This latest entry to the series we’re publishing about the bicentennial of the independence of the New World Republics is written by Xabier Inaki Amezaga Iribarren, founder and director of the Xamezaga Publishing House, which is in charge of spreading the legacy of his father, Vicente Amezaga, a true Basque character.

Vicente Amezaga Aresti
Vicente Amezaga Aresti

Vicente Amezaga was a top-level intellectual.  Poet, author, journalist, literato, translator, student of Basque, and, above all, a Basque patriot.  Like many other Basque exiles who had to leave their homeland to escape the clutches of Francoism, he found his new home in the Americas (Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela).  It is there that he developed his career, raised his family, and was able to continue doing that which mattered most to him: defending the Cause of the Basque People.

Xabier Inaki Amezaga Iribarren has donated a compilation of all of works of his father, Vicente Amezaga, to aboutbasquecountry.eus so that we can share them with everyone who visits us.  To that end, we’ll write a specific entry, which will be the portal from which they may be accessed.

But in this entry, Xabier Amézaga has sent us an article analyzing the very key role the Basques played in the territory that is today the Republic of Venezuela, from the very beginnings of the colony.

The Basque presences there is divided into three stages::

  • the 16th century of exploration, founding, and conquest;
  • the 18th century, when the Royal Guipuzcoan Company was created, which in turn in some way led to the creation of what is today Venezuela;
  • and the Basque exiles who arrived after the triumph of fascism in Europe, which left an indelible mark on the South American republic, which we’ve spoken of on numerous occasions.

Three Basque migrations to Venezuela over 500 years of history

Xabier Inaki Amezaga Iribarren

I would like to thank the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea – Lima Basque Center and aboutbasquecountry.eus for asking me to participate in this series of articles on the bicentennials of the New World republics being published on the blog.

The incorporation of the Basque element into Venezuela can be studied in three main moments, which we’ve named the Adventure of the 16th Century, the Royal Guipuzcoan Company of the 18th Century, and the Basque Exile of the 20th Century.

The Adventure of the 16th Century

In the period of exploration, founding, and conquest, there was an important Basque presence.  One well-known person was Juan de la Cosa, the first cartographer on the New World who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his voyages of exploration, and the first person to map Venezuela.  In 1492, “the Genovese Admiral found the resolute collection of Juan de la Cosa, or Juan the Biscayne, as he is called in documents from the time, owner and master or owner of the largest of the three ships, the Santa María, undoubtedly raised at a Basque shipyard with wood from Basque mountains, and manned for this historical journey by crewmen of the same caste.” (Vicente Amezaga Aresti)

Boceto Nueva Cadiz Venezuela - Miguel Yabrudez
Sketch of New Cádiz, Venezula – Miguel Yabrudez

In Cubagya, and at the founding of New Cádiz, historians include an Ochandiano and a López de Arechuleta; Juan Pérez de Tolosa, résident judge in the Venezuela and Cabo de la Vela, arrived in 1546 and restored order in the city of Coro y El Tocuyo.  His brother Alonso recognized what would end up being Trujillo.

Also of note is the first Simón de Bolívar, from Zenarruza, royal scribe and secretary to the Royal Court of Santo Domingo, who left Santo Domingo in 1589 bound for Caracas, where he became first perpetual alderman and solicitor general.  He was responsible for the creation of the first schools, including one directed by Juan de Arteaga and Simón de Basauri (1591).

Captain Antonio de Berrio, a pearl diver from Guyana, traveled up the Orinoco and founded San José de Oruña in 1592 and Santo Tomás de Guayana in 1593, known later as Angostura. 

Lope de Aguirre
Lope de Aguirre

Special mention goes to the new adventure of El Dorado (1561) with Lope de Aguirre and Pedro de Ursúa as protagonists and Barquisimeto, the capital of the state of Lara, as its setting.  Lope de Aguirre wrote the First Act of Independence of the New World. 

Then in the 17th century, we find ranch owners such as Francisco de Arrieta, Pedro Hernández de Galarza, and Antonio Arraez de Mendoza in Bobures Valley, Juan Félix de Arrúa in Chama Valley, etc.; governors and members of the Caracas city council: Basque surnames such as Alquiza, Hernani, Oñate, Aguirre, Hoz de Berrio, Ybarra, Bolívar, Lezama, Arguinzoniz, Zabala, Arechederra, Mendoza, Arteaga, Múxica y Butrón, Villela, Echeverría, Landaeta, Guevara, Zuazo, Arraez, Ochoa, and Bera settled in the city. In Barinas, Ochagavía; in Barquisimeto Ansola; in Mérida, Uzcategui.

With the first years of the 17th century (1606-1611), we have Governor Sancho de Alquiza, whose surname, derived from Sanchorquiz, still lives on in Caracas’ place names.  We also have the Landaeta family, one of the most prolific families in all of Caracas; the Arguinzoniz family, the Arechederra family, and, to finish two well-known corners of the city, the Ibarra family and the Veroiz family, now spelled Veroes.

The fruits of this Adventure immigration correspond to their origins and are usually widely dispersed and individual.

18th Century: The Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas

On September 4, 1730, with the arrival at Puerto Cabello of its first three ships, the frigates San Ignacio de Loyola, San Joaquín, and the galley ship Guipuzcoana, the activity of the Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas began.  Its first director was Pedro de Olavarriaga, and with his arrival, things really got underway at this purely mercantile firm.

Sede de la Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas en Puerto Cabello (Venezuela). Dibujo tomado del Álbum de Caracas y Venezuela
Headquarters of the Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. Drawing taken from the Album “Caracas y Venezuela”

Given all the limitations it was born under, and all the qualms and objections from several sides, it is unquestionable that this company, when seen from the point of view of Basque hard work, or from its influence wherever it went in Venezuela, has a transcendence that only the willingly blind could deny. 

Regarding economics, as Hussey says, it came upon a Venezuela that had been “reduced to a situation of economically limited province … and left it prosperous, with a greater value for the empire, and going full steam ahead in foreign commerce.”

But beyond the mercantile aspect of the company, one cannot forget, as Gil Fortoul writes, “that the Basques of the Guipuzcoan Company brought to the then poor and uneducated Venezuelan colony something more important than Spanish goods.  They brought books, ideas, a modern entrepreneurial spirit, men who had mostly been caught up in the movement that would end up with the Encyclopedia and the French Revolution.  Guipuzcoa, a neighbor of France, came to modernize, as far as possible, the antiquated regime of the conquistadors.”

And with that, we add, they ensured that Venezuela was not missing from the 18th century, and even turned it into their golden century, without mentioning here what Ortega and Gasset wrote of Spain: “The more one reflects on our history, the clearer the disastrous absence of the 18th century becomes… This has been the sad fate of Spain, the European nation that skipped an irreplaceable century.”

The books and ideas from that century brought by the Basques to Venezuela were key in planting the seeds of the independence movement.  But the value and influence that something as important as the natural predisposition of the Basque to work hard for freedom cannot be overlooked.

There is a plethora of surnames from the Basque Country to be found in the rebellions of the civil wars in the Americas.  One needs only look at the list of those involved in the uprising of Gual and España, and later, with even more violence, the glorious fight for Venezuelan independence, where, alongside Bolívar, we can find other top surnames, such as Urdaneta, Anzoategui, Arismendi, Sagarzazu, Aramendi, Mendiri, etc, etc.

This immigration triggered by the Guipuzcoan Company was organized and, as far as could be expected, massive.  There are files for more than 2,500 Basques who came with the company, which is quite meaningful, given that most stayed in Caracas, whose population did not exceed 20,000 or 30,000 at that time.  The Olabarriaga, Aizpurua, Goizueta, Urroz, Zarandia, Uranga, Goicoechea, Amenabar, and Mintegui families, to name but a few of the leading figures at the company, head a list that also includes captains, sailors, merchants, cabin boys, and people of so many other walks of life.  From them, we can still find families today, including the Lecuna, Zufoaga, Azpurua, and Triarte families, among so many other Basques who settled  and stayed in Venezuela, working the fields, among other activities. 

The Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas was dissolved in 1785.  This happened because it had fulfilled the Crown’s objectives, finishing off the contraband that had existed before its arrival and therefore integrating the territory into the Empire’s general economy.

This all served to lay the foundation for the birth of the Captaincy General of Venezuela.  Created on the orders of Charles III in 1777, the first Captain General of Venezuela was a Basque, Luis Unzaga y Amezaga.  The creation of the Captaincy General was an important milestone in the history of the country, as it brought together all the provinces that would end up making up Venezuela in the future.  And, as we said, the first person to fill the role was a Basque; so was the last, Vicente Emparan.

