Latin America 101: Turned Tables for Italian Immigration

Foreword


Latin America 101 articles have the intent of deepen the knowledge about Italian situation in Venezuela through history. The fundamental purpose of this series is to draw attention to the topic of Italian immigration in that specific country by providing a thorough overview of the road that led Italians to the country and then evaluating the most relevant historical frames.


Latin America 101 will be mainly divided into the following chapters of content:

  1. Latin America 101: Venezuela, From Promised Land to Barren Wasteland for Italians

  2. Latin America 101: When The Immigration To Venezuela Began

  3. Latin America 101: Turned Tables for Italian Immigration

  4. Latin America 101: The End of Fascism in Venezuela

  5. Latin America 101: The significance of Italians during Post War.

  6. Latin America 101: The Bolivarian Republic As The End of a Dream



Latin America 101: Turned Tables for Italian Immigration


Following World War I, the path for Italians to settle in Venezuela was fraught with turbulence. Until the early twentieth century, immigration rules encouraged the flow of foreigners to the Latin American country; however, with the establishment of the Gomecista dictatorship, the situation changed due to political and socioeconomic factors.

Italian immigrants during World War I [Photo] - History.com
Italian immigrants during World War I [Photo] - History.com

Following the war's stalemate, the Italian migratory flow increased significantly towards destinations such as the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, while Venezuela experienced only a minor increase. In fact, of the 80 percent of Italian immigrants to the new continent, only a paltry 8 percent was directed to Venezuela. This pattern changed only in 1921, when the United States enacted the Literacy Act, which limited immigration and caused other Italian immigrant countries to become overcrowded. At that time, Italy launched a marketing operation aimed at diverting transoceanic flows to Venezuela. On the other note, Ubaldo Chiara, in charge of Italian affairs, informed Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Itriago Chacin expressed a willingness to support the Italian migratory currents directed towards the Latin American country to use all of the remaining uncultivated and uninhabited land.


Specifically, Italian immigration turned to the areas of Merida, Trujillo, and San Cristobal, where the territory, wealth, and climate appeared to be more adapted to favor the human settlement that had gone to Venezuela to seek better living conditions. For some time, those territories had been home to small groups of Italian workers who had settled there due to the favorable environment they had discovered. The Venezuelan government was interested in what was going on in such territories—to watch their economic and productive development and because of the ties that some of these states had with General Gomez's family. Furthermore, it was from these bordering Colombian districts that the multiple revolutionary attempts began against Venezuela's totalitarian government, led by both Gomez and his successor, Marquez Bustilles.


Capital and States of Venezuela [Image] - Arablog
Capital and States of Venezuela [Image] - Arablog

Following the war's stalemate, the Italian migratory flow increased significantly towards destinations such as the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, while Venezuela experienced only a minor increase; in fact, of the 80 percent of Italian immigration to the new continent, only a paltry 8 percent was directed to Venezuela. This pattern changed only in 1921, when the United States enacted the Literacy Act, which limited immigration and caused other Italian immigrant countries to become overcrowded. At the time, Italy launched a marketing operation aimed at diverting transoceanic flows to Venezuela. On the other note, Ubaldo Chiara, in charge of Italian affairs, informed Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Itriago Chacin expressed a willingness to support the Italian migratory currents directed towards the Latin American country in order to use all of the remaining uncultivated and uninhabited land.


Specifically, Italian immigration turned to the areas of Merida, Trujillo, and San Cristobal, where the territory, wealth, and climate appeared to be more adapted to favor the human settlements that had gone to Venezuela to seek better living conditions. For some time, those territories had been home to small groups of Italian workers who had settled there due to the favorable environment they had discovered. The Venezuelan government was interested in what was going on in such territories, to watch their economic and productive development and because of the ties that some of these states had with General Gomez's family. Furthermore, it was from these bordering Colombian districts that the multiple revolutionary attempts began against Venezuela's totalitarian government, led by both Gomez and his successor, Marquez Bustilles.


Regarding security, the Venezuelan government feared a war with neighboring Colombia and, as a result, sought to involve Italy, the only country capable of creating large colonies that would lead to a significant increase in population and defend the territory from attacks by neighboring countries. This is in addition to the protection provided by large strata such as the United States or France, which invested enormous amounts of capital in the Latin American country. The Italian immigrants clearly formed a factor that raised the value of Venezuelan lands and a guarantee for the country's overall security. As a result, the problem of population shortages persisted even during the 1920s, and the government was still tasked with luring as many Italian immigrants as possible. The presence of Italians in Venezuela was estimated at 5,000 in 1923, with all claiming to enjoy an outstanding level of living as a result of the fortune amassed during the war years.

Simple homes with a flaring oil well in the background, Cabimas [Photo] - Culture of Venezuela
Simple homes with a flaring oil well in the background, Cabimas [Photo] - Culture of Venezuela

The Immigration Act of 1921 encouraged Italian immigration to Venezuela by providing vast land extensions in exchange for the only commitment to farm them. The immigrants were greeted warmly in the country, with a delegation meeting them at the port of La Guaira and transporting them to special facilities that could house them until they sought further lodging and accommodation inside the country. On the other hand, the Italian government's economic and financial cooperation was also required, as it should have been responsible for the travel expenditures of citizens intending to go to Venezuela. Always in the economic realm, the first prospects of "economic emigration" of firms that wished to launch banking operations in Venezuela and enter into joint ventures with already formed companies dealing with oil extraction in the Maracaibo area began to emerge.


President Juan Vicente Gomez (on the rights) standing with Eleazar Lopez Contreras [Photo] - Biografía y retrativa
President Juan Vicente Gomez (on the rights) standing with Eleazar Lopez Contreras [Photo] - Biografía y retrativa

New oil resources were discovered in the Bolivar district in December 1926, putting a halt to the government's efforts to attract more agricultural immigrants. The state began to put an end to the decades-long policy of encouraging immigration into the country; the migratory flow to Venezuela no longer received the same attention in the early 1900s as it had in previous years, and the government allowed the whole thing to grow naturally. There was no doubt about the first phase of delay, owing to the uncertainty caused by the First World War in Italy and the uncertainty of Gomecist politics in Venezuela, as there were no signals of government interest in using foreign labor. President Gomez declared himself a staunch advocate of immigration, boasting of efforts to stimulate the entry of newcomers; acts that were never implemented, nor were the existing laws. Gomez had no intention of finding a solution to the problem of depopulation since he considered foreigners as a limitation of his power; add to this is the general's failure to gauge the depth of such a problem of depopulation. Venezuelan territory also became more dangerous than ever. In official discussions, Gomez was a staunch supporter of emigration matters; but, in private discussions, his point of view shifted. Gomez was primarily concerned with securing the Republic's hold, preventing possibly harmful arrivals into the country.


Among the several proposals made to the president was one to delegate immigration regulation to specific Italian and Venezuelan government trading enterprises, which would make the immigration process more regulated and transparent. The result of Gomez's unclear posture, however, was little more than a stalemate in migration flows from Italy, while the presence of American and British citizens who moved to Venezuela to perform their countries' affairs increased, profitable but transient shops. The impact that several foreign events had on the Venezuelan administration explained why Gomez chose that stance. The Sacco and Vanzetti cases, in particular, sparked a massive popular uprising in support of the condemned, drawing people from all over the world and agitating the whole American continent. The trial of the two Italian anarchists had a major impact on the American political system; even in Venezuela, the news of the case generated such a stir that it was even carried in the regime's media. These events had a significant impact on the country's political life, influencing many government choices.


Protest in favor of the two Italian anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti [Photo] - Thinglink.com
Protest in favor of the two Italian anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti [Photo] - Thinglink.com

The fear that some political currents would enter the country and overthrow the pre-existing order was at the heart of Gomez's actions. The Russian Revolution, as well as the process of Italian anarchists, were international events so moving that all regimes opposed to Marxist-Leninist doctrine began to fear. There was a genuine apprehension about all the phenomena that could arise as a result of the presence of subversive elements. Gomez's goal was to maintain Venezuela's social order. The dictator's actions had an impact on his successor, who, in the language of the 1936 immigration law, set some constraints for the admittance of elements who advocated beliefs antithetical to Venezuela's legal, social, and political systems. The events of 1918, during the strike of the Bolivar Railway Company, echoed in the minds of Venezuelan governments, who remained convinced that they needed to limit immigration. As a result, Italian flows to Venezuela were severely disrupted, and the Italian presence in the country also failed to integrate into crucial economic areas like oil, where the monopoly was virtually entirely in the hands of the Caracas administration and the Americans. Furthermore, it should be noted that not all Italian immigrants found the fortune they hoped for when they arrived in the Latin American country, and thus, turned their gaze to other destinations where living conditions appeared to be more favorable, drastically reducing the number of Italians in Venezuelan territory from year to year.


The Contreras administration, as well as that of its successor, Mr. Medina, expressed the same concerns about mass immigration. The regime's willingness to carry out upstream selection demonstrated the regime's inadequacy in controlling its territory and the fear of dangerous infiltration. However, the only plausible alternative was what the US had done with China: the open-door policy. On the other hand, Contreras' migration strategy was distinguished by the higher social status accorded to European immigrants, who not only constituted a workforce beneficial for business expansion, but also a way of populating a wide country with low demographic levels. The immigrant had to be the motor that created the driving force for the country's modernization. In this way, notwithstanding the constraints it imposed, the law of 1936 marked a limited step forward in encouraging the acceptance of citizens from Italy, and later from Europe.




References

  • Cunill Grau, P. (2000). Italian Presence in Modern Venezuela: Socioeconomic Dimension and Geo-cultural Changes. Universidad Central de Venezuela.

  • Tinker Salas, M., Venezuela: What everyone needs to know, Oxford Press. 2015

  • Berglund, S. (2020). Italian Immigration in Venezuela: A Story Still Untold vol.8 (Vol. 8). University Central de Venezuela.

Image Sources

  • Italian immigrants during World War I [Photo] - History.com. https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/immigration-united-states-timeline.

  • Capital and States of Venezuela [Image] - Arablog. https://www.arablog.co/estados-y-capitales-de-venezuela/.

  • President Juan Vicente Gomez (on the rights) standing with Eleazar Lopez Contreras [Photo] - Biografía y retrativa.

  • Simple homes with a flaring oil well in the background, Cabimas [Photo] - Culture of Venezuela. https://www.everyculture.com/To-Z/Venezuela.html.

  • Protest in favor of the two Italian anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti [Photo] - Thinglink.com. https://www.thinglink.com/scene/1103290585197838339.

Author Photo

Federica Panico

Arcadia _ Logo.png

Arcadia

Arcadia, has many categories starting from Literature to Science. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can subscribe from below or click the bar and discover unique more experiences in our articles in many categories

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn