Eugenio Piñero has written a difficult to read but interesting study of the colonial cacao economies of the province of Caracas. From the beginning, the author makes clear his intention to use the staple thesis model to disprove the basic arguments put forward by so-called dependentistas. For Piñero, cacao production in the province of Caracas did not depend on foreign interests; rather, local capital, producers, and merchants controlled significant parts of the economy. Their activities, in turn, motivated linkages with local cattle producers for meat and hides used in packing the cacao beans for market, and with agriculturists who supplied foodstuffs and the like. Cacao, furthermore, stimulated intraregional trade, which led to an expansion of transportation by mule train, canoe, and ship. Finally, these linkages allowed Venezuelans to produce most of what they consumed.
In large part, the success of the Caracas cacao interests stemmed from the opening of the Veracruz market for their product. Because of a collapse in Mexican and Central American cacao production, Caraqueños sent cacao in sacks or loose in bulk to Veracruz. But this did not lead to any forward linkages with the Mexican market. Venezuelans did not send either paste or chocolate. The nature of cacao allowed Venezuelans to move into the Veracruz trade quickly. Cacao grew wild in the river valleys of Caracas, and the planting and harvesting of trees did not pose a particularly arduous burden. The commodity did not take a great deal of capital to develop, so individuals with limited resources could undertake its production. Even slaves produced significant amounts of the beans. Smugglers and the proximity of the Dutch market in Curaçao further stimulated cacao expansion.
The author has made good use of what tax, trade, and economic data he could ferret out of Venezuelan archives. Although incomplete, his data tend to support his thesis that cacao production grew as a result of local factors and did not depend on foreigners to benefit the region. His central argument emerges from information he collected on the town of San Felipe. In general his information, although somewhat sketchy, gives a consistent picture of how the cacao trade functioned, whom it benefited, and in what ways it affected local economies.
Much of the text deals with ancillary subjects. For instance, Piñero discusses in detail the demise of cacao production in Veracruz and Central America and, in a similar manner, describes how Ecuadorean and Venezuelan growers entered the Veracruz market. Further discussions of transportation, prices, and production levels fill the book with useful information. Thus full of facts and driven by a compelling argument, the book nevertheless suffers from redundancy and poor organization. Dry economic history makes for hard reading. Frequent mistakes mar the text. Maps would have helped readers situate themselves and comprehend the nature of the economy Piñero describes.