In several long, detailed books Lucas Guillermo Castillo Lara, the most assiduous social historian among Venezuelan colonialists today, has studied many aspects of rural society in the coastal and contiguous regions east of Caracas. Castillo Lara’s technique is for the most part traditional in that he relies on description and narrative, avoiding historiographical controversy and innovative analytical methods alike. His talent lies in collection and interpretation based on close reading of substantial quantities of documentary evidence.

La aventura fundacional de los isleños: Panaquire y Juan Francisco de León is a study of the controversial politics of settlement in the Tuy River valley hinterland of Caracas during the middle decades of the eighteenth century. This is a theme much broader than the book’s title would indicate, and Castillo Lara explores with considerable insight the conflicts between and among settler cacao farmers (many of whom were Canary Island immigrants), Caracas elites, the monopolists of the Basque Real Compañía Guipuzcoana, and the Basque governors who at every opportunity aided and abetted other ambitious Basques. Castillo Lara correctly sees this history as a struggle between a company determined to acquire cacao for the peninsular market at cheap prices and colonial planters, both long-term and recent residents, who stood to profit more from the traditional trade with New Spain. He has little sympathy for the view that honors the company as a reasonably effective police force, controlling smuggling by patrolling coastal waters, and argues instead for the existence of an expanding legal trade that was sidetracked by Basque manipulation after 1728. The latter thus contributed to the contraband trade rather than curtailing it.

If there is a fault to find in La aventura fundacional, it is that Castillo Lara so relishes the details of his story that he relies on them too much. He is generally reluctant to offer a summing-up or to comment on the significance of his findings. More traditional cuentista than Geertzian scholar consciously in pursuit of the nonreductive “thick description,” Castillo Lara nevertheless evokes in this book a sense of the complex political culture of provincial Caracas in the eighteenth century, and with this in hand his narrative of the impact on that culture of the imperial Guipuzcoana Company is full of understanding and insight.