Latin American Studies Caracas
by
Arturo Almandoz Marte
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0165

Introduction

The capital of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is located at the north of the country, separated from the Caribbean Sea by the Coast Range. Decades after Columbus encountered Venezuela’s mainland in 1498, the Caracas valley’s favorable location made it a military outpost along the Spanish conquerors’ eastward penetration. Diego de Losada allegedly founded the city in 1567, named Santiago de León de Caracas, the latter after the Indians who inhabited the region where the Caracas plant grew. Having been a second-rate capital of the Spanish empire, Caracas did not undergo significant change during the colonial era that ended in 1821. The 1812 earthquake and the independence and civil wars made the population stagnate from about 30,000 inhabitants in 1830 to almost 50,000 in 1873, when the first national census took place. Post-colonial sluggishness slightly changed with the governments of Antonio Guzmán Blanco (1870–1888), who Europeanized the architectural vocabulary and cultural traditions of the up to then Spain-oriented city. As the capital of an unattractive republic that exported coffee and cocoa, Caracas remained a commercial and bureaucratic outpost until the emergence of the oil economy in the 1920s. Thereafter demographic recovery manifested, with population jumping to 135,253 by 1926; meanwhile, the center crowded with commerce and tenant houses, prompting the bourgeoisie’s immigration to eastern suburbs. When Juan Vicente Gómez’s 27-year dictatorship ended with his death in 1935, the capital showed the urban effects of the petroleum boom: with a population of 203,342 and an extension of 542 hectares by 1936, rural-urban migration boosted the 45 percent demographic increase. Effects of the oil revolution were accentuated in the 1950s, when international migration flooded the sprawling metropolis, modernized by Pérez Jiménez’s public works. The main demographic increase occurred between 1961 and 1981, when population in the metropolitan area passed from 1,336,464 to 2,879,468; thousands of immigrants from southern and central Europe came to the cosmopolitan capital—also a democratic refuge for exiles from Latin American dictatorships. This attraction changed after the financial crisis started in 1983, and especially after the Caracazo—the 1989 revolts against neoliberal measures implemented at the beginning of Carlos Andrés Pérez’s second presidency. This episode unleashed political and economic instability in Caracas, especially during the Bolivarian Revolution launched by Hugo Chávez in 1999; the violent metropolis has been torn by tensions between remaining capitalism, emerging socialism, and anti-global reactions.

General Overviews

The fourth centenary of the city, commemorated in 1967, was a distinctive year for initiating overviews such as the multi-volume Estudio de Caracas (Universidad Central de Venezuela 1967) published by several specialists of the Central University on the city’s demography, environment, history, economics, government, and social and cultural aspects. Less comprehensive yet covering the city’s entire history from colonial times, other overviews ranged from the plans and graphic information compiled by De-Sola Ricardo 1967, to the narrative Meneses 1966, followed by Gasparini and Posani 1969 on urban growth and architecture. The increasingly specialized literature on the city made it difficult to offer further general overviews, as the bibliographic compendium Carrero 1979 evinced. Perhaps as a reaction to this bibliographic dispersion, an attempt, coordinated by Arráiz and Niño 2004, emulated the classic architectural review Gasparini and Posani 1969, but now including scenarios about the city’s urban growth and planning proposals. Also as an attempt to put a growing bibliography in perspective, Waale 2010 offers a selection of the most significant books about the city’s history, environment, and literature. In the domain of radio and online resources, a multifaceted overview of the current metropolis in relation to its past and from the perspectives of different disciplines and arts—sociology, economics, urban planning, literature, architecture, among others—is available through the series of interviews compiled in La ciudad deseada.

  • Arráiz, Rafael, and William Niño, eds. Santiago de León de Caracas 1567–2030. Caracas: Exxon Mobil de Venezuela, Editorial Arte, 2004.

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    The first part of the large-format volume provides historical chapters on the city’s evolution since colonial times, elaborated by period specialists who combine primary sources with excellent illustrations. The second part features the city’s plans and scenarios of urban growth drawn from interviews with experts.

  • Carrero, María, ed. Aportes para una Bibliografía sobre Caracas. Caracas, Venezuela: Instituto Autónomo Biblioteca Nacional y de Servicios de Bibliotecas, Gobernación del Distrito Federal, 1979.

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    Despite its remote date of publication, this guide remains a useful reference work, especially for including hemerografía—i.e., newspaper and journal articles—that was difficult to put together in the pre-digital era. It also includes a corpus of early-20th-century chroniclers that are long since out of print.

  • De-Sola Ricardo, Irma. Contribución al estudio de los planos de Caracas. Caracas, Venezuela: Ediciones del Cuatricentenario de Caracas, 1967.

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    In an extensive oblong format, this compilation features 135 plans of the city from Pimentel’s 1578 sketch through 1960s subdivisions of the metropolitan area. The collection is completed by thirty-five maps of the Caracas “province” and “state” that successively integrated Venezuelan territory in colonial and republican times.

  • Gasparini, Graziano, and Juan Pedro Posani. Caracas a través de su arquitectura. Caracas, Venezuela: Fundación Fina Gómez, 1969.

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    This was the first academic approach to the city’s urban and architectural history since colonial times, distinguishing the morphological and stylistic renewal of Guzmán Blanco’s capital, followed by the modernistic image that emerged from the oil boom and Pérez Juménez’s public works.

  • La ciudad deseada.

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    Resulting from the radio program hosted by William Niño and Federico Vegas since the 1990s, this blog compiles penetrating interviews with artists and specialists on Caracas. Since the program is no longer on the air, the much-visited website has become a useful source on urban topics, especially for students.

  • Meneses, Guillermo. Caracas en la novela venezolana. Caracas, Venezuela: Fundación Eugenio Mendoza, 1966.

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    Though nowadays insufficient—given its early date of publication—this essay remains the first attempt to sample the narrative imagery about the city since the late 19th century through the 1950s, with excerpts from the chronicles and novels.

  • Universidad Central de Venezuela. Estudio de Caracas. 8 vols. Caracas, Venezuela: Ediciones de la Biblioteca, 1967.

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    Volumes deal with the physical environment and population; historical framework, technology, and economy; ecology; family organization and social stratification; religious, cultural, and intellectual life; personality, education, and linguistics; health and social problems; and government and politics. Most of those subjects refer to the metropolitan structure of the 1960s.

  • Waale, Ricardo. Libros de Caracas: Apreciaciones sobre algunos libros significativos de la ciudad. Caracas, Venezuela: Fundación Bancaribe, 2010.

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    Resulting from an exhibition organized in 2007, on the 440th anniversary of Caracas, this catalogue provides a debatable yet substantial selection of sixty-six books focused on the city. They include architecture and urbanism, natural environment, history and chronicle, photography, gastronomy, literature, and music.

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