|The Culture of Violence (UNU, 1994, 292 p.)|
|7. Violence and the welfare state: The case of Venezuela as an oil country|
The history of the Venezuelan republic, for the most part, shows a country plagued by successive wars and their resolutions. In addition to the generally pauperized condition of the nation in the early nineteenth century, the dissolution of the colonial institutions and order meant for the new independent republic of 1830 a long period of political violence dominated by warlords (caudillos) who, with their rebel armies (montoneras), endangered succeeding legitimate governments. If we consider that the consolidation of the republican state -in the Weberian sense of the state as monopolizer of violence - was achieved only at the end of the nineteenth century, it is no surprise that the use of direct violence was the normal means of deciding who would be in power. The impossibility of the central government's being able to exercise control over the non-metropolitan areas meant that the new political order which succeeded the colonial order was weak and piecemeal, beholden to the loyalty of local chieftains and dependent for its continuity on its capacity to defeat by arms the revolts of these chieftains who broke alliances and marched against Caracas.3
Thus, in nineteenth-century Venezuela, the only known mechanism for succession in power was armed revolution and palace plots. It was only with the real unification of the nation and the institutionalization of violence as the exclusive right of the state that violence no longer formed part of the country's daily routine. The gradual shaping of the nation, partly through force of arms and partly through the establishment of economic and political mechanisms that transferred power from local bosses to central channels, made it possible for violence in Venezuela to cease being in this hands of private actors. According to Juan Vicente Gómez, the last of the caudillos (1908-1935): "Venezuela ceased being a dry piece of leather that when stepped on here pops up there." However, this does not mean that political violence disappeared. The despotic state, as a first version of the modern instrument for monopolizing violence, knows no limits in the use of violence, and its total control prevents the citizenry from calculating when and why violence may be used against them.
However, in spite of the absence of limits on the state's power and on the use of its prerogatives, and the absence of any guarantee that it will not employ excessive force against opponents, the public monopoly of violence remains the basic condition for a nation's pacification. This is so because, as the order which comes from the state's monopoly of violence becomes institutionalized, this monopoly tends to set its own norms, become predictable, and even achieve formal legalization, thus effectively putting limits on the violence of the state. The state's monopoly on violence, eliminating its private use with impunity, occurred in Venezuela before oil began to dominate the country's economic relations. When the nation was unified effectively, toward the end of the nineteenth century, the state did not yet depend on the economic power coming from oil in order to assume a monopoly of violence. On the contrary, it was because the state had already achieved control of the nation that the government was able, at the start of oil-related activity, to share in the business and enjoy the resources which made it the distributor of the country's principal wealth, with a common goal that was to characterize contemporary Venezuelan history: the modernization of the country.
Overcoming the principal cause of political violence, the caudillismo, brought about the conditions for crystallizing the objective of the Venezuelan ideologists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Modernization, which for these ideologists meant the passage from "barbaric" to "civilized" society, would signify the overcoming of other less direct forms of violence which kept the nation from advancing and its people on the edge of subsistence. The process of civilization was simply the gradual transformation of the prevailing "backward" society and its subsistence economy into a modern society with a manufacturing economy, capable of transforming the physical world and changing people's ways of thinking, acting, and speaking through education. This desire to transform the semi-feudal social relations of the country was to form the new century's main project, also changing the structural forms of violence in Venezuela.