of the Empire
the white element should be subject to the colored,
whether it be black, brown or yellow—
African, East Indian, or Mongolian.
For it may be the blacks today who rule the land;
it may be the East Indians tomorrow;
it may—who knows?—be the Japanese in the future.6

      A. R. F. Webber (1880-1932) was a Guyanese mulatto from Tobago who in 1917 published the novel Those That Be in Bondage: A Tale of Indian Indentures and Sunlit Western Waters. He proposed the kind of economics that John Maynard Keynes later made famous. He warned about self-satisfaction, indifference, and selfishness that they “met like moth and rust among us,” advising,

These three evils that eat away our religious, moral
and civic life are due not so much to bad will or intention
as—if I may say without offence—
to ignorance of the religion we profess,
and I believe it to be a fact that
the better educated man is in secular affairs, the more likely
he is to be ignorant of the vital truths of Christianity.
It was our Lord who said they are hidden
from the wise and prudent, and revealed to children,
that is to the poor and simple,
not because the former cannot,
but because they do not care to learn.7

      The rice industry in British Guiana increased from 29,000 acres in 1926 to 44,000 in 1928 and 62,000 in 1937. In the 1930s the illiteracy rate in British Guiana was 60%. The Education Ordinance required children up to the age 14 to attend school.

Surinam & the Dutch Antilles 1850-1935

      The Dutch had stopped participating in the slave trade in 1818, and gradually the number of slaves in Dutch colonies decreased. King Willem II (r. 1840-49) ruled the Dutch West Indies without the Parliament for eight years until 1848 when people were given the franchise and representation in two chambers. They were given the right to amend, petition, and vote on the budget for the colonies. In 1851 a decree issued new regulations for slave-owners, and in 1853 a State Commission began planning how to eliminate slavery in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles. In 1856 liberals gained a majority in the Dutch Parliament, and the new Attorney General J. W. Gefken advocated abolition. In 1862 Parliament proposed and accepted compensation for slave-owners, and on 1 July 1863 the last 32,000 slaves were emancipated.
      At first little changed as they continued to do similar work for wages under State supervision. The government set compensation at 300 guilders per slave regardless of sex or age. The Dutch paid nearly 12 million guilders for 33,000 slaves freed in Surinam and 6,600 in the Dutch Antilles. Most planters took the cash and then sold their plantations and businesses. Many left the colony while some invested in the land. In 1870 prominent citizens petitioned King Willem III (r. 1849-90) for economic relief. Plantations were being replaced by small farms. Governor Van Lansberge and sixteen commissioners supervised the former slaves, and old slaves received pensions. Many went to Paramaribo where wages were higher than on the plantations. Of the 400 plantations in 1860 less than a hundred survived until 1900. The government granted small plots of land and encouraged family farms.
      In 1870 the Netherlands and Britain agreed to promote Hindustani emigration to Surinam, and they began arriving in 1873. About a quarter were Muslims, and the rest were Hindus. In 1917 the British ended the program because of the independence movement in India led by Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign. Many used transportation money to buy a small lot, and about 34,000 became contract workers; some 12,000 returned to India.
      In 1890 the Dutch Trading Company began supporting the migration of Javanese workers to Surinam. They knew Dutch and its culture, and the first group arrived in 1894. Their contracts were for five years at a set wage with medical care, and for some a paid trip home. In 1939 the Welter Plan subsidized immigration on a larger scale until World War II ended all Javanese immigration.
      After more than 1,400 kilos of gold was found in French Guiana, Surinam’s Gov. Cornelis van Sypesteyn (1875-82) financed a gold expedition to the Marrowine River. Traces of gold were obtained, and a local government was established in Albina. In 1902 gold-digging was mechanized and simplified. Corporations invested as partners for 10 to 15 percent returns. From 1876 to 1960 the gold mined amounted to 45,000 kilos. The peak years were 1905-10 when annual production was over 1,000 kilos.
      In 1892 over 200 citizens of Curuçao and the islands petitioned the States General for the universal franchise that Surinam had. The Jewish lawyer Abraham M. Chumaceiro led this effort by writing pamphlets, brochures, and newspaper articles. Surinam’s Colonial States had 13 members. Four were appointed by the Governor, and nine were elected by wealthy planters and merchants who increased from 500 in 1900 to nearly 1,000 in 1921. In 1911 the Dutch government appointed the Surinam Commission to study the colony’s politics and economics.
      Poor people struggled to survive in the outskirts of Paramaribo, and the Killinger plot in 1911 attempted to overthrow the regime. His conspiracy was discovered, and he was put in prison and condemned to death. Yet he was never executed. Exports declined sharply during the Great War (1914-18), and Gov. G. J. Staal (1916-19) urged farmers to grow more food. The Americans organized the Surinam Bauxite Company to produce aluminum in 1917. From 1920 the oil industry became very important. In 1921 the Netherlands’ Constitution was amended to call Surinam a “dominion” rather than a “colony.” In 1922 a revised Dutch constitution allowed the government to sponsor parochial schools. Gov. Arnold Baron van Heemstra (1921-24) tried and failed to get capitalists to invest. Under Gov. Abraham Rutgers (1928-33) rice culture was mechanized.
      The Netherlands did little to help the misery during the Great Depression. In 1931 L. Doedel led a socialist Committee of Action and offered Gov. Rutgers a work plan. An extreme leftist Popular Front condemned the government and aggressively supported riots and violence, plundering shops, wrecking buildings, and paralyzing traffic. Some of these leaders in 1932 founded the Surinam Laborers Organization, and the schoolteacher Q. de Kom helped organize a League against imperialism and for independence which many poor people supported. After some demonstrations De Kom was arrested. Some of his followers protesting that were killed or wounded. De Kom was deported to the Netherlands, and things calmed down. Gov. Johannes C. Kielstra (1933-43) was criticized for not using the educational system to bring about racial integration. An appeal to Queen Wilhelmina (r. 1890-1948) was granted, and Kielstra became ambassador to Mexico.

