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June 10, 2008

The Owners of the Valley

The wonderful novel by Francisco Herrera Luque, The Owners of the Valley, tells the "true" Venezuelan story from the days of the colony. From the back cover (translation):
"The Spanish colonization of Venezuela is executed in stages. The first to arrive are penniless and nameless adventurers who reproduce with the Indian womenfolk. Next come the ne'er-do-wells from the Peninsula, without a penny but with distinguished names. Through their daughters, the first colonizers link up with these aristocrats. Thus are born 'The Owners of the Valley.'"
The valley is the beautiful valley of Caracas and the owners are the twenty "creole aristocratic" families. The proper definition of "creole" is a Spaniard born in the colonies of Spanish descent. But the fact is that these creole people were a colorful racial mixture, after all, no women sailed with the Conquistadores to America. The Spanish kings were extremely racist and people who were not lilly white could not obtain noble titles. The family records were keep by the church and the best way to "improve the race" was by bribing the clergy to clean up the records by removing any traces of color. After the family tree was cleaned up, you could apply to the king for a noble title for a price. Unfortunately, the investigators in Spain always found some problem or other with the lineage and the process of cleaning/bribing had to be repeated again and again. When the airs of independence rolled in, The Owners of the Valley figured they had a better use for their money and they joined the independence movement. Ever since our first republican constitution noble titles are illegal in Venezuela.

Times have changed and so have The Owners of the Valley. Now they no longer are exclusively Spanish creole, they come from all parts of the world including Germany, the USA, Lebanon, Cuba and the Sephardic community via Curacao. But it is still some 20 families that control Venezuela economically (Chavez is effectively their stooge).

One would think that a communist text is not the best source of a marketing plan. The Oligarchy of Money by Domingo Alberto Rangel, a rabid communist, described the then current Owners of the Valley for the decades of the '60 and the '70s. We used this book as our market research, after all, it identified the creme de la creme of Venezuelan financial aristocracy with a complete list of the businesses they owned and managed.

In the 37 years since the Rangel book was written, many of The Owners of the Valley have come and gone but the system does not change, you bribe your way to prosperity. It is a 500 year old tradition which we hate but which we cannot find a way to overcome. Bribery is an integral part of the Venezuelan way of life.

Denny Schlesinger

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