Peter Tveskov has had a long association with Venezuela, having spent much of his youth there after the Second World War and returning years later to work. His “recuerdos” of Venezuela over the years are extensive because of the many years he lived there.

Peter's bio is as follows: Born in Denmark, Peter moved to Venezuela at age 14 in 1948. He graduated from Yale University 1956 with a Bachelor of Engineering degree. After becoming a US citizen in 1960 in Del Rio, Texas, Peter worked ten years for the Oilwell Supply Division of US Steel Corporation in West Texas, Venezuela, Brazil and New York City.

In 1966-1996, he was director of facilities and a management consultant at Yale University, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, Brown University, Connecticut College, Milton Academy, Vassar College, Choate-Rosemary Hall, Monmouth University, Bryn Mawr College and the Ethical Culture School in New York City.

Since his retirement, Peter has done part time construction project management, has been a Group Leader on five Elderhostel/Scandinavian Seminar trips to Scandinavia, and authored a book entitled “Conquered, not defeated - Growing up in Denmark during the German Occupation of World War II ”.

Married fifty years to Judith Santamauro, he has four grown children scattered all over the continent, and three granddaughters. He currently resides in the Short Beach section of Branford, Connecticut.

We're extremely fortunate that Peter has taken the time to write about some of his memories of Venezuela, thereby preserving them, and that he has very generously allowed us to share some of those memories here.


While the writing below recounts Peter's personal experiences in Venezuela, he has also written the intriguing story of his father's experiences as a Danish immigrant in Venezuela during earlier years after he was stranded there by the German occupation of Denmark in 1940.

Just click on the following title to read this fascinating account:
 
 

Lastly, after you've read Peter's stories on this page as well as the compelling account of his father's experiences in Venezuela as an immigrant,  please click on the title below to read Peter's reflections about his last visit to Venezuela in 1964 as well as his feelings about the current unfortunate state of affairs that exists in Venezuela today.

 
 
 

My relationship with Venezuela has three phases: My teenage years in the country, my professional years there and the present.

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Venezuela in the 40s and 50s
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Three days after my fourteenth birthday I arrived in Maiquetia from Curaçao after a three day trip via KLM from Copenhagen, Denmark. We had flown from Copenhagen to Amsterdam in a DC-4, from Amsterdam via Glasgow, Gander and New York to Curaçao in a Lockheed Constellation, the “Eindhoven”, to Curaçao and the last leg, after a night in a very hot KLM hostelry – a former US Army barracks - in another DC-4, set up for half cargo and half passengers. The passenger half was lined in black material of some sort and it was really hot.

I arrived in Maiquetia, was received by a friend of my new stepfather and after a night at the hotel El Conde, owned by PanAm, my papers were arranged with the authorities and I was put on an Avensa DC-3 and proceded to San Antonio del Táchira via Barquisimeto, Valera and Mérida. I did not know when I was to get off the plane and nobody on the plane spoke English, let alone Danish, but I do remember being offered my very first Coca Cola on that flight.

For the record, it was probably Joseph Stalin’s fault that I even went to Venezuela in the first place. My mother had recently married Axel Tveskov, a Dane who had gone to Venezuela before the war and had become marooned there by the German invasion of Denmark April 9, 1940. The original plan was that I was to finish my schooling in Denmark, but with the advent of the blockade of Berlin by the Soviets and the very real possibility of World War III breaking out, it was decided that I was to leave the rationed gloom and darkness of post war Denmark and head for Venezuela.

So off I went and settled in Palmira in the state of Táchira, where my stepfather had built a cement plant for the Delfino family and been asked to manage it.


We lived in a beautiful quinta in Palmira with a fantastic southern view over the valley of the Torbes River.

There is a mountain on the far horizon and to this date I wonder what is its name and where is it located? In Venezuela? In Colombia?

Because of his position as director of a major local enterprise, my stepfather was a member of the local society. He belonged to the local clubs where we socialized with the governor of the state, Señor Romero Espejo – later murdered under the Pérez Jimenez dictatorship and the military commandant of Táchira, major – Comandante – Mario Vargas, who also eventually ran afoul of PJ, but survived. Even PJ himself visited our home. I remember him as a short, pudgy and quiet colonel sitting by himself nursing a drink!

I suppose it was a pretty decadent lifestyle, and certainly different from Denmark!

