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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The drought of 1869 in Caracas, Venezuela : environment and society at the edge of modernity Padilla, Maria Victoria


Here I examine the 1869 drought in Caracas, Venezuela in order to explore how people’s response to natural phenomena and hazards reflects the particular historical understanding of nature at the time and can be wielded in certain contexts as an economic, political and ideological tool. With the use of newspaper articles, archival public records and travel writing I was able to reconstruct the environmental crisis that took place during last months of 1868 and the beginning of 1869 and determine its significance for socio-environmental relationships in postcolonial Caracas. During the drought, as political conflicts escalated in Venezuela, in Caracas the rates of infectious diseases rose alarmingly, fires consumed El Ávila Mountain and a water shortage took place. Yet, only the city’s poor were severely affected by the hazards; for the elite the drought only represented an inconvenient opportunity. I argue that the 1869 drought disclosed how, despite early republican Venezuelan’s modern and secular understanding of nature and enlightened liberal rhetoric of social equality, socially unjust conditions of differential vulnerability to environmental risk and differential access to natural resources were reinstated and even entrenched during the 1869 crisis by Caracas’ postcolonial elites and authorities. I suggest that the study of disastrous junctures such as that of 1869 presents an alternative entryway into environmental history that allows us to examine the changes and the continuities in the relationship between people and nature and the social and environmental implications of said relationship when they are at their more heightened state.

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