The seeds that the Company’s ships brought, including not just goods but also Enlightenment books full of the ideas of encyclopedism, sprouted into the famous participation and emancipation of Venezuela, paving the way for many Basques, including:

      • General Simón Bolívar, President of Greater Colombia
      • General José Antonio Anzoátegui of the Venezuelan Army during the War of Independence
      • General Urdaneta of the Venezuelan Army during the War of Independence
      • General Juan Bautista Arismendi, Commanding General of the Venezuelan Army during the War of Independence
Simón Bolivar, un Libertador de ascendencia vasca
Simón Bolívar, a Libertador of Basque descent

These days, when commemorating the bicentennials of the beginnings of several Latin American countries’ independence processes, it is important to remember the role of the Basques and their descendants.  They were the protagonists in the most important events in the times of the conquest, colonization, fights for independence, and life of the emancipated nations.

The main example of this protagonist is none other than Simón Bolívar (1783-1830), the libertador of most of South America, descendant of Simón de Bolívar, who arrived at Caracas at the beginning of the 16th century from Bolibar, in Biscay.

But in these struggles for independence across the New World, there are myriad people with Basque surnames, such as:

        • Policarpa Salabarrieta, in Colombia
        • Vicenta Juaristi Eguino, in Bolivia
        • Ignacio Allende y Juan Aldama, in Mexico
        • Pedro Antonio Olañeta, Field Marshall, Governor of Upper Perú
        • José Larrea. Vice President of the Republic of Colombia, Head of the Executive
        • Casimiro Olañeta, President of the Constitutional Congress of Bolivia;
        • Miguel de Azcuénaga Basavilbaso and Juan Larrea, both sons of Basques. Tomás de Balenzategui in Argentina.
        • Prudencio Murguiondo, as well as Dámaso Antonio Larrañaga, Pablo Zufriategui and Francisco Xavier de Viana, in Uruguay

And this is merely a list of examples, which could be made more complete with many, many more, both those whose names we know and the many more whose names we don’t, but who still helped to free, create, and constitute the republics of the Americas.

Exilio Vasco Siglo XX

We have to travel to 1939 to be able to witness the third major emigration from the Basque Country to Venezuela.

We’ll call it the 20th-century Basque Exile.  It started with the arrival of three ships, the Cuba, the Flandre, and the Bretagne at Venezuelan ports.  But the reasons behind it, and its spirit, are quite different.

Buque Cuba con exiliados vascos a Venezuela
The ship “Cuba” with Basque exiles bound for Venezuela

They were not coming as adventurers to a conquered land, nor organized into a power mercantile company under the auspices of a monarch.  They came broken, with their lives truncated by the horrors of a war they never wanted but had to accept, with heroic determination, to defend themselves and their national values, among which rose foremost Freedom.

Basques, upon being received as brothers in the generous land of Venezuela, offered their adopted homeland the best a man could provide: their constant work and straight-and-narrow conduct, without forgetting their faraway homeland.

The Basque press continued to request Basque immigration.  An editorial in the Caracas Heraldo said, “Undeniably, one of Venezuela’s most desired emigrations is Basque immigration.  Understanding that this is so, the Government of Venezuela is handing the arrival of the best elements currently taking refuge in France to our country, and many of them have already arrived, working in their respective specialties and offering the most excellent results.”

Fernando de Carranza, in a report presented by the Venezuelan delegation at the First Basque World Congress stated that, up to 1940, the number had been about 500.  That rose considerably to the end of the Second World War, between 1945 and 1947, with the arrival of the Basques who had taken refuge in France and the first of those who were exiled for their activities in the clandestine Resistance.  At the beginning of the 1950s, there was a strong migrant current due to economic reasons (though, as we shall see, not free of political roots).  Thus, in 1956, Caracas set the number of Basques residing in Venezuela at between 8,000 and 10,000.  That means that, at that time, one out of every 800 Venezuelans was Basque.

The presence of the Basques in Venezuela in the 20th century provided fundamental contributions of knowledge and know-how in professional and technical fields, and in founding companies.

In the professional field, doctors, odontologists, and nurses; accountants and administrators; architects; engineers; draftsmen and topographers; works supervisors; smiths, carpenters, woodworkers, plumbers, and electricians; jewelers, chemists, lawyers, journalists, and typists, philologers, teachers of all educational levels; painters and sculptors; priests and missionaries; sailors and ship captains who led the expeditions of boats full of exiles; they all came, worked, and taught.