We made frequent trip across the border to Cúcuta to go shopping. The Venezuelan money was worth more than the Colombian peso and it was possible to buy imported goods, as well as liquor, in Cúcuta due to the high tariffs imposed on imports in Venezuela. There were also good restaurants and the Colombians, albeit in many ways like the Venezuelan Andinos, seemed more cultured. As an example, there were several Colombians employed at my stepfather’s factory and they always referred to my mother as “su señora Madre”. The Spanish spoken on the other side of the border was also closer to Castilian Spanish than the language spoken in Venezuela; in fact I am told that most Castilian Spanish spoken in Latin America is spoken in Medellín, Colombia.

As in most countries there were distinct regional differences between various areas. The Andinos – or gochos as they were known by other Venezuelans – tended to be quiet and dignified, usually white with a touch of Indian, especially in the mountain villages. There used to be a saying that “se usan Ustéd hasta a los gatos” in the Andes, as the second person “tú” was rarely used except between parents and their children. The children would address their parents as “Ustéd”.

The “Maracuchos” from Maracaibo spoke a more sing-song Spanish characterized by using the second person plural – vós and Vosotros – among each other. Supposedly this accent comes from Southern Spain.

In Caracas the Spanish was much less formal and in many ways similar to Puerto Rican Spanish – or even today’s Spanglish. For instance, the “r” in the middle of a word is often pronounced closer to an “l”. In the East and on the Llanos the language was less differentiated from “official” Spanish, which incidentally in those days was always referred to as “Castellano”, never “Español”!

Ethnically there seemed to be a greater division between white Criollos and blacks and mulattos in the Coastal regions and Caracas, while the Llaneros generally appeared to be more mestizos.

There was a tremendous influx of European immigrants right after World War II, especially from Italy, Spain and Portugal and it seemed that most small businesses, bus lines and stores in Caracas belonged to recently arrived Southern Europeans.

Caracas had begun its explosive expansion. On that my first visit I remember seeing the big hole in the ground from where the Centro Bolivar’s two skyscrapers were to emerge! Otherwise, the city was still basically its old Colonial self.

Venezuela was just then emerging from the hangover of the thirty-five year Juan Vicente Gomez dictatorship. It had been followed by the presidencies of two other generals from Táchira: López Contreras and Medina Angarita and with their leadership had evolved into the first true democratic experiment, the novelist Rómulo Gallegos having been elected president in 1947.

Three major political parties were active: Acción Democrática (AD) led by Romulo Betancourt, COPEI (The Christian Democrats) led by Rafael Caldera and URD whose leader was Jóvito Villalba.

Both Betancourt and Caldera eventually were elected president after the fall of General Pérez Jimenez, while URD’s claim to fame was that they actually beat Pérez Jimenez’ “official” party in the fixed elections in 1951! Did not do them any good as Pérez Jimenez then cancelled the election results and declared himself the winner.

However, Rómulo Gallegos was ousted by a military coup in 1948 and succeeded by a Junta Militar de Gobierno composed of three colonels: Delgado Chalbaud, Pérez Jimenez and Llovera Paez. Delgado Chalbaud was kidnapped and brutally assassinated in 1949. While the actual murder was carried out by a political adventurer, “General” Urbina, who was shot “trying to escape” afterwards, fingers were and are pointed at Pérez Jimenez, who ended up running the country as dictator till 1958.

It is historically significant that the three colonels were products of Gomez’ new national Military Academy in Caracas, established in his successful attempt to do away with the individual federal states’ militias and thus preventing local war lords, usually from Táchira, as was Gomez, from marching on Caracas and starting another civil war, of which there were many!

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Venezuelan Currency
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The Venezuelan currency had been revised introducing the Bolivar as the basic unit. However, the old nomenclature was still commonly used, a nomenclature based on the Venezuelan Peso and Real. The coins, except for the two smallest denominations, were all silver, the largest coin being identical in size and silver content to the European “Crowns” and the US silver dollar. However, while this coin was worth Bs. 5, the US Dollar could be bought for Bs. 3.35 in the forties, as the Bolivar had appreciated. Some gold coins were still in circulation, most commonly the Bs. 20 coin which was identical in size to the Bs. 1 coin, except that Bolivar’s face pointed in the opposite direction, this to discourage people from gilding the silver coins and passing them as gold.

As the silver coins were identical in design, albeit not in size, and for some reason did not show any numerical values, one had to be familiar with their names and monetary values, sometimes that could be difficult.

•  Bs 5: Similar in size to the US silver dollar, called the “Fuerte” or “Cachete”: “Cheek”, as it showed Bolivar’s face in profile.
 
•  Bs.2: Smaller than a US 50 cent coin. Called the “Peso”.
 
•  Bs.1: About the size of the US 25 cent coin. The base unit of the new currency system.
 
•  50 centimos: The “Real” from an older system, a name still widely in common use in the 40s and 50s.
 
•  25 centimos: Known as the “Medio” as it was half of a “Real”. This could be very complicated when one went shopping. For instance, a pack of cigarettes cost 75 centimos, but was quoted as “Real y Medio”!
 
•  12.5 centimos: A nickel copper coin known as the “Locha” as it was Un Octavo of a Real! Did I lose you yet?
 
•  5 centimos: Another small nickel copper coin still in use in the 40s and 50s. Sometimes known as a “pulga”: Flea.


In the 1960s the denomination of the coins were finally printed on the coins and eventually the silver coins disappeared altogether, to be replaced by coins made of semi-precious metals, following the lead of the US and our coins.

By today, inflation of course has made coins completely irrelevant. By the time I returned to Venezuela to work in the sixties, the Bolivar had stabilized at Bs 4.45/$, but today it is around Bs 2,400/$, creating price tags that are hard to interpret by us old-timers!

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My Venezuelan Education
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When leaving Denmark I was in the eight grade, which corresponded academically to the US third year of High School. Besides foreign languages – English and German – (After all, nobody speaks Danish! Even in that small country a city boy from Copenhagen was hard pressed to understand the Jutland dialect, only a hundred miles or so away) we had begun algebra, trigonometry, physics and chemistry. I was fluent in English and German, but of course had no Spanish at all.

So I went to the US right after New Years in 1949 and attended New York Military Academy in Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY. I was placed in the eight grade which academically was way behind where I had been in Denmark. I did learn how to make a hospital corner on a bed, do close order drill and how to field strip a Springfield 30-06 army rifle, as well as American History, which was a totally new subject for me. One thing that I will never forget is that while our history book was quite detailed about World War II, there was no mention at all about the Holocaust, and this four years after the end of the war.

So it was decided that I was to attend a Venezuelan boarding school the next term. The school chosen was the Colégio de San José de Mérida, a two hundred year old Jesuit school attended by the children of the Venezuelan aristocracy from Caracas, Maracaibo, San Cristobal and other major cities.

I was placed in the Third Year of Bachillerato, roughly equivalent to where I had been in Denmark. In order to remain in that class I needed to take an equivalency exam in ninety days, covering two years of Spanish language and literature. I was drilled in those subjects every afternoon by one of the Jesuit priests and passed the exam, which took place in the public high school, the Liceo and was given by the teachers of that institution. Speak of total immersion!

So Spanish in effect became my first language until I came to the US in 1952 and had to make yet another change.

I spent two years at the Colégio de San José and I can only say that they were great years. First of all, Mérida is an absolutely beautiful place and with its snow capped mountains quite a change from the Danish lowlands. By the way, do not picture Denmark as flat; anyone who has ridden a bicycle there can attest that it definitely is not!

The boys that I lived and studied with became good friends and as the future leaders of Venezuela, I managed to keep in touch with some. By now these friends have passed on. The best known was probably Jorge Olavarria who became Venezuela’s ambassador to Great Britain, historian, senator and presidential candidate, who ended up as a thorn in the side of Hugo Chavez as a columnist for El Nacional until he died a couple of years ago.

Among the priests, several stood out. The rector Fr.Jose Maria Velaz, a Chilean, who eventually started the educational organization for grown children of peasants and workers called Fe y Alegría, very similar to the Danish Folk High School idea. Fr.Carlos Reyna SJ, an engineer and the only Venezuelan priest in the school eventually became the first rector of the Catholic university in Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Most of the priests were Basques from Spain and very much against Francisco Franco, the Caudillo of Spain. It was enlightening to me to find out that not all Franco’s opposition were Communists! These men certainly were anything but. So another culture was opened up to me: The Basque.

In December 1950 a DC-3 of AVENSA left Mérida due for Maiquetía with 27 students of all ages from the school aboard. It got lost in fog and crashed into a mountain near Valera, killing all aboard. A month or so after the crash a group of volunteer students, including me, went to the crash site to recover our friends’ belongings. We also brought the plane’s props back down and they were incorporated into a memorial monument at the spiritual retreat San Javiér de Valle Grande, built by the Jesuits outside of Mérida. They are still there, perpetually bathed in a small waterfall symbolizing the eternal tears of the survivors. A beautiful spot, well worth a visit.

In March 1951, a group of seniors went to the acccident site from where we brought back the plane's propellers, which were installed in the retreat house which the Jesuit fathers built at San Javier del Valle, near Mérida, in memory of the boys. We brought a large cross to the site, which was installed there.
 

A temporary interruption near Chachopo en route to the accident site - a very common event on the Carretera Transandina.

 

Carlos Rivas Cols, a classmate and friend, in the typical type of bus used in the Andes in those days that took us from Mérida to Esquque, from where we made the rest of the trip on foot. Carlos Rivas became the first Venezuelan PhD in Biology, his area of research being bioluminescence. He is now emeritus.
Me at the accident site.


In 1951 my folks moved to Caracas where I entered the Liceo Andrés Bello for my 5th year of High School or Pre-Universitario, from where I graduated in 1952. That year was quite chaotic due to the political situation precipitated by Pérez Jimenez’ brutal dictatorship. The students at Liceo Andrés Bello were middle class Venezuelans and the children of recent immigrants, a different group than my friends from Mérida. There were several strikes which we foreigners – “musiús” as they called us – could not in any way be identified with unless we wanted immediate expulsion from the country.

One day returning from lunch I met a large group of students being chased down the street from the school by a machete swinging policeman. I kept on walking through the crowd; the cop gave me a curious look and continued his chase.

So I graduated and became a Bachillér de Físicas y Matemáticas, and as Pérez Jimenez had closed the universities, I came to the US to study engineering, but that – as they say – is another story!

One comment on the difference between the Venezuelan, Danish and US educational philosophies – at least back then: The Venezuelan & Danish systems were very much based on absolutes and root learning. It was quite an enlightenment for me to come to the university in the US and be expected to disagree with the professor, as long as one’s reasoning and research were sound.

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Teenage social life in Caracas
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Dating as we know it was unknown, at least with Venezuelan girls. Young people who knew each other well, would often get together at someone’s house to dance to records and if the group was larger and not so well acquainted, the room would be well chaperoned with mothers and aunts sitting along the walls keeping an eye on things. On occasion one might double date with two sisters, who could then keep an eye on each other. So one made do.

I played soccer with a pick-up Danish team against similar Italian and Spanish teams – on a very rocky field I might add. I still have a scar on my knee to prove that.

I was also involved with a Danish folk-dancing group, but believe me; Danish folk dancing is not intended for even temperate albeit un-air conditioned Caracas.

Once while on vacation from college a Panamanian friend of mine, his sister and his girlfriend and I went to the Hotel Tamanaco’s night club. They had advertised in “El Universal” that the Mexican singer Pedro Vargas would perform and there would be no cover or minimum charges. So we enjoyed a lovely evening listening to Pedro Vargas singing “La qué se fué” and other favorites, dancing and each consuming a coke. Well, the bill arrived and it included both a cover and minimum charge! Fortunately we found a copy of “El Universal” and proved to the head waiter that we had been misled, so we avoided washing dishes or whatever the local penalty would have been for not paying a night club bill!

Through a young lady from Spain, with whom I worked during the Christmas vacation of my last year in high school, I was also invited to the Galician social club, the “Lar Gallego” where I learned to dance to the Galician bagpipe music!

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The next phase
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After receiving my engineering degree in 1956 I went to work for the Oilwell Supply Division of U.S. Steel Corporation (now National Oilwell Varco), as well as got married and had two little Texans born in Odessa.

After four years working mainly in Odessa, Texas, I was sent to Venezuela as District Engineer for Oilwell – known as USSI Ltd. in Venezuela - based in Anaco.

The company had built a very nice little camp with a warehouse and office, and three lovely quintas, appropriately named Ruth, Carole and Nancy after the wives of three big shots from Dallas. Fair enough, I suppose.

For awhile Oilwell also had an office and warehouse in Maracaibo where I did vacation relief a couple of times, thus getting familiar with the Maracaibo end of the Venezuelan oil fields.

One thing that stands out was that when a vendor called on the Shell headquarters, one was expected to wear a coat and a tie! In Maracaibo yet. At least the building was air-conditioned.

The bridge had yet to be built and it was always a welcome relief to be able to get on the ferry at the end of the day and sip a cold “Polar” on the way back to Maracaibo from the east side of the lake!

A friend took me to the local TB sanitarium where I purchased some very nice red placemats and napkins embroidered by the patients, which we still have and use.

In Anaco our biggest client was Mobil and their Campo Norte was pretty much the center of everyone’s social activities. There were a lot of nice people in Anaco, clients and competitors both – our camp was right next door to National Supply on the Carretera Negra leading to Puerto LaCruz.

Amazing to think that those two major competitors eventually merged into National-Oilwell, sort of like Ford and General Motors merging!

I was mainly involved with the development, installation and operation of Oilwell’s hydraulic subsurface pumps with Mobil. It was a way to get the very heavy oil out of the ground, not always successful. I had a can of that crude sitting on my desk upside down. It never did flow out!

We were of course also involved in the sales and service of all of Oilwell’s other products from sucker rods through secondary recovery pumps to entire drilling rigs.

On one occasion one of the local drilling contractor’s rigs burned to the ground. They ordered a new rig from us – lock, stock and barrel. My boss took the next Avensa Convair to Caracas to call Dallas to place the order as telephone service was pretty much non-existent in Anaco. The order was placed and the rig eventually delivered, but my boss was put on the carpet for having spent the money to fly to Caracas!

Without getting into ragging on one’s former employer, they did have a certain provincial point of view. For one, they had given us VWs as company cars. The reason was that VW in Germany was a big customer for US Steel steel sheets. Try to take a toolpusher from West Texas out to lunch in your Beetle while trying to convince him that US products are better than the European product just entering the markets back then! Not an easy sell.

Once a group of big shots from Pittsburgh and Dallas flew into Anaco in the company Vickers Viscount – a British turboprop plane!

We also had a 1958 Chevy two door station wagon with standard shift and no radio or air conditioning. Enough said. After my wrecking the last Beetle, the big boss in Dallas found a second hand 1958 Pontiac V8 with all the bells and whistles which he sent us. Just try to get spare parts for a Pontiac V8 in Eastern Venezuela in 1961. Not easy.

By the way, we were not the only ones experimenting with unusual cars. Mobil bought a bunch of English Fords. Nice looking cars, but not really meant for caliche roads!

Speaking of provincial, they sent an engineer down from the Oilwell factory in Pennsylvania to work on a problem with the hydraulic subsurface pumps. He was a rather frugal Pennsylvania Dutchman and found it outrageous that we ate lunch in the Texaco dining hall in Mata or wherever it was and had to pay Bs.5 for the meal. The next day he demonstratively packed a ham sandwich and brought it with him and suggested that I do the same. I answered, that in a place where a dead body had to be buried within 24 hours, I wasn’t about to eat a ham sandwich that had sat in my un-air conditioned car for any length of time. The next day he joined us in the Texaco dining hall.

On the positive side, he borrowed my car one weekend to go to the beach at Puerto LaCruz. When he returned he told me that he had filled up the tank using the Mobil credit card in the glove compartment. As there were no credit cards in Venezuela then, I expressed some surprise. He showed me the card. It was a gate-pass to Mobil’s Campo Norte in Anaco.

So we got into the rhythm of living in Eastern Venezuela. Shopping was no great problem as Rockefeller’s CADA supermarket was in the local shopping center. Our little kids started nursery school and kindergarten in the Escuela Anaco in the Mobil camp.

We learned how to play decent bridge and got involved with the little theatre, also in the Mobil club. That was fun, except when rain hit the sheet metal roof during a performance and the audience had to crowd up around the stage to be able to hear anything.

Due to the coincidence of Venezuela’s and the US independence days being back to back, there always were big back to back parties July 4-5.

After one of these parties another young couple and we decided to go for a swim in the pool – fully dressed. (Don’t ask). I did carefully fold up my brand new dinner jacket on the side of the pool only to have the ladies stand on it to drain when the swim was over. When we got home, our maid Adelaide very helpfully put the dinner jacket in the washing machine.

So who was around Anaco in those days? Mobil of course, as well as Gulf around San Tomé. Santa Fe Drilling and H&P were there, as well as a multitude of service and supply companies. Texaco had fields east of El Tigre as well at Roblecito near Las Mercedes west of Valle de la Pascua, only accessible by a long, dusty ride on a dirt road. We installed a couple of large compressors there.

The airport was served daily from Caracas by Avensa Convairs and Fokker F-27s, with a DC-3 that continued on to Canaima with tourists on the week-end.

The daily trip to meet the Convair was a necessary tradition, as we also picked up our aero-paquete with the mail forwarded from Caracas.

On occasion we would visit the new Sears in Puerto LaCruz and have lunch there and a great advantage for us was that my parents lived first in Ciudad Piár by the Orinoco Mining Company iron mines and later in Ciudád Bolivar. They thus got to know their first two grand children for the first time.

