It is contrary to order, impossible to the Government of Spain, and fatal to the welfare of America, that the latter, possessed of a range of country infinitely more extensive, and a population incomparably more numerous, should depend and be subject to a Peninsular Corner of the European Continent.

Meeting in the Santa Rosa de Lima chapel (back then sadly devoid of a proper Sala de Fiestas) in Central Caracas, 40 lawmakers representing seven provinces of the Captaincy General Of Venezuela declared their will to separate from the Spanish Crown in the wake of the abdications of Bayonne

Mutatis mutandi (“Cuba” for “Spain”, “Islander” for “Peninsular”, etc.), the Declaration they signed might have been written yesterday.

These days, of course, the text is online — not that anybody ever reads it. As it turns out you can find not just the original in Spanish (here) but also even an English translation *(here.)

Two centuries on, it’s a disquieting read.

Without taking the least notice of our reasons, without presenting them to the impartial judgment of the world, and without any other judges than our own enemies, we are condemned to a mournful incommunication with our brethren; and, to add contempt to calumny, empowered agents are named for us, against our own express will, that in their Cortes they may arbitrarily dispose of our interests, under the influence and force of our enemies.

Empowered agents named against our own will to dispose of our interests in their arbitrary Courts? Are you kidding me?

Juan Germán Roscio and Francisco Isnardi never met Maikel Moreno or Katherine Haringhton, but they would’ve recognized them in an instant. Time passes, the archetype remains.

The Declaration’s style even sounds like something Henry Ramos Allup may have written for one of his speeches during his AN presidency.

The déjà vu comes thick and fast as you read it. The document even nails chavismo’s idea of fair elections:

In order to crush and suppress the effects of our Representation, when they were obliged to grant it to us, we were submitted to a paltry and diminutive scale; and the form of election was (…), degraded by the despotism of the Governors: which amounted to an insult to our plain dealing and good faith, more than a consideration of our incontestible political importance.

But wait, there’s more:

Always deaf to the cries of justice on our part, the Governments of Spain have endeavoured to discredit all our efforts, by declaring as criminal, and stamping with infamy, and rewarding with the scaffold and confiscation, every attempt, which at different periods some Americans have made, for the felicity of their country: as was that which lately our own security dictated to us, that we might not be driven into a state of disorder which we foresaw, and hurried to that horrid fate which we are about to remove for ever from before us. By means of such atrocious policy, they have succeeded in making our brethren insensible to our misfortunes; in arming them against us; in erasing from their bosoms the sweet impressions of friendship, of consanguinity; and converting into enemies a part of our own great family.

206 years on, the playbook hasn’t changed. There’s something deep in our political DNA that insists on instituting tyranny by harvesting the resentment of a generation ignored by traditional elites and turning brothers into enemies.

Realistas vs Republicanos, Federales vs Conservadores, GNB vs Guarimberos, we seem destined to fight a never-ending Independence War against ourselves.

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. “There’s something deep in our political DNA that insists on instituting tyranny by harvesting the resentment of a generation ignored by traditional elites and turning brothers into enemies.”

    Do you think that this is unique to Latin America? This is exactly why various people throughout the history of democracy have proposed some sort of literacy or a knowledge of civics test as a requirement to vote. I don’t agree with this, personally (I have some other ideas about how to marginalize the impact of ignorance on democracy.) However, I can sympathize with the impulse.

  2. I’m not a professional historian but I find it hard to make good analogies between Venezuela today and 1811. For starters, Spain in 1811 was in the midst of a war against the French invaders (Spaniards call it “La Guerra de Independencia”) and there was no proper government. “Spain” could mean at least three very different things: the legitimate King Fernando VII who had been abducted by Napoleon; the usurper King Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother); and the Cortes de Cádiz, who tried to uphold a legitimate government and drafted a liberal constitution, quite progressive for its time. So much for the analogy with Cuba.
    In 1810-11 the main beef of the juntas in America was not with the Spanish crown per se, but with the illegitimate French government and with the Cortes, which had curtailed the representation of the criollos (these saw themselves as subjects of the king with the same rights as a guy from, say, Valladolid).
    What turned out to become the “Independence” movement was in the beginning a *pro*-monarchy (ie. pro-Fernando VII) yet anti-French-illegitimate-king movement. This was the case of el 19 de abril de 1810.
    However, the following year (1811) there was another actor that changed the game: La Sociedad Patriótica–a Jacobin club led by a bunch of pro-republic, virulently anti-monarchical mantuanos (think María Corina and Leopoldo, but sporting Mao and Che Guevara t-shirts). Despite being a minority, their incendiary discourse proved very influential; the more moderate criollos, fearing a popular revolt, had to introduce the Jacobin language one reads in the July 5th Declaration.
    And last but not least: let’s not forget that the birth of Venezuela as a sovereign republic was actually not on July 5, 1811, but rather in 1829-30, when Venezuela decided to secede from Colombia and show the middle finger to a disgraced dictator named Simón Bolívar.

    • Hi, your facts are really accurate. I agree with you with when you say the situation lived today is presented in an incredibly different context. As you said, the whole Independence effort started as a movement in favor of Fernando VII, actually in several paragraphs the signers refer to the Spaniards as brothers. I don’t pretend to do historical comparisons, the fact the signers refered to “Spain” as a colonial power influencing a territory much bigger than its own justifies the comparison with Cuba to me. The whole point of the article is that many of the arguments used back then to defend the Independence War might still be used if slightly changed, even though the conditions in which they were evoked are not similar at all. I appreciate your historical briefing, I’m glad of seeing someone so interested in Venezuelan History.

      • JCG, the similarities are awesome, but, your last 2 paragraphs, rather than DNA, might better put the blame on Castro-Cuban Communism, as being the fratricidal reason for today’s arroz con mango (as Sebastian would say) mess, especially when espoused/mouthed by an unprincipled/insincere/ignorant (but charismatic) snake charmer.

  3. Thanks for a great read, but to end with “GNB vs Guarimberos”?? If we call the opposition Guarimberos, what can we expect the government propaganda to call us? What about GNB vs Democrats? Or Narcos vs Law-Followers? Or anything else that paints all the people fighting against the government in a better light?

  4. Prof. Arraiz, learned expert on Venezuelan constitutional history, recently, on “Vladimir A La Una”, had some interesting observations: Venezuela has had some 16 or so different constitutions, highest in SA, along with Ecuador and Bolivia, and, not coincidentally, these are the three most institutionally unstable countries historically in SA; only 2 of Venezuela’s constitutions have included the mistake of presidential reelection, the last being Chavez’s 1999 constitution; the Communist party did not join the Pacto De Punto Fijo in 1958, not because they were excluded, but because they believed only in uni-party rule, not in multi- political party rule–so much for any possibility of success in dealing peacefully via “dialogue”/”negotiations” with the NM Commie Criminal Enterprise Regime as a peaceful way out of Venezuela’s current arroz con mango mess….

Leave a Reply