Latin America 101: When The Immigration To Venezuela Began


One of the Venezuelan Civil War [Image] -HistoryNet


In comparison to other countries, the Italian presence in Venezuela at the turn of the nineteenth century was not the most visible. According to statistics, there were only three thousand Italians in Venezuela at the beginning of the twentieth century, while Brazil and Argentina had already surpassed thirty thousand.


Indeed, Venezuela was regarded at the time as a country characterized by frequent and constant upheaval, making it unsuitable for a calm existence centered on labour and fortune. The country was undergoing political and civil upheaval in the nineteenth century; poverty was pervasive, and civil war was raging. As a result, none of these aspects were appealing to Italian migrants, who did not live in ideal conditions at home. At the time, most people were unaware of the benefits Venezuela might provide, and what appeared to the rest of the world to be war, devastation, and threats by the government to anyone who enjoyed economic prosperity or owned valuable businesses. Property expropriation or seizure was a common occurrence at the period.


Despite this scenario, Venezuelan governments recognized the need to populate the vast territory through European immigration since July 1811; in 1813, Simón Bolívar's speech inviting foreigners to settle in the country while calling on the government to guarantee personal and economic security became emblematic this need. In 1830, immigration became crucical to the country's landscape, so much so that the following year, Member of Parliament, Antonio Leocadio Guzman presented a report to Congress emphasizing how the government required immigration for "the creation of Venezuela." The goal was to create a new population of farmers who would thrive the arable lands; religious tolerance and institutional stability were ensured, and the attraction of the migrating classes of craftsmen and capitalists would be dependent on it above all. The Venezuelan Republic desired to encourage migrants and did so by enacting favorable legislation. Between 1823 and 1936, the underlying aim behind all of this broad legislation was to encourage the entry of immigrants and urge them to have a common homeland with Venezuelans.


European women with children in old Venezuela [Photo] - Venezuela Analysis


On June 13, 1823, the first immigration law was approved, providing immigrants with title documents to valuable properties, a naturalization charter, and a ten-year tax exemption. Over the next century, five comparable laws were passed: the Guzman and Codazzi Laws in 1840, the Acosta Law in 1874, the Crespo Law in 1893, and the Adriani-Pietri Law in 1936. Initially, the government attempted to provide such advantageous treatment to migrants from the Spanish Islands and Germany, and then permitted itself to expand to a broader generality, which suffered a setback with the onset of Vicente Gomez's dictatorship. Looking at the characteristics of the period, the desire to welcome individuals who moved from their lands in Venezuela to construct a single homeland was probably at the heart of this argument. Unfortunately, the advantages of this approach were not obvious even in 1833, as the country was still plagued by tropical diseases, backwardness, hardship, and ignorance. Endemism affected the territory's already limited population. So, despite numerous efforts, Venezuela did not present itself as a suitable and welcoming country for migrants; to this were added environmental conditions, internal struggles between various factions and caudillos, and the alternation of particularly prosperous periods with periods of deep crisis, which made the future of those who settled there with safe short-term prospects uncertain.


Venezuela's population was not exceptionally dense in relation to its physical extent, and growth was gradual and far lower than in neighbouring Latin American countries, which were also destinations for Italian and European immigration. The birth rate fell from year to year, while the mortality rate rose steadily. Between 1821 and 1836, the immigration laws' facilitations and modalities remained a dead letter, failing to achieve the goals for which they were enacted. The enterprises entrusted with recruiting immigration from Europe failed in their mission; the government, for its part, failed to put in place particularly incisive initiatives, owing to a lack of public funds to be used. Due to bad living circumstances and a lack of crops that did not even allow subsistence, the few colonies that had settled on Venezuelan territory eventually began to perish. Small groups of Italians travelled to that land, encouraged by relatives who had already settled there; the initial migrants came primarily from Liguria and the Tuscan islands, where commercial maritime activity already existed. However, with the onset of Venezuela's civil war, this migratory movement ceased, with the majority of those fleeing to Argentina and Brazil.


European immigrants arrived in Caracas [Photo] - Venezuela Analysis


The Guzman Blanco leadership set in place a plan to stimulate immigration on January 14, 1874, by government decree, offering exceptionally favorable conditions to foreign employees. The government promised to pay for the travel and offer subsidies during the early stay, as well as to guarantee religious freedom and education and to grant tax breaks. The government also secured adequate work for migrants, and the Dirección General de Immigración was established to that end. As a result of these measures, the immigration rate surged between 1874 and 1877, and the number of Italians in Venezuela increased exponentially in 1877, as it did in subsequent years. However, the proportion of Italians in Venezuela remained smaller than in other Latin American nations where quotas were increasing. The lack of information provided by the bodies in authority, both in Italy and in the nation of arrival, regarding the possibilities of the country's reception was undoubtedly the reason for the lowest immigration of Italians to Venezuela.


In Europe, there was a severe paucity of knowledge on Venezuela. On September 1, 1847, Ruperto Hand, one of the country's liberation heroes, sent a letter from London to Venezuelan President Monagas informing him of the situation in England at the time: large masses of the population were dying of hunger due to a lack of resources, whereas Venezuela possessed vast fertile lands that were almost entirely unknown. Those who knew Venezuela as a newly independent country were unaware of revolutionary events and riots, all of which disrupted daily life. In 1892, Venezuelan President Andres Palacios had to admit in front of Congress that all of the efforts made with immigration laws had been futile, failing to provide a new country to people who had abandoned their own. A stronger Italian presence in the country was first recorded between the turn of the century and World War I, reaching just over 9000 people in 1915. During those years, the exodus from Italy had taken the form of a real flight from a war-torn country, eventually involving Venezuela as a path of entry.


As a result, the turn of the century signaled the beginning of a new era for Venezuela.


 

References

  • Berglund, S. (1994). Italian Immigration in Venezuela: A Story Still Untold. University Central de Venezuela.

  • Harvey, M. (2021). Italians in Venezuela – The Italian Diaspora in South America. Dickinson College. https://blogs.dickinson.edu/italian-diaspora/gli-italiani-in-venezuela/italians-in-venezuela/

  • 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


Images references

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Federica Panico

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