Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, by Alexander von Humboldt

Chapter 27.

Political State of the Provinces of Venezuela. Extent of Territory. Population. Natural Productions. External Trade. Communications between the Different Provinces Comprising the Republic of Columbia.

Before I quit the coasts of Terra Firma and draw the attention of the reader to the political importance of Cuba, the largest of the West India Islands, I will collect into one point of view all those facts which may lead to a just appreciation of the future relations of commercial Europe with the united Provinces of Venezuela. When, soon after my return to Germany, I published the Essai Politique sur la Nouvelle–Espagne, I at the same time made known some of the facts I had collected in relation to the territorial riches of South America. This comparative view of the population, agriculture and commerce of all the Spanish colonies was formed at a period when the progress of civilization was restrained by the imperfection of social institutions, the prohibitory system and other fatal errors in the science of government. Since the time when I developed the immense resources which the people of both North and South America might derive from their own position and their relations with commercial Europe and Asia, one of those great revolutions which from time to time agitate the human race has changed the state of society in the vast regions through which I travelled. The continental part of the New World is at present in some sort divided between three nations of European origin; one (and that the most powerful) is of Germanic race: the two others belong by their language, their literature, and their manners to Latin Europe. Those parts of the old world which advance farthest westward, the Spanish Peninsula and the British Islands, are those of which the colonies are most extensive; but four thousand leagues of coast, inhabited solely by the descendants of Spaniards and Portuguese, attest the superiority which in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the peninsular nations had acquired, by their maritime expeditions, over the navigators of other countries. It may be fairly asserted that their languages, which prevail from California to the Rio de la Plata and along the back of the Cordilleras, as well as in the forests of the Amazon, are monuments of national glory that will survive every political revolution.

The inhabitants of Spanish and Portuguese America form together a population twice as numerous as the inhabitants of English race. The French, Dutch, and Danish possessions of the new continent are of small extent; but, to complete the general view of the nations which may influence the destiny of the other hemisphere, we ought not to forget the colonists of Scandinavian origin who are endeavouring to form settlements from the peninsula of Alashka as far as California; and the free Africans of Hayti who have verified the prediction made by the Milanese traveller Benzoni in 1545. The situation of these Africans in an island more than three times the size of Sicily, in the middle of the West Indian Mediterranean, augments their political importance. Every friend of humanity prays for the development of the civilization which is advancing in so calm and unexpected a manner. As yet Russian America is less like an agricultural colony than the factories established by Europeans on the coast of Africa, to the great misfortune of the natives; they contain only military posts, stations of fishermen, and Siberian hunters. It is a curious phenomenon to find the rites of the Greek Church established in one part of America and to see two nations which inhabit the eastern and western extremities of Europe (the Russians and the Spaniards) thus bordering on each other on a continent on which they arrived by opposite routes; but the almost savage state of the unpeopled coasts of Ochotsk and Kamtschatka, the want of resources furnished by the ports of Asia, and the barbarous system hitherto adopted in the Scandinavian colonies of the New World, are circumstances which will hold them long in infancy. Hence it follows that if in the researches of political economy we are accustomed to survey masses only, we cannot but admit that the American continent is divided, properly speaking, between three great nations of English, Spanish, and Portuguese race. The first of these three nations, the Anglo–Americans, is, next to the English of Europe, that whose flag waves over the greatest extent of sea. Without any distant colonies, its commerce has acquired a growth attained in the old world by that nation alone which communicated to North America its language, its literature, its love of labour, its predilection for liberty, and a portion of its civil institutions.

The English and Portuguese colonists have peopled only the coasts which lie opposite to Europe; the Castilians, on the contrary, in the earliest period of the conquest, crossed the chain of the Andes and made settlements in the most western regions. There only, at Mexico, Cundinamarca, Quito and Peru, they found traces of ancient civilization, agricultural nations and flourishing empires. This circumstance, together with the increase of the native mountain population, the almost exclusive possession of great metallic wealth, and the commercial relations established from the beginning of the sixteenth century with the Indian archipelago, have given a peculiar character to the Spanish possessions in equinoctial America. In the East Indies, the people who fell into the hands of the English and Portuguese settlers were wandering tribes or hunters. Far from forming a portion of the agricultural and laborious population, as on the tableland of Anahuac, at Guatimala and in Upper Peru, they generally withdrew at the approach of the whites. The necessity of labour, the preference given to the cultivation of the sugar-cane, indigo, and cotton, the cupidity which often accompanies and degrades industry, gave birth to that infamous slave-trade, the consequences of which have been alike fatal to the old and the new world. Happily, in the continental part of Spanish America, the number of African slaves is so inconsiderable that, compared with the slave population of Brazil, or with that of the southern part of the United States, it is found to be in the proportion of one to fourteen. The whole of the Spanish colonies, without excluding the islands of Cuba and Porto Rico, have not, over a surface which exceeds at least by one-fifth that of Europe, as many negroes as the single state of Virginia. The Spanish Americans, in the union of New Spain and Guatimala, present an example, unique in the torrid zone, namely, a nation of eight millions of inhabitants governed conformably with European institutions and laws, cultivating sugar, cacao, wheat and grapes, and having scarcely a slave brought from Africa.

The population of the New Continent as yet surpasses but little that of France or Germany. It doubles in the United States in twenty-three or twenty-five years; and at Mexico, even under the government of the mother country, it doubles in forty or forty-five years. Without indulging too flattering hopes of the future, it may be admitted that in less than a century and a half the population of America will equal that of Europe. This noble rivalry in civilization and the arts of industry and commerce, far from impoverishing the old continent, as has often been supposed it might at the expense of the new one, will augment the wants of the consumer, the mass of productive labour, and the activity of exchange. Doubtless, in consequence of the great revolutions which human society undergoes, the public fortune, the common patrimony of civilization, is found differently divided among the nations of the old and the new world: but by degrees the equilibrium is restored; and it is a fatal, I had almost said an impious prejudice, to consider the growing prosperity of any other part of our planet as a calamity to Europe. The independence of the colonies will not contribute to isolate them from the old civilized nations, but will rather bring all more closely together. Commerce tends to unite countries which a jealous policy has long separated. It is the nature of civilization to go forward without any tendency to decline in the spot that gave it birth. Its progress from east to west, from Asia to Europe, proves nothing against this axiom. A clear light loses none of its brilliancy by being diffused over a wider space. Intellectual cultivation, that fertile source of national wealth, advances by degrees and extends without being displaced. Its movement is not a migration: and though it may seem to be such in the east, it is because barbarous hordes possessed themselves of Egypt, Asia Minor, and of once free Greece, the forsaken cradle of the civilization of our ancestors.

The barbarism of nations is the consequence of oppression exercised by internal despotism or foreign conquest; and it is always accompanied by progressive impoverishment, by a diminution of the public fortune. Free and powerful institutions, adapted to the interests of all, remove these dangers; and the growing civilization of the world, the competition of labour and of trade, are not the ruin of states whose welfare flows from a natural source. Productive and commercial Europe will profit by the new order of things in Spanish America, as it would profit from events that might put an end to barbarism in Greece, on the northern coast of Africa and in other countries subject to Ottoman tyranny. What most menaces the prosperity of the ancient continent is the prolongation of those intestine struggles which check production and diminish at the same time the number and wants of consumers. This struggle, begun in Spanish America six years after my departure, is drawing gradually to an end. We shall soon see both shores of the Atlantic peopled by independent nations, ruled by different forms of Government, but united by the remembrance of a common origin, uniformity of language, and the wants which civilization creates. It may be said that the immense progress of the art of navigation has contracted the boundaries of the seas. The Atlantic already assumes the form of a narrow channel which no more removes the New World from the commercial states of Europe, than the Mediterranean, in the infancy of navigation, removed the Greeks of Peloponnesus from those of Ionia, Sicily, and the Cyrenaic region.

I have thought it right to enter into these general considerations on the future connection of the two continents, before tracing the political sketch of the provinces of Venezuela. These provinces, governed till 1810 by a captain-general residing at Caracas, are now united to the old viceroyalty of New Grenada, or Santa Fe, under the name of the Republic of Columbia. I will not anticipate the description which I shall have hereafter to give of New Grenada; but, in order to render my observations on the statistics of Venezuela more useful to those who would judge of the political importance of the country and the advantages it may offer to the trade of Europe, even in its present unadvanced state of cultivation, I will describe the United Provinces of Venezuela in their relations with Cundinamarca, or New Grenada, and as forming part of the new state of Columbia. M. Bonpland and I passed nearly three years in the country which now forms the territory of the republic of Columbia; sixteen months in Venezuela and eighteen in New Grenada. We crossed the territory in its whole extent; on one hand from the mountains of Paria as far as Esmeralda on the Upper Orinoco, and San Carlo del Rio Negro, situated near the frontiers of Brazil; and on the other, from Rio Sinu and Carthagena as far as the snowy summits of Quito, the port of Guayaquil on the coast of the Pacific, and the banks of the Amazon in the province of Jaen de Bracamoros. So long a stay and an expedition of one thousand three hundred leagues in the interior of the country, of which more than six hundred and fifty were by water, have furnished me with a pretty accurate knowledge of local circumstances.

I am aware that travellers, who have recently visited America, regard its progress as far more rapid than my statistical researches seem to indicate. For the year 1913 they promise one hundred and twelve millions of inhabitants in Mexico, of which they believe that the population is doubled every twenty-two years; and during the same interval one hundred and forty millions in the United States. These numbers, I confess, do not appear to me to be alarming from the motives that may excite fear among the disciples of Malthus. It is possible that some time or other, two or three hundred millions of men may find subsistence in the vast extent of the new continent between the lake of Nicaragua and lake Ontario. I admit that the United States will contain above eighty millions of inhabitants a hundred years hence, allowing a progressive change in the period of doubling from twenty-five to thirty-five and forty years; but, notwithstanding the elements of prosperity to be found in equinoctial America, I doubt whether the increase of the population in Venezuela, Spanish Guiana, New Grenada and Mexico can be in general so rapid as in the United States. The latter, which are situated entirely in the temperate zone, destitute of high chains of mountains, embrace an immense extent of country easy of cultivation. The hordes of Indian hunters flee both from the colonists, whom they abhor, and the methodist missionaries, who oppose their taste for indolence and a vagabond life. The more fertile land of Spanish America produces indeed on the same surface a greater amount of nutritive substances. On the table lands of the equinoctial regions wheat doubtless yields annually from twenty to twenty-four for one; but Cordilleras furrowed by almost inaccessible crevices, bare and arid steppes, forests that resist both the axe and fire, and an atmosphere filled with venomous insects, will long present powerful obstacles to agriculture and industry. The most active and enterprising colonists cannot, in the mountainous districts of Merida, Antioquia, and Los Pastos, in the llanos of Venezuela and Guaviare, in the forests of the Rio Magdalena, the Orinoco, and the province of Las Esmeraldas, west of Quito, extend their agricultural conquests as they have done in the woody plains westward of the Alleghenies, from the sources of the Ohio, the Tennessee and the Alabama, as far as the banks of the Missouri and the Arkansas. Calling to mind the account of my voyage on the Orinoco, it may be easy to appreciate the obstacles which nature opposes to the efforts of man in hot and humid climates. In Mexico, large extents of soil are destitute of springs; rain seldom falls, and the want of navigable rivers impedes communication. As the ancient native population is agricultural, and had been so long before the arrival of the Spaniards, the lands most easy of access and cultivation have already their proprietors. Fertile tracts of country, at the disposal of the first occupier, or ready to be sold in lots for the profit of the state, are much less common than Europeans imagine. Hence it follows that the progress of colonization cannot be everywhere as free and rapid in Spanish America as it has hitherto been in the western provinces of the United States. The population of that union is composed wholly of whites, and of negros, who, having been torn from their country, or born in the New World, have become the instruments of the industry of the whites. In Mexico, Guatimala, Quito, and Peru, on the contrary, there exist in our day more than five millions and a half of natives of copper-coloured race, whose isolated position, partly forced and partly voluntary, together with their attachment to ancient habits, and their mistrustful inflexibility of character, will long prevent their participation in the progress of the public prosperity, notwithstanding the efforts employed to disindianize them.

I dwell on the differences between the free states of temperate and equinoctial America, to show that the latter have to contend against obstacles connected with their physical and moral position; and to remind the reader that the countries embellished with the most varied and precious productions of nature, are not always susceptible of an easy, rapid, and uniformly extended cultivation. If we consider the limits which the population may attain as depending solely on the quantity of subsistence which the land is capable of producing, the most simple calculations would prove the preponderance of the communities established in the fine regions of the torrid zone; but political economy, or the positive science of government, is distrustful of ciphers and vain abstractions. We know that by the multiplication of one family only, a continent previously desert may reckon in the space of eight centuries more than eight millions of inhabitants; and yet these estimates, founded on the hypothesis of a continuous doubling in twenty-five or thirty years, are contradicted by the history of every country already advanced in civilization. The destinies which await the free states of Spanish America are too glorious to require to be embellished by illusions and chimerical calculations.

Among the thirty-four million inhabitants spread over the vast surface of continental America, in which estimate are comprised the savage natives, we distinguish, according to the three preponderant races, sixteen millions and a half in the possessions of the Spanish Americans, ten millions in those of the Anglo–Americans, and nearly four millions in those of the Portuguese Americans. The population of these three great divisions is, at the present time, in the proportion of 4, 2 1/2, 1; while the extent of surface over which the population is spread is, as the numbers 1.5, 0.7, 1. The area of the United States* is nearly one-fourth greater than that of Russia west of the Ural mountains; and Spanish America is in the same proportion more extensive than the whole of Europe. The United States contain five-eighths of the proportion of the Spanish possessions, and yet their area is not one-half so large. Brazil comprehends tracts of country so desert toward the west that over an extent only a third less than that of Spanish America its population is in the proportion of one to four. The following table contains the results of an attempt which I made, conjointly with M. Mathieu, member of the Academy of Sciences, and of the Bureau des Longitudes, to estimate with precision the extent of the surface of the various states of America. We made use of maps on which the limits had been corrected according to the statements published in my Recueil d’Observations Astronomiques. Our scales were, generally speaking, so large that spaces from four to five leagues square were not omitted. We observed this degree of precision that we might not add the uncertainty of the measure of triangles, trapeziums, and the sinuosities of the coasts, to the uncertainty of geographical statements.

[* Notwithstanding the political changes which have taken place in the South American colonies, I shall throughout this work designate the country inhabited by the Spanish Americans by the denomination of Spanish America. I call the country of the Anglo–Americans the United States, without adding of North America, although other United States exist in South America. It is embarrassing to speak of nations who play a great part on the scene of the world without having collective names. The term American can no longer be applied solely to the citizens of the United States of North America; and it were to be wished that the nomenclature of the independent nations of the New Continent should be fixed in a manner at once convenient, harmonious, and precise.]

1. Possessions of the Spanish Americans 371,380 16,785,000.
Mexico or New Spain 75,830 6,800,000.
Guatemala 16,740 1,600,000.
Cuba and Porto Rico 4,430 800,000.
Columbia — Venezuela 33,700 785,000.
Columbia — New Grenada and Quito 58,250 2,000,000.
Peru 41,420 1,400,000.
Chili 14,240 1,100,000.
Buenos Ayres 126,770 2,300,000.
2. Possessions of the Portuguese Americans (Brazil) 256,990 4,000,000.
3. Possessions of the Anglo–Americans (United States) 174,300 10,220,000.

From the statistical researches which have been made in several countries of Europe, important results have been obtained by a comparison of the relative population of maritime and inland provinces. In Spain these relations are to one another as nine to five; in the United Provinces of Venezuela, and, above all, in the ancient Capitania–General of Caracas, they are as thirty-five to one. How powerful soever may be the influence of commerce on the prosperity of states, and the intellectual development of nations, it would be wrong to attribute in America, as we do in Europe, to that cause alone the differences just mentioned. In Spain and Italy, if we except the fertile plains of Lombardy, the inland districts are arid and abounding in mountains or high table-lands: the meteorological circumstances on which the fertility of the soil depends are not the same in the lands bordering on the sea, as they are in the central provinces. Colonization in America has generally begun on the coast, and advanced slowly towards the interior; such is its progress in Brazil and in Venezuela. It is only where the coast is unhealthy, as in Mexico and New Grenada, or sandy and exempt from rain as in Peru, that the population is concentrated on the mountains, and the table-lands of the interior. These local circumstances are too often overlooked in considerations on the future fate of the Spanish colonies; they communicate a peculiar character to some of those countries, the physical and moral analogies of which are less striking than is commonly supposed. Considered with reference to the distribution of the population, the two provinces of New Grenada and Venezuela, which have been united in one political body, exhibit the most complete contrast. Their capitals (and the position of capitals always denotes where population is most concentrated) are at such unequal distances from the trading coasts of the Caribbean Sea, that the town of Caracas, to be placed on the same parallel with Santa–Fe de Bogota, must be transplanted southward to the junction of the Orinoco with the Guaviare, where the mission of San Fernando de Atabapo is situated.

The republic of Columbia is, with Mexico and Guatemala, the only state of Spanish America which occupies at once the coasts opposite to Europe and to Asia. From Cape Paria to the western extremity of Veragua is a distance of 400 sea leagues: and from Cape Burica to the mouth of Rio Tumbez the distance is 260. The shore possessed by the republic of Columbia consequently equals in length the line of coasts extending from Cadiz to Dantzic, or from Ceuta to Jaffa. This immense resource for national industry is combined with a degree of cultivation of which the importance has not hitherto been sufficiently acknowledged. The isthmus of Panama forms part of the territory of Columbia, and that neck of land, if traversed by good roads and stocked with camels, may one day serve as a portage for the commerce of the world, even though the plains of Cupica, the bay of Mandinga or the Rio Chagre should not afford the possibility of a canal for the passage of vessels proceeding from Europe to China,* or from the United States to the north-west coast of America.

[* The old vice-royalty of Buenos Ayres extended also along a small portion of the South Sea coast.]

When considering the influence which the configuration of countries (that is, the elevation and the form of coasts) exercises in every district on the progress of civilization and the destiny of nations, I have pointed out the disadvantages of those vast masses of triangular continents, which, like Africa and the greater part of South America, are destitute of gulfs and inland seas. It cannot be doubted that the existence of the Mediterranean has been closely connected with the first dawn of human cultivation among the nations of the west, and that the articulated form of the land, the frequency of its contractions and the concatenation of peninsulas favoured the civilization of Greece, Italy, and perhaps of all Europe westward of the meridian of the Propontis. In the New World the uninterruptedness of the coasts and the monotony of their straight lines are most remarkable in Chili and Peru. The shore of Columbia is more varied, and its spacious gulfs, such as that of Paria, Cariaco, Maracaybo, and Darien, were, at the time of the first discovery better peopled than the rest and facilitated the interchange of productions. That shore possesses an incalculable advantage in being washed by the Caribbean Sea, a kind of inland sea with several outlets, and the only one pertaining to the New Continent. This basin, whose various shores form portions of the United States, of the republic of Columbia, of Mexico and several maritime powers of Europe, gives birth to a peculiar and exclusively American system of trade. The south-east of Asia with its neighbouring archipelago and, above all, the state of the Mediterranean in the time of the Phoenician and Greek colonies, prove that the nearness of opposite coasts, not having the same productions and not inhabited by nations of different races, exercises a happy influence on commercial industry and intellectual cultivation. The importance of the inland Caribbean Sea, bounded by Venezuela on the south, will be further augmented by the progressive increase of population on the banks of the Mississippi; for that river, the Rio del Norte and the Magdalena are the only great navigable streams which the Caribbean Sea receives. The depth of the American rivers, their immense branches, and the use of steam-boats, everywhere facilitated by the proximity of forests, will, to a certain extent, compensate for the obstacles which the uniform line of the coasts and the general configuration of the continent oppose to the progress of industry and civilization.

On comparing the extent of the territory with the absolute population, we obtain the result of the connection of those two elements of public prosperity, a connection that constitutes the relative population of every state in the New World. We shall find to every square sea league, in Mexico, 90; in the United States, 58; in the republic of Columbia, 30; and in Brazil, 15 inhabitants; while Asiatic Russia furnishes 11; the whole Russian Empire, 87; Sweden with Norway, 90; European Russia, 320; Spain, 763; and France, 1778. But these estimates of relative population, when applied to countries of immense extent, and of which a great part is entirely uninhabited, merely furnish mathematical abstractions of but little value. In countries uniformly cultivated — in France, for example — the number of inhabitants to the square league, calculated by separate departments, is in general only a third, more or less, than the relative population of the sum of all the departments. Even in Spain the deviations from the average number rise, with few exceptions, only from half to double. In America, on the contrary, it is only in the Atlantic states, from South Carolina to New Hampshire, that the population begins to spread with any uniformity. In that most civilized portion of the New World, from 130 to 900 inhabitants are reckoned to the square league, while the relative population on all the Atlantic states, considered together, is 240. The extremes (North Carolina and Massachusetts) are only in the relation of 1 to 7, nearly as in France, where the extremes, in the departments of the Hautes Alpes and the Cote-du-Nord are also in the relation of 1 to 6.7. The variations from the average number, which we generally find restricted to narrow limits in the civilized countries of Europe, exceed all measure in Brazil, in the Spanish colonies and even in the confederation of the United States, in its whole extent. We find in Mexico in some of the intendencias, for example, La Sonora and Durango, from 9 to 15 inhabitants to the square league, while in others, on the central table-land, there are more than 500. The relative population of the country situated between the eastern bank of the Mississippi and the Atlantic states is scarcely 47; while that of Connecticut, Rhode island, and Massachusetts is more than 800. Westward of the Mississippi as well as in the interior of Spanish Guiana there are not two inhabitants to the square league over much larger extents of territory than Switzerland or Belgium. The state of these countries is like that of the Russian Empire, where the relative population of some of the Asiatic governments (Irkutsk and Tobolsk) is to that of the best cultivated European districts as 1 to 300.

The enormous difference existing, in countries newly cultivated, between the extent of territory and the number of inhabitants, renders these partial estimates necessary. When we learn that New Spain and the United States, taking their entire extent at 75,000 and 174,000 square sea-leagues, give respectively 90 and 58 souls to each league, we no more obtain a correct idea of that distribution of the population on which the political power of nations depends, than we should of the climate of a country, that is to say, of the distribution of the heat in the different seasons, by the mere knowledge of the mean temperature of the whole year. If we take from the United States all their possessions west of the Mississippi, their relative population would be 121 instead of 58 to the square league; consequently much greater than that of New Spain. Taking from the latter country the Provincias internas (north and north-east of Nueva Galicia) we should find 190 instead of 90 souls to the square league.

The provinces of Caracas, Maracaybo, Cumana and Barcelona, that is, the maritime provinces of the north, are the most populous of the old Capitania–General of Caracas; but, in comparing this relative population with that of New Spain, where the two intendencias of Mexico and Puebla alone contain, on an extent scarcely equal to the superficies of the province of Caracas, a greater population than that of the whole republic of Columbia, we see that some Mexican intendencias which, with respect to the concentration of their culture, occupy but the seventh or eighth rank (Zacatecas and Guadalajara), contain more inhabitants to the square league than the province of Caracas. The average of the relative population of Cumana, Barcelona, Caracas and Maracaybo, is fifty-six; and, as 6200 square leagues, that is, one half of the extent of these four provinces are almost desert Llanos, we find, in reckoning the superficies and the scanty population of the plains, 102 inhabitants to the square league. An analogous modification gives the province of Caracas alone a relative population of 208, that is, only one-seventh less than that of the Atlantic States of North America.

As in political economy numerical statements become instructive only by a comparison with analogous facts I have carefully examined what, in the present state of the two continents, might be considered as a small relative population in Europe, and a very great relative population in America. I have, however, chosen examples only from among the provinces which have a continued surface of more than 600 square leagues in order to exclude the accidental accumulations of population which occur around great cities; for instance, on the coast of Brazil, in the valley of Mexico, on the table-lands of Santa Fe de Bogota and Cuzco; or finally, in the smaller West India Islands (Barbadoes, Martinique and St. Thomas) of which the relative population is from 3000 to 4700 inhabitants to the square league, and consequently equal to the most fertile parts of Holland, France and Lombardy.



The four least populous Governments of European Russia: Archangel: 10. Olonez: 42. Wologda and Astracan: 52. Finland: 106.

The least populous Province of Spain, that of Cuenca: 311.

The Duchy of Luneburg (on account of the heaths): 550.

The least populous Department of Continental France: 758. (Hautes Alps)

Departments of France thinly peopled (the Creuse,: 1300. the Var and the Aude)


The central part of the Intendencias of: 1300. Mexico and Puebla, above

In the United States, Massachusetts, but having only 522 square leagues of surface: 900.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, together: 840.

The whole Intendencia of Puebla: 540.

The whole Intendencia of Mexico: 460.

These two Mexican Intendencias together are nearly a third of the superficial extent of France, with a suitable population (in 1823 nearly 2,800,000 souls) to prevent the towns of Mexico and Puebla from having a sensible influence on the relative population.

Northern part of the Province of Caracas: 208. (without the Llanos)

This table shows that those parts of America which we now consider as the most populous attain the relative population of the kingdom of Navarre, of Galicia and the Asturias, which, next to the province of Guipuscoa, and the kingdom of Valencia, reckon the greatest number of inhabitants to the square league in all Spain; the maximum of America is, however, below the relative population of the whole of France (1778 to the square league), and would, in the latter country, be considered as a very thin population. If, taking a survey of the whole surface of America, we direct our attention to the Capitania–General of Venezuela, we find that the most populous of its subdivisions, the province of Caracas, considered as a whole, without excepting the Llanos, has, as yet, only the relative population of Tennessee; and that this province, without the Llanos, furnishes in its northern part, or more than 1800 square leagues, the relative population of South Carolina. Those 1800 square leagues, the centre of agriculture, are twice as numerously peopled as Finland, but still a third less than the province of Cuenca, which is the least populous of all Spain. We cannot dwell on this result without a painful feeling. Such is the state to which colonial politics and maladministration have, during three centuries, reduced a country which, for natural wealth, may vie with all that is most wonderful on earth. For a region equally desert, we must look either to the frozen regions of the north, or westward of the Allegheny mountains towards the forests of Tennessee, where the first clearings have only begun within the last eighty years!

The most cultivated part of the province of Caracas, the basin of the lake of Valencia, commonly called Los Valles de Aragua, contained in 1810 nearly 2000 inhabitants to the square league. Supposing a relative population three times less, and taking off from the whole surface of the Capitania–General nearly 24,000 square leagues as being occupied by the Llanos and the forests of Guiana, and, therefore, presenting great obstacles to agricultural labourers, we should still obtain a population of six millions for the remaining 9700 square leagues. Those who, like myself, have lived long within the tropics, will find no exaggeration in these calculations; for I suppose for the portion the most easily cultivated a relative population equal to that in the intendencias of Puebla and Mexico,* full of barren mountains, and extending towards the coast of the Pacific over regions almost desert. If the territories of Cumana, Barcelona, Caracas, Maracaybo, Varinas and Guiana should be destined hereafter to enjoy good provincial and municipal institutions as confederate states, they will not require a century and a half to attain a population of six millions of inhabitants. Venezuela, the eastern part of the republic of Columbia, would not, even with nine millions, have a more considerable population than Old Spain; and can it be doubted that that part of Venezuela which is most fertile and easy of cultivation, that is, the 10,000 square leagues remaining after deducting the Llanos and the almost impenetrable forests between the Orinoco and the Cassiquiare, could support in the fine climate of the tropics as many inhabitants as 10,000 square leagues of Estramadura, the Castiles, and other provinces of the table-land of Spain? These predictions are by no means problematical, inasmuch as they are founded on physical analogies and on the productive power of the soil; but before we can indulge the hope that they will be actually accomplished, we must be secure of another element less susceptible of calculation — that national wisdom which subdues hostile passions, destroys the germs of civil discord and gives stability to free and energetic institutions.

[* These two Intendencias contain together 5520 square leagues and a relative population of 508 inhabitants to the square sea-league.]

When we take a view of the soil of Venezuela and New Grenada we perceive that no other country of Spanish America furnishes commerce with such various and rich productions of the vegetable kingdom. If we add the harvests of the province of Caracas to those of Guayaquil, we find that the republic of Columbia alone can furnish nearly all the cacao annually demanded by Europe. The union of Venezuela and New Grenada has also placed in the hands of one people the greater part of the quinquina exported from the New Continent. The temperate mountains of Merida, Santa Fe, Popayan, Quito and Loxa produce the finest qualities of this febrifugal bark hitherto known. I might swell the list of these valuable productions by the coffee and indigo of Caracas, so long esteemed in commerce; the sugar, cotton and flour of Bogota; the ipecacuanha of the banks of the Magdelena; the tobacco of Varinas; the Cortex Angosturae of Caroni; the balsam of the plains of Tolu; the skins and dried provisions of the Llanos; the pearls of Panama, Rio Hacha and Marguerita; and finally the gold of Popayan and the platinum which is nowhere found in abundance but at Choco and Barbacoa: but conformably with the plan I have adopted, I shall confine myself to the old Capitania–General of Caracas.

Owing to a peculiar disposition of the soil in Venezuela the three zones of agricultural, pastoral and hunting-life succeed each other from north to south along the coast in the direction of the equator. Advancing in that direction we may be said to traverse, in respect to space, the different stages through which the human race has passed in the lapse of ages, in its progress towards cultivation and in laying the foundations of civilized society. The region of the coast is the centre of agricultural industry; the region of the Llanos serves only for the pasturage of the animals which Europe has given to America and which live there in a half-wild state. Each of those regions includes from seven to eight thousand square leagues; further south, between the delta of the Orinoco, the Cassiquiare and the Rio Negro, lies a vast extent of land as large as France, inhabited by hunting nations, covered with thick forests and impassable swamps. The productions of the vegetable kingdom belong to the zones at each extremity; the intermediary savannahs, into which oxen, horses, and mules were introduced about the year 1548, afford food for some millions of those animals. At the time when I visited Venezuela the annual exportation from thence to the West India Islands amounted to 30,000 mules, 174,000 ox-hides and 140,000 arrobas (of twenty-five pounds) of tasajo,* or dried meat slightly salted. It is not from the advancement of agriculture or the progressive encroachments on the pastoral lands that the hatos (herds and flocks) have diminished so considerably within twenty years; it is rather owing to the disorders of every kind that have prevailed, and the want of security for property. The impunity conceded to the skin-stealers and the accumulation of marauders in the savannahs preceded that destruction of cattle caused by the ravages of civil war and the supplies required for troops. A very considerable number of goat-skins is exported to the island of Marguerita, Punta Araya and Corolas; sheep abound only in Carora and Tocuyo. The consumption of meat being immense in this country the diminution of animals has a greater influence here than in any other district on the well-being of the inhabitants. The town of Caracas, of which the population in my time was one-tenth of that of Paris, consumed more than one-half the quantity of beef annually used in the capital of France.

[* The back of the animal is cut in slices of moderate thickness. An ox or cow of the weight of 25 arrobas produces only 4 to 5 arrobas of tasajo or tasso. In 1792 the port of Barcelona alone exported 98,017 arrobas to the island of Cuba. The average price is 14 reals and varies from 10 to 18 (the real is worth about 6 1/2 pence English). M. Urquinasa estimates the total exportation of Venezuela in 1809 at 200,000 arrobas of tasajo.]

I might add to the productions of the vegetable and animal kingdoms of Venezuela the enumeration of the minerals, the working of which is worthy the attention of the government; but having from my youth been engaged in the practical labours of mines I know how vague and uncertain are the judgments formed of the metallic wealth of a country from the mere appearance of the rocks and of the veins in their beds. The utility of such labours can be determined only by well directed experiments by means of shafts or galleries. All that has been done in researches of this kind, under the dominion of the mother-country, has left the question wholly undecided and the most exaggerated ideas have been recently spread through Europe concerning the riches of the mines of Caracas. The common denomination of Columbia given to Venezuela and New Grenada has doubtless contributed to foster those illusions. It cannot be doubted that the gold-washings of New Grenada furnished, in the last years of public tranquillity, more than 18,000 marks of gold; that Choco and Barbacoa supply platinum in abundance; the valley of Santa Rosa in the province of Antioquia, the Andes of Quindiu and Gauzum near Cuenca, yield sulphuretted mercury; the table-land of Bogota (near Zipaquira and Canoas), fossil-salt and pit-coal; but even in New Grenada subterranean labours on the silver and gold veins have hitherto been very rare. I am far, however, from wishing to discourage the miners of those countries: I merely conceive that for the purpose of proving to the old world the political importance of Venezuela, the amazing territorial wealth of which is founded on agriculture and the produce of pastoral life, it is not necessary to describe as realities, or as the acquisitions of industry, what is, as yet, founded solely on hopes and probabilities more or less uncertain. The republic of Columbia also possesses on its coast, on the island of Marguerita, on the Rio Hacha and in the gulf of Panama pearl fisheries of ancient celebrity. In the present state of things, however, fishing for these pearls is an object of as little importance as the exportation of the metals of Venezuela. The existence of metallic veins on several points of the coast cannot be doubted. Mines of gold and silver were worked at the beginning of the conquest at Buria, near Barquesimeto, in the province of Los Mariches, at Baruta, on the south of Caracas, and at Real de Santa Barbara near the Villa de Cura. Grains of gold are found in the whole mountainous territory between Rio Yaracuy, the Villa de San Felipe and Nirgua, as well as between Guigue and Los Moros de San Juan. M. Bonpland and myself, during our long journey, saw nothing in the gneiss granite of Spanish Guiana to confirm the old faith in the metallic wealth of that district; yet it seems certain from several historical notices that there exist two groups of auriferous alluvial land; one between the sources of the Rio Negro, the Uaupes and the Iquiare; the other between the sources of the Essequibo, the Caroni and the Rupunuri. Hitherto only one working is found in Venezuela, that of Aroa: it furnished, in 1800, near 1500 quintals of copper of excellent quality. The green-stone rocks of the transition mountains of Tucutunemo (between Villa de Cura and Parapara) contain veins of malachite and copper pyrites. The indications of both ochreous and magnetic iron in the coast-chain, the native alum of Chuparipari, the salt of Araya, the kaolin of the Silla, the jade of the Upper Orinoco, the petroleum of Buen–Pastor and the sulphur of the eastern part of New Andalusia equally merit the attention of the government.

It is easy to ascertain the existence of some mineral substances which afford hopes of profitable working but it requires great circumspection to decide whether the mineral be sufficiently abundant and accessible to cover the expense.* Even in the eastern part of South America gold and silver are found dispersed in a manner that surprises the European geologist; but that dispersion, together with the divided and entangled state of the veins and the appearance of some metals only in masses, render the working extremely expensive. The example of Mexico sufficiently proves that the interest attached to the labours of the mines is not prejudicial to agricultural pursuits, and that those two branches of industry may simultaneously promote each other. The failure of the attempts made under the intendant, Don Jose Avalo, must be attributed solely to the ignorance of the persons employed by the Spanish government who mistook mica and hornblende for metallic substances. If the government would order the Capitania–General of Caracas to be carefully examined during a series of years by men of science, well versed in geognosy and chemistry, the most satisfactory results might be expected.

[* In 1800 a day-labourer (peon) employed in working the ground gained in the province of Caracas 15 sous, exclusive of his food. A man who hewed building timber in the forests on the coast of Paria was paid at Cumana 45 to 50 sous a day, without his food. A carpenter gained daily from 3 to 6 francs in New Andalusia. Three cakes of cassava (the bread of the country), 21 inches in diameter, 1 1/2 lines thick, and 2 1/2 pounds weight, cost at Caracas one half-real, or 6 1/2 sous. A man eats daily not less than 2 sous’ worth of cassava, that food being constantly mixed with bananas, dried meat (tasajo) and panelon, or unrefined sugar.]

The description above given of the productions of Venezuela and the development of its coast sufficiently shows the importance of the commerce of that rich country. Even under the thraldom of the colonial system, the value of the exported products of agriculture and of the gold-washings amount to eleven or twelve millions of piastres in the countries at present united under the denomination of the Republic of Columbia. The exports of the Capitania–General of Caracas alone, exclusive of the precious metals which are the objects of regular working, was (with the contraband) from five to six millions of piastres at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Cumana, Barcelona, La Guayra, Porto Cabello and Maracaybo are the most important parts of the coast; those that lie most eastward have the advantage of an easier communication with the Virgin Islands, Guadaloupe, Martinique and St. Vincent. Angostura, the real name of which is Santo Tome de Nueva Guiana, may be considered as the port of the rich province of Varinas. The majestic river on whose banks this town is built, affords by its communications with the Apure, the Meta and the Rio Negro the greatest advantages for trade with Europe.

The shores of Venezuela, from the beauty of their ports, the tranquillity of the sea by which they are washed and the fine timber that covers them, possess great advantages over the shores of the United States. In no part of the world do we find firmer anchorage or better positions for the establishment of ports. The sea of this coast is constantly calm, like that which extends from Lima to Guayaquil. The storms and hurricanes of the West Indies are never felt on the Costa Firme; and when, after the sun has passed the meridian, thick clouds charged with electricity accumulate on the mountains of the coasts, a pilot accustomed to these latitudes knows that this threatening aspect of the sky denotes only a squall. The virgin-forests near the sea, in the eastern part of New Andalusia, present valuable resources for the establishment of dockyards. The wood of the mountains of Paria may vie with that of the island of Cuba, Huasacualco, Guayaquil and San Blas. The Spanish Government at the close of the last century fixed its attention on this important object. Marine engineers were sent to mark the finest trunks of Brazil-wood, mahogany, cedrela and laurinea between Angostura and the mouth of the Orinoco, as well as on the banks of the Gulf of Paria, commonly called the Golfo triste. It was not intended to establish docks on that spot, but to hew the weighty timber into the forms necessary for ship-building, and to transport it to Caraque, near Cadiz. Though trees fit for masts are not found in this country, it was nevertheless hoped that the execution of this project would considerably diminish the importation of timber from Sweden and Norway. The experiment of forming this establishment was tried in a very unhealthy spot, the valley of Quebranta, near Guirie; I have already adverted to the causes of its destruction. The insalubrity of the place would, doubtless, have diminished in proportion as the forest (el monte virgen) should have been removed from the dwellings of the inhabitants. Mulattos, and not whites, ought to have been employed in hewing the wood, and it should have been remembered that the expense of the roads (arastraderos) for the transport of the timber, when once laid out, would not have been the same, and that, by the increase of the population, the price of day labour would progressively have diminished. It is for ship-builders alone, who determine the localities, to judge whether, in the present state of things, the freight of merchant-vessels be not far too high to admit of sending to Europe large quantities of roughly-hewn wood; but it cannot be doubted that Venezuela possesses on its maritime coast, as well as on the banks of the Orinoco, immense resources for ship-building. The fine ships which have been launched from the dockyards of the Havannah, Guayaquil and San Blas have, no doubt, cost more than those constructed in Europe; but from the nature of tropical wood they possess the advantages of hardness and amazing durability.

The great struggle during which Venezuela has fought for independence has lasted more than twelve years. That period has been no less fruitful than civil commotions usually are in heroic and generous actions, guilty errors and violent passions. The sentiment of common danger has strengthened the ties between men of various races who, spread over the plains of Cumana or insulated on the table-land of Cundinamarca, have a physical and moral organization as different as the climates in which they live. The mother-country has several times regained possession of some districts; but as revolutions are always renewed with more violence when the evils that produce them can no longer be remedied these conquests have been transitory. To facilitate and give greater energy to the defence of this country the governments have been concentrated, and a vast state has been formed, extending from the mouth of the Orinoco to the other side of the Andes of Riobamba and the banks of the Amazon. The Capitania–General of Caracas has been united to the Vice-royalty of New Grenada, from which it was only separated entirely in 1777. This union, which will always be indispensable for external safety, this centralization of powers in a country six times larger than Spain, has been prompted by political views. The tranquil progress of the new government has justified the wisdom of those views, and the Congress will find still fewer obstacles in the execution of its beneficent projects for national industry and civilization, in proportion as it can grant increased liberty to the provinces, must render the people sensible to the advantages of institutions which they have purchased at the price of their blood. In every form of government, in republics as well as in limited monarchies, improvements, to be salutary, must be progressive. New Andalusia, Caracas, Cundinamarca, Popayan and Quito, are not confederate states like Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. Without juntas, or provincial legislatures, all those countries are directly subject to the congress and government of Columbia. In conformity with the constitutional act, the intendants and governors of the departments and provinces are nominated by the president of the republic. It may be naturally supposed that such dependence has not always been deemed favourable to the liberty if the communes, which love to discuss their own local interests. The ancient kingdom of Quito, for instance, is connected by the habits and language of its mountainous inhabitants with Peru and New Grenada. If there were a provincial junta, if the congress alone determined the taxes necessary for the defence and general welfare of Columbia, the feeling of an individual political existence would render the inhabitants less interested in the choice of the spot which is the seat of the central government. The same argument applies to New Andalusia or Guiana which are governed by intendants named by the president. It may be said that these provinces have hitherto been in a position differing but little from those territories of the United States which have a population below 60,000 souls. Peculiar circumstances, which cannot be justly appreciated at such a distance, have doubtless rendered great centralization necessary in the civil administration; every change would be dangerous as long as the state has external enemies; but the forms useful for defence are not always those which, after the struggle, sufficiently favour individual liberty and the development of public prosperity.

The powerful union of North America has long been insulated and without contact with any states having analogous institutions. Although the progress America is making from east to west is considerably retarded near the right bank of the Mississippi, she will advance without interruption towards the internal provinces of Mexico, and will there find a European people of another race, other manners, and a different religious faith. Will the feeble population of those provinces, belonging to another dawning federation, resist; or will it be absorbed by the torrent from the east and transformed into an Anglo–American state, like the inhabitants of Lower Louisiana? The future will soon solve this problem. On the other hand, Mexico is separated from Columbia only by Guatimala, a country and extreme fertility which has recently assumed the denomination of the republic of Central America. The political divisions between Oaxaca and Chiapa, Costa Rica and Veragua, are not founded either on the natural limits or the manners and languages of the natives, but solely on the habit of dependence on the Spanish chiefs who resided at Mexico, Guatimala or Santa Fe de Bogota. It seems natural that Guatimala should one day join the isthmuses of Veragua and Panama to the isthmus of Costa Rica; and that Quito should connect New Grenada with Peru, as La Paz, Charcas and Potosi link Peru with Buenos–Ayres. The intermediate parts from Chiapa to the Cordilleras of Upper Peru form a passage from one political association to another, like those transitory forms which link together the various groups of the organic kingdom in nature. In neighbouring monarchies the provinces that adjoin each other present those striking demarcations which are the effect of great centralization of power in federal republics, states situated at the extremities of each system are some time before they acquire a stable equilibrium. It would be almost a matter of indifference to the provinces between Arkansas and the Rio del Norte whether they send their deputies to Mexico or to Washington. Were Spanish America one day to show a more uniform tendency towards the spirit of federalism, which the example of the United States has created on several points, there would result from the contact of so many systems or groups of states, confederations variously graduated. I here only touch on the relations that arise from this assemblage of colonies on an uninterrupted line of 1600 leagues in length. We have seen in North America, one of the old Atlantic states divided into two, and each having a different representation. The separation of Maine and Massachusetts in 1820 was effected in the most peaceable manner. Schisms of this kind will, it may be feared, render such changes turbulent. It may also be observed that the importance of the geographical divisions of Spanish America, founded at the same time on the relations of local position and the habits of several centuries, have prevented the mother-country from retarding the separation of the colonies by attempting to establish Spanish princes in the New World. In order to rule such vast possessions it would have been requisite to form six or seven centres of government; and that multiplicity of centres was hostile to the establishment of new dynasties at the period when they might still have been salutary to the mother country.

Bacon somewhere observes that it would be happy if nations would always follow the example of time, the greatest of all innovators, but who acts calmly and almost without being perceived. This happiness does not belong to colonies when they reach the critical juncture of emancipation; and least of all to Spanish America, engaged in the struggle at first not to obtain complete independence, but to escape from a foreign yoke. May these party agitations be succeeded by a lasting tranquillity! May the germ of civil discord, disseminated during three centuries to secure the dominion of the mother-country, gradually perish; and may productive and commercial Europe be convinced that to perpetuate the political agitations of the New World would be to impoverish herself by diminishing the consumption of her productions and losing a market which already yields more than seventy millions of piastres. Many years must no doubt elapse before seventeen millions of inhabitants, spread over a surface one-fifth greater than the whole of Europe, will have found a stable equilibrium in governing themselves. The most critical moment is that when nations, after long oppression, find themselves suddenly at liberty to promote their own prosperity. The Spanish Americans, it is unceasingly repeated, are not sufficiently advanced in intellectual cultivation to be fitted for free institutions. I remember that at a period not very remote, the same reasoning was applied to other nations who were said to have made too great an advance in civilization. Experience, no doubt, proves that nations, like individuals, find that intellect and learning do not always lead to happiness; but without denying the necessity of a certain mass of knowledge and popular instruction for the stability of republics or constitutional monarchies, we believe that stability depends much less on the degree of intellectual improvement than on the strength of the national character; on that balance of energy and tranquillity of ardour and patience which maintains and perpetuates new institutions; on the local circumstances in which a nation is placed; and on the political relations of a country with neighbouring states.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56