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Pre-Colombian Period

Venezuela’s Pre-Hispanic history has been divided into four main periods: the Paleo-Indian Period (15,000 to 500 B.C.), the Meso-Indian Period (500 / 100 B.C.), the Neo-Indian Period (100 B.C / 1,500 A.D.) and the Indo-Hispanic Period (1,500 A.D. to present times).
These four periods clearly show the varying degrees of cultural development the Venezuelan indigenous societies went through until they came into contact with Europeans, who reported sightings of nomadic hunters and gatherers and agricultural groups, some with a wide array of pottery, others with ingenious shelter development and some, such as the Timoto-Cuica, with a known talent for agriculture.
In the Pre-Colombian stage, a lot of advanced agricultural techniques were practiced, establishing ever more numerous communities. Roads were built on the plains and works for storage in the Andes were constructed. Venezuela was divided into two large cultural regions: the eastern region, where the yuca cultivations predominated, and the western region, where corn, tubérculo (a root-like vegetable) and potato crops flourished.
The study of pottery and other archaeological elements, such as petroglyphs, cave paintings, show how this period involved great cultural and migratory movements.
The shelters used were varied. The hunters, gatherers and fishermen, who would frequently change shelters, lived in simple straw houses, while in southern Venezuela, larger round houses called churuatas, were found, a sort of community shelter typical of the panare and piaroa peoples.
On the Maracaibo Lake, in the western part of the country, the inhabitants built their shelters on stilts above the water, called palafitos, just like those that can be seen today on the shores of the Maracaibo Lake. This type of shelter inspired Alonso de Ojeda in naming the new territory Venezuela, given the similarity he found with Venice, where he had been on his first inspection voyage in 1499.

The indigenous peoples that populated the country before the arrival of the Spanish were:
• The Timoto-Cuicas, in the Venezuelan Andes;
• The Western Caribs with the Pemones, Bobures and Motilones;
• The Guajiros, in the Maracaibo Lake Basin;
• The Western Arawaks, that included the Caquetíos de Falcón, Lara and Yaracuy and who lived well into the south to the lowlands;
• In Lara, the Jirajara-Ayamán and the Gayones;
• The Eastern Caribs, which inhabited from the Paria Peninsual area to Borburata (close to Puerto Cabello in the Carabobo State);
• In the lowlands and in the Orinoco delta, the Waraos;
• The Otomacos, Guanos, Taparitas and Yaruros in the Apure Delta in the Orinoco River;
• In the Venezuelan Guayana, south of the Orinoco, the Caribs.
In total it is estimated that there were between 350 thousand and 500 thousand inhabitants, the most densely populated area being the Andean region (Timoto-cuicas), thanks to the advanced agricultural techniques used.


A map could be included here, showing the distribution of the country’s indigenous population, as well as a photo. (churuata, palafitos, etc).

The Spanish Conquest and the Colonial Period

Christopher Columbus came to Venezuela in 1498, on his third voyage to America, landing on the Peninsula de Paria and exploring the Orinoco Delta, sailing from Yare Island (today named Trinidad). Fourteen days later he discovered the Cubagua oyster beds and christened an island rich in pearls Margarita, where the natives welcomed him without much surprise and shook hands.
A year later, Américo Vespucio and Alonso de Ojeada bordered what today is Venezuela from the Paria Gula to the Maracaibo Lake, where they found stilted houses built on palafitos over the water (this is where the country derives its name from, "Little Venice" or Venezuela).
The Spanish first seized possession in 1513, on the Cubagua Island, close to Margarita Island, famous for its pearl oysters. This moment marked the beginning of what would in later years result in an assault on the continent itself: in 1521 Gonzalo de Ocampo founded Nueva Toledo (present day Cumaná); form Curazao, Juan de Ampies explored the West COSAT, founding the City Santa Ana de Coro (present day Coro) in 1527, as a first step to the southward settlements, along the western shore of Maracaibo Lake; El Tocuyo was founded in 1545 by Juan de Carvajal; Barquisimeto in 1552 by Juan de Villegas; Valencia in 1553 or 1555 by Vicente Díaz or Alonso Díaz Moreno; Trujillo in 1558 by Diego García de Paredes, and that same year Mérida was founded by Juan Rodríguez.
In only a matter of decades, almost the entire coast to the west of Cumaná, was under Spanish rule and the colonizers began to develop a solid economy and to expand further and further to the mild inland regions.
In addition to the Spanish conquest campaign, the Germans waged theirs between 1528 and 1546,: Charles I of Spain, granted the province of Venezuela in payment of a loan by German Welser bankers to them and allowed them to explore the whole region, whose center was Coro. Three German explorers (Ambrosio Alfinger, Jorge Espira and Nikolaus Federmann) organized different inland expeditions, in hopes of finding gold and diamonds: one expedition, headed by Federmann, leaving in 1538 from Lake Maracaibo to the Andes, reached the Cundinamarca altiplanes, almost at the same time as the great conquerors: Sebastián de Benalcázar, from the South and Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, founder of Bogotá.
In 1531 another Spanish navigator, Diego de Ordaz, sailed up the Orinoco, going further than the river’s confluence with the Caroní River. The Spanish conquest of Venezuela was continuously harassed, both by official expeditions, as well as through piracy by the English, French and Dutch, until the early 18th Century.
In 1728, Crown created the Royal Guipuzcoana Company, with the purpose of supplying the metropolis with cocoa and leather and in an effort to combat smuggling. With time, this company managed to monopolize trade between Venezuela and Spain, breeding ill-feeling among the colonists.
The Dutch (who had seized Curazao) and the French, were the first to give up any sort of claim over Venezuela; the English, after having occupied Trinidad in 1797, completely lost interest as at that time it was thought to be a poor country with no future prospects.
Spain herself considered Venezuela to be a territory of no great value. For various decades, the country was governed by the Viceroyalty of New Granada (which today is Colombia) until in 1777, the General Captaincy of Venezuela and the Treasury Council were created. The provinces of Caracas, Cumaná, Maracaibo, Guayana and the Margarita and Trinidad Islands were placed under the authority of these bodies and thus, Venezuela became a territorial unit whose headquarters were in Caracas.
In 1781 Venezuela was authorized to trade with Spain’s allies and with neutral countries, which ended the trade monopoly previously exerted by the Guipuzcoana Company, and which contributed to the increase in exports of Venezuelan products.
Economic activity also began to increase with new crop plantations and the development of other crops that had been paid little attention, such as coffee, indigo, cotton, tobacco and sugar cane.
The society was structured into three distinct tiers: the "peninsulares" (Spaniards living in the New World), relatively few in number and holders of political power, the criollos, controlling the country’s wealth and excluded from any sort of active participation on the political scene, except for the municipalities; and the mass of peons, slaves and sub proletariat of the mayor centers, excluded from political power as well as from the wealth produced by the country.
Given this stratification, the social situation was extremely tense and absolutely unstable. Nevertheless, during this period of economic wellbeing the cultural work of missionaries of the Capuchino, Jesuit and Franciscan Orders began to flourish, and contributed to the country’s artistic development.
However, in the last decades of the 18th Century, progressive ideas found one of their dissemination centers in the Venezuelan capital and among its inhabitants, the eminent main characters of the cause for the American Independence: Francisco de Miranda (Caracas, 1750-1816), combatant in the United States War of Independence and in the French Revolution before endeavoring to free his homeland, and Simón Bolívar (Caracas, 1783-1830), military and political genius, a man of vast culture, undisputed leader of the Hispano American Independence.

