In the first half of the 20th century, Motilón Indians, who inhabited the westernmost state of Zulia in Venezuela, fiercely resisted outside encroachment. Motilones, which included several indigenous groups inhabiting the area of Perijá and the Colon District within the Maracaibo Basin, confronted a diverse group of outsiders, including oil prospectors and Capuchin missionaries. State policy towards the Motilones was contradictory and inconsistent. On the one hand, the authorities welcomed oil investment and allowed missionary efforts to proceed. Venezuelan leaders saw the government as a harbinger of civilization, bringing prosperity and other material benefits to backward indigenous peoples. In this sense, they echoed calls by oil companies and missionaries, intent upon opening up Motilón areas to increased settlement. However, though Venezuelan politicians were certainly racist and never questioned the centrality of the civilizing narrative or of reducing the Indians to settled life, political leaders expressed concern regarding abuses of indigenous peoples. In addition, the state was wary about conceding excessive autonomy to missionaries and oil companies. From a political and economic standpoint, Zulia was an important region in Venezuela, with a long history of secessionist sentiment. Venezuelan regimes, whether military or democratic, attempted to assert political control over missionary and oil company activity in Indian areas, while alerting them that the government was a player in remote jungle areas.
Copyright © 2012-2013 Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina y el Caribe.
Editores: Ori Preuss; Nahuel Ribke
Instituto Sverdlin de Historia y Cultura de América Latina, Escuela de Historia
Universidad de Tel Aviv, Ramat Aviv,
P.O.B. 39040 (69978), Israel.
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