Edificios de influencia vasca en Venezuela
The mark left by Basque architects in Venezuela

On the business front, small- and medium-sized companies were created in construction, iron and metalworking, Basque media, typography and lithography, food, and many, many others.

From Venezuela, the contribution to Basque, and world, culture came via an enormous number of cultural and academic activities: articles published in the national press, 60 conferences on Basque topics, historians studying and writing three books on the Basques in 17th-century Venezuela, which were then published by the Central Bank of Venezuela.  There were Basque university professors and intellectuals, three choral music groups, and a very important contribution to the arts, with paintings and sculptures, and the Basque presence in Venezuelan folklore with a theater troupe.

This contribution reached all fields of social and economic life: Basque builders had a huge influence on Venezuelan architecture; Basques who worked and stood out in the oil industry built factories to make food, not to mention university professors, chemists, lawyers, etc.

In 1940, two leading university professors reached Venezuela: Eugenio Imaz Echeverría and soon after, Juan David García Bacca. Eugenio Imaz Echevarria (San Sebastian 1900–Veracruz, 1950) was a philosopher, translator of Dilthey, and promoter of the rationalist school in the New World; while he did not spend much time in Caracas, he left behind an important footprint in the country’s academic media.  García Bacca, however, was a secularized priest, professor of Philosophy and Mathematical Logic at the University of Barcelona in Catalonia.  After his time at the School of Pedagogy at the University of Quito and more time in Mexico, he settled down in Venezuela to become head professor at the Central University of Caracas.  In this generation, we can also find Félix Gaubeka, who taught at the University of the Andes in Mérida and Captain Ricardo de Maguregui, founder and director of the Venezuelan Merchant Marine School.

Inauguracion en marzo de 1950 del Centro Vasco de Caracas con la presencia del Lehendakari Aguirre (foto del blog de Iñaki Anasagasti)
Inauguration of the Basque Center of Caracas in March 1950, with Lehendakari Aguirre in attendance (photo courtesy Iñaki Anasagasti’s blog)

In the field of historical research, we have polygraph Vicente de Amézaga, who spent his time in exile in Argentina and Uruguay before reaching Venezuela, where he died in 1969.  We also have his translations into Basque from six different languages, as well as his own works, including “Hombres de la Compañía Guipuzcoana” (Caracas, 1963); “Jesús Muñoz Tetar” (Caracas, 1965), in collaboration with Dr. Edgar Pardo Stolk; “Vicente Antonio de Icuza, comandante de corsarios” (Caracas, 1966), “El elemento vasco en el siglo XVIII venezolano y El hombre vasco” (Buenos Aires, 1968).  They were all published by the Xamezaga Publishing House.

Then, in the field of scientific research, the most relevant figure is lasalliano Pablo Mandazain (Hermano Ginés), professor of Zoology, Biology, Mineralogy, Geology, Chemistry, and Anatomy at several different institutions.  He was the Founder of the La Salle Natural Science Society, which maintains close ties with scientific institutions all over the world, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and several others in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain.

The list of Basque professors is endless.  In Medicine, we have Miguel Layrisse and José María Bengoa; in Journalism, Laurentzi Odriozola, José Félix Azurmendi, and Vicente Guezala; in Architecture, Iñaki Zubizarreta (currently professor at the University of Raleigh, in the US), Lander Quintana, and Illari Mirena Egiarte; in Biology, Usue Díaz de Rekarte and María Esther Solabarrieta; in History Dorronsoro and Ramón Aizpúrua; in Psychology, Carlos Otaño; in Anthropology, Daniel Barandiarán, in Vocational Training Aguirregomezcorta; in Engineering, Aizpúrua, Kepa Lekue, Jon Ander Badiola, and Zubizarreta; in Mathematics,Javier  Maguregui, etc.

As we said earlier, in the field of translation (into Basque and into Spanish), the most noteworthy works are from Vicente de Amézaga and Andima de Ibiñagabeitia.  The former translated the works of Goethe, Baroja, Descartes, Bocacio, and Persian poet Ornar Khayan into Basque, while the latter translated Virgil and Ovid.

I present this compendium as the best way to keep alive the flame of Basque feeling that the representatives of our exile lit and preserved.

There will always be a Basque or Basque-descendant, yesterday and always, associated with the business of “building Venezuela”.


The bicentennial of the independence of the New World Republics series is a project of the Euskadi Munduan Association, the Limako Arantzazu Euzko Etxea, the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Aránzazu of Lima, and the Editorial Archive of Oiga Magazine.