To reach C.B. one drove about 200 km, first to El Tigre and then 120 km on an absolutely straight road with only one slight dog leg in the middle to Soledad where one crossed the Orinoco on a barge pushed by a tugboat. That involved a maneuver where the barge had to be turned around in mid stream in a strong current. It is no accident that Ciudád Bolivar’s original name was Angostura: The narrows!

Business however, was slowing down as nationalization was on the horizon. The oil companies were not importing any more new equipment than what was absolutely necessary, as they expected to lose it in the near future.

That of course meant that we did sell a lot of spare parts, even big stuff. Emergency deliveries were made by RANSA C-46s directly into Anaco. Once I had to deliver a bull gear for a mud pump in our VW pick-up truck to a rig somewhere. The front wheels of the VW were barely on the ground with that load in the back. The speedometer only went to 100 kmh and the needle was on the peg. One couldn’t keep a drilling rig waiting.

We all went home for a month in the summer and the tradition of course was to stock up on new clothes. Everyone had the same Samsonite suitcases. Once my boss and his family came back from vacation, opened the suitcase only to find someone else’s dirty laundry! Fortunately the switchees were honest people, found some Oilwell catalogues in the suitcase with all the new clothes, called Oilwell in Dallas and the exchange was made.

On the minus side, hepatitis was endemic. My wife went home a week or so early on vacation only to send me a telegram that she was in the hospital with hepatitis! We had had a despedida for her, so I had to advise all the guests and round up all the gamma globulin shots in Eastern Venezuela for them. Awkward, to say the least and not very hospitable.

The tragic part about the hepatitis was that many of the men got it, would treat it as a bad flu only to have it come back and sometimes kill them.

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Bureaucracy
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At age sixteen I had been issued a cédula de Identidad, in those days a mini passport with a convict-style picture with a number hung around your neck, finger print etc.

When I eventually was going back to Venezuela to work I was told by the consulate in New York to forget about that cédula, so when we arrived in Venezuela my wife and I were issued new cédulas. Shortly after that I was arrested, as I “already had a cédula”. So I went to Caracas to try to straighten up this mess, not easy, as I had changed my citizenship, my name - when being naturalized – my profession and last but not least: My “estado civil” – being married and all! I could handle all but the last issue, so I returned to Anaco with my new cédula – with the old number – and the shocking surprise to my wife that I was now “soltero”- single! She of course had had no trouble getting declared “casada” on her cédula. The local authorities in Anaco helpfully suggested that the easiest way for us to proceed would be to get married locally. We started down that road only to find out that my wife would be committing bigamy by marrying me, as she obviously already was “casada”. So we did it the long way, getting our Texas marriage license translated and certified all the way from Graham through Austin and Washington to Caracas. By the time we received the final documents, there were so many stamps on it that it was hardly legible, but at least my wife was now an honest woman and our kids legitimate – again.

An acquaintance of mine in Anaco, when applying for his cédula, indicated that his mother was deceased. So his full name in the cédula appeared as “John Smith Deceased” as by Spanish custom your mother’s last name would always be placed after your father’s.

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Traffic Law Enforcement
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This was an issue that most of us got entangled with one way or the other. For me it was a bit easier as I was fluent in Spanish, but not all that easy.

I had a head on collision at 4 am with a truck on the dirt road between Aragua de Barcelona and Valle de la Pascua. My poor VW Beetle company car ended up pitifully in the opposite ditch, all wadded up, but with one headlight still shining straight up in the air. The truck driver took me home and then beat it. So there I stood at sunrise by my front door, suitcase in hand with blood pouring down my face. The Beetle was not a US export model and did not have safety glass in the windshield! My wife took me to the Mobil hospital where they patched me up only for me to be arrested for leaving the scene of an accident! Luckily for me, the truck driver had really left the scene so the charges were dropped.

There was an infamous local cop at Cantaura between Anaco and El Tigre who used to stop speeders – probably with good justification. When my turn came I told him to give me the ticket and let me be on my way. He argued that it would be very complicated if I got the ticket etc etc and we could settle it on the spot, but I wouldn’t budge. He finally gave up and said that at least I could buy him a beer! So I handed him 2 Bs! He got furious, threw the coin at me and got out of my car and went away. He later got fired and set up business for himself on the road to Maturín where on a deserted stretch in his old uniform sans badges, etc. where he specialized in stopping American women and holding them up for money.

