Coffee, Latin America’s premier agricultural export in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was largely a frontier crop. Throughout the region, coffee spread to land that had remained sparsely populated and economically marginal until the onset of export-led expansion in the nineteenth century.1 In Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela, the development of coffee economies depended on migration to frontier regions and the settling of new territory. Nevertheless, as scholars have often noted, the patterns of land tenure that took hold on Latin America’s coffee frontiers varied widely, from large plantations with dependent workers in Brazil to independent peasant farms in Costa Rica, and mixtures of both in most other coffee-producing nations.

Accounting for the variety of land-and-labor regimes that emerged on these frontiers involves a number of variables, but the role of the state in allocating public lands to private individuals is a central concern. For a good deal of the land transformed into coffee-producing centers was public land. Controlled (however nominally) by the state, it was transferred to private ownership during the hundred years between independence and the Great Depression, the period William Roseberry has referred to as Latin America’s “coffee century.”2

This essay will examine the transformation of a public land frontier in a single locale within one of Latin America’s least-studied coffee-producing nations. During the first three decades following independence, as Venezuela became an important coffee exporter, production of the crop was concentrated in the mountains and valleys fanning outward from Caracas along the central coast. But after the conclusion of the Federal War (1858-1863), the center of the coffee economy began to shift westward. Rising production in the western states of Táchira, Mérida, Trujillo, and Lara made Venezuela the world’s second- or third-largest exporter of coffee during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.3 This surge in western Venezuela’s production resulted largely from an influx of peasant migrants who often settled on public lands. The evolution of land tenure on Venezuela’s public land frontier, though, has received little scholarly attention. Did migrants to Venezuela’s coffee zones, like public land settlers in Costa Rica, tend to acquire title to the plots they cleared and cultivated?4 Or, as occurred in parts of Colombia, were they transformed into a dependent labor force by members of the elite who appropriated lands that peasant settlers had brought under cultivation?5

The history of public land settlers in Duaca, an important center of coffee production in the state of Lara, falls into two distinct periods. The early period, from roughly 1870 to 1918, witnessed the arrival of peasant migrants and the spatial expansion of cultivation on the public domain. The second period, from 1919 to 1936, brought the massive privatization of public land, the forced conversion of peasant settlers into estate tenants, and the heightened tensions between the peasantry and the local elite that culminated in the outbreak of popular protest in 1936. One of the most striking aspects of this history is the contrast between the local elite’s inability to control land on Duaca’s frontier during the first period, and its almost complete control over land in the second period. This contrast, it can be argued, resulted from political changes at the national level that facilitated the local elite’s appropriation of public land. Public land settlers were not simply converted into estate tenants; their transformation was a local consequence of the centralization of national political power carried out by Cipriano Castro and Juan Vicente Gómez in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The Formation of a Local Coffee Economy

Like much of western Venezuela, Duaca remained isolated and thinly populated until the latter half of the nineteenth century. Located some 30 kilometers northeast of the city of Barquisimeto, the town of Duaca was established as a pueblo de doctrina (Indian parish) in 1620 and became the capital of the municipio of Duaca following independence. During the colonial period, Duaca’s economy revolved around subsistence agriculture and, to a lesser extent, commerce between Barquisimeto and the copper mines in Aroa, some 40 kilometers to the northeast. By the 1830s, however, Duaqueños had begun to cultivate coffee, and by the 1850s small and medium-sized coffee groves had become common around the outskirts of town. Nevertheless, several factors limited the spread of coffee in the municipio during this period. Transportation to Puerto Cabello, the nearest coastal export center, was cumbersome and expensive, so Duaca was left outside the network of merchant capital that supported the coffee economy in the central-coastal zone to the east. Despite some migration to Duaca following independence, the population remained so sparse that the municipio’s northern half was still virtually unoccupied at the outbreak of the Federal War in 1858. This northern territory included some of the best agricultural land in Duaca, and it was almost entirely public land.6

In the decades following the Federal War, Duaca’s coffee economy expanded rapidly as the municipio became more closely integrated into the export trade and as migration to Duaca increased. Serapio García, a Spanish-born merchant, strengthened the region’s links to the world market when, in the mid-1860s, he established a commercial house in Barquisimeto specializing in coffee. Borrowing from Blöhm and Company, one of the largest trading firms in Venezuela, García extended credit to producers throughout Barquisimeto’s hinterland but concentrated his operations in Duaca. Other coffee merchants, both creoles and immigrants, opened smaller houses in Barquisimeto and followed his lead.7 Between 1864 and 1880, the Barquisimeto notary registered 188 loans valued at 321,651.51 pesos and secured by mortgages on Duaca coffee farms. The bulk of these transactions (116 loans totaling 238,899.93 pesos) occurred between 1874 and 1878, a period of unusually high coffee prices.8

The years following the Federal War also witnessed a rapid increase in Duaca’s population as waves of migrants entered the municipio. By 1873, the date of the first republican census, Duaca had 7,471 inhabitants. Over the next eight years—as local commerce, measured by registered loans, expanded—the municipio’s population rose to 11,068 inhabitants, an increase of 48 percent.9 During the same eight-year period, the population of Venezuela as a whole increased by only 16.3 percent, suggesting that migration accounted for a large share of Duaca’s demographic growth.10 Attracted by the availability of fertile land and the opportunity for commercial production for an expanding market, these settlers—like migrants to other Latin American coffee zones—provided the labor to transform an isolated frontier into a thriving coffee zone.11

Finally, improvements in regional transportation during the late nineteenth century reinforced Duaca’s growing orientation toward production for the world market. In 1877, British capitalists completed a railroad from their copper mines in Aroa to the port of Tucacas, whence merchandise was shipped to Puerto Cabello for export. That same year, public and private capital opened a highway from Barquisimeto to the railroad’s inland terminus at Aroa, passing through the town of Duaca. Barquisimeto’s commerce expanded rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s, as the city came to dominate trade between the Andes, the southern plains, and the central-coastal zone. Drawn by this trade, British investors extended the Aroa-Tucacas railroad to Barquisimeto in 1891, following the highway and also passing through Duaca (see map). In sum, Duaca’s fortuitous location between the bustling commercial city of Barquisimeto and the port of Tucacas allowed it to become one of the few Venezuelan coffee zones with rail transport directly to the coast.12

During the final third of the nineteenth century, then, an expanding network of merchant capital, a dramatic influx of migrants, and the advent of the railroad combined to transform Duaca into a dynamic part of Venezuela’s expanding coffee economy. Duaca’s annual production of coffee reached approximately one million kilograms in the early 1870s.13 Over the next 20 years, production climbed to between 2½ and 3 million kilograms annually, and remained at this level until the Great Depression.14

Land Tenure and Social Structure

It was during the commercial and demographic expansion of the 1870s that peasant migrants began to settle Duaca’s public lands in large numbers.15 Before 1870, virtually all the people of Duaca lived in the southern half of the municipio, occupying either the Indian community lands (resguardos) that surrounded the town of Duaca, or one of the private estates contiguous to the Indian lands. In the early 1870s, however, notary records show a sudden increase in sales and mortgages of coffee farms on Duaca’s northern public lands, or baldíos. The dramatic population growth of this period apparently created greater demographic pressure on the resguardos and private estates in the south, and peasants in search of new land increasingly migrated to the baldíos.

Notarial documents referring to farms on the baldíos suggest the pace of migrants’ northward movement. By the mid-i870s, public lands in Quebrada Abajo and Tarana, just north of the resguardos, had received numerous settlers.16 In the course of the following decade, migrants pushed about ten kilometers farther north to establish the hamlets of Palo Negro and Camburito.17 By the mid-1890s, peasants cultivated public land in Las Casitas, another five kilometers to the north, at the uppermost boundary of Duaca’s jurisdiction.18 To be sure, pockets of land remained unoccupied, but by the end of the nineteenth century peasant settlers had essentially closed the municipio’s public land frontier.

Like peasant cultivators on the resguardos and private estates to the south, public land occupants planted both subsistence and commercial crops. Corn and black beans were the peasantry’s staples, but the majority of settlers planted coffee groves as well. Although they did not own the land they cultivated, public land occupants were the absolute owners of their crops, buildings, fences, and all other improvements (bienhechurías), as countless sales of farms on the baldíos demonstrate. Sales of peasant holdings on the national domain even included the right to occupy areas cleared of forest by the seller but not presently cultivated.19 Thus, despite their lack of title to the land they worked, public land settlers became, in a very real sense, owners of property.

These property rights became the basis for the settlers’ relationship to merchant capital. Peasants who cultivated public land—again like the occupants of the resguardos and tenants on private estates to the south— borrowed from merchants in Barquisimeto and Duaca, pledging to settle their debts with coffee. Merchants might record small debts as simple bookkeeping entries, but when a peasant’s debt reached a certain level, the creditor would demand that the obligation be recognized in a formal mortgage of the debtor’s farm. Mortgage loans from merchants to public land settlers are noteworthy in that, some scholars suggest, such credit relationships cannot become widespread unless debtors have privately titled land to mortgage as security.20 In Duaca, by contrast, peasants mortgaged farms on untitled public lands until the baldíos passed to private ownership around 1920. Thus credit relations neither required nor immediately impelled the privatization of land.

Although peasant cultivators carried out the initial settlement of Duaca’s northern frontier, members of the elite soon established larger farms on the baldíos, usually through acquisition of several contiguous peasant groves.21 In some cases, particularly during the depression of the early 1880s, peasants lost their farms when they failed to repay loans to merchants or nearby hacendados.22 These developments, however, did not necessarily transform peasants into dependent hacienda laborers. As long as new lands remained open to settlement, peasants who lost one farm could migrate to the frontier and establish another. Neither the emergence of haciendas on the baldíos nor peasants’ relationship with creditors immediately threatened the survival of the peasantry as a class. Into the early twentieth century, Duaca’s baldíos remained an area of predominantly peasant holdings, albeit with a few haciendas dotting the landscape.

When members of the elite—that is, persons who made their living primarily through the manipulation of credit or though agrarian production utilizing hired labor—acquired haciendas on public land, they often sought private title to the area they occupied. In two instances soon after the Federal War, generals in the victorious Liberal army acquired public land in the southern portion of the municipio.23 But from the early 1870s through the end of the century—that is, during the years peasant migrants were bringing the northern baldíos into coffee production—attempts to purchase public land from the government failed more often than they succeeded.

In some instances, political factors obstructed the elite’s efforts to acquire title. In 1878, for example, General Pió de Jesús Peña attempted to purchase the land under and around his coffee haciendas in Quebrada Abajo, but never received title.24 The general’s failure almost surely resulted from his participation in an unsuccessful revolt led by León Colina against President Antonio Guzmán Blanco in 1874.25 Peña’s attempted purchase coincided with a nationwide backlash against Guzmán, but Peña’s chances of gaining title faded when Guzmán recaptured power in 1879. Thus Peña, like other members of Duaca’s elite, remained something of an anomaly in the context of Latin American agrarian history: a hacendado (and general) who owned no land. His name appears in the notary records for the last time in 1893, when he ceded seven coffee haciendas in Quebrada Abajo to his creditors. All Peña’s haciendas were located on untitled public lands.26

Other members of the elite also failed in their attempts to secure title to lands on Duaca’s northern frontier. Jesús María Andrade, a prominent Duaca merchant, and Justiniano Herrera, a Barquisimeto merchant, each attempted to purchase the national lands under their coffee farms in Tarana in 1893, but neither succeeded.27 Also in Tarana, Rafael María Granado and Wenseslao Parra sought to acquire the lands occupied by their haciendas in 1899 and 1901, respectively; their attempts were doomed by the outbreak of two civil wars, the Revolución Restauradora (1899) and the Revolución Libertadora (1901-1903).28

Indeed, between 1872 and 1912, only four tracts of national land on Duaca’s northern frontier passed to private owners, all in 1890 and 1891.29 Each tract was purchased by a member of the elite, and each new land-owner already owned a small hacienda on a portion of the land purchased. At least some of the sales enclosed lands occupied by peasant settlers as well. These peasant occupants now became estate tenants, obliged to pay rent to the new landowner or abandon their farms.30 Nevertheless, the public land sales of 1890-91 had a minimal effect on Duaca’s agrarian structure, for they converted only a handful of peasant settlers into estate tenants. The new private land holdings totaled a mere 379 hectares, a small fraction of the tens of thousands of hectares that still comprised the municipio’s public domain.

What is most striking about Duaca’s frontier in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, then, is that the elite did not gain greater control over land that was rapidly being converted to commercial production. The elite’s inability to appropriate more land on the frontier deserves emphasis for at least two reasons. First, it illustrates the limitations of elite power, an issue rarely addressed in the historiography of rural Venezuela. Second, it raises the related question of why public lands remained public, and therefore accessible to peasant settlers, during the half-century when Duaca’s coffee economy experienced its most dynamic expansion.

The elite’s failure to control land on the frontier resulted largely from the fragmented, unstable structure of the Venezuelan state during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Securing title to public land depended on personal connections to the local, state, and national officials charged with approving public land petitions; but such connections proved difficult to maintain for any length of time because of the continuous power struggles that characterized Venezuelan politics during this period. Even the long reign of Antonio Guzmán Blanco (1870-1888) witnessed a seemingly endless series of revolts as local and regional caudillos vied for power.31 Guzmán, as well as his shorter-term successors, maintained control of the central government not by subduing caudillismo, but rather by recognizing the legitimacy and autonomy of whichever provincial caudillos gained military supremacy in each of the states.32 This system of fragmented, decentralized power, known in Venezuelan historiography as el liberalismo amarillo after the party with which most of the competing caudillos identified, endured from the Federal War until the turn of the century.33

Factionalism and civil conflict became especially fierce in the state of Lara. During the Guzmanato, according to Mary B. Floyd, seven caudillos competed for control of Lara’s government, in contrast to most of the other states, where only two or three strongmen could aspire to statewide dominance.34 Armed uprisings led to the overthrow of Lara’s elected presidents on four occasions between 1872 and 1876 alone; in all, the state presidency changed hands 53 times between the end of the Federal War in 1863 and the turn of the century.35 Within this highly fractured and continually shifting political system, Duaca’s elite could hardly maintain lasting ties to the officeholders whose cooperation they needed to secure government concessions, including approval of land petitions. Thus the appropriation of Duaca’s baldíos remained an elusive goal until well into the twentieth century, when two caudillos from the western state of Táchira created a more stable, centralized polity that bound local, state, and national authorities in a more unified system of power.

The Centralization of Power and the Privatization of Baldíos

Historians have long recognized that the regimes of Cipriano Castro (1899-1908) and Juan Vicente Gómez (1908-1935) ended Venezuela’s era of caudillo politics and greatly strengthened the authority of the central state. Rather than accept the de facto power of regional strongmen as previous presidents had done, Castro was determined to assert presidential authority over the nation as a whole. Toward this end, he began to build a national army capable of subduing the caudillos’ private forces, and he sent cadres of his most trusted loyalists (often fellow Tachirenses) to fill positions in state and local government throughout Venezuela. When displaced caudillos launched the Revolución Libertadora in 1901, Castro and Gómez (who was then vice president) defeated the regional strongmen on the battlefield. After Gómez seized power in 1908, he continued to modernize and expand the national army; and he saw to the construction of a nationwide system of transportation and communication, thereby stripping the regional caudillos of their last vestiges of power. Similarly, Gómez put an end to the pervasive factionalism that had characterized nineteenth-century politics. Throughout Venezuela, political office became the privilege of men identified as “amigos de la Causa”—men completely loyal to Gómez. Officials at all levels of government now answered to a single central authority rather than to a myriad of local and regional bosses. For the first time in Venezuelan history, the state apparatus had become an integrated, nationwide system of power.36

During this era of political centralization, Duaca’s elite established an alliance with the new national state.37 During both the Revolución Restauradora and the Revolución Libertadora, Duaqueños proved themselves to be skillful guerrilla fighters whose ability to control the railroad into Barquisimeto made them an important military force in Lara. First Castro and then Gómez therefore sought to ensure the loyalty of the Duaca elite. In late 1899, Castro elevated Duaca from a municipio to an independent district (a change long sought by prominent Duaqueños), formally named Crespo District. Both Castro and Gómez appointed members of the local elite to serve as jefe civil (district governor). Although many districts in Venezuela were placed under the authority of outsiders during the Gómez regime, Duaca’s jefes civiles were (with brief exceptions) members of the local elite. Between 1906 and the late 1920s, the office was usually held by either Eduardo Colmenarez or Ramón Antonio Vásquez, two local leaders of the 1901 revolt who, following their defeat, became steadfast allies of Castro and later of Gómez. Through Colmenarez and Vásquez, Duaca’s elite forged firm ties to the central state.

The Gómez regime gained particular notoriety for the extent to which officials used public authority to advance their private economic interests.38 Of course, this patrimonialist style of government had a long history in Venezuela, and those who served Gómez were not necessarily more corrupt than those who had served previous rulers. The entrepreneurial use of public power reached new heights under Gómez, though, because the centralized, well-integrated power structure he perfected allowed officials to control and allocate the nation’s resources on a scale beyond the capability of previous governments. The appropriation of Duaca’s baldíos provides a clear case of the use of public power to advance private interests.

During the 1910s and 1920s, virtually all of Duaca’s public lands passed to private ownership through a series of grants, as summarized in table 1. The alienation of Duaca’s public lands peaked between 1919 and 1923, when the government issued five large, collective grants, each involving more than 4,000 hectares. Unfortunately, it is impossible to specify how many hectares of district land these grants included, because two donations in 1923, totaling 11,379.80 hectares, extended from Duaca north into Distrito Urdaneta, and the documents do not indicate how many hectares were located in each district. An examination of the boundaries of the grants suggests that at least half the area (5,689.90 hectares) fell within Duaca’s jurisdiction. If so, then at least 28,100.13 hectares of national land were privatized in the district during the Gómez dictatorship. The vast majority of the privatized land was classified as agricultural; grazing land accounted for only 711 hectares. All but 545 hectares passed to private owners through outright grants rather than sales, though recipients of “free” land still had to pay for land surveys, legal services, and the registration of titles.

The five collective grants issued between 1919 and 1923, which accounted for the great majority of land privatized in Duaca, all followed a similar pattern. In each grant, 20 individuals received title to more than 4,000 hectares of baldíos. Each recipient assumed ownership of between 150 and 200 hectares, the upper figure being the largest grant of free land allowed by law. The recipients ranged from prominent members of the local elite to illiterate peasants. In reality, though, most of the grantees never exercised control over the lands to which they gained title. Within months of each grant, virtually all the recipients ceded their lands to one or two influential individuals, who thereby acquired ownership of several thousand hectares. These new owners, who may be called brokers, then sold the land to its definitive owners, usually members of the local elite, who often acquired hundreds or even thousands of hectares. The final distribution of privatized land, then, bore no resemblance to that outlined in the original grants from the national government.

The activities of three public land brokers, Miguel José Tovar, Domingo Antonio Yépez, and José Luis Pérez, will serve as focal points for a closer examination of the process through which Duaca’s public domain became transformed into private estates. Their activities demonstrate that land privatization in Duaca was a profoundly political process. Important figures in state and local politics acted as land brokers, and those to whom they sold land were also men of established political influence. The privatization of Duaca’s baldíos clearly illustrates how the Gomecista state distributed Venezuela’s resources among those loyal to the regime.

Miguel José Tovar, a prominent hacendado and aging general who had fought in the civil wars at the turn of the century, became one of Duaca’s most important land brokers. Tovar enjoyed a close friendship with Ramón Antonio Vásquez, an old military ally and Duaca’s jefe civil throughout most of the 1920s.39 Moreover, Tovar served on the junta that oversaw the partition of Duaca’s resguardos in 1916, and held a seat on Duaca’s district council in the late 1910s. He undoubtedly exercised considerable influence in district politics.

In 1920-21, Tovar acted as broker in the redistribution of a large collective grant in the northeastern part of the district. Issued by the national government on July 30, 1920, the grant gave 25 district residents title to 4,58.3.83 hectares of public land along the Duaca-Aroa road.40 Four months later, all 25 “recipients” ceded their land to Tovar, who then divided the entire tract among 6 individuals.41 Tovar sold the largest portion (1,300 hectares) to David Gimón, a resident of the north-central state of Miranda; his father, General David Gimón, was a close associate of Gómez and had served as president of the state of Lara from 1916 to 1920.42 The dates are significant. Petitions for public lands required the approval of state presidents (as well as district officials) before they passed to the national government, and Gimón’s tenure as state president of Lara coincided with several large grants in Duaca, including the one brokered by Tovar.

The president’s son, however, retained his land in Duaca only until 1925, when he sold it to Vásquez, Duaca’s jefe civil and Tovar’s friend.43 Vásquez had already purchased 100 hectares directly from Tovar, so in all he eventually controlled 1,400 hectares, almost one-third of the land in the original grant.44 Tovar sold another 1,000 hectares from the 1920 grant to Leoncio Guillén, a Duaca merchant who had served as district judge during most of the 1910s.45 Carlos José Guillén, a Barquisimeto merchant, also purchased 1,000 hectares from Tovar.46 Hermelindo Oberto, a merchant and hacendado who had been one of the leaders of the movement to elevate Duaca to a district in the 1890s and had served on Duaca’s district council in 1912-13, purchased 800 hectares.47 Finally, Tovar sold the remaining 383.83 hectares to Domingo Antonio Yépez, another public land broker, who eventually divided the tract between Casimiro Casamayor and Pedro Javier, two Duaca entrepreneurs.48

Tovar did not profit financially from his role as broker: he acquired the tract at ten bolívares per hectare and sold it at the same rate. Nevertheless, he clearly benefited from the public land bonanza in other ways. Aside from receiving his own grant of 185 hectares, Tovar purchased a total of 2,253.65 hectares from other public land brokers between 1919 and 1924, of which he resold only 980 hectares.49 Through the privatization of Duaca’s baldíos, Tovar, like his friend Vásquez, became one of Duaca’s largest landowners.

In contrast to Tovar, Domingo Antonio Yépez, Duaca’s second public land broker, had no military experience and never invested heavily in the district’s agricultural economy. A lawyer by education, Yépez occupied several government posts in Lara during the first decade of the Gómez regime. Between 1909 and 1915, he served as state secretary general and secretary of Lara’s legislature.50 In 1916, he represented Duaca in the state constitutional assembly.51 At the same time, Yépez used his connections in the Gomecista regime to sell his services to persons seeking government concessions. Between 1912 and 1916, dozens of people (including Tovar) gave Yépez legal authority to secure title to public lands in Duaca and the neighboring municipio of Bobare.52 In facilitating these grants, Yépez’ principal function was to guide the petitions through the bureaucracy at the state level; once endorsed by the state president, petitions would almost surely receive final approval from the national government. That so many people seeking title to public land chose Yépez as their legal representative attests to his reputation as a facilitator within the state government.

Between 1919 and 1923, Yépez acted as a broker for three of the large collective grants in Duaca.53 He began by providing some financial backing for each of the grants; in at least two cases he hired the surveyor.54 As a result, many of the land recipients owed money to Yépez when they received their titles, and transferred most or all of their land to him in payment.55 Yépez thereby gained title to at least 7,360 hectares from the three grants. When he resold the land, Yépez was often represented by José Luis Pérez, a Barquisimeto politician who served as inspector of public lands for the state of Lara for at least two terms, in 1918 and 1922, and probably more.56 In addition to occasionally representing Yépez, Pérez acted as a land broker on his own account, acquiring more than 6,000 hectares.57 Yépez and Pérez sold most of the land they acquired to members of the Duaca and Barquisimeto elite, in large tracts ranging from 200 to almost 1,500 hectares.58 Neither broker retained title to much—if any—land in Duaca. They simply acted as intermediaries in the transfer of national lands to members of the elite.

Peasant families occupied much of the land acquired and resold by Yépez, Pérez, Tovar, and other brokers. In a few rare instances, the brokers allowed small and medium-sized cultivators to purchase their plots.59 More commonly, however, lands occupied by peasants passed to the elite. In many cases, members of the elite who owned coffee groves on the baldíos purchased not only the land under their own holdings but surrounding land tilled by peasant families as well. In one such case, Yépez, on selling 106.40 hectares to Francisco Rafael Fonseca, declared, “Within this lot, aside from the crops belonging to the buyer, señor Fonseca, there are coffee groves and food crops belonging to Victor José Colmenares, Luciencia Márquez, Juan Santana López, Eufemia Agüero, José Luis Delgado, Daniel Antonio Lobos, and part of those belonging to Hermelindo González, which remain the property of their owners, since I only sell to señor Fonseca the land that they occupy.”60 Similarly, selling land to Vásquez, Yépez specified that “Juan Canelón, Lorenzo Peroza, Francisco Prado, Edmundo Valenzuela, Tomás Marchán, Manuel Tua, and others” occupied part of the tract.61 In these and similar cases, the land sold by brokers became private estates on which the landowner cultivated part of the estate directly and rented out other plots to peasant tenants.62

The network of political influence behind the privatization of Duaca’s baldíos clearly extended to the state president, who had to approve all petitions for public land grants. The largest grants in Duaca coincided with the administrations of two state presidents closely associated with Gómez, General David Gimón (1916-20) and General Rafael María Velasco (1921–25). A powerful caudillo in his native state of Guárico, Gimón had rebelled against Cipriano Castro during the Revolución Libertadora, but had allied himself with Gómez when the latter seized power in 1908, and thereafter had served in a series of important posts. Aside from his term as president of Lara, Gimón governed the states of Guárico and Bolívar and served as chief customs collector (a potentially lucrative position, given the opportunities for graft) in La Guaira and Maracaibo.63 Velasco’s ties to Gómez were even older and stronger than those of Gimón. A native of Táchira and a distant relative of Gómez, Velasco served under Castro and Gómez during their successful Revolución Restauradora in 1899. After administering the customs houses in Ciudad Guyana, Puerto Cabello, and La Guaira, Velasco became president of the state of Aragua in 1918, state president of Lara in 1921, and governor of the Federal District in 1925.64 Gimón and Velasco clearly were trusted servants of Gómez, and they enjoyed considerable influence in the regime. Once they approved public land grants, neither the national congress nor the president himself was likely to object.

Both Velasco and Gimón received compensation for their approval of public land grants in Duaca. As noted earlier, Gimón’s son acquired 1,300 hectares from Tovar in 1921. Gimón himself purchased 2,026.15 hectares from a different broker in 1920, and Velasco bought 1,000 hectares from a third intermediary in 1924.65 Clearly, the state presidents worked hand-in-glove with the brokers and extracted their share of the spoils. Nevertheless, Gimón, his son, and Velasco sold their lands in Duaca in 1925, and each accepted a price below what he had paid for the land. Given the rapid development of Venezuela’s petroleum industry after World War I, it would seem plausible that they acquired the land on a purely speculative basis, hoping to discover oil but losing interest in the land when none was found. Whatever their rationale, Gimón and Velasco had personal stakes in the privatization process.

Other prominent Gomecistas in Lara derived more lasting benefits from privatization. General José Garbi, a native of the state of Trujillo (which borders Lara on the southwest), served first Castro and then Gómez from 1899 on. During his tenure as jefe civil of Barquisimeto, Garbi purchased a large estate, La Escalera, contiguous to Duaca’s western border.66 In transactions with Duaca’s public land brokers, Garbi purchased 974 hectares just inside the district’s western boundary, thereby enlarging La Escalera.67 He acquired an additional 763 hectares, also bordering La Escalera, from four recipients of a 1921 grant.68 Similarly, General Argenis Azuaje, a prominent Gomecista described in the Barquisimeto press as “a well-known figure in the politics of Lara and an irreproachable friend of [state] President David Gimón,” acquired 158 hectares from a public land broker.69 This tract bordered the 588 hectares Azuaje had already received in the partition of Duaca’s Indian lands. Duaca’s public land grants thereby allowed Garbi and Azuaje—two pillars of the Gomecista regime in Barquisimeto—to expand their estates.

Political influence also shaped the distribution of Duaca’s baldíos among the elite residing in the district. None benefited more from privatization than Ramón Antonio Vásquez, Duaca’s jefe civil throughout most of the 1920s. In addition to the 1,400 hectares of land he acquired in the grant brokered by Miguel José Tovar, Vásquez bought 758.49 hectares of prime coffee land in Camburito from another public land broker in 1920, and received his own grant of 136.60 hectares directly from the government.70 Leoncio Guillén, the district judge, also acquired large tracts of land through brokered sales. To be sure, many members of Duaca’s elite acquired lots of 100 hectares or more through public land grants and subsequent sales. But as a rule, the largest tracts went to men linked to the dictatorship.

The pattern of land privatization and redistribution, then, suggests the network of political influence that lay behind the appropriation of Duaca’s public lands. Men like Vásquez and Tovar, district políticos who already had made considerable investments in Duaca’s coffee economy and who became large landowners though the system of brokered sales, may well have initiated the scheme. The assistance of Domingo Antonio Yépez, the lawyer and state-level politician, and of his associate José Luis Pérez, who served periodically as Lara’s inspector of public lands, undoubtedly proved useful in assuring that the series of grants, sales, and resales would be immune to legal challenge. Perhaps it was they who contacted the state presidents and offered them a share of the land if they approved the grants and forwarded them to Caracas. It is impossible to know exactly how this alliance of entrepreneurs, lawyers, and generals came into being, but clearly they all dealt in a common political currency: their shared identity as servants of Gómez, as “amigos de la Causa,” which allowed them to cooperate in the appropriation of a substantial portion of the national patrimony. Thus it was the use of state power in pursuit of private ends that brought about the privatization of Duaca’s baldíos and transformed peasant settlers into estate tenants.

Rental Conditions

Privatization of the baldíos enabled Duaca’s local elite to control access to land throughout virtually the entire district by the mid-1920s. As a result, the balance of power between elite and peasantry shifted in favor of the former. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, peasants in search of land did not have to settle on one of Duaca’s few privately owned estates; the resguardos and baldíos provided alternatives. Rents on Duaca’s few private estates therefore had remained low in order to attract tenants, despite a steady increase in the district’s population. But after the privatization of Duaca’s resguardos (in 1916) and baldíos, the great majority of peasants no longer had any alternative but to settle on private estates. Access to land now depended on coming to terms with a landlord.

Estate owners soon imposed a new system of rents that clearly reflected their expanded power over the peasantry. Beginning in the mid-1920s, landowners abandoned the traditional system of rents-in-kind that had prevailed on Duaca’s private estates since the nineteenth century and established cash rents on estates throughout the district. Before the baldíos were privatized, rents on Duaca’s few private estates had been remarkably low. For example, tenants had paid only 5 or 6 percent of their harvests for land planted in coffee.71 The quantity of coffee paid in rent therefore fluctuated with the quantity of the harvest, just as the cash value of rents varied according to the price of the crop. By contrast, the system of cash rents introduced in the mid-iqzos guaranteed landlords a steady profit while shifting risk entirely to tenants.72 Estate owners throughout the district—including those who owned recently privatized land—now demanded between 24 and 36 bolívares per hectare for land planted in mature coffee bushes, regardless of the harvest or the market price of the crop. Coffee groves too young to produce a harvest (and thus rent-free under the old system) would now be assessed at the rate of 18 bolívares per hectare. Moreover, landowners demanded that tenants pay rent at the beginning of the year rather than later, after the harvest. The peasantry on the northern baldíos, then, not only suffered a forced conversion to estate tenantry but also found themselves living under rental conditions that were, by traditional district standards, quite harsh.

The danger that fixed cash rents held for the peasantry soon became apparent. In 1929, the price of coffee fell sharply; it continued to tumble downward through the mid-1930s as the world sank into the Great Depression. The 1935 price of 33.08 bolívares per 60 kilograms represented a decrease of almost 75 percent in relation to the 1928 price of 129.98 bolívares.73 Finally, as if to make the calamity complete, a series of severe droughts struck Duaca in the early 1930s, affecting coffee and all other crops.74 The full injustice of the new cash rents became starkly apparent as tenants struggled to pay landlords the same tariffs from one year to the next, without any compensation for the double blow of meager harvests and falling prices.

Landlord-Tenant Conflict on the Privatized Baldíos

Many peasants resisted the new agrarian order of privatized land and cash rents by refusing to pay their landlords any rent at all. In response, between 1923 and 1935, landowners in Duaca filed 32 legal actions against tenants to secure payment. Twenty of these cases originated on estates composed of former public lands privatized under Gómez, compared to only four on estates located on former resguardo land and eight on older estates dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus while peasants throughout the district resisted landlords’ demands, conflict centered on the recently privatized public lands.

The landlords prevailed in all 32 judicial cases, and most of the disputes followed a similar course. In many instances, a summons to appear before the judge proved sufficient to persuade the tenants to pay rent. If not, the landowner had only to present the land titles to obtain a favorable ruling from the judge, who was also a member of the local elite. Some estate owners also presented reglamentos, sets of regulations governing their estates that, once approved by the jefe civil, could be enforced by the court. If the tenants still refused to pay, the judge embargoed their holdings for sale at auction. Thus the coercive power of the state actively guaranteed the new order of privatized land and cash rents.

Several court cases in which peasants offered prolonged resistance to landlord control provide insight into the mentality that lay behind landlord-tenant conflict on the former baldíos. Juan Esteban Cordero and Nicomedes Castillo, two peasants living in the northern hamlet of Camburito, resisted landlord control for years after the public land they occupied had passed to private ownership. The area they occupied lay within the boundaries of a large collective grant made in 1919, and Ramón Antonio Vásquez had acquired the land under their farms from a broker in 1920. Because the 1919 public land law stipulated that persons cultivating permanent crops (such as coffee) could not be charged rent during the first five years following privatization, Vásquez had no immediate conflict with the farmers. In early 1926, though, Vásquez began to demand rental payments; and several peasants occupying his land, including Castillo and Cordero, refused. Not even Vásquez’ position as jefe civil, which gave him command of the police, could persuade them to accept his domination without a struggle. Castillo and Cordero acceded to Vásquez’ demands only after he filed suit and the district judge threatened to seize their holdings.75

When the Depression struck, however, Cordero and Castillo again refused to pay rent and Vásquez again turned to the district court.76 This time Castillo quickly came to an agreement with Vásquez, but Cordero held out longer, insisting that his holding was really on public land. The judge brushed Cordero’s protest aside and ordered him to pay court costs as well as rents. Cordero found himself obliged to cede part of his holding to Vásquez to settle accounts.

Nevertheless, Castillo and Cordero soon saw a new opportunity to resist landlord authority. In 1933, Vásquez sold his estate in Camburito to Jorge Zoghby, an Arab immigrant.77 Four tenants on the estate, including Castillo and Cordero, withheld rent, perhaps believing that Zoghby would prove a less formidable opponent than Vásquez. Zoghby, however, quickly filed a legal action against them. When they appeared in court, the tenants still refused to recognize Zoghby’s rights to the land they occupied. “In that region,” they explained to the judge, “we were virtually the first inhabitants, and we have always lived in the knowledge that the land we cultivate belongs to the Nation. It has never come to our knowledge that any person has acquired ownership of these lands and it would be wrong for us to recognize any dominion except that of the Nation.”78 The defendants, then, believed that their long occupation of the area entitled them to continue working the land free of landlord control. In their view, they were being robbed of land that was, in some sense, theirs.

Peasants in other parts of the district shared their outlook. In La Titiara, another hamlet visited by privatization in 1919, a similar conflict occurred between Homobono Rivero, who purchased 145 hectares from a broker, and Modesto Rodríguez, a long-time occupant. Rodríguez, whose eight-hectare holding included coffee groves, food crops, pasture, and two huts, had no intention of recognizing Rivero’s claim to the land. Retween 1925 and 1929, he rebuffed all demands for rent, despite several encounters with Rivero’s emissaries. Finally, in early 1930, as the Depression deepened, Rivero initiated a lawsuit against Rodríguez, demanding that he pay 2,835 bolívares for five years rent.79 Rodríguez refused, in his words, “because in the 22 years that I have lived in the hamlet of Titiara . . . where I have established my properties that are mentioned in this lawsuit, all of them with my own effort and personal labor, I have never been disturbed or troubled by anyone until now, when I have been disturbed and injured by the lawsuit attempted against me. Land surveys and topographical charts made by one man cannot take away what another has gained by his own work. . . .”80 Rodríguez went on to insist that the land he occupied was baldío, but that even if the national government had alienated the land, his long occupation should guarantee his right to the area he cultivated. Thus Rodríguez, like the peasants in Camburito and other parts of the district where public lands were privatized, asserted the primacy of usufruct rights long after privatization had deprived such rights of their legal force.81

Quite clearly, Duaca’s peasantry and its elite adhered to different notions of property rights. For the elite, land ownership was conferred by a title entered in the district registry. In the eyes of the peasantry, rights to land had more to do with its occupation and use than with formal titles. In effect, the peasants viewed land rights through the lens of custom. For generations, access to Duaca’s public domain had remained relatively unfettered, a matter of de facto occupation. Those who cleared and planted an area had enjoyed the right of continuous occupation until they sold their farm (that is, crops, buildings, and other improvements) or passed it to their heirs. As long as the land remained public, this customary system of usufruct coincided with law and hence with the elite’s view of property rights. But once privatization occurred, the two notions of property came into conflict. Members of the elite acquired formal title to the land, but peasants, who rarely had an opportunity to acquire title during the privatization process, refused to believe that mere papers could negate their customary rights as occupants. When the new estate owners suddenly demanded rent for land the peasants had long occupied, the peasants refused to accept what they saw as a massive fraud.

Nevertheless, peasant resistance remained fragmented and easily controlled through 1935, despite widely shared grievances. Tenants from different estates did not band together; nor did tenants offer violent resistance to landlord control. The explanation for this undoubtedly lies with the repressive strength of the Gómez regime. The dictatorship provided an effective deterrent against organized, sustained protests throughout rural Venezuela, despite many agrarian grievances. Under the Gómez regime, the jefe civil and district police routinely assisted landowners in controlling rural labor; and in cases of potentially widespread unrest, the army or the national police, known as la sagrada, might be dispatched. Peasants knew that running afoul of authorities and their elite allies could result in imprisonment, induction into the army, or forced labor on highways under the blazing sun of the llanos.82 The limited nature of peasant resistance in Duaca, then, was less remarkable than the courage of many Duaqueños who refused to recognize landlord authority until the moment the district judge threatened to embargo their farms.

Duaca’s Peasant Protests of 1936

Within weeks of Gómez’ death in December 1935, peasant protest in Duaca became more confrontational and more a collective enterprise. Most alarming to the landlord class, peasant resistance turned violent. During the first three months of 1936, peasants cut fences and burned landowners’ crops and buildings on estates throughout the district.83 Virtually no hacienda escaped the popular wrath, and according to the press, landlords had reason to fear for their lives.84 The protests reached a climax in early April, when one of the district’s largest landowners, Casimiro Casamayor, was murdered by several men armed with machetes. Casamayor’s widow told the district judge that peasants now dared to attack landlords and their property because they believed “the estates have fallen.”85 This remarkable idea—that private land holdings had ceased to exist—clearly resulted from Gómez’ death and the advent of what appeared to be, in early 1936, a more moderate (or perhaps even reformist) government. Holding Gomecistas responsible for the appropriation of land and the imposition of new rents, Duaca’s peasants easily concluded that the dictator’s death signaled the reversal of these injustices.

In a letter to the new national president, Eleazar López Contreras, on March 3, the peasants revealed that they clearly understood the role of gomecismo in the transformation of Duaca’s agrarian structure.

We, members of the proletariat of this locality, direct ourselves to you in the firm belief that we will be heard. We desperately wish to work, to bring bread to our humble homes, thus fulfilling a sacred mission, but in reality all our efforts are in vain and every hope is frustrated because we do not have a piece of earth to cultivate, and wherever we try to raise a dwelling and plant crops, powerful hands forbid us such work, as though we were loathsome people [seres indeseables], without any right to life . . . and these privations are carried out brazenly and at times with unspeakable abuses by those who call themselves owners of estates [dueños de posesiones], charging us ever-higher rents, in unfair proportion to the fruit of our labor, which causes anguish and pain, leaving us completely plundered in order to satisfy the greed of the master, who with his unjust charges reduces us to impotence. Such proceedings in this jurisdiction date from when General David Gimón exercised the presidency of the State of Lara. It was he who permitted and with few or no scruples carried out the distribution of land, giving as much as he pleased to his favorites and leaving the destitute without aid. At that time, we can say, we began the most infamous martyrdom, for we are condemned not to possess a piece of land to cultivate. . . .86

The letter contradicts historians’ argument that class relations in rural Venezuela remained essentially static from independence until the 1930s.87 Duaca’s peasants, by contrast, clearly perceived a watershed in their history—the Gimón administration—which marked the beginning of their “martyrdom.” To be sure, in the months following Gómez’ death it was safe (and even fashionable) to blame the fallen dictatorship for many national problems. In Lara as a whole, however, such accusations focused on Eustaquio Gómez, the dictator’s cousin and the last Gomecista state president (1929–1935). Duaca’s peasants, then, did not simply couch their protest in the political rhetoric of the moment. Rather, they referred to the period in their history when landlessness and high rents became inescapable realities. Gimón’s tenure coincided with the alienation of some 20,000 hectares of public land in Duaca, much of which became the property of men connected to the regime whom the peasants saw as Gimón’s favorites. Actually, the first record of cash rents dates from 1925, five years after Gimón’s departure. The peasantry apparently thought of the onset of landlessness and the imposition of high rents as part of the same compressed time frame, perhaps because they believed that the two developments were inextricably linked.

The protests of early 1936 generated a good deal of support for Duaca’s peasants, though much of it was indirect, and no one publicly sanctioned the destruction of landlords’ property. On March 18, El Heraldo, a leading Barquisimeto newspaper, printed a letter signed by 45 Duaqueños identifying themselves as merchants, professionals, and agriculturalists. The writers argued that the current conflict stemmed from “an agrarian problem in which a few individuals have monopolized the district’s lands” and established oppressive rents on their estates.88 Duaca’s new jefe civil, Rómulo Delgado Segura, a local merchant and small landowner appointed to office by Lara’s new reformist state president, José Rafael Gabaldón, agreed. After a group of Duaca landowners criticized him for not using sufficient force to suppress the protests, Delgado told an interviewer, “To honor the truth, what we have in Duaca is an agrarian problem.”89 Delgado, too, identified Duaca’s unequal distribution of land and high rents as the cause of the conflict.

El Heraldo itself extended more veiled support. On April 6, at the height of the protests, it published an editorial titled “The Problem of the Large Estates,” denouncing the appropriation of land by powerful individuals during the Gómez dictatorship. The editorial criticized loopholes in public land legislation, including the omission of a ban on the immediate resale of privatized land; this practice had allowed a few individuals to amass large holdings, sometimes using surrogates who acquired title on their behalf. In other cases, El Heraldo asserted, members of the elite had facilitated land grants in favor of peasant settlers but then had overcharged them for various services (such as surveys, legal representation, and title registrations), forcing the recipients to sign over their newly acquired land. No matter how they gained title, large landowners established conditions “under which tenants were obliged to pay high rents, and on no few occasions had to cede their crops [plantaciones] to the master in order to settle debts arising from rents and interest that could not be satisfied on schedule.”90 The worst abuses, the editorial charged, were sometimes committed by the jefes civiles. Although it did not specifically mention Duaca, the abuses the editorial discussed were entirely consistent with the transformation of Duaca’s agrarian structure under Gômez.

Nevertheless, after Casamayor’s murder the state government moved decisively to put an end to the protests in Duaca. Recognizing that the district police could not halt peasant attacks, Gabaldón dispatched units of the state guard, and the protests were soon suppressed.91 Gabaldón, however, remained sympathetic to peasant grievances even as he used force to protect landlords and their property. He personally raised the issue of Duaca’s public lands during an interview with López Contreras in Caracas. López referred the matter to his minister of agriculture, who in turn dispatched a team of lawyers to Duaca to study previous acquisitions of public lands.92 If that study was ever completed, it changed nothing. The reformist Gabaldón lasted only a few months in office before he was replaced by Honorio Sígala, a staunch defender of landowner interests. López himself soon turned decidedly to the right, dashing hopes of a sustained political opening. His only nod in the direction of agrarian reform was to confiscate the vast rural properties that had belonged to Gómez and his family.93 But the Gómez clan owned no property in Duaca.94 The district’s large estates remained intact.95


The history of Duaca’s public lands falls into two distinct periods. During the initial phase of free settlement, from 1870 to 1919, settlers migrated to the district’s northern frontier in substantial numbers and transformed a largely vacant area into a rich coffee zone. Despite the challenges to peasant livelihood inherent in a commercial economy, such as price cycles, debts to merchants, and the occasional loss of peasant property to members of the elite, Duaca’s baldíos remained a center of peasant production for five decades. In addition to contributing to the formation of a relatively autonomous and prosperous peasantry, the availability of public land in northern Duaca forced landlords in the southern part of the district to keep rents low and flexible on the few estates that existed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The second phase, that of privatization and conflict, extended from 1919 to 1936. The first five years of this period brought the massive privatization of Duaca’s public lands. Members of the district elite and prominent political figures in Barquisimeto appropriated large tracts of Duaca’s public domain though a system of brokered distribution. The peasant occupants of the baldíos rarely received title to the plots they cultivated; the vast majority became tenants on the elite’s new private estates. Having established a virtual monopoly on the ownership of land, estate owners then imposed a system of fixed cash rents designed to maximize their profits at the tenants’ expense. From the early 1920s through 1935, the peasants responded by resisting landlord control, but that resistance remained nonviolent and easily controlled by the district court. Only in 1936, shortly after the death of Gómez, did peasants attack landlords’ property and attempt to overturn the new order of private estates and unjust rents.

The changing structure of the Venezuelan state profoundly shaped the history of Duaca’s public land settlers. One reason public lands in Duaca remained public for so long was that local elites before the Gómez era repeatedly failed to secure title to the district’s baldíos from the national government. This essay has argued that their failure resulted largely from the fragmented, unstable structure of the state in a political system characterized by constant struggles among local and regional strongmen. In such a context, members of Duaca’s elite could rarely guide their land petitions through the local, state, and national bureaucracies, with the result that Duaca’s public lands remained open to peasant settlement.

In the early twentieth century, however, political power became increasingly centralized. During the Gómez dictatorship, an unbroken chain of political authority extended from the national strongman to state presidents and district governors (jefes civiles). The Duaca elite allied itself firmly to the Gomecista state, which by virtue of its integrated structure could control and distribute the nation’s resources on a larger scale than that of its nineteenth-century predecessor. This structural change enabled persons of political influence in Duaca and Barquisimeto to carry out the massive appropriation of the district’s baldíos, distribute the land among themselves and their allies, and convert peasant occupants into estate tenants. Local elites are often portrayed as losers in the process of national state building, but Duaca’s elite gained a great deal from the centralized state built by Castro and Gómez.

For Duaca’s peasantry, the last third of the nineteenth century, rather than the years of andino state building, marked an unusually favorable conjunction of historical circumstances. From roughly 1870 to the turn of the century, a strong market for coffee, a large expanse of open and ecologically suitable land, and a divided elite allowed public land settlers to participate in the commercial economy from a relatively advantageous position.

Similar (though not identical) situations existed elsewhere in Latin America: in Costa Rica and Colombia, large numbers of peasants also migrated to previously vacant lands and grew coffee in the nineteenth century. As in Duaca, politics played a role in the evolution of land tenure on the frontiers of these two nations. In parts of Colombia, a process of elite appropriation of public land and subsequent landlord-tenant conflict unfolded similarly to that in Duaca, though its ultimate outcome was very different.96 In Costa Rica, by contrast, state policy and the strategies of entrepreneurs favored peasant acquisition of land on the frontier during the expansive years of the nineteenth century. Costa Rican smallholders eventually found their livelihood threatened by demographic forces, not by a revolution in land tenure. Their class grievances came to focus on issues of credit and the control of processing, not expropriation by a landed elite and its political allies.97 Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, planters used the power of the state to guarantee their control over public land on the frontier, with the result that coffee remained a plantation crop rather than a peasant one.98

In several of Latin America’s leading coffee economies, then, the exercise of state power played a critical role in shaping the different structures of land ownership that emerged as peasants and members of the elite took the crop to previously unsettled areas. Given the regularity with which coffee spread to public land frontiers, the state could hardly avoid taking part in the imposition of land tenure systems favoring one class or another. Comparative work on the development of coffee-based societies in Latin America, then, might well proceed by exploring how these diverse frontier histories grew out of differing political dynamics in nations such as Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and Venezuela.99


William Roseberry emphasizes this point is his comparative essay “La falta de brazos: Land and Labor in the Coffee Economies of Nineteenth-Century Latin America,” Theory and Society 20 (1991), 351-82.


Ibid., 353.


Miguel Izard, “El café en la economía venezolana del siglo XIX: estado de la cuestión,” Estudis (Valencia, Spain) 1 (1973), 262.


Mario Samper, Generations of Settlers: Rural Households and Markets on the Costa Rican Frontier, 1850-1935 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990).


Catherine LeGrand, Frontier Expansion and Peasant Protest in Colombia, 1850-1936 (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1986).


For a fuller discussion of this period, see Douglas Yarrington, “Duaca in the Age of Coffee: Land, Society, and Politics in a Venezuelan District, 1830-1936” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Texas, 1992), chap. 2.


For examples of loans to Duaqueño coffee producers from García and other Barquisimeto merchants, see Registro Principal del Estado Lara, Barquisimeto, Protocolos del Distrito Barquisimeto (hereafter RPEL, PDB), prot. 7, fol. 4, July 13, 1865; prot. 7, fols. 2-3, Mar. 24, 1868; prot. 2, esc. 8, Apr. 25, 1871; prot. 1, esc. 89, Dec. 31, 1872; prot. 2, esc. 46, Sept. 7, 1874.


Yarrington, “Duaca in the Age of Coffee,” 121-24.


Pedro Cunill Grau, Geografía del poblamiento venezolano en el siglo XIX, 3 vols. (Caracas: Ediciones de la Presidencia de la República, 1987), 2:1377.


Ibid., 2:998, 1377.


Fragmentary evidence in the protocols suggests that migrants to Duaca came from other parts of Lara, especially Quibor, and from the neighboring states of Yaracuy and Falcón. For years, Venezuelanists have believed that migrants from the southern llanos provided labor for the coffee boom in the Andean states to the southwest of Lara. This study found no evidence of llanero migration to Duaca. Indeed, recent research demonstrates that even the Andes received only a handful of settlers from the llanos. See Marie Daly Price, “Hands for the Coffee: Migration, Settlement, and Trade in Western Venezuela, 1870-1930” (Ph.D. diss., Syracuse Univ., 1991), 176—80.


Developments in regional transportation are reviewed in Paul Verna, Las minas del Libertador (Caracas: Imprenta Nacional, 1975), 211-15; and Erdmann Gormsen, Barquisimeto: una ciudad mercantil en Venezuela (Caracas: Editorial Arte, 1966), 50-51.


In the early 1870s, the contiguous municipios of Duaca and Bobare together produced 1,386,272 kilograms of coffee annually, as reported in Venezuela, Ministerio de Fomento, Apuntes estadísticos del Estado Barquisimeto (Caracas: Imprenta de La Opinión Nacional, 1876), 295. A review of the protocolos from Bobare and Duaca leads to the conclusion that between two-thirds and three-fourths of the production came from Duaca.


See the 1893 petition from Duaca’s municipal government to the state governor for elevation to district status, as reprinted in Ambrosio Perera, Historia política-territorial de los Estados Lara y Yaracuy (Caracas: Artes Gráficas, 1946), 311. For later production figures see La Senda (Duaca), Mar. 10, 1935; and El Impulso (Barquisimeto), Apr. 16, 1937, pp. 1, 2.


Throughout this article the word peasant is used to mean rural cultivators of low status engaged directly in production for their own subsistence and for the market, who retain a meaningful degree of control over the disposition of their labor. Compare Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), 1:115. Some of the difficult questions involved in defining peasants are discussed in Henry A. Landsberger, “The Role of Peasant Movements and Revolts in Development,” in Latin American Peasant Movements, ed. Landsberger (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1969), 1-5; Sidney W. Mintz, “A Note on the Definition of Peasantries,” Journal of Peasant Studies 1:1 (1973), 91-106; and Gavin A. Smith, Livelihood and Resistance: Peasants and the Politics of Land in Peru (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989), 18—28.


Transactions involving farms in these areas include RPEL, PDB, prot. 1, esc. 25, May 26, 1874; prot. 2, esc. 33, June 19, 1875; prot. 2, esc. 18, Apr. 29, 1876; prot. 1, esc. 90, June 19, 1876; prot. 1, esc. 55, Apr. 22, 1876; prot. 1, esc. 46, Apr. 4, 1876.


Ibid., prot. 1, esc. 136, fols. 222-24, Oct. 5, 1880; esc. 79, fol. 97, June 10, 1882; esc. 132, fols. 31-33, Aug. 14, 1884; esc. 149, fol. 14, July 17, 1885; esc. 204, fols. 18-19, Oct. 26, 1886.


Ibid., esc. 35, fols. 37-38, Nov. 5, 1896; esc. 36, fols. 39-40, Nov. 5, 1896.


Ibid., esc. 37, fols. 54-55, Apr. 1, 1880; esc. 136, fols. 222-24, Oct. 5, 1880; esc. 33, fols. 33-35, Feb. 20, 1886.


William Roseberry’s comments on the nineteenth-century fragmentation of Indian lands and private estates in Boconó are one example. See Roseberry, Coffee and Capitalism in the Venezuelan Andes (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1983), 87; and idem., “On the Economic Formation of Boconó,” in The Venezuelan Peasant in Country and City, ed. Luise Margolies (Caracas: Ediciones Venezolanas de Antropología [EDIVA], 1979), 100.


Examples include RPEL, PDB, prot. 1, esc. 15, fols. 22-23, Jan. 22, 1878; esc. 55, fols. 95-96, May 21, 1879; esc. 100, fol. 20, Aug. 30, 1883; esc. 79, fols. 100-101, May 20, 1890.


Ibid., esc. 37, fols. 54-55, Apr. 1, 1880; esc. 106, fols. 173-75, July 20, 1880; prot. 2, esc. 61, fols. 96-98, Aug. 16, 1881; prot. 1, esc. 29, fols. 41-42, Mar. 25, 1882.


Ibid., prot. 11, fols. 1-2, June 29, 1868; prot. 2, esc. 27, Sept. 19, 1869.


Peña’s attempt to buy the land from the government is mentioned in RPEL, PDB, prot. 1, esc. 15, fols. 22-23, Jan. 22, 1878.


Peña’s participation in the revolt is mentioned in Francisco de Paula Vásquez, Apuntaciones para la historia del Estado Lara (Barquisimeto: Tipografía Nicolás Vásquez, 1940), 38.


RPEL, PDB, prot. 1, esc. 136, fols. 174-77, June 14, 1893.


For Andrade, see RPEL, PDB, prot. 1, esc. 38, fols. 58-60, Nov. 8, 1893; for Herrera, prot. 3, esc. 19, fols. 16-18, May 26, 1893.


The attempts to gain title to the land are mentioned in RPEL, Protocolos del Distrito Crespo (hereafter PDC), prot. 1, esc. 4, fols. 4–6, July 6, 1901; and esc. 29, fols. 30–33, Nov. 25, 1908.


RPEL, PDB, prot. 1, esc. 70, fols. 80-81, Aug. 20, 1890; esc. 106, fols. 131-32, Aug. 28, 1891; esc. 52, fols. 66-67, Nov. 10, 1891; esc. 53, fols. 67-68, Nov. 10, 1891.


Ibid., esc. 75, fols. 114-15, Dec. 31, 1893; esc. 78, fols. 118-19, Dec. 31. 1893; esc. 8, fols. 8-10, July 9, 1896.


For a list of uprisings in this period, see Francisco González Guinán, Historia contemporánea de Venezuela, 2d ed., 15 vols. (Caracas: Ediciones de la Presidencia de la República, 1954), 15:836-49.


Ramón J. Velásquez, La caída del liberalismo amarillo, 6th ed. (Caracas: Ediciones de la Presidencia de la República, 1988), 25; Inés Quintero, El ocaso de una estirpe: la centralización restauradora y elfin de los caudillos históricos (Caracas: Acta Científica Venezolana, 1989), 19–29.


Velásquez, La caída del liberalismo; Robert L. Gilmore, Caudillism and Militarism in Venezuela, 1810-1910 (Athens: Univ. of Ohio Press, 1964); and Diego Urbaneja, “Caudillismo y pluralismo en el siglo XIX venezolano,” Politeia (Caracas) 4 (1975), 133-51.


Mary B. Floyd, Guzmán Blanco: la dinámica de la política del septenio (Caracas: Fundación para el Rescate del Acervo Documental Venezolano [FUNRES], 1988), 146-47. For a more detailed description of state politics in the nineteenth century see Perera, Historia politico-territorial, 217-46, 287-93, 303-6.


José Ramón Brito, Gobernantes del Estado Lara, 1552-1977 (Barquisimeto: Gobernación del Estado Lara, 1978), 136-38.


Studies of the centralization of power under Castro and Gómez include Velásquez, La caída del liberalismo; Quintero, El ocaso; Yolanda Segnini, La consolidación del régimen de Juan Vicente Gómez (Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1982); and Angel Ziems, El gomecismo y la formación del ejército nacional (Caracas: Ateneo de Caracas, 1979). This period is also known as the era of andino hegemony.


This paragraph summarizes Yarrington, “Duaca in the Age of Coffee,” chap. 5.


For an interesting perspective on the regime’s patrimonialist characteristics, see Diego Bautista Urbaneja, “El sistema política gomecista,” in Juan Vicente Gómez y su época, coord. Elias Pino Iturrieta (Caracas: Monte Avila, 1985). See also Pino Iturrieta, “Estudio preliminar,” in Los hombres del Benemérito: epistolario inédito, 2 vols., ed. Yolanda Segnini (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1985-86), 1:21-24.


Rómulo Delgado Segura, Misceláneas duaqueñas (Barquisimeto: Tipografía Nieves, 1971), 21.


The grant was later registered in Duaca. See RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 14, fols. 11-13, Oct. 9, 1920.


The transfer was entered in the district registry the following month. RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 81, fols. 77-79, Dec. 28, 1920.


The sale is recorded in RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 16, fols. 14-15, Jan. 29, 1921.


Ibid., esc. 52, fols. 55-56, Nov. 12, 1925.


Ibid., esc. 33, fols. 29-30, Feb. 16, 1921.




Ibid., esc. 17, fol. 15, Jan. 29, 1921.


Ibid., esc. 18, fol. 16, Jan. 29, 1921.


Ibid., esc. 33, fols. 29-30, Feb. 16, 1921; esc. 129, fols. 139-40, June 10, 1925; esc. 74, fols. 103-9, Mar. 21, 1927.


The grant to Tovar is recorded in ibid., esc. 90, fols. 83-84, May 6, 1920. For Tovar’s purchases from other brokers, see ibid., esc. 19, fol. 21, Oct. 7, 1919; esc. 92, fols. 69-71, Feb. 20, 1920; esc. 94, fols. 71-72, Feb. 20, 1920; and esc. 111, fols. 93-94, Sept. 17, 1924. For his sales of parts of these lands, see esc. 142, fols. 144-45, June 2, 1921; and esc. 179, fols. 168-69, June 10. 1920.


Gaceta Oficial del Estado Lara (Barquisimeto), no. 416, Nov. 4, 1909, p. 1; no. 588, Mar. 11, 1915, p. 2.


Notas (Barquisimeto), Feb. 24, 1916, p. 2.


RPEL, PDC, prot. 3, esc. 2, fols. 1-2, Oct. 17, 1912, prot. 3, esc. 2, fol. 5, Nov. 28, 1912, prot. 3, esc. 1, fol. 1, Jan. 5, 1914, prot. 3, esc. 2, fol. 1-2, Apr. 6, 1915, prot. 3, esc. 1, fol. 1, Oct. 6, 1916; Gaceta Oficial no. 552, Aug. 13, 1913, p. 2, no. 562, Feb. 12, 1914, p. 2, no. 589, Mar. 19, 1915, p. 4.


The three grants are recorded in RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 110, fols. 88-91, Sept. 23, 1919; esc. 38, fols. 35-37, July 30, 1923; and esc. 39, fols. 37-38, July 31, 1923.


Yépez’ debt to the surveyor Antonio Briceño for measurement of public lands in Las Casitas and Las Carpas is noted in RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 26, fols. 24-26, Oct. 25, 1924. Yépez provided financing for the 1919 grant in Caraquitas through Félix Antonio Urdaneta, as stated in prot. 1, esc. 36, fols. 36-38, Oct. 17, 1919.


For transfers to Yépez from grants in Caraquitas, Las Casitas, and Las Carpas, see RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 8, fols. 7-8, Oct. 3, 1919; esc. 14, fols. 12-13, Oct. 4. 1919; esc. 16, fols. 14-15, Oct. 4, 1919; esc. 36, fols. 36-38, Oct. 17, 1919; esc. 136, fols. 118-19, June 3, 1924; and esc. 135, fols. 116-18, June 2, 1924.


Some of Pérez’ official correspondence can be found in Archivo General de la Nación, Caracas, Ministerio de Agricultura y Cría, folder titled “Ministerio de Fomento, “Dirección de Tierras Baldías, Industrias y Comercio, Correspondencia 1918, Intendente de Tierras Baldías del Estado Lara.” Pérez’ appointment in October 1922 is recorded in Ministerio de Fomento, Dirección de Tierras Baldías, Industrias y Comercio,” in Memoria (Caracas: Tipografía Cosmos, 1923), 6-7. For cases of Pérez representing Yépez in the sale of recently privatized public lands, see RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 15, fols. 14-16, July 15, 1924; esc. 16-17, July 16, 1924; esc. 26, fols. 24-26, Oct. 25, 1924.


Thirty-six recipients of public lands in Las Casitas and Las Carpas ceded their land to Pérez. See RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 4, fols. 3—5, July 7, 1924; esc. 25, fols. 27-29, Jan. 28, 1925; and esc. 7, fols. 7-8, July 10, 1924.


Ibid., esc. 5, fols. 11—13, July 7, 1920; esc. 79, fols. 68-71, May 1, 1920; esc. 67, fols. 57-58, Aug. 15, 1924; esc. 28, fols. 28-30, Apr. 15, 1925; esc. 16, fols. 16-17, July 16, 1924; esc. 111, fols. 93-94, Sept. 17, 1924; esc. 39, fols. 42-44, Feb. 6, 1925; esc. 40, fols. 44-45, Feb. 7, 1925.


Ibid., esc. 101, fols. 92-93, May 10, 1920; esc. 102, fols. 93-94, May 10, 1920; esc. 103, fols. 94-95, May 10, 1920; esc. 113, fols. 104-5, May 12, 1920; esc. 127, fols. 119-20, May 17, 1920; esc. 129, fols. 121-22, May 17, 1920; esc. 133, fol. 126, May 18, 1920; esc. 158, fols. 151-52, May 29, 1920; esc. 187, fol. 176, June 15, 1920.


Ibid., esc. 124, fols. 116-17, May 17, 1920.


Ibid., esc. 126, fols. 118-19, May 17, 1920.


For examples in addition to those cited in the two preceding notes, see ibid., esc. 157, fols. 150-51, May 29, 1920; esc. 185, fols. 174-75, June 14. 1920; esc. 5, fols. 11-13, July 7, 1920; esc. 45, fols. 42-43, Mar. 1, 1921; and esc. 88, fol. 113, May 21, 1927.


Manuel Pérez Vila, ed., Diccionario histórico de Venezuela, 3 vols. (Caracas: Fundación Polar, 1988), 2:299.


Ibid., 3:850-51.


On Gimón’s purchase see RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 97, fols. 74-76, Feb. 24, 1920. On Velasco’s, ibid., esc. 15, fols. 14-16, July 15, 1924.


Ibid., esc. 49, fols. 47-48, Sept. 4, 1915.


Ibid., esc. 44, fols. 35-36, Jan. 27, 1920; esc. 70, fol. 54, Feb. 7, 1920.


Ibid., esc. 61, fol. 57-58, Mar. 11, 1921; and esc. 68, fols. 67-68, May 2, 1921.


The quotation is from Notas, June 23, 1918. For Azuaje’s land acquisition, see RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 2, fol. 2, Jan. 5, 1920.


On Vásquez’ purchase see ibid., esc. 102, fols. 79-80, Feb. 27, 1920. On his grant see ibid., esc. 132, fols. 103-4, Mar. 11, 1920.


See the rental conditions in Reglamento de la posesión Los Chipas (1908), in Juicio Los Chipas. Giménez, Camejo, Rojas Velis, 2a pieza, RPEL, Juicios Civiles (hereafter JC), 1910, bulto 136, fol. 102; and the comments of Leopoldo Torres in “Estudio del reglamento de la posesión Santa Inés” (1925), Archivo de la Academia Nacional de la Historia, Caracas, Colección Ambrosio Perera, tomo 3, sección 25.


The new rental system is described in Reglamento de la posesión Piedras Lisas (1925), in Demanda de Francisco Giménez Sorondo, apoderado de Belicio Díaz, contra Benigno Pérez, RPEL, JC, 1928, bulto 174; Reglamento de las posesiones Volcanes, Chigüiral, Chipas, y La Reforma (1928), in Demanda de Leopoldo R. Camejo contra Juan Alvarado, RPEL, JC, 1932, bulto 181; and Demanda de Ramón Antonio Vásquez contra Nicolás Zavarce Riera, por cobro de cantidad de bolívares provientes de pisos, ibid., fol. 1.


Export prices for Venezuelan coffee are found in Miguel Izard, Series estadísticas para la historia de Venezuela (Mérida, Venezuela; Universidad de los Andes, 1970), 164-65.


References to the droughts are found in Demanda de Rómulo Delgado Segura contra Sacramento Aguilar, RPEL, JC, 1931, bulto 180, fol. 5; Luisa Rodríguez Marrufo, “Aportes para el estudio del movimiento agrario en el Estado Lara, 1936-48” (Master’s thesis, Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1986), 113; La Senda, Mar. 10, 1935; and El Impulso, Apr. 16, 1937.


Demanda intentada por el Doctor Francisco Seijas y J. M. Ponte, apoderados de R. A. Vásquez, contra Nicomedes Castillo, por cobro de cantidades de bolívares, RPEL, JC, 1926, bulto 170; Demanda intentada por el Doctor F. Seijas y J. M. Ponte contra Juan Esteban Cordero, por cobro de bolívares, ibid., bulto 168; and Demanda intentada por Ramón Antonio Vásquez contra José Colmenarez, ibid., bulto 170.


Demanda de Ramón A. Vásquez contra Juan Esteban Cordero, RPEL, JC, 1931, bulto 179; Demanda de Ramón Antonio Vásquez contra Nicomedes Castillo, RPEL, JC, 1932, bulto 182.


RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 11, fols. 13-15, Oct. 30, 1933.


Demanda intentada por Jorge Zoghby contra Anastacio Veliz, Nicomedes Castillo, Juan Esteban Cordero, y Juan Pantaleón Leal, por cobro de cantidad de bolívares, RPEL, JC, 1934, bulto 189, fol. 6.


Demanda intentada por Juan B. Luna, apoderado de Homobono Rivero, contra Modesto Rodríguez, RPEL, JC, 1930, bulto 178, fols. 4-5, 14.


Ibid., fol. 9.


Juan Salcedo, a tenant on Eulogio Segura Sánchez’ estate in Caraquitas, also claimed that the land he occupied was public land, though it had been privatized in 1919. Demanda intentada por Eulogio Segura Sánchez contra Luis Morillo, Juan Salcedo, y Felipe Castillo, por cobro de bolívares, RPEL, JC, 1930, bulto 177, fol. 5.


The regime’s methods of labor control and repression are discussed in John Duncan Powell, Political Mobilization of the Venezuelan Peasant (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1971), 48—49; Otilia Rosas González and Juan José Salazar, Origen del latifundio caroteno (Barquisimeto: Fondo Editorial Buría, 1988), 96-98; Segnini, La consolidación, 101-4; and Ziems, El gomecismo, 166-68. For a pioneering local study of these questions, see Peter S. Linder, “Agriculture and Rural Society in Pre-Petroleum Venezuela: The Sur del Lago Zuliano, 1880–1920” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Texas, 1992), chap. 5.


Rodríguez Marrufo, “Aportes,” 133-55.


Ibid., 135; El Heraldo (Barquisimeto), Mar. 18, 1936, p. 1.


She attributed that phrase to tenants three times in her brief testimony. Causa penal que obra contra Eusebio Castrillo (o Castillo) y correos por delito de homocidio, primera pieza, RPEL, Juicios Penales, 1936, bulto 164, fols. 3-4.


The letter appeared in the press under the heading “La crítica situación de los agricultores del Distrito Crespo: David Gimón repartió las tierras a sus favoritos.” El Impulso, Mar. 9, 1936, p. 4.


Examples of this tendency include Federico Brito Figueroa, Historia económica y social de Venezuela, 2 vols. (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1966); and Gastón Carvallo and Josefina Ríos de Hernández, Temas de la Venezuela agroexportadora (Caracas: Tropykos, 1984).


El Heraldo, Mar. 18, 1936, pp. 1, 3.


El Universal (Caracas), Apr. 13, 1936, p. 9.


El Heraldo, Apr. 6, 1936, p. 1.


Rodríguez Marrufo, “Aportes.” 153.


El Heraldo, Apr. 11, 1936, pp. 1, 4.


Judith Ewell, Venezuela: A Century of Change (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1984), 76.


Gómez briefly owned half of a 125-hectare estate in southern Duaca. He made the purchase in partnership with Argenis Azuaje in 1911. but sold his share to Azuaje in 1914. RPEL, PDC, prot. 1, esc. 85, fols. 67-69, May 29, 1911; and esc. 61, fols. 57-59, Aug. 7, 1914.


Rodríguez Marrufo, “Aportes,” 154-55.


LeGrand, Frontier Expansion.


Samper, Generations of Settlers, and Lowell Gudmundson, “Peasant, Farmer, Proletarian: Class Formation in a Smallholder Coffee Economy, 1850-1950,” HAHR 69:2 (May 1989), 221-57.


Emilia Viotti da Costa, “Land Policies: The Land Law, 1850, and the Homestead Act, 1862,” in da Costa, The Brazilian Empire: Myths and Histories (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985), 78-93.


Starting points for such comparative analysis can be found in Samper, Generations of Settlers, chap. 7; Lowell Gudmundson, Costa Rica Before Coffee: Society and Economy on the Eve of the Export Boom (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1986), chap. 5; and Roseberry, “La falta de hrazos.”