The Independence

• Pre-Independence Movements
• April 19, 1810
• Declaration of Independence (July 5, 1811)
• The Admirable Campaign 1813
• The Second Republic (1813 – 1814)
• The Third Republic (1817 – 1819)
• Bolivar’s Colombia (1819 – 1830)


In the 18th Century, two movements took place that marked history and were important antecedents to the independence. In 1776 the English colonies in North America declare their independence, opening the way and in 1789, the French Revolution with its proclamation of freedom, equality and brotherhood provide an antecedent that had a lot of impact on the intellectuals who observed that the existing system in Venezuela did not conform to those new ideals.
These movements in the United States and France bore the seeds that would grow into the rebellion of Chirinos, Gual and Spain and Miranda’s expedition in 1806, and began paving the way for independence.
In Venezuela the “criollos” were bothered by certain rules imposed by the Spanish, just as Simon Bolivar later stated in his famous “Jamaica Letter” "... with galling restrictions; such as being forbidden to grow European crops, or to store products which are royal monopolies, or to establish factories of a type the Peninsula itself does not possess; the exclusive trading privileges, even in articles of prime necessity, and the barriers between American provinces, designed to prevent all exchange of trade, traffic, and understanding.”
Besides these reasons, the last straw was Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain, forcing King Charles IV and his son Ferdinand VII to give up the throne in favor of Napoleon, who designated his brother José Bonaparte, as king of Spain.

APRIL 19th, 1810

The fight for independence reached a critical point in Caracas on April 19, 1810, when a group of criollos {Spanish descendents born in Latin America} from Caracas took advantage of the fact that Spain was being governed by a Frenchman, to call a town meeting and proclaim a government of their own until Ferdinand VII returned to the throne in Spain.
The Capitan General (let us keep in mind that Venezuela was a Captaincy General), Vicente Emparan, did not agree with this and when from a town hall window he asked the townsfolk that had gathered in the square (present day Bolivar Square) if they wished for him to continue governing, Presbyterian Chilean José Cortés de Madariaga made signs to the crowd for them to answer “NO”. And that was how it happened. Emparan stated that he didn’t wish to continue governing, resigned and left for Spain with his followers. Thus began the Venezuelan process of independence.
A group by the name of Junta Suprema Conservadora de los Derechos de Fernando VII {Supreme Junta Conserving the Rights and Interests of Fernando VII} was appointed in order to replace Emparan. Freeing international trade, outlawing the black slave trade, creating the Sociedad Patriótica, {a pro-independence revolutionary organization} (in order to promote agriculture and industry) and creating the Mathematics Academy are among the first measures that were taken.
Given that it was also important to secure international recognition and support, several delegations were sent overseas. Mariano Montilla and Vicente Salias (creator of the words to the national anthem) were sent to Curacao. Colonel Simón Bolívar, Luis López Méndez and Andrés Bello were commissioned to travel to London. Juan Vicente de Bolívar (the “Liberator’s” older brother, who lost his life in a shipwreck while on this mission), Telésforo Orea and José Rafael Revenga were assigned to the United States.
The Junta Suprema also appealed to all other regional juntas in Latin America to follow the “example set by Caracas”, by joining their movement. Elections were called for the month of November, in view of electing the representatives of Venezuela’s first Congress, which was officially established on March 2, 1811, with deputies elected in 7 provinces: Caracas, Barinas, Cumaná, Barcelona, Margarita, Mérida and Trujillo. The provinces of Guayana, Maracaibo and Coro did not take part, staying loyal to the Crown.
This congress was the first to adopt the Venezuelan tricolor flag of yellow, blue and red, using the same flag carried by Francisco de Miranda on his expedition in 1806, adding seven stars on the blue band in representation of each province.
In search of a 3 branch separate power system, a High Court of Justice was created, presided over by Francisco Espejo, and as the executive power, a triumvirate formed by Cristóbal Mendoza, Juan Escalona and Baltazar Padrón was established. And so, Cristóbal Mendoza, a native from Trujillo State, becomes Venezuela’s first president.


The Sociedad Patriótica which had been called to deal with the country’s economic development became a forum for the discussions and speeches that eventually led to the country’s independence. Among the most persevering participants were Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda, upon their return from London.
On July 5th, 1811, the members of the Sociedad Patriótica convinced all congressmen but one to declare Venezuela’s independence, letting go of the old notion of defending Ferdinand VII’s rights once and for all. This marked the foundation of the Venezuelan State. The declaration of independence document was entrusted to Juan Germán Roscio and the final text was approved on July 7, 1811.
This Republic was engulfed in a myriad of difficulties. Defiers of Venezuelan independence, referred to as the royalists, dominated the Maracaibo, Guayana and Coro provinces. Spain had ordered a trade embargo against Venezuela, hindering international trade, and had organized resistance under the command of Captain Domingo Monteverde.
To top off all wrongs, on Easter Friday in 1812, a strong earthquake shook the country, killing over 10,000 people and causing great destruction in Caracas and other cities. That was when Bolívar stated his famous phrase: “Though the forces of nature oppose us, we will fight against them and make them obey us.” However, the royalists along with many religious supporters took advantage of the people’s innocence and attributed the tragedy to God’s punishment for opposing the monarchy.
The executive power, divided among three persons (triumvirate) turned out to be unsuccessful and it was decided to hand over absolute power to Francisco de Miranda, in hope that he defend the emerging nation, designating him Generalísimo {Supreme Commander}. Miranda put Colonel Ustáriz in charge of defending Valencia and Colonel Simón Bolívar of Puerto Cabello; however it was too late and neither managed to pull through.
Miranda was left no choice but to surrender in San Mateo on July 25, 1812, signing an armistice, which was not complied with by Monteverde, who had him imprisoned when he was preparing to leave the country. Monteverde murdered thousands of people, supporters of the independence, including women and children.
Miranda, forefather of Latin American independence, combined institutions of Rome, the indigenous world and the monarchic state into his Project, and intended for the emancipated Spanish colonies to unite under one nation. This project failed as Miranda was not supported by the criollo population and least of all the half-castes, blacks and Indians. Moreover, Miranda was looked upon as a stranger in his own country, given the fact that he had lived in Europe. Nevertheless, his revolutionary frame of mind ensured him an important position within the Sociedad Patriótica.
Miranda died imprisoned in the jail La Carraca, in Spain on July 24, 1816. The First Republic died prematurely along with him.


SIMÓN BOLÍVAR, after being defeated in Puerto Cabello, moved to La Guaira and later to Cartagena. There, on December 15, 1812, he wrote the Cartagena Manifest, where his profile as a statesman and strategist began to show. With this manifest he secured the support of the New Granada Congress and obtained the necessary supplies and human resources to embark on what was called the Admirable Campaign, which began with seizure of San Antonio del Táchira, on March 1, 1813 and culminated with a triumphant entrance into Caracas on August 7, 1813; it is there that Bolivar receives the title The Liberator.


This is the name some historians use to refer to the period between August 1813 and December 1814. This period begins with the liberation of Cumaná, (August 3, 1813), by General Santiago Mariño’s forces, as the completion of the Campaign of the East, and with General Simon Bolivar’s entrance into Caracas leading his victorious army in from the Admirable Campaign.
With Bolivar’s entrance into Caracas, a new republic was established, which controlled all the provinces except for Guayana and Maracaibo. Nevertheless, a week later a battle was launched against Monteverde, who had been taking refuge in Puerto Cabello. In September, the royalists received reinforcements from Spain. Even so, the military successes of the patriots continued during 1813, with the Barbula battles (this is where Anastasio Girardot from New Granada died) and with a victory over Monteverde in Las Trincheras on October 3, forcing his exile.
A determining factor in the fall of this young republic was the sudden appearance of Spanish royalist caudillo (war lord), José Tomás Boves, who managed to command a powerful army of llaneros pardos (people of mixed racial origin who resided in the plains of central Venezuela), with his leadership skills and promises of handing them the whites’ wealth.
When the army commanded by Boves and Morales began heading towards Caracas, after having defeated patriot forces in La Puerta on February 3, 1814, General José Félix Ribas decided to cut the army off at La Victoria. In order to do so, he recruited soldiers among the students of the Caracas University and Seminary, managing to form an army that although inferior in number to that of the enemy, pulled off a defeat on February 12, 1814.
In the City of La Victoria, on February 12, they heroically defended themselves until reinforcements arrived from the Elías Camp, forcing Boves’ withdrawal.
Boves reorganized his army and began marching towards Caracas. Boves’ cruelty was legendary and the Caracas population together with people who had already fled other parts of the country, migrated towards the East. During this flight, more people died than in the earthquake.
Afterwards, Bolivar tried unsuccessfully to stop the royalist troops commanded by Morales.
The end was inevitable: the commanders had little troops to rely on and there many differences between them. The last battle was lost by Bermúdez in Maturín, on December 11. Most of the patriot leaders, except for Monagas, Cedeño and Zaraza, took refuge abroad.


The Third Republic began with the restoration of the republican institutions in Guayana in 1817, and ends in December 1819 with the creation of the Republic of Colombia (known as Great Colombia and made up of what today are the Republics of Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela), at the request of the Liberator Simon Bolivar.
The occupation of Guayana was the result of warfare activities undertaken by Manuel Piar, José Francisco Bermúdez, Luis Brión and the Liberator. Key confrontations included the Battle of San Felix, the occupation of Angostura, the siege of Guayana Vieja and the naval battle of the Orinoco, which led to the successful conclusion of the occupation of the Guayana Province in 1817.
Guayana’s occupation marked the beginning of a new cycle in the struggle for independence, as for the first time the Republic had a fixed and defined base, and the possibility of relying on economic resources and of obtaining warfare equipment, due to the control that the patriots began to exert over the Carona missions and over navigation of the Orinoco, which opened up an access to the outside world.
Angostura, capital of the Guayana Province became Bolivar’s center of operations, from which he directed political and military actions that would lead to a successful end to the struggle for independence.
From Angostura, Bolivar embarked on a campaign through the Calabozo lowlands, achieving recognition by Páez and his llaneros as their new leader. Bolivar and Páez’s troops defeated Morillo on February 12 1818. Other important events in this period include the installation of the Venezuelan Congress, convened in Angostura on February 15, 1819 and the Boyacá Campaign, which gave definitive independence to New Granada on August 7, 1819.
It is from Angostura that the Liberator proposed the creation of the Republic of Colombia on December 17th, 1819, which lead to a single republic with Venezuela and New Granada being joined together. This creation crystallized Simon Bolivar’s integrationist principles.
The third Republic thus ended with the creation of Colombia (known as Great Colombia).


This great State founded by Bolívar and composed by the union of Venezuela, New Granada and Quito, lasted for 10 years, between 1819 and 1830.
Great Colombia represented hope of future progress for the integrating countries, joined together by the identity of their origins, customs, problems and geographical location. They tried achieving “regional integration” in one great political bloc. This was the Liberator Simon Bolivar’s dream, who thought that only powerful States could have gained enough power in order to deliberate and decide in politics on a global scale and be the subjects of history and not mere objects manipulated by the great powers in the world concert of nations. Thus his concern for the consolidation of Colombia and the Convention for the Anfictionic Congress of Panama.
Since the appearance of the Cúcuta Constitution in 1821, some Venezuelan sectors began reproaching the excessive centralism and the scarce attention paid by Santander to the problems of the various departments. In 1826 the so-called “Cosiata” or rebellion by General Páez in Valencia took place, which triggered the Dissolution of Great Colombia. Some Venezuelan municipalities declared themselves independent from the government of Bogotá and asked for the amendment of the Cúcuta Constitution and for the establishment of a federalist government. This problematic Venezuelan separation became more intense with the Ocaña Convention in 1828, when the political-administrative federalist tendencies encountered the centralist tendencies.
In light of this political disagreement, the Ocaña Convention was dissolved; the Liberator assumed supreme power on August 27, 1828, becoming dictator and bearing the title Liberator – President.
This tough political situation towards Greater Colombia’s final days is also related to the economic crisis, as well as the participation of foreign powers interested in its dissolution. On May 13, 1830, Quito separated from Greater Colombia, as did the other provinces of Ecuador. In September 1830, the Valencia Congress in Venezuela approved the new Constitution and elected José Antonio Páez as the first president of the Republic of Venezuela. Liberator Simon Bolivar died on December 17, 1830 in Santa Maria, in the same year that Great Colombia, his “political dream” disintegrated. He had freed New Granada in the Battle of Boyacá in 1819, Venezuela in Carabobo in 1821, Ecuador in Pichincha in 1822, Peru in Junin in 1824 and had founded Bolivia in 1825.