French Guiana 1850-1935

      France’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1848 freed slaves in the French West Indies, and they received 5.5 million francs. France gave colonists 126 million which was 430 francs per slave in Martinique, 470 in Guadeloupe, and 618 in French Guiana. In 1850 immigrants came to French Guiana from India, Malaya, and China. In 1852 France began shipping convicts to French Guiana. In 1853 gold was discovered near undetermined borders with Brazil and Surinam. In 1859 Martinique had 6,748 East Indians, and in 1862 Grenada began receiving 1,097 immigrants from India. In 1875 indentured immigrants in French Guiana worked 26,852 man-days while losing 26,602 days in the hospital.
      In 1885 France began sending habitual criminals to Devil’s Island with orders to imprison them for six months and then let them settle in the colony. That failed as most ex-convicts could not make a living without committing more crimes. Devil’s Island became a notorious prison. The persecuted Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus got a life sentence and was sent there in 1895. He accepted a pardon in 1899 so that he would not have to return to Devil’s Island.
      On 23 July 1886 Paul Quartier and native chiefs of Counani and Calçoene signed a treaty claiming the disputed territory as the Republic of Counani also known as the Republic of Independent Guiana with Jules Gros as President, Guigues the Minister of State, and Quartier the Quartermaster. On 11 September 1887 France and Brazil issued a joint statement rejecting Counani. Gros tried to govern from Paris. He got on a British ship to go to French Guiana, but the British took him back to France. He died in July 1891, and that ended the Republic. In 1894 gold was discovered in the Calçoene River.
      General Francisco Cabral declared another state under Brazil. He arrested the village chief of Calçoene in May 1895, and Governor Camille Charvein of French Guiana sent troops that forced Cabral to flee. France and Brazil asked the Swiss to arbitrate the dispute in 1897; they awarded the territory to Brazil in 1890, and it became the province Amapá. In 1901 Adolphe Brezet claimed he was elected and proclaimed himself “Président de l’État libre de Counani.” Neither Brazil nor France recognized him. The territory of Inini in the interior of French Guiana became a territory on 6 June 1930.
      The writer Henri Charrière was convicted of murder in 1931 and was sent to Devil’s Island. He attempted to escape many times and was finally successful in 1941. He published his autobiographical novel Papillon in 1969, and it was made into popular movies twice with the same title.


1. A History of Venezuela by Guillermo Morón, p. 153.
2. Venezuela: A Century of Change by Judith Ewell, p. 61.
3. Passage from India to El Dorado: Guyana and the Great Migration by David Hollett, p. 107.
4. Ibid., p. 233.
5. History of the British West Indies, p. 675-676.
6. From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean 1492-1969 by Eric Williams
7. Caribbean Visionary: A. R. F. Webber and the Making of the Guyanese Nation by Selwyn R. Cudjoe, p. 194-195.

Copyright © 2023 by Sanderson Beck

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Latin America & Canada to 1850

Brazil 1850-1935
Uruguay 1850-1935
Argentina 1850-1935
Paraguay 1850-1935 
Bolivia 1850-1935
Chile 1850-1935
Peru 1850-1935
Ecuador 1850-1935
Colombia 1850-1935
Venezuela & Guianas 1850-1935
Haiti & Dominican Republic 1850-1935
Cuba 1850-1935
Puerto Rico 1850-1935
Panama 1850-1935
Costa Rica 1850-1935
Nicaragua 1850-1935
El Salvador 1850-1935
Honduras 1850-1935
Guatemala 1850-1935
Mexico 1850-1935
Canada 1850-1935

Chronology of Latin America to 1935
Chronology of Canada to 1935
Chronology of North & South America to 1786
Chronology of North & South America 1787-1844
Chronology of North & South America 1845-1896
Chronology of United States to 1896
World Chronology to 1830


BECK index