Competing interpretations of the era of Juan Vicente Gómez continue as an active ingredient of present Venezuelan historiography. Be he a “tyrant” or one with a “halo,” to cite earlier, classical studies, Gómez continues to be a subject of close academic scrutiny. The members of the generation of 1928 as well as Gómez’s apologists, both official and unofficial, have largely completed their labors and have been replaced by a new generation of scholars who continue to examine the man and his era. These newer works, some of them still polemical, are somewhat less emotional in that they are based on skillful examination of both contemporary documents and subsequent writings and interpretations. A good sampling is found in the work edited by Sosa et al., a superb rendition of conference papers presented at the Central University of Venezuela in the spring of 1985. Sanctioned by the new history movement of students in the School of History, the papers collectively are an attempt to understand the phenomenon of Gómez on the fiftieth anniversary of his death. They cover a wide gamut of approaches, from reminiscences of a member of the Generation of 1928 to detailed examination of certain phases of the Gómez regime by younger scholars. There is something for almost everyone in the papers.
The other two works. Las luces by Segnini and the dependeney study by Rodríguez, are amplifications of two papers presented in the Sosa volume. Segnini and Rodríguez are both products of the School of History of the Central University, professors-investigators in the School of Arts and the Institute of Hispanic American Studies, and have been working, along with others, on the broad but rich dual project of Cipriano Castro and Gómez.
The Rodríguez study of dependency theory as applied to agriculture an petroleum is perhaps the more polemical of the two. The tone is set in the preface by Simón Sáez Mérida, who writes that “la historia no es inocente sino una pieza más del conflicto social.. . .” In the text that follows, Rodríguez marshals his sources, especially the publications of the Ministerio de Hacienda, and proves his points. He clearly traces the decline of agriculture, observes how the Banco Agricola assisted only the large farmers, and notes that the terratenientes identified with Gómez benefited the most. Then, tracing the development of the oil industry, he documents the coming of the foreign oil companies and special consideration given them regarding import tariffs on their equipment and supplies, observes how even technology and personnel were imported, and concludes that Venezuela became, in effect, a pawn, not only of the world petroleum market but of United States tariff policies.
Segnini, citing her close bond with Rodríguez, and acknowledging that at times her critics might say “te has vuelto gomecista,” has put together a yeomanlike study of historical materials for historians in her Las luces del gomecismo. She examines the intellectual and cultural activities in Venezuela during the period, with emphasis on the last ten years of the Gómez era. Her study covers the press, both the newspapers and the reviews, various cultural organizations, even the radio; notes in detail the varied activities of the Ateneo de Caracas from 1931 to 1935; includes representative documents from the Miraflores archives; and has an extensive bibliography. The end result is a judgment that while many elements of Venezuelan society were shut down by the centralism and authoritarianism of the Gómez regime, and the various intellectual and cultural activities did not threaten Gómez, there was an element of cultural caudillism during the time.
In 1983, the Venezuelan Congress published its 11-volume (in 12) documentary study, El pensamiento politico venezolano del siglo XX, of which 9 volumes are very rich with material from the Gómez era. Works such as those of Rodríguez and Segnini indicate that perhaps we are not far from the publication of a truly comprehensive and balanced study of the great Táchira caudillo. And the papers presented in the Sosa anthology indicate that many scholars are pursuing the goal. We wish them well in their endeavors.