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Introduction to Ayers Braach letter

Module by: David Messmer. E-mail the author

This letter, dated December 18th, 1861 discusses the failed business venture of a U.S. entrepreneur, Ayers Braach, who had attempted to establish a sewing machine business in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. That such a venture would fail should come as no surprise, given the volatile social situation in Venezuela at the time of the venture, which began in “1859 or so.”

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, Venezuela’s political situation, which had lacked stability for several decades following its declaration of independence from Spain in 1811, reached a level of turmoil that was exceptional even for the country’s chaotic history. Following a brief period of relative stability under the leadership of José Antonio Páez, the country spent the last few years of the 1840s and most of the 1850s under the self-serving and iron fisted Presidency of José Tadeo Monagas. In 1857 Monagas, having already forcibly replaced the Conservative Congress with Liberals, rewrote the Venezuelan Constitution so that he could serve consecutive terms as president, thus consolidating his power. This move backfired, however, as the Liberals and Conservatives united to oppose Monagas’ power grab, ousting the President and replacing him with Julián Castro as provisional president and, in so doing sparking a new wave of political and social instability. 1

The credibility of the Conservative/Liberal coalition was undermined by the fact that “[t]he only thing the Liberals and Conservatives had in common was their opposition to Monagas” (Marsland 193). Also, Monagas himself had fled to the French Embassy in Caracas where, despite intense pressure to turn the former president over to Venezuelan authorities, the French ambassador continued to provide sanctuary. This led to a national incident as the French declared that “an attack against Monagas would be considered an affront to most of the civilized world,” eventually leading to French and British ships blockading Venezuelan ports to assure that their declaration was being upheld (Marsland 193).

With the government’s credibility quickly deteriorating, several groups of revolutionaries saw an opportunity for power. Eventually two generals emerged, Ezequiel Zamora and Juan Falcón, to lead the revolutionaries (Federalists) against the current regime (Centralists). While contending with this external pressure, the Centralists also had to deal with internal tensions, beginning with the imprisonment of Castro for his own Federalist leanings. Vice-President Manuel Felipe de Tovar replaced Castro, but he refused to act as a dictator, which many believed was what was called for under the circumstances. In the face of this pressure Tovar resigned from the presidency, which eventually led to Páez, whom Monagas had exiled but who had now returned to Venezuala, taking over as dictator on August 29, 1861. Finally, in 1863, the conflict ended and Falcón, the leader of the Federalists, became the new president while Páez agreed to leave the country.

Braach’s letter, then, was written just a few months after Páez had claimed the dictatorship. Whether it was this event that finally convinced Braach to abandon his business venture or not is difficult to determine, but it is clear that his belief that, “the people of this country are not sensible enough” as well as his failure to successfully start a sewing business in Caracas both probably stemmed from the intense turmoil that had engulfed the Venezuelan capital.

Footnotes

  1. 1Marsland, William D. and Amy L. Marsland. Venezuela Through Its History. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York: 1954.

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