Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Perry Shaffer - Venezuela in 1940

 The following very long article was part of a newspaper clipping, with the only identifying mark being "The Chandler Alumnus":

Take a Rocking Chair Trip Down South America Way

Perry Wayne Shaffer, '28, as far as we know, the only architect of C. H. S. Alumni, and a good one, too, is also a student of Noah Webster, as you shall see in the following story of Perry's in the South American wilds.  The letter is a geography lesson in itself and could be compared to some of the lyrical descriptions written by the late Theodore Roosevelt.  With Uncle Same becoming more and more isolated from war-torn Europe, the American people are turning of necessity to a study of our more peaceful neighbors "South of the Border".

     Standard Oil Co. of Venezuela, 
     District Engineering Department, 
     Caripito, Venezuela, April 22, 1940


Five months and one week ago I had my first view of Venezuela and the center of the Standard Oil of Venezuela's Eastern Venezuela Operations at Caripito.  I have felt particularly fortunate in having the introduction by air view as it gives a greater perspective of the country and the layout of operations.  Also, the air trip was gratifying from the standpoint of the wider views of the interesting points enroute, such as the little white houses and the cane fields of Puerto Rico and the interesting city of San Juan, the Island of Trinidad with its great Asphalt Lake, Orange Orchards, Cocoanut Groves, etc., and its very "English" city of Trinidad, with its famous Royal Botanical Gardens.  Also on the planes one meets the best informed, most pleasant and most interesting of the international travelers.  With two such men in particular I spent two most pleasant, interesting and instructive evenings.  One of the men was a doctor for the Rockefeller Institute, who is helping to spend the money I am helping to earn, the other, an agricultural machinery manufacturing company executive and incidentally a private pilot in a Canadian flying club.  Both had been all over North and South America by air. Travel by Pan-American Carribean Clipper is faster, more pleasant and more safe than boat travel.

As most of you may know, Venezuela is about the fartherest beyond of any country today as far as civilization, industry and education is concerned.  Only since the death of the tyrant Gomez in 1935 has it been under anything like a modern government.  While considerable progress has been made in the last five years, it has far to go to catch up with most modern countries.  Venezuela is a republic, made up of 23 states, including the federal district in which Caracas, the capitol, is located, and two territories.  The medium of exchange is the bolivar (pronounced almost like believer) which is a silver piece about the size of your quarter and worth 32 cents.  In Caripito you buy your stamps at a certain pharmacy, but you can mail your letters across the street at the mail station.  This is the case in most places in the republic, but a few modern mail boxes and post offices are appearing--signs of the new order.

In spite of all the things that Venezuela lacks she has some outstanding points-she is one of the few countries in the world today that is not in debt and yet has plenty of money to do with, and without levying of any property tax whatsoever.  This is because Venezuela holds third place in oil production, producing almost as much as the Union of Socialistic Soviet Republics--more commonly known as Russia, but only one-sixth as much as the Unites States. 

It is from this oil that the money comes for the ambitious public works program that is now under way.  It is the production of this oil that makes business in Eastern Venezuela because of the small businesses that are accessories to the activities of the various oil companies, the largest and most favored of which is the Standard Oil Co. of Venezuela, or to be short, S. O. V.   Division offices to care for the seven fields of Eastern Venezuela, warehouse facilities and oil shipping facilities for two of these fields are located here at Caripito.  At the wharfs down on the San Juan river yesterday I counted 17 floating craft.  From my office I can look over to the warehouse and yards were over four million dollars' worth of materials are kept stored and out to the tank farm where over one and one-fourth million barrels of crude and refined products await transfer to tankers.

Were it not for this oil business and the small commercial enterprises that are outgrowths of the oil business, Eastern Venezuela would be entirely what you find if you leave the S. O. V. camp here and go out into the jungle in any direction, just scattered small farms hacked out of the jungle, where dirty, ragged, improperly nourished peons tend small banana plantations and a limited number of other crops, such as melons, vanilla beans, corn, sugar cane, etc.  There are so many things which can be grown here that as far as food is concerned one could hardly picture anyone going hungry here.  Many of these "jungle children" are perfect examples of improper nourishment, rickets, worms, etc.  Yet they seem as happy as you and I, living in their dirty rags of clothing and in huts without walls and only "Moriche" palm leaves for roofs, dirt floor, and beds made of poles or little "Chinchorros"--rope hammocks strung up between poles.

There are, of course, a small percentage of Venezuelans who have benefited from good education, most of them having spent years in the states, others having studied hard here and having benefited from a more than average intelligence and ability, but many of the local workers, even office men, are very much like children in their behavior and thinking , liking to show off, thinking they are really very smart when they are really very ignorant--just as the native chauffeurs who are on top of the world if they have a big horn whether the car runs or not.  The thing is that many of these people are only from five to fifteen years inside of civilization, such a civilization as it has been--another generation will show a tremendous change, particularly with educational facilities available.

One of my first tasks was revisiting plans for an 8-classroom National School to care for some 400 Venezuelan boys and girls whose fathers are employees of the company.  This building, now nearing completion, is being built by S. O. V. for the government, the cost to be deducted from the company's taxes.  It will be the beginning of the first real education program by the government here.  The first steel highway bridge across the Rio Caripe here at Caripito will be completed in about two weeks--having been started since I came here.  This bridge will open up the new road to San Juan de Los Morros, where the government plans to build an extensive group of wharf and customs facilities.  At present all local have to get their shipments through the S. O. V. terminal wharf facilities.  This highway is only one of a number now under construction in Eastern Venezuela, by the ministry of public works using company facilities to a great extent.  At present S. O. V. communication is by radio and company planes.

Caripito village, with a population of about 3000, is dirty from head to foot--it would give the U. S. housing administration  something to really talk about in the line of need for slum-clearance.  All attempts at water supply, sanitation and improvement are the voluntary efforts of the company done in the interest of their employees and promotion of "good-will".

"El Porvenir" (the Future) is the Venezuelan labor camp built by the company.  It has houses for 300 families in the upper labor brackets and office clerical brackets.  The houses are very simple, but fireproof, of masonry construction with sinks, closets and showers, and for the natives are a grand introduction to modern living.  However, you can give the native a bathroom, but you can't make him use it as much as he should.  The cleanest of the common people are far from spick and span.

The upper bracket Venezuelan office workers live in the American camp through not in the same houses with the Americans.  The American camp has over 100 family houses and dormitories for over 200 bachelors.  I am a typical example of the "bachelor" class so I will tel you how I am housed.  i live in a nice bungalow which has a large living room, four bedrooms (designed for one man each) with connecting baths between two bedrooms, but private lavatories.  The house has an electric refrigerator.  The windows are not glazed but screened, it being summer the whole year around, there is no need of glass--just wide eaves to protect from the heavy rains.  (Year before last the rainfall was 105 inches I understand--which is considerable when there are two dry seasons).  The camp is on a high plateau (once covered with jungle), has excellent drainage, good housing, excellent, a good swimming pool tennis courts, club house, and one of the most expensive golf courses in the work, having been hacked from the dense jungle.  There are beautiful views in almost every direction, one of the best of which I enjoy from my window, sitting here at my desk I look out over a winding road which runs almost below my house, out across a beautiful jungle covered valley to beautiful misty blue and purple mountains, beyond which always present an enchanting view of change of hazy mystery that let's a fellow's mind get away from the little things of life.  The whole camp is enclosed by a cyclone fence, constructed in 1935 when the death of the tyrant Gomez caused fear of a revolution and the calling in of all men from the outlying districts.  Fortunately nothing happened, but the cyclone fence was constructed for future protection.

In the early part of my story the picture was not so pretty, but now let me tell you about the country.  In the first place the climate is the regular tropical variety with summer the whole year round--seldom as hot as the extremes in Oklahoma and Texas and always with cool nights that are perfect for sleeping.  Right now we are nearing the end of the main dry season.  The rainy and dry seasons seem to be pretty indefinite, the weather itself does not seem to be sure just when it should rain and when not.  During the rainy season it rains every hour or two if not oftener, often very sudden and hard and sometimes all night.  It rained hard all night last night, the first real rain we have had for three months--heavy showers now and then in the dry season.

The rains are responsible for the beautiful trees and foliage.  Practically anything will grow.  On many hikes into the jungle which stretches away into the distance on every hand we see many interesting sights.  Immensely tall trees with the foliage high at the top.  Almost every tree is covered with beautiful large blooms at some time during the year, a mass of yellow or purple or orange or red.  Also many of the trees bear fruit or nuts or both as does the Cashew tree just outside my window.  During the past two years there have been beautiful displays of Venezuelan orchids at the International Flower Show in Houston.  Up in the mountains near here one can see $50,000 worth of orchids in five minutes--that is they would be worth that much in a flower shop in the U. S.  In our ramblings we have seen banana plantations, orange trees, cocoanut trees, cocoa trees, coffee trees, sugar cane, chestnut trees, vanilla beans (from which pure vanilla extra comes) coloring fruits and pods, papaya trees, yucca plants from the roots of which the natives make a flour for a kind of corn bread.  Besides all of these topical species we find corn, tomatoes, pumpkin, watermelons, and many other things more familiar growing on the small farms you find hacked out of the jungle round about,

A week or two ago, after winding for two or three miles down a narrow winding path from one to another of these rude native palm-thatched huts we came to a delightful secluded little cottