BA Anthropology & Linguistics (dissertation)
University College London, June 2002

This paper seeks to explore ways in which elements in Venezuela's culture-history, specifically the cultural and historical construction of the Venezuelan polity and the particular forms of political power and organisation that have come to characterize it, may help explain the observable disparities and the nature of Venezuela's present-day realities, with special reference to the urban context. The aim is to examine the evolution of political power in Venezuela from the Pre-Columbine period to the present, free of the ‘year zero’ commonly entailed by the European conquest for the beginning of Venezuela’s political life. I explore the extent to which extant forms of political organisation have maintained some degree of continuity in the nature of the Venezuelan polity over time, and how far this affects present-day Venezuela. There is also an evaluation of Venezuela's historical position and how this may have been conducive to native elements maintaining some degree of continuity up until the present context. This continuity is analysed in terms of the survival of elements of Caciquismo: a form of political organisation rooted in Amerindian society, where the central political figure exercises only a form of 'titular leadership' lacking coercive compulsion, in contrast with Feudalism in Europe and its implications for the formation of the European state. It is argued that this explains why Venezuela cannot be seen to fit the classical 'nation-state' model. The ‘fluidity’ of its territoriality is seen to illustrate this, as well as the state's inability to effectively exert its modernising visions on society, particularly in the urban context. Finally, some implications for development are explored, in the form of the dangers of negative and oppositional conceptualisations, which fail to take into account cultural specificity and define underdevelopment merely as an absence of development along Western lines.


CONTENTS: INTRODUCTION: 1. Background and Interest 2. Methods 3. Venezuela's position historically CACIQUISMO: AN INDIGENOUS FORM OF POLITICAL ORGANISATION ROOTED IN PRE-COLUMBIAN AMERINDIAN SOCIETY 1. Overview: what is Caciquismo? 2. Caciquismo vs. Feudalism 3. The imprint of Caciquismo from past to present in Venezuela VENEZUELA: A MODERN NATION STATE? THE CONTINUOUS RELEVANCE OF CACIQUISMO IN PRESENT-DAY VENEZUELA AND EVIDENCE OF ITS SURVIVAL IN THE URBAN CONTEXT. 1. A ‘fluid’ territoriality 2. How Caciquismo affects the urban context. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS



1. Background and Interest: In the 1970s, Venezuela was Latin America's wealthiest nation in per capita terms, attracting a large volume of immigration to a ‘promised land’. Yet, it has seen its economic position decline steadily up until the present time. For a country having initially attained such a high level of income, it is indeed surprising to observe that it has been progressively overtaken by almost every Latin American country in economic terms; even those from which immigration to Venezuela once originated (which would have seemed unimaginable once). At the same time, it has one of Latin America’s most unequal and polarised societies, with a wide gap between rich and poor, but also in its broadest sense. From a Western perspective, 'deep economic and structural problems' are to blame. But on closer inspection, this analysis reveals itself to be simplistic, as it does not consider historical and cultural specificity. To such economic accounts, culture remains a ‘symptom’, rather than a defining element. More interestingly, the State seems unable to exert the same degree of control over its urban spaces that would normally arise in a modern nation-state, as classically defined. The result appears to be a largely amorphous urban context, where the state consistently fails to establish its total vision, or only has a limited degree of agency in ordering it. This paper seeks to explore ways in which elements in Venezuela's culture-history and particular forms of political organisation pertaining to the Venezuelan polity, in effect the nature of political power in Venezuela, may explain these disparities and the character of Venezuela's present-day seemingly amorphous and fragmented urban reality. The aim is to examine, from an anthropological perspective, the extent to which certain indigenous forms of political organisation have maintained some degree of continuity in the nature of the Venezuelan polity, explore the question of how far this affects present-day Venezuela, especially in the urban context, and provide evidence for these possible influences.


given my childhood in the provincial Venezuelan Llanos (in frequent contrast to the capital Caracas and its disparities). I chose the most relevant titles produced by keyword searches on 'Caciquismo' and 'Venezuela'. Venezuela did not have in place a society with the same degree of material 4 . Its primary concern was to extract valuable metals and develop an adequate infrastructure and administrative apparatus in and around the main centres of mining. In particular. Venezuela was not given importance. In addition. this experience takes both the form of personal impressions. This geographical distribution of Spanish imperial power reflects the crown's mining interests in the New World. its centres of influence grew in neighbouring New Granada (present-day Colombia) and centred around Bogotá. However. 11). as well as stemming from conversations with Venezuelans from different backgrounds. in order for this trade to function and in a way that allowed shipment to Spain to be carried out efficiently. As the Spanish empire developed. in this light. Its perceived lack of precious metals did not place it high on the crown's agenda •. Venezuela's position historically: Venezuela was seen to be on the 'periphery' of the Spanish empire. With an ethnographic lens. But. there is a strong component of personal experience. Having established a growing personal interest in the topic. Initial interest came from John Gledhill's work Power and its Disguises.2. Methods: The research was primarily library-based. 3. having revisited Venezuela on several occasions. especially from a two-moth period spent there in summer 2001. 2000: p. its exploration of ‘titular chieftainship’ in the Americas before European conquest and its mention of this as a counter-example to the classical definition of power as coercive (Gledhill. bibliographical references were chosen in some cases. Where no references are cited. this personal knowledge is being put forward. At the same time. as well as Peru and Mexico. This is despite it being the first place in the South American continent upon which Columbus set foot.

they concentrated on the dream of trying to find the legendary El Dorado. 5 . This was a favourable environment for indigenous forms of political organisation to survive and find a degree of continuity. so there was less emphasis on the conversion of Amerindian communities than would have occurred under a fully-fledged Spanish administration and its active support of the Catholic missions. The Germans. Indeed.sophistication as the Incas or the Aztecs. based along European lines. as it was officially known seemed so marginal and insignificant to the Spanish crown. given that wealth in the form of precious metals was visibly present and an infrastructure for its extraction in large amounts was already there. that it was the only portion of its empire to be given as security for repayment of its debts. Perhaps given this lack of freedom to leave a meaningful cultural imprint. nor were its tribes hierarchically structured or united under one central figure or aristocracy as in those two cases. There was also the advantage of being able to establish centralised political control simply by replacing the top of an already present hierarchical system. Germans did not promote and attempt to introduce settlers or to colonise the province. One of the conditions set by Spain was that Germans would not spread the Lutheran faith. albeit for a brief period between 1528 and 1556. as the administrative mechanisms of the Spanish empire. during this time. and temporarily left under the control of German bankers. These elements facilitating conquest and wealth extraction were not to be seen in Venezuela. the Weslers. were not as strong. ran Venezuela as 'overseers'. nor did wealth manifest itself in a way that would single it out for an imperative total conquest. This had made conquest and the extraction of wealth a relatively straightforward affair in those instances. without seriously undermining the political institutions of the local Indian population • and tried to avoid active intervention. There was significant room for local interpretation in the running of day to day affairs. the 'captaincy general' of Venezuela. Their failure in this respect sent further signals to Spain that the region possessed no valuable resources and thus preserved its low priority status. Rather.

a far greater degree of interest from the Spanish crown may have resulted in the territory's large gold reserve actually being discovered and tapped. As well as further emphasizing and strengthening Venezuela's perceived peripheral position vis-àvis the Spanish empire. The subsequent return to Spanish rule certainly reversed some of this. but many of the more brutal elements of Spanish colonisation had been avoided. the German presence was significant. this scenario of whole scale enslavement of the Amerindian population was already being developed before the Germans took control. Indeed. Clearly then. The ensuing gold rush could have certainly put an end to the region's marginality. Continuity in indigenous political organisation may have been severely compromised. more ‘mainstreamed’. But even 6 . had the Germans not undertaken the search for El Dorado. The Spanish would have to take them into account and the presence of this legitimised structure constrained their previous ability to pursue a potential whole scale reshaping of society. and the task of finding the mythical 'city of gold' had fallen on the Spaniards. as Spanish slavers were 'dislodged' by the German administration •. actually allowed local Amerindian institutions and forms of political organisation to consolidate and incorporate themselves into the day-to-day running of affairs under European dominance –at least to a greater extent than other places. albeit relatively brief. forces that had been so destructive and catastrophic to the Amerindian population and their institutions in other parts of the continent. and further isolating it from Spanish administrative structures. as they were reduced to slavery. and endogenous forms of political organisation in the local government of the empire were now firmer. and the combined impact of a strengthening of imperial administrative structures with the whole scale enslavement of the indigenous population would not have allowed a great deal of room for 'local interpretation'. and it is acknowledged that their arrival saw an interruption to this approach.What is important for our purposes is that this period of German rule appears to have actually provided a reprieve and spared Venezuela from some of the more brutal elements of the initial Spanish conquest. I believe the period of German rule. Indeed.

while Bolivar's ideal had been to form a single unified 'Gran Colombia' from the countries he liberated. the potential for such bottom-up indigenous local forms of political organisation was clearly greater in Venezuela. with its central position vis-à-vis the Spanish empire.subsequently. R. Lima and Mexico City. If this was a possibility in Mexico itself. which as a vice-royalty was one of the centres of Spanish imperial rule. since it was perceived as much more peripheral. without enforcing itself strongly in the provinces and more remote regions. along the lines of the USA. meaning that whatever form local government in Venezuela took. It could be argued that it is precisely this context of marginality which led these forces to form and challenge Imperial order. His dreams may have themselves been frustrated by the factional political set-up which had given rise to him. Venezuela remained of low priority and was seen as a marginal province in comparison to the adjacent 'centres' of Spanish rule that were Bogotá. in a way that was crucial to Mexico's revolutionary movement. 1985) and pose a counter-tendency to the Empire's administrative structure. who hailed from Venezuela and played a crucial role in the independence from Spain of several Latin American countries. Even in Mexico. allowed local indigenous forms to persist and find legitimacy in a new creolized context. This tendency of the Spanish empire to concentrate its mechanisms of power in and around its mining interests mostly centred on a few urban points of influence. inspired by Enlightenment ideals. this was not seen to have great importance. in terms of their potential for political change and upheaval should not be underestimated. Especially telling is the case of Simon Bolivar. it is commonly acknowledged that the provinces not under the direct control of the Empire's larger urban centres of influence and seen as 'on the periphery' by the empire's administration were a favourable setting to movements by farmers to organise around ‘caciques’ (Falcon. endowing him with prominence and sustained dictatorial powers all through the wars of 7 . this never became a reality. So the importance of these areas 'left to be'. Yet.

in effect a 'titular leader'. which is very real in the present Venezuelan setting. where political structures and day-to-day affairs remained subject to local interpretation. Only after the 60's oil boom did this 'peripheral' position suddenly appear to be strongly and permanently reversed. Venezuela maintained distance from tendencies of change and retained a peripheral position. which were largely seen as agrarian 'outbacks' •. and so Bolivar was reduced to the role of a symbolic figure. with the country's wealth soaring very quickly. Once independence was achieved. as it was not seen to play a significant geo-political role in Latin America. motorways being built and skyscrapers making their appearance.independence. so that even after independence in 1811. with modernising tendencies only filtering through very slowly. and the former centres of Spanish rule maintained their prominence and position over such places as Venezuela. However. these factional elements had no appetite for a new centralised state with increased powers that would harm the existing factional system. While the oil boom is credited with having brought about the collapse of Venezuelan agrarian society. in terms of how political processes were understood. fuelling a massive exodus to the cities. however. Venezuela remained largely withdrawn from such centralising and consolidative tendencies of modern state power. This marginal position seems to have remained into the twentieth century. imported political culture. the rapid nature of change ensured that there was insufficient time for peoples' subjectivities to change and for them to fully embrace a new identity of 'modern living' along with its all-new. There was a lack of a slow and gradual transition towards modernity and this has given rise to an intriguing state of affairs were modernity and wealth is tempered by traditional understandings of political processes and a continuity in the state's institutional weakness vis-à-vis wider society. thus allowing the continued survival of autochthonous forms of organisation. etc. 8 . the very rapid nature of this change may itself have allowed the extant political forms to remain strong in the fabric of Venezuelan society.

but encompassed the interests of those traditionally in power. This is illustrated by the apparent lack of a ‘neutral’ political ground. giving real expression to national reforming policies. This extant political reality and its dynamics were in effect 'transferred' to the new. was much more a ‘mutual adjustment’ between the old military regime and the new. Since the change to an urban society happened with such amazing speed. and according to party lines. the objective at heart was to provide continuity to existing political structures. Supposedly neutral government functions and offices change hands when do governments. as well as 9 . far from being a wholehearted embrace of democracy as it was portrayed. peoples' subjective sense of political practice and their expectations of obligations to political authority were nevertheless able to survive a radically different material and spatial context. And this widespread clientelism has reflected more a consensual pact of rotation between previously competing factions (originating in the post-dictatorship ‘Pacto de Punto Fijo’ of 1958). under a veneer of democratic credibility: through the creation of a generic two-party system. In such conditions. Crucially then. It is the party in power that seems to influence who takes key civil service posts. a truly representative and legitimate regime. referring to the realm of government.e.This can be seen to apply especially to people's understandings of political organisations and groups. In its very conception. and act on behalf of the population as a whole. maintaining socially habitual ways of engaging with the political sphere). rather than a fully functional modern nation-state. seemed far-fetched –although the idea of Venezuela as a ‘consensual society’ was strongly promoted. in Bourdieu’s sense (i. which excluded critical elements. and could be accounted for as a case of 'habitus'. la cosa está igual” is commonly heard (“it’s all the same everywhere”). it seems that Venezuelan modernity has not been accompanied by what is traditionally understood as the development of a modern nation-state. 'modern' urban setting: “Donde sea. The Pacto de Punto Fijo itself. able to engage with. in barely the space of a generation.

Only recently. For instance. who was elected with a popular mandate in 1998. perceived as a ‘neutral’ institution. which will be discussed in more detail below. this reformist ambition to expand the state’s sphere of action and its capacity to give critical expression to a national policy. and with it the establishment of an effective state. resent continued to brew against the political system. Chavez' ousting and quick replacement only seem to 10 . do Venezuelan political structures seem to be critically coming to terms with the country’s rapid urbanisation and ‘modernisation’. able to implement its policies and vision with some success. as recent events have shown. as well as an absence of labour in the countryside).Venezuelan identity as ‘café con leche’ (in reference to its multi-ethnic heritage. and the now largely impoverished public sought refuge in the figure of Hugo Chavez. culminating in the ‘Caracazo’ (violent riots in Caracas) of 1989. with its inescapable factional character as enshrined in the Pacto de Punto Fijo of ‘58. On the agenda were a number of socialist-inspired redistributive reforms. He sought to put an end to the ‘old order’. including the issue of land -which by now was largely in the hands of the factional elites. and attempted to mark a conscious shift away from the widely perceived failure of Venezuelan democratic tradition. there have been attempts for the first time to bring about far-reaching land reform. not surprisingly. Further evidence for this institutional weakness of the state can be seen in Venezuela's sketchy control over its borders. But. has been met with strong and vehement resistance from the extant political forces. in response to particular conditions and with the emergence of new actors. but actually obscuring racial contradictions). following the ‘emptying’ of the Venezuelan countryside and the exodus to the cities (yet left mostly unproductive given the centrality of oil export in the economy. It could be argued that this was central to the rise of Modernity in Europe. and all that implies for the country’s overall development. Following the failure of economic Structural Adjustment policies and their extreme effects on the population.

Simplistically. it is seen as 'corruption'. but rather exercising a form of ‘titular leadership’. naïve. indigenous forms of political organisation a certain degree of continuity historically. as well as simply being subject to factional forces playing themselves out. allowing local. without the consent or backing of the dominant faction. "Everyone is in it for themselves. our cunning. some even hint that this 'viveza' and 'malicia' are an inheritance of the 'Indio'. regardless of actual numerical democracy. Rather. specifically because they are seen to lack this 'malicia' and 'viveza'. of our Indian heritage -something they seem to utter with a degree of ambivalence: there is dismay. But this stand alone term does nothing to reveal the actual workings of the political structure. for their own gain". too trusting. what exactly were these local forms of political organisation that appear to have had such a deep impact on the present-day Venezuelan polity and can help to explain the state's apparent weaknesses and inability to establish its gesamtkunstwerk of Modernity (or ‘total modernising vision’). or “malice". This leaves the question: if Venezuela was indeed on the periphery of the empire and Western modernising tendencies until relatively recently. This is at times followed by "It is deep within us. as seems especially evident in the context of its urban realities? 11 . This further illustrates how the president in the Venezuelan context can be compared to a ‘cacique’. our 'viveza'. accompanied by a warm glow of pride. Many Venezuelans echo this. having to be accountable to factional forces and not being directly in control. it is simply an acknowledgement that these are not the workings of a 'modern nation state' as commonly understood. in what they see as a 'deep-rooted problem'. As such. etc). at the heart of Venezuelan political structures: a chronic problem. its internal logic and its specificities. Foreigners are often perceived as vulnerable 'flojos' (gullible.symptom the state's inability to make any real headway. the head of state seems largely helpless and unable to bring about change.

11). It is the nature of his chieftainship and the limits to his power which seem to define Caciquismo. 2000: p. Gledhill argues. Gledhill offers Caciquismo as a counter-example to coercive power as defined by Foucault and as espoused by Radcliffe-Brown. but finding himself unable to muster support (Clastres. But this could be precisely because the war effort was primarily a function of pressure and support from a certain faction within the tribe. caciques were able to command far greater support. the 'cacique' was the chief of a small Amerindian community. Traditionally. In Power and its Disguises. 28). therefore. The cacique's power is more a form of 'titular chieftainship'. the cacique "possessed no ability to issue commands which would automatically be obeyed" (ibid. Clastres describes the case of the cacique Fousiwe attempting to "extend hostilities beyond the point which the community regarded as legitimate". 178-179). In times of war. according to their own imperatives. 12 . In many ways. Overview: what is Caciquismo? The form these indigenous forms of political organisation have taken in these regions. peripheral to imperial influence. p. In times of peace. has often been characterised as Caciquismo. Among the Yanomami indians of Venezuela. 28). Caciquismo has repeatedly been put forward as a form of political organisation and power particular to Amerindian society. the central political figure of the cacique was merely an accessory to and secondary to the play of factional elements within the tribe.CACIQUISMO: AN INDIGENOUS FORM OF POLITICAL ORGANISATION ROOTED IN PRE-COLUMBIAN AMERINDIAN SOCIETY 1. The fact that in Caciquismo there seems to be no compulsion to directly obey the cacique certainly seems to throw into doubt the assumption that power is universally coercive (Gledhill. His subjects choose whether or not to obey. 1977: pp. the cacique's temporary power enjoyed in war time simply "evaporated" (ibid. Certainly. p.

But this analysis is subject to criticism. the function of a leader is to exhort. in that Clastres is offering a picture that is in danger of romanticising so-called 'stateless' societies. the power of the leader was primarily subject to the opinion of those surrounding him and thus the cacique's power had to adopt a consensual. While the chief's role maybe described as titular. and has been credited with having the most 'advanced' material culture in Venezuela. their political system can be described as a situation of "order without government". inclusive. 2000: p. 1982: p. but a leader is not a person who gives orders. He sees the transition to the state as a 'rupture' in human history. factional elements in the tribe and how they determine policy clearly amount to the basic workings of a state. 29). 1). 3). where the cacique is obliged to redistribute the wealth he acquires among his tribe. in a way that approximates notions of the 'noble savage'. Gledhill notes: "in some South American groups. Thomas continues: "Even in a conflict situation or a situation in which he or she is trying to move people toward a certain course of action. p. in what Clastres suggests amounts to a "denial of reciprocity". Caciquismo is certainly present. It is evident that the Pemon chief's power is very much subject to the very constraints that occur in Caciquismo. Caciquismo. In the case of the Pemon Indians. Clastres finds in Caciquismo evidence for the stage of 'stateless' egalitarian society that 'precedes' the state. and persuade (and sometimes to threaten)". non-coercive character." (ibid. According to Thomas (Thomas. finding the chief is a matter of searching for the poorest and shabbiest-looking member of the community" (Gledhill. remind. 13 . as seen above: "A leader in Pemon society can be a person who achieves prominence in any number of areas. in this understanding is therefore a counter-example to the classical definition of power as coercive.Clearly then. This is because chieftainship has a primarily moral character. Another aspect of the chief's primarily symbolic role is his inability to amass wealth. a Carib population that presently enjoys a reasonable degree of prosperity and recognition.

These workings determine the course of action for the whole community and. there was no room for consensual politics between the leader and his subjects. as well as controlling its subjects. the state possessed 14 . once decided upon. making their movement impossible or highly undesirable. Unlike Caciquismo. this system achieved much greater 'markedness' in the territory as the contractual obligations between individuals often tied them to their land. his analysis of historical rupture leaves no room for the structure of Caciquismo to find a significant degree of continuity and accommodation within the state. Feudalism was a rather different system and can be seen to have played a crucial role in the development of the European model of the nation-state. Clastre's analysis of the transition to the modern state as a historical 'rupture' also assumes a fixed model of statehood. and risks overlooking cultural specificity. panoptic nation-state in Europe. 158). in absence of their fulfilment. In the feudal setting. in a way that clearly delimited their obligations and responsibilities vis-à-vis seigniorial power. as a new setting would likely entail a reduction in entitlements. In this light. as the case of warfare illustrates. In a sense. this could be seen as a form of territorial 'entrapment'. Feudalism: a point of contrast On the other hand. which seems to be widely reported in many contemporary Latin American societies (Brisk. The subject could expect protection to his/her person in exchange. Caciquismo vs. there does not appear to be room for disagreement or defection. The state's power and its ability to impose its vision of how society needed to be structured were largely unproblematic. Equally. A tight hierarchical system. 2. formed the foundations for the emergence of the modern. each link in the chain was able to demand total obedience of his or her subjects. allowing the state to achieve far wider control over its territory and regulating its boundaries. with the real threat of coercive power. 1973: p. This. in what amounted to a contractual agreement. the feudal setting established an ethic of delimited responsibilities vis-à-vis the state. Crucially. I believe.

and up until the second half of the twentieth century. was a favourable environment for indigenous forms of organisation to persist and to influence how administrative guidelines from the empire were interpreted and carried out locally. modern Venezuelan scene at first appears unrealistic and may be susceptible to the criticism of romanticising a continuity in indigenous social 'forms'. 1973: p. These 'national' caciques came to be known as Caudillos. I believe it is a combination of these elements which allowed a transition to the modern nation-state in the European setting. this view suggests that a certain degree of continuity was sustained from the time of the Pre-Columbian cacique to the present day. there is a clear sense in which the case of Caciquismo departs considerably from this. With the growing influence of European ideas of nationhood. 15 . This idea that the cacique has somehow 'survived' to the present day and strongly influences the current. in that the centres of Imperial Spanish administration did not challenge or contest the authority of these local chiefs in what were seen as peripheral areas. The imprint of Caciquismo from past to present in Venezuela As seen above. Venezuela's perceived peripheral position both during the time of Spanish colonisation. Before that stage. without significantly affecting local power relations and political organisation. accompanied by a constant threat of coercive power on its subjects. and in particular the context that gave rise to national movements of independence. the caciques and their form of political organisation had already been well incorporated into the creole mestizo society and was in a sense part of the imperial administrative structure. but rather accepted and tolerated them as its agents (Kern. 152). regional and local chieftains or caciques espoused these nationalist dreams and became caciques on a national scene. what is being suggested is by no means that the cacique has somehow survived intact.the power to execute at will. However. In contrast. 3. As such.

a ‘Llanero’ of mixed origins. Further evidence for this presence of Caciquismo in the caudillo era is presented by Bunge (1965: p. with the acquiescence of Spanish rule. who proved crucial in Bolivar’s strategy. as a seemingly limitless ‘hinterland’ to which slaves and renegade Europeans fled to. Referring to personal feuds between caciques in this period. This is exemplified in the figure of Paez. imperial Spanish administration often preferred to turn its back on such areas. in a way that was vital for the course of the Independence movement and thereby clearly helped define the future of the Venezuelan polity. had transcended the obscurity of the hinterland to achieve salience in the national political context. Indeed.) will leave them to fight it out. a ‘cacique’ of the Llanos. had thus already undergone a significant transformation from its original form within small Amerindian communities. he notes that "The people (.Caciquismo. It was Paez and the support he was able to command from his fellow ‘Llaneros’ as their chief who actually made up Bolivar’s expedition over the Andes to liberate Colombia from Spanish rule. meeting with Amerindians who already inhabited the area. along with their pre-existing social organisation. In this sense. Clearly then. unperturbed. It established a form of 'meta Caciquismo' that was crucial in the Independence movements of Latin America. creating a veritable melting pot that was further conducive to caciquil power structures in a new mestizo context. the caudillo era brought about another shift in the evolution of caciquil structure.. the ‘ultimate periphery’ of the Llanos (vast grasslands of the interior) provided a fertile ground for Caciquismo’s continuity in a mestizo context.. Thus Caciquismo can be seen to have gone a long way from its beginnings in Amerindian society to a much larger force. while in parallel acquiring the status of a regional phenomenon. Paez then. 16 . by raising the cacique to a national level. as these were feared as dangerous and lawless. but where the factional and consensus-based character of caciquil structure was no less present. in a way that had previously not been seen. capable of digesting and adapting to nationalist aspirations along European lines. 122).

where such confrontations would very often see the leader expecting to command his or her subjects' full support. In the Venezuelan case. In Brisk's view. as these are fairly recent events in Venezuela's trajectory. this is particularly important since. this peace through “tacitly accepted disunity” is very much present in the transfer of power from the military regime to a form of democracy that satisfied all parties concerned in the Pacto de Punto Fijo of simple spectators who do not commit themselves in advance to the triumph of one or the other. However. from it's independence in 1811 up until the 1950s. as well as the fragility of the central power of the caudillo himself. 17 . Brisk points out that this was among the most successful cases of Caciquismo being promoted to national prominence in the form of the caudillos (Brisk. the peace that resulted under caudillo rule was "achieved through tacitly accepted disunity". what is of crucial importance is the way that this prolonged period of caudillo rule can be seen to have left a deep imprint on present day Venezuelan politics. Venezuela was ruled by a succession of caudillos. clearly indicating continuity in the consensual factional politics of Caciquismo. which has ensured its continuity and that make it a relevant and important element when studying contemporary Latin American society. and this could be precisely because it remained a peripheral geo-political entity. 1973." This clearly would have been unthinkable in a feudal context. while maintaining its dynamics. 152). It is precisely this ability of Caciquismo to adapt to changing conditions. Indeed. p. Although often hailed as a democratic model. Venezuela has been under caudillo rule for longer than it has been a democracy. and the change is barely a generation away.

A ‘fluid’ territoriality A clear way in which this 'absence of Feudalism' reveals how Venezuela does not fit the traditional pattern of a nation-state is evident in the nature of its 'territoriality'. were Venezuela a classical case of the 'nation state'. What is interesting here is that this shedding of territory has never been accompanied by any form of military confrontation. This has resulted in Venezuela today having only around half the total area it had at independence. VENEZUELA: A MODERN NATION STATE? THE CONTINUOUS RELEVANCE OF CACIQUISMO IN PRESENT-DAY VENEZUELA AND EVIDENCE OF ITS SURVIVAL IN THE URBAN CONTEXT 1. It has shed significant tracts of territory on all sides. at the expense of Venezuela. it is the only country in the region to have progressively ceded territory to all its neighbouring countries. which should have ensured they were well protected. Indeed. coercive. Brazil was able to acquire the vast area that is the Rio Negro region to the south of Venezuela. biding inheritance in the emergence of the European nation-state. which would be expected in a 18 . This is despite the plains being central to Venezuela's agrarian economy in the pre-oil era. Colombia acquired a significant portion of the savannah plains and the strategically-important Guajira peninsula. Unlike some of its neighbours. without gaining any land.The following section examines how exactly the peculiarities of Caciquismo as a system of national political power has come to influence present-day Venezuela. which is South America's northernmost tip. and the British saw no obstacle in trebling the size of Guyana. Venezuela does not appear to have the same degree of effective control over its borders as would normally arise in a modern nation state. combined with an 'absence of Feudalism’ and its contractual.

Very often these conversations would simply end in: "que se puede hacer? Son los gobiernos. But crucially.. But seldom is any course of action discussed. despite oil being central to Venezuela's economy and interests. it has allowed Colombian encroachment of some of its oil fields. Indeed. Thereafter. irrespective of leadership or political affiliation. 19 . much of the Guajira peninsula which has large coal reserves (something that had been known to Venezuela) was acquired by Colombia at a time when Venezuela was at its most prosperous and superior to Colombia in terms of material resources. The state can thus be seen to occupy this place of mere titular leadership and there is a close resemblance to caciquil structure. in terms of the relationship between the cacique and those around him. There certainly was no compulsion to follow things through. On discussing this matter with some ordinary Venezuelans. apart from a few diplomatic appearances. the issue appears to be lost in oblivion. This detachment from the actions of the state and the fact that all successive governments are seen to hold the blame. nor even a real desire that these lands should be restored to Venezuela at some point in the future." (What can be done? It is the governments that have brought this about. I encountered a certain sense of revulsion and there was a feeling in which national pride had been affected. is not dissimilar from the way in which there is a certain detachment and dissociative attitude vis-à-vis the cacique from members of his tribe. indicating that it is not a case of Venezuela lacking the resources to challenge its neighbours. Occasionally. There was clearly a sense of inevitability and this was accompanied by a dissociative attitude. Venezuela only seems able to respond with vocal disagreement. But this proved to be quite mild and usually amounted to no more than a passing mistrust of Colombia. Instead. this relatively unproblematic shedding of territory has been occurring both before the oil boom and after.typical nation state scenario. at most.. this encroachment and the magnitude of Colombia's billion-dollar extraction of previously Venezuelan coal are reported in the news.).. Again.

As a centre of Spanish imperial power. Colombia today can be seen as several potential 'states'. Venezuela's state mechanisms remain in place in the face of this. Colombia was far more subject to European models of political organisation. but this is not pursued further. in a way that seems to overrule the influence of the Venezuelan state's political instruments. In many ways. Occasionally. a form of tax. both at the local and central level. Clearly. where power is enforceable on subjects through coercive means. and this is very much present to the present day. guerrillas often use western Venezuela as a form of safe haven from which they are able to carry out operations in Colombia. Local chiefs were able to exercise much deeper social control and were able to enforce their power through coercive means. Indeed. The caudillo era here was different. The result has been a very violent reality. in closer keeping with the feudal scenario. Normal communications are present and the guerrilla presence is 'invisible' to the external observer. in competition for statehood along lines more consistent with the nation state model. is the way in which its borders appear to be permeable to external political forces. where these 20 . Here. in the absence of which the landlord's family members are liable to be kidnapped or killed. Yet the Venezuelan state seems unable to police the guerrillas' operations and prevent what can in many ways be seen as an encroachment of a competing form of state mechanism on Venezuelan soil. coercive power is startlingly at work here. discontent is still voiced. Even more significant and illustrative of the limited relevance of the classical nation state model to the Venezuelan case. Colombian guerrillas have a sophisticated network in Venezuelan territory and at times seem to be more successful in imposing their will than the Venezuelan state. Colombia is useful. Yet relations between the two countries are friendly and there has been no active attempt to regain the territory. They often demand that large landowners in the plains pay them a 'vacuna'. in that each faction sought to achieve statehood. In fact. a contrast with Venezuela's neighbour.Venezuela still claims more than half of former British Guyana. the state simply seems content with being able to draw the disputed territory on the Venezuelan map.

illustrates the fragility and fluidity of Venezuela's territoriality. surpassing the interests of these different factions. but also its territory.potential 'states' are not territorially bounded and move through regions with disastrous consequences for the local population caught up in the confrontations. In the feudal European context. They can be subject to the coercive enforcement of power by different elements over time. An explanation for this fluidity of Venezuela's 'territoriality'. as well as conversely illustrating the comparative weakness of the Venezuelan state's political power and its limited control over not only its borders. How Caciquismo affects the urban context. But also. the speed with which urbanisation took place and the agricultural infrastructure largely disappeared. in the case of the guerrillas. Indeed. Conversely. nor was there a structural or coercive force that encouraged a relatively permanent sedentism in the same way as in the European feudal context. the territory moved into was not already 'taken' or appropriated in a way that impeded resettlement. for which the state's inability to enforce its borders is symptomatic. and enforce their influence there by effectively collecting taxes. the way these potential 'states' seem able to successfully infiltrate Venezuelan territory. demonstrates their relative strength and adherence to a 'nation-state' model. 2. 152). moving into territory entailed being subject to new social relations of power and an existing social order or use of the 21 . This is what Brisk terms the 'new Caciquismo' and seems consistent with his analysis of peace under caudillo rule as a case of "tacitly accepted disunity" (Brisk. 1973: p. as these 'states' each seek to form a 'power base' using the local population. can be seen in the caciquil structure of the Venezuelan polity. in that competing factions that determine state policy do not explicitly favour nor encourage an extension to state power in a way that would allow it to enforce itself fully and become a force in its own right. The historical absence of a feudal structure meant that people were not 'socially-entrapped' in the same way as in Europe.

There wasn’t the symbiotic 22 . it did not take the form of subsistence agriculture. this degree of social entrapment discouraging displacement was simply not present. did not have an established pre-Columbine agrarian society. as seen in other parts of Latin America. as seen in the feudal context. This applies very directly to Venezuela's urban realities. Indeed. these owners were not tied with the land in the same way as in the feudal context. or in a way that discouraged intrusive settlement. which discouraged both movement out from the relative safety of the habitual provincial setting (positive entrapment). in exchange for part of their labour. Given the prevailing uncertainty of Medieval times. This meant that the possibility of direct subsistence from the land was limited. leaving the rural individual in a position of greater vulnerability. the Caribs and Arawaks were mostly hunter-gatherers. there was an absence of feudalism's instruments of 'social entrapment'. sugar cane. where territory offered no 'social resistance' or obstacles to movement. In the Venezuelan context. Albeit exploitative. it was geared towards producing export crops in the form of cocoa. coffee. risking this ‘stability’ (positive entrapment) and abandoning it if favour of a new setting would have been unthinkable. At the outset. as well as protection in the contractual relationship between lord and serfs. Venezuela. except in extreme circumstances. in contrast (the Andes are perhaps the exception). Although territory may be officially 'owned' by big landowners or the State. Feudalism guaranteed subsistence in a rural When an agrarian society did emerge. The prevailing Amerindian groups. centred around plantations. it was possible to migrate to the city and maintain existing social networks. There is a sense in which it is simply a case of filling a vacuum. as well as movement into an already occupied territory (negative entrapment) with its established social context. There were simply no mechanisms to enforce 'social embeddedness' and markedness within the territory in a permanent way. etc. as whole communities emigrated together and transplanted themselves to the periphery of cities. and the burdening new power relations this would entail. Instead.

there is an astonishing proliferation of new settlements. the fact that a territory has been occupied does not seem to entail burdening power structures. there was no real impediment to migrating to the city. unproductive spaces all around them. The state’s inability to control this fluid nature of territoriality is particularly salient.contractual relationship of protection in exchange for labour as seen in Feudalism. the whole of a mountain's silhouette can be recognised from the apparently infinite dots of light. At the outset. with the advent of perceived opportunities in the cities. Very little space separates each shack and wherever space is available. which I believe played a crucial role in the spatial distribution of cities in Europe. Furthermore. movement and resettlement for many poor agrarian Venezuelans was not an overly problematic notion. as seen in the feudal case. so that the 'social entrapment' scenario does not apply. or even contain the growth of these areas. And this further demonstrates the continued relevance of Caciquismo in presentday Venezuela. causing very high population concentrations. To a large extent. the territory these re-settlers occupy are state lands in and around large cities. nor even the permanence of land use as a productive medium. Hence the very rapid decline of the agrarian society that existed. 23 . in that these had large uninhabited. Instead. What this illustrates is that. and again the state seems unable to control their spread. more dwellings are improvised. plan. as whole mountains are covered: at night. There seemed to be no incentive or coercive mechanism to ensure its permanence. In the absence of this ‘social entrapment’ of Feudalism (both negative and positive). This. unlike in a feudal setting. the occupation of territory and the resulting social setting do not seem to present an obstacle to inmigration. The potential of these areas to accommodate newcomers seems almost limitless. they commonly take the form of sprawling shanty towns. in my opinion is to do with the lack of the same coercive/incentive environment as in feudalism and the State's inability to 'enforce' its territoriality. At the same time. as it does not appear to provide a disincentive to continued inmigration into these areas.

In Brisk's words: "This carving up of the state's ability to make policy is Caciquismo in modern dress. and following very similar form. This is because its power to assert itself fully is constrained by the factional elements pertaining to caciquil influence on the state's workings. In the urban context.The way this pattern of improvised settlement occurs in larger cities nation-wide under very similar circumstances. this inability stems precisely from the nature of the Venezuelan polity and its 'institutionalised Caciquismo'. 157). These barrios as 'external' entities from the state spring up unceremoniously. not faced to the same extent with the threat of historically constructed incentive/coercive measures that are normally seen at work in a nation-state. This is true because consensus over extending the state's power is as unobtainable today as it was under the caciques". It is illustrative of the titular chieftainship of Caciquismo. He contends that "The obviously increasing power enjoyed by Latin American states is more than matched by the power of well-organized private groups. the factional elements behind the 24 . given the fluidity of the state's territoriality and an absence of feudal history. 1973: p. Instead. I believe illustrates the state's limited control over its territory and illustrates the limited ability of the Venezuelan state to enforce its vision and urban policy. It is in fact a way in which even the poorest sections of society are able to exert their limiting agency on the state in a very visible way. In my view. see the state's vision as merely an optional 'guideline' -rather than a binding. The state is unable to actively enforce its vision. based on consensual leadership accommodating factional elements. The state is primarily dependent on interest groups for its continued legitimacy -what Brisk terms 'the new Caciquismo'. this weakness manifests itself more than just in terms of the 'fluidity of territoriality'. This is not conducive to the state increasing its power in a way that would enable it to fully create a 'modern nation-state' (Brisk.” But this also operates at a grassroots level as citizens. Territory is fluid and available. authoritative directive. The fact that the State is unable to establish its modernising vision and unable to enforce a policy of urban planning is a further symptom of this 'institutionalised Caciquismo'.

alongside government buildings and ministries. with stalls upon stalls of contraband goods being offered and seemingly immune to the state's bureaucratic apparatus. The best example is the Simon Bolivar centre in the heart of Caracas. as separate from ‘their city’. in an attempt to emulate American urban form. This is very clear in the way the state has endeavoured to organise urban space around large modern public projects of urban regeneration. where illegal black market traders or ‘buhoneros’ operate. these spaces are often appropriated by informal sectors of society and turned into improvised markets. When it was built. far from what was originally envisaged. but may indeed demonstrate a deeper reticence imbedded in the state's workings to alienate its citizens in any overt way. it may deeply illustrate the consensual relationship between the Venezuelan state and its citizens. or see the state as a medium for the expression of their own particular urban identity –one that has increasingly looked ‘North’. nor issue orders. In fact. Vast proportions of the country's oil revenue have been assigned to large urban projects and considerable efforts to landscape urban space along modern American lines. especially following the oil boom.state express their interests directly in space. Another clear and startling example of the state's inability to impose and 'imprint' itself meaningfully on the urban context is the fact that addresses are always a 25 . However. where the central power cannot be seen to directly constraint its citizens. as with the Cacique. as these efforts represent only a subset of the urban population in the form of the dominant factional elements -essentially turning their backs on the ranchos. What’s more. but failing. street level is an altogether different reality. While this presently houses several key government offices. built to withstand earthquakes and symbolising the modern course that the state had set out for Venezuela to embark upon. the state seems unable to substantiate these efforts with the corresponding social change it seeks. This is often seen in the very heart of the capital. This not only seems to illustrate the state's inability to police and control its citizens as in the classical nation-state scenario. these were the highest towers in South America.

There may well be numbers to streets. nor are they ever used. the postal system exists in theory. influencing state policy (Brisk. 26 . Needless to say. despite the state efforts to impose western models of organisation. but these are never used. where a soldier got up again after being taken for dead during an independence coup. Indeed. Instead on an address card what is often found in lieu of a definite address. There is a corner called 'El Muerto' (the dead man). Although they exist. The same applies to postcodes. 1999: x). nobody seems to have any knowledge of them. with addresses lacking numbers and instead featuring rather bizarre indicators of place in the form of 'corner names'. Its purpose and raison d’être are to redistribute wealth. is an indication that the place lies between one corner and the other. with all sectors of society getting a ‘piece of the pie’. Yet another illustration of this is the strong presence of neighbourhood movements. 1973: 160). getting around Caracas is not a simple affair for a newcomer. always open to some amount of personal interpretation. for instance. which often illustrate a city's popular history. and there is a clear sense in which the state can be equated to caciquil authority here. Of significance is the way that generals who recently sought an end to Chavez' rule. the state is seen as a provider. Corners are given names. These cases illustrate the mark of Caciquismo and the state's inability to impose itself in the Venezuelan urban context. This clientelist system of patronage was an effective redistributor of oil wealth during the surge of oil prices in the 70s. these neighbourhood associations have "demonstrated an increasing effectiveness as political power bases" (Rivero Santos. Furthermore. set about appealing precisely to such neighbourhood associations. which have come to present a further pressure group in the caciquil structure. as with the Cacique. and fuelling social mobility. as a unifying source of coherence and integrative identity in the urban consciousness. but very minimally in practice. As Rivero Santos argues.relative notion.

which further underlines the mark of Caciquismo on the state. Chavez' inability to bring about reform stems precisely from a weak state structure. especially as the elites provided for their own services privately. it was certainly not an option to be suddenly subject to greater state control and redistributive pressure for the national interest and benefit of wider society. After a period where flying to Miami on shopping sprees every weekend became emblematic of Venezuelan elites. etc. given a reduction of the ‘pie’. The vast majority of the population pays no tax. It is primarily these groups and sections of society which appear to exercise agency over state policy and act together to constraint the state's power in keeping with their interests. given that the state’s tax revenue derives almost exclusively from taxes on oil exports. health. It is not simply a case of the caciquil state losing control through the unsustainable redistribution of wealth here. but rather the state being subject to influences and demands from particular sections of society. it may seem contradictory that Venezuelan society is now so deeply polarised along wealth lines. 27 . culminating in a profound debt crisis. the unsustainability of the wealth production system. The state’s inability to stop a very clearly unsustainable system of patronage that had gone into overdrive. In the face of this. such as education. Partly. A vicious circle indeed. But one reason reform has been particularly hard is that. traditionally subject to factional forces and their influence. and act appropriately in a national strategic interest is also indicative of its caciquil nature: it sought instead to indebt itself to artificially maintain the clientelist dynamics at its heart.In this light. and the enforcement of Structural Adjustment policies. in the absence of a state that could transcend factional interests to provide quality services for all. alongside the “denial of reciprocity” described by Clastres. this is because of the declining oil prices. the wealthier and traditionally dominant factions and pressure groups have achieved even greater prominence in influencing state policy. with its perceived primary function as a distributor to its clients. security (in gated communities). in an effort to keep their slice of the pie the same size as before.

has served to further accentuate urban contrasts and processes of fragmentation in the city as seen previously. there will be important implications for the future of the Venezuelan city. 28 . making him yet another ‘cacique’. and reveals that his position is less solid than it appears. as well as internationally to derail Chavez’ reformist pretensions and the extension of state agency beyond factional manipulation. which is largely in their hands. This clearly contradicts the simplistic outside perception of Chavez as a firm leader with strong military support and threatening tendencies. where the factional character of the state was unable to express and promote an overall vision of the city and apply appropriate urban policies that transcended the factional straightjacket. albeit briefly. against a backdrop of adverse economic conditions. The push and pull of these different sections of society can be seen in the recent ousting and re-instatement of Chavez: effectively a coup d’état where the factional elites. Whether the Chavez regime will indeed succeed in its bold and ambitious task to consolidate the Venezuelan polity.This is something ever present in the strong use made by traditional elites and factional elements of the national private media. to reaffirm their power. Either way. These were already apparent in the ‘good times’ of the 70s. in a way that transcends factional interests. making strong use of the media as a key instrument succeeded. or whether this drive will itself fall prey to factional dynamics and the limitations of caciquil political power. in the context of a caciquil state prone to strong factional forces. will be an interesting space to watch. The growing social polarisation resulting from a persistence of Caciquismo in Venezuelan institutions and political culture.

There are important implications for development approaches. an understanding of Caciquismo is very relevant when trying to understand Venezuela's present day urban context. The state's inability to marshal its vision of modernity and apply it to its urban fabric is certainly a symptom of this characteristic aspect of the Venezuelan polity. which emerged in its own historical context. as well as the apparent absence of adequate urban governance to promote continuity and coherence in the city. often behind a facade of a Western republican model of statehood. their policy. This rationale is oppositional. These oppositional conceptualisations often lead to crucially important cultural processes in understanding a society being dismissed as mere 'corruption'. and it is primarily the competing interests of these elements that determine policy. This 'lack of development' is very often reduced to figures and economic parameters. These processes are often seen simply as a 'lack of development' from a Western perspective. this assumes that. state power can still be equated to the 'titular chieftainship' of the Cacique. It is assumed that the present absence of ‘development’ can be equated to the absence of institutions based on western models. and development is measured in terms of how far these macro-economic figures converge with Western levels of ‘development’. as it defines the observed functioning of the political and public spheres in opposition to a Western notion of institutional organisation based on contractual agreement. for example. A certain circularity is evident here.CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Clearly then. While it is true that this is habitually analysed as 'deep structural problems'. which would naturally arise given the right economic environment. In many ways. given the right economic parameters. which ignores the culturally-specific causes of observable disparities in the urban sphere. The result is often a process of ‘othering’ and the 29 . rather than attempting a qualitative understanding of the complexity actually at work. Executive political power is limited and constrained by factional elements. 'development' would result.

An exploration of the continued relevance of Caciquismo in understanding the contemporary Venezuelan context. One question that immedetiately arises is. favour a coherent identity of the city and a functioning sense of contractual obligation in the context of Caciquismo. and its implications for policy-making? The dangers of the 'Western gaze' are very much present in the field of development. along with attempts to apply ‘successful’ Western models. this case highlights the importance of positive characterisations that take into account the cultural processes at work in shaping urban space. World Bank website: http://lnweb18.worldbank. as well as reversing the “denial of reciprocity” towards the state. where these cultural processes are the basic starting point and not simply a ‘sympton’. reveals the weaknesses of negative and oppositional categorisations implicit in development approaches. how is it possible to promote good ‘urban governance’. and its urban realities in particular. Editorial Andina 1986 30 . given its factional character. This could be seen as Anthropology's principal contribution to development policy.nsf/Countries/Venezuela/5E35E D58EF8E69238525696700736330?OpenDocument • Almanaque Mundial. of homogeneous categorisations to describe difference. Notes: • Venezuela Country Brief.

1977 4. Clastres. A. University of New Mexico Press. 1994 9. Gower 1985 7. J Power and its Disguises: Anthropological Perspectives on Politics. Gledhill. Brisk. 1977 8. Hugh M. Caciquismo in our America in Dictatorship in Spanish America. Hillman. The Caciques: Oligarchal Politics and the System of Caciquismo in the Luso-Hispanic World. Bunge. Gilbert. R. Revolución y Caciquismo en San Luís Potosí 1910-1938. 1965) 3. Kern. O. Society against the State. ed. Democracy for the Privileged: Crisis and Transition in Venezuela. The Political Economy of Land: Urban Development in an Oil Economy. University of New Mexico Press. Pluto Press 2000 Clastres. Falcón. Ed.BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Healey. 1984 6. Lynne Rienner Publishers. 5. (New York. Mole Editions. Mole Editions. R. W. Cornelius. The New Caciquismo in The Caciques: Oligarchal Politics and the System of Caciquismo in the Luso-Hispanic World. Contemporary Mexico: A Structural Analysis of Urban Caciquismo in The Caciques: Oligarchal Politics and the System of Caciquismo in the Luso-Hispanic World. 1973 31 . Kern. 1973 2. El Colegio de México. Jr. Society against the State. ed. Jr. Hammill. R. Kern. J. R. W. C.

nsf/Countries/Venezuela/5E35ED5 8EF8E69238525696700736330?OpenDocument 15. Rivero Santos.10.worldbank. 1979 32 . Caciquismo and Peasant Patronage Networks. E Venezuela 1999 12. Venezuela Country Brief. D. Order Without Government: The Society of the Pemon Indians of Venezuela University of Illinois. A. A. 1961 11. Venezuela. Special Country Report on Venezuela. 1982 14. Lieuwen. UMI Dissertation Services. Grassroots and the State: Perspectives from the Neighbors' Movement in Caracas. Thomas. Wlodarski. Forbes Global Magazine. World Bank website: http://lnweb18. J. Katunob. April 2002 issue 13.

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