Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Home Ports: Pearls of Wisdom

Because of my familial relationship to Renato Beluche, whose children lived most of their lives in Venezuela where they had families that are still living there today, I hold the country dear. Uncle Renato's remains are in the Pantheon National in Caracas and my fear is that I will never see his memorial or meet my family. Not because I can't find a way, but because the Government of Venezuela tightens its grip on its land and people more violently with each passing day. As my blogging hero CRwM once said over at his wonderful And Now The Screaming Starts: "...there are few pits of rabid prejudice, poisonous spite, and crippling ignorance deeper than the political-blogosphere." I could not agree with him more and I'm not about to go down that path. Suffice it to say, a little bit of my heart bleeds for Venezuela and her people.

In different - not to necessarily say better - times, there was a pirate port on the coast of Venezuela known as La Barburata. The name has changed a little, but the appeal of the lush beach and blue ocean sure haven't. Originally a Spanish holding, the port was part of the vast pearl fisheries that dotted the Atlantic Coast of South America. La Barburata became rich on the hard work of local shellfish (and native pearl divers).

The French, who at the time were in open conflict with the Spanish, had a bit of an inferiority complex over the whole "colonize the New World, enslave the locals and get rich quick" thing that Spain, Portugal and England seemed to be excelling at. So, in the mid-16th century, France decided that if you couldn't get your own ill-gotten land, you should just take it from someone else. The famous privateers of Saint-Malo and Dieppe crossed the Atlantic and began to raid Spanish ports in Central and South America for gold, silver, and jewels. The raids were surprisingly systematic and word spread down the coast that the privateers were on their way and they weren't inclined to bargain.

The people of La Barburata, used to being picked on by raiders looking for a quick buck in pearls, decided they weren't going to sit around and wait to see who got tortured or killed. In 1553 the entire population of the port city evacuated inland, leaving buildings and furnishings and supplies and native pearl divers behind. When the corsairs arrived they found the situation quite to their liking and they made La Barburata a quasi-French holding.

Word spread inland and up and down the coast that corsairs were now in charge and that they were willing to trade tax and tariff free with anyone who had goods to sell. Like the Laffite brothers in Barataria 250 years later, the French settlers in La Barburata established a thriving business in all types of goods. They traded with Spanish merchants who, in any other town, would have had nothing to do with the privateers, considering them criminals. Saving the merchants the middle man cost of Spanish taxes made the Frenchmen a little more palatable in La Barburata, though. Especially since the Spanish government had no say in the matter.

Local islands soon fell to the corsairs as the base on the coast of Venezuela became more powerful. Even noted sea dogs like Francis Drake came to La Barburata to trade his goods for the provisions and services available in the city. The Spanish got fed up with the whole thing eventually and took the city back by force in the early 17th century. The French people who remained were assimilated and life went on under Spanish rule until the great Liberator Simon Bolivar removed the yoke from his people's shoulders.

That's all I'll say about that. Fair winds until next time, Brethren.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy Pauline! Or should I say, Miss Pauline? Anyhoo, thanks for another interesting history lesson. By the way, Oliver Stone (who is noted for his impartiality and objectivity... ahem) says Hugo Chavez "has been unfairly demonized by the U.S. media"...
Just so you know. Who knows? Maybe someday Hugo will be a big fan of your work and invite you down to Venezeula like his Hollywood "friends"...

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! Wouldn't that just be the bee's knees?