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The Blockade of Venezuela

In 1902, writes Norman Wilkinson, a revolutionary dictator named Castro provoked an Anglo-German naval demonstration off the coast of Venezuela.

Looking back sixty years later at the brief episode in the winter of 1902-3, when three Powers blockaded the coast of Venezuela and seven others then joined them in insisting on a settlement of their claims, one is struck by the transformation that has come over the relations between the countries now called “developing” and those called “donor.”

At the beginning of this century, no major Powers were interested in providing technical assistance to a less highly evolved State; what they were interested in was to ensure that their nationals, traders and concessionaries were not molested in their legitimate efforts to make their living and, in the process, siphon off a share of the wealth of the country. The benefit, often immense, that was derived by the less developed country was a by-product.

At the turn of the century, Venezuela was still one of the poorer countries of Latin America. Ever since the sixteenth century Europeans had believed that “El Dorado” lay in this part of the continent; but none had fully grasped that it was “the black gold” that was to make Venezuela wealthy.

Nevertheless, there were profits to be made; and, during a relatively tranquil period in Venezuelan history, President Guzman Blanco had invited a number of foreign firms to enter the country and set up harbour works, electricity plants and other public utilities.

A United States shipping company had a concession to carry mails, and another had introduced the telephone; there were British and German railways, a French cable company and Belgian waterworks; holders of Venezuelan bonds were scattered through many countries—and suffered many anguished moments.

The regime of Guzman Blanco was followed by six years of military government] under General Joaquin Crespo, whose overthrow in 1898 ushered in a period of special turbulence, during which foreign interests suffered severely.

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