During some minor political upheaval when F-86s of the Venezuelan Air Force buzzed Anaco, I was crossing the Orinoco on the barge when a man in bits and pieces of uniform stuck a carbine in my face and demanded “mís papeles”. I had had it and demanded his. A dumb thing to do with a carbine pointed at you, I must admit. However, he handed me an ID from the Ministry of Agriculture which I looked at and then handed him my cédula and Título de Chofer, and we parted friends.

The national highway patrol had installed radar sets on the rear fenders of their new 1960 Chevrolets. Rumor had it that the radar would sterilize them – as it turned out, not that far from the truth, so they deactivated most of them. One of them did catch me at Barcelona and again it was suggested that we settle the problem right there. I had little cash with me, so I gave him a check (!) which I then stopped payment on – again not the wisest move, as the cop came looking for me in Anaco afterwards, fortunately he looked in the “National Supply” camp where my competitors nobly covered up for me!

These stories could go on, I suppose.

One thing that was very clear was that if one was in real trouble, the Guardia Nacional, in my experience, always was on the up and up and could be depended on to assist you.

The Guardia Nacional, officially known as the Fuerzas Armadas de Cooperación, is a branch of the Venezuelan Armed Forces instituted by Gomez, a national uniformed police force patterned on the Spanish Guardia Civíl and the Italian Carabinieri. In “my day” they wore Italian-style green uniforms with soft caps that had a visor and ear flaps for use in the colder climes of the country.

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Transportation
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Venezuela by Rail. Now don’t laugh! President Gomez had built quite an extensive narrow gage railroad system. One could take the train in LaGuaira and go to Caracas where the station was near El Silencio. Then from the same station through Maracay – Gomez’ favorite city where he, according to tradition, built the hotel El Jardín to house his 200 mistresses – to Valencia and then to Puerto Cabello.

Another railroad was built from Santa Barbara del Zulia at the south western end of Lake Maracaibo to Estación Táchira by San Juan de Colón north of San Cristobal. This railroad actually had a branch that crossed the border into Colombia. The Caracas-LaGuaira railroad was destroyed in the yearly floods of 1948 and the railroad between Zulia and Táchira was abandoned some time in the forties. However, as late as 1954 I took the train from Valencia to Caracas and back several times, a really nice and picturesque trip.

Pérez Jimenez built a standard gage railroad from Puerto Cabello to Barquisimeto, carrying both freight and passengers. I do not know if that railroad is still in operation.

Venezuela by Road. When I arrived in Venezuela as a teenager, most of the highways were still dirt roads, except around Caracas and Maracaibo. During the reign of Pérez Jimenez, the Autopista Caracas-LaGuaira was built, cutting the trip from 4-5 hours by switchback road to less than 2 hours. I understand that a viaduct on that road recently was fund unsafe, rerouting traffic back to the old road.

The new Panamerican Highway north of the Cordillera Andina was also built at that time, making it unnecessary to use Gomez’ old Carretera Trasandina from San Cristobal via Mérida to Valera, a dirt road that crossed at least three páramos – high mountain passes – at El Zumbador, La Negra and Mucuchíes (Pico Áquila). The road followed Simón Bolívar’s route when he marched on Caracas during the War of Independence and was built by convict labor, including political prisoners. Tradition has it that it cost one human life per kilometer.

Transportation over the roads was provided either by private cars, camionetas such as the early Chevrolet Suburbans that carried about 8-9 passengers, and Por Puestos that were regular automobiles carrying five unrelated passengers or buses.

The latter in those days were built of wood on truck chassis and painted in bright colors. They did not have glazed windows, but canvas curtains to roll down in case of rain. I remember that the Línea Primavera carried passengers from San Cristobal to Caracas. As none of these conveyances had air-conditioning – or heaters for that matter – and the windows were usually open, the rides tended to be long, tiring and very dusty.

One unavoidable feature of traveling by road were the Alcabalas. They were permanent road blocks manned by the Nacional, presumably to control who and why people were traveling. They would have a chain or wire rope across the dirt road, which they would lower after giving you the beady eye and allow you to proceed.

As I drove without a driver’s license for the first four years of my stay in Venezuela, there was always a certain tension passing through one of the alcabalas in Táchira and Mérida, but I was never challenged.

One had to be either 18 or 21 to get a driver’s license – I forget which - even with hanky-panky with the “Authorities”; I did not manage to get a driver’s license.

I did, however, learn to drive during the summer of 1949 when my stepfather was renovating a small hydroelectric plant in San Juán de Colón and I worked on that project. We drove back and forth in a 1947 Jeep CJ. The early CJs actually had a column shift. It was discontinued shortly afterwards, but until the Jeep body style was changed in the 60s, there still was an unexplained notch in the dashboard over the steering column to accommodate the defunct column shift!

