Latin America 101: Italians in the Post-War Period

Foreword


The Latin America 101 articles intend to deepen the reader's knowledge of the Italian situation in Venezuela throughout its history. The fundamental purpose of this series is to draw attention to the topic of Italian immigration by providing a thorough overview of the road that led the Italians to Venezuela and then evaluate the relevant historical events.


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: Italians in the Post-war Period

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




Latin America 101: Italians in the Post-War Period


Italian immigrants arrived in La Guaira in 1947 [Photo] - La Voce d'Italia
Italian immigrants arrived in La Guaira in 1947 [Photo] - La Voce d'Italia

Until the Second World War, the Venezuelan local government had welcomed immigrants, particularly from Italy, with restrictions attributed to apprehensions about radical beliefs from the Old Continent that could have shifted Venezuela's power balance. The goal of immigration in Venezuela was to attract skilled labourers, in order to strengthen the country's infrastructure and economy.


After experiencing unemployment in Italy, Italians began arriving in Venezuela in 1945; many of these people were fascists looking for safety and security. Due to a lack of infrastructure, a lack of appropriate policy on the part of the government, poor guidance from the Technical Institute for Immigration and Colonisation, and also due to the breadth of the 1936 law that allowed immigrants to devote themselves to whatever they wanted, the vast majority did not move to the countryside to take care of the agriculture, as was planned, but stayed in the city. Notably, immigrants helped to consolidate construction industries, which helped to increase the urban population. The national government allowed processes to develop, while keeping an eye on the situation. The current surge of migrants was built on the solid, albeit small, foundations of Venezuela's Italian community, resulting in a widespread and steady presence across all sectors.


In what is known as the Adeco Triennium, between 1945 and 1948, the governments of Romulo Betancourt and Romulo Gallegos pursued a humanistic approach toward selective, reasonable, and balanced immigration. This period was crucial as it saw an increase in the number of Italians in Venezuela. Furthermore, the Venezuelan leaders continued to make significant efforts to direct migrants toward the sectors that most needed skilled and experienced workers.


According to Betancourt, the immigrant was considered an actor of production and an element of settlement in a country with low demographic density and technical backwardness. The goal was to reconcile the immigrant and integrate him into the Nation and the Venezuelan culture.


In 1946, the United Nations established the International Refugee Organization (IRO). As a result, in 1947, Venezuela gained more Italian immigrants; 40% were farmers, while 60% were craftsmen and professionals. In addition, the Venezuelan National Immigration Commission was established in this year, signalling the deployment of contemporary immigration in the country.

President Romulo Betancourt during the inauguration of a public work [Photo] - La Voce d'Italia
President Romulo Betancourt during the inauguration of a public work [Photo] - La Voce d'Italia

The influx of immigrants peaked at 20,000 in 1948, the final year of democratic rule. Migrants would supplement the limited human resources available, for the enormous enterprise of national advancement - that was to be Betancourt's political goal - if the government's policy of mass immigration continued. About 16,000 migrants arrived under official management, and another 25,000 entered via work visas - each with their own team of workers, and the financial means of starting a profitable business.


Ships carrying workers arrived in the port of La Guaira. The most immigrants came from Sicily, Campania, Abruzzi, and Apulia, and were made up of labourers, braceros, artisans, and small merchants who were minimally educated. The Italians regarded Venezuela as a place where they could immediately gain work and wealth, in exchange for a peaceful life, a decent income, and the prospect of stability and future development. Each worker selected the most appropriate orientation for their knowledge and abilities; agriculture was practiced by some, while mechanics, handicrafts, trade, and construction were practised by others. The number of Italian immigrants had climbed to 71,168 by 1948.


Romulo Gallegos was deposed in 1948, the same year that General Perez Jimenez established a military dictatorship. From 1949 to 1952, once free rein had been granted to immigrants (albeit to strengthen its own agenda), the government banned foreigners: obstructing democracy for tyranny.


Italian immigrants leaving their country to travel to Venezuela [Photo] - Prodavinci
Italian immigrants leaving their country to travel to Venezuela [Photo] - Prodavinci

Many Italians arrived, with only a visitor's visa, in La Guaira, Caracas, and Valencia. By 1954, the conditions for entering the country were set: people had to be under the age of 35, have a certificate of good conduct, and have a certificate of good health.


The Italians were heavily involved in the implementation of Perez Jimenez's new national ideal; helping to produce extensive road, industrial, hospital, housing, agricultural, and tourist complexes. However, with the increasing number of employees looking for work, wages fell. The Italians, with little support in their new home, accepted work for any price, whether the conditions were inhumane or dangerous. In 1957, the newspaper La Voce d'Italia published a bulletin of deaths owing to the lack of workplace safety standards.

There were also instances of xenophobia against Italian immigrants, shortly before Perez Jimenez was overthrown in 1958. With the turning tide of politics, many immigrants made the choice to return to their home nation, however, only 2,400 of the 170,000 Italians left Venezuela.


The Italian government recognized the new Venezuelan government on January 28, 1958, making it the first European country to do so. On February 2, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Oscar Garcia Velutini praised the Italian's generosity, stating that Italy had supplied the largest immigration flow to Venezuela and that its citizens would be allowed to resume their usual activities in a friendly and peaceful environment.

The country's economic and social situation necessitated a retreat in immigration policy, in 1959; from then on, the migratory strategy was focused on selectivity. Slowly, the open-door policy closed, until 1961, when the constitution invalidated immigration policies for population and agricultural growth. In 1961, the Venezuelan census recorded that 121,733 Italians resided in Venezuela, which accounted for 23% of the country's foreign population. The central region had 63% of Italian migrants, the valley had 17%, the east had 7%, and the Andean region had 5%. In response, the government began allowing family members of residents and contract workers to enter the country, on a case-by-case basis; this policy, backed by the new Agrarian Reform Law, allowed Italian families to reunite, which boosted the country's rapidly growing population to its peak number, in 1971.


Caracas urbanization in 1950s [Photo] - Shutterstock
Caracas urbanization in 1950s [Photo] - Shutterstock

Only Spanish immigration outnumbered Italian immigration in Venezuela. By 1961, around one third of the Italian immigrants who had landed in Venezuela had gone. There are many reasons that one in five Italians moved to Venezuela between 1945 and 1961: they could gain work and successfully integrate into Venezuelan life. Italians had gradually established roots in the Venezuela, and their presence was felt deeply throughout the country.


 

References

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

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

  • Bafile, M. (1990). Sons of immigrants and the Venezuelan economic model: the Italo-Venezuelan case (First edition), Caracas, Venezuela. National Academy of Economic Science.

  • Davis, A. (2005). Italy in the heart of Venezuela (First edition). Caracas, Venezuela. Uno Creaciones.

  • Filippi, A. (1994). Italy in Venezuela: Italy and Italians along with the Venezuelan nationality. Caracas, Venezuela. Monte Avila Latin-American Editors, Embassy of Italy in Venezuela.


Image references

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Federica Panico

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