Although the llanero is a recurrent theme in Venezuelan history, there have been few studies of cattle ranching, the economic activity that sustained him. Using different approaches and sources, the authors have produced complementary studies on the topic. Briceño, a trained historian, relies primarily on published statistical material. Carvallo is a member of a research team at CENDES (Universidad Central de Venezuela) that has been studying agricultural production between 1910 and 1980. A special aspect of the team’s research has been extensive interviews with persons involved in the sector over time. Those relating to hato or ranching activities form the basis of Carvallo’s work, and numerous segments have been transcribed and reproduced in his book, giving it a human element which is lacking in Briceño’s more formal approach.
The broad objectives of both authors are different. Briceño is interested in determining why cattle ranching in the llanos was so slow in changing to a capitalist mode of production and what caused the extended crisis in the sector at the transition to a petroleum-based economy in the late 1920s. Carvallo is more interested in the actual mode of production. Both authors note that cattle ranching was characterized by extensive landholdings, slow modernization (in terms of fencing, artificial pastures, and breeding techniques), and problems of commercialization.
Briceño’s work is studded with more than 70 tables and graphs, as well as 8 good maps made especially for her study. Working on the district level of the states she studies, she shows differences in landholding and land occupancy patterns, and then goes on to the commercialization process, dedicating chapters to its domestic and international aspects. She makes five basic points: that extensive holdings, characterizing the hato, were perhaps necessary due to climatic conditions and undercapitalization; big producers tended to be owners, while medium and small producers tended to occupy public lands (she does not indicate what they paid, if anything); landowners did not exploit renters, judging by the low rents paid (she does not mention the workers on the hatos); the decline in profitability was not due to monopolization of the commercialization process but rather to declining prices due to domestic and international economic conditions; and this decline in prices was the reason for the lack of investment necessary to modernize the sector so that it could compete with other meat-producing countries. It should be noted that the presentation of endless statistics on landholding patterns would have been much more valuable if accompanied by production statistics for those landholdings and that global market trends would have been more meaningful if one knew at what point the price indicated a loss for the producer. Briceño never directly addresses the question of profitability, and thus her conclusions with reference to the crisis are not convincing. We do not know why there was little or no investment in the good times she mentions nor why, despite massive investments in the sector by two English companies, those companies failed.
Carvallo, whose analysis of the actual mode of production covers a longer period of time, shows that ranching has clearly evolved into three distinct phases: breeding, raising, and fattening. Production is more capitalistic now, but credit is scarce for the first two activities, and cattle raising is the least profitable. It is this last activity which he has studied in depth, and perhaps because it is the most traditional in its mode of production, the book becomes almost a paean to the traditional values and mores of the llanero. This is useful for historical purposes, but Carvallo does not tackle the problems which still plague cattle raising in the llanos. He does deal, however, with the continuing problem of credit and the gross inequality in the profits made by the producer as opposed to the rosca (monopoly) which controls slaughtering. Why such roscas exist would be a good question for future study. Moreover, a comparative study of cattle ranching in other sections of the country, which have increased their production from 30 percent to 50 percent of the national total, would help determine if the problems of the llanos region are general or sui generis.