You can win bets with that piece of knowledge at the next auto show!

While in high school I also drove the jeep belonging to the Colegio de San José, as well as their Ford panel truck and a surplus WW II Canadian Dodge olive drab dump truck that had a canvas covered escape hatch in the roof on the passenger side of the cab. That particular vehicle, last I saw it in 1960, was sleeping in the monte at the San Javier del Valle spiritual retreat, and probably by now has been completely overgrown and quietly absorbed by nature.

The first “real car” that I drove – still without a license – was my stepfather’s 1950 Nash Ambassador, the famous bathtub model. Really a very great car. Trivia: He also had had a 1949 Nash 600 – woefully underpowered – and both had real leather interiors – albeit no “Weather Eye” heaters. So there, aren’t you glad you asked?

Personally I had the opportunity to use all these means of transportation over the years.

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Vignettes of traveling by car in Venezuela
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In 1960 my wife and I drove from Maracaibo to Mérida, Barinas, Roblecito and Anaco in my’58 Ford Station Wagon, crossing the El Áquila páramo. Along the way we came across a similar ’58 Ford Por Puesto with a punctured tire and a flat spare. I lent the driver my spare and together we went to the next village where he got his tires fixed and I my spare back. It was a natural thing to do in the Andes, but I doubt that I would have stopped for this reason anywhere further east.

We also picked up a group of red-cheeked school kids in their ponchos and alpargatas (Woven sandals with soles made of worn out tires) who were on their way to school. I am sure they arrived at least an hour early that morning!

On the highest point of the voyage, at the Pico Áquila, I got out of the car and took a picture of my wife with the snow covered peaks in the background. I will never forget how I had to huff and puff to walk back to the car at that altitude!

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Venezuela by Air
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When I arrived in Venezuela, three airlines served the interior routes of the country:


Línea Aeropostal Venezolana (LAV), the government owned airline. It started business in the late thirties using new twin engined Lockheed Electras, the kind of plane used by Amelia Earhart. Later they converted to DC-3s, Martin 202s and Vickers Viscount turboprops. They had two model 049 Lockheed Constellations, the “Simón Bolivar” and the “Francisco de Miranda” flying between New York and Maiquetía, later replaced by two Super Constellations, one of which crashed after taking off from New York.
 
Lockheed Electra
DC-3
Martin 202
Vickers Viscount
Constellation
 
Eventually LAV joined with KLM in a joint venture called VIASA serving international routes. Some of their jets were painted with KLM livery on one side and VIASA livery on the other.

LAV eventually went out of business, but I believe it has been resuscitated as a domestic carrier.

There seemed to have been a great deal of official corruption involved, especially during the Pérez Jimenez years.

On one flight between Caracas and Barinas, the LAV DC-3 that I was on having started the leg to Barquisimeto returned to Puerto Cabello being low on fuel. The pilot asked the passengers for money to fill up the tanks as the local fuel supplier would not give LAV credit, but found no takers. We then returned to Maiquetía, filled up and started all over again making it safely to Barinas, late, but there, as the comedian Shelley Berman used to say!
 
Aerovias Venezolanas S.A. (AVENSA), originally a subsidiary of Pan American World Airways. Service started with DC-3s, then a few DC-4s joined the fleet flying between Maracaibo and Maiquetía, succeeded by Convair 440s and Fokker F-27s. At some point Avensa became independent of PanAm and used DC-6s and then DC-9s to serve some national and international routes.
DC-4
Convair 440
Fokker F-27
DC-6
DC-9
 
It was probably the preferred airline to use due to its connection with PanAm.
 
 
Transportes Aéreas Centroamericanos C.A. (TACA)/TACA de Venezuela. This airline and its DC-3s were fairly popular, but I believe TACA de Venezuela was bought out by LAV in 1958.
 
TACA DC-3
 
Rutas Aéreas Nacionales S.A. (RANSA) was a cargo airline that flew C-46s between Miami and Venezuela.
Curtiss C-46 “Commando

 
 
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Photos From Later Years
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These two ladies are my wife Judy and oldest daughter Lynn - 1960.
USSI Ltd./Oilwell Office - Anaco. Our two Venezuelan employees in 1960. The camp was on the Carretera Negra next to our competitor - National Supply. Both camps still exist, but Oilwell and National of course have merged and they use what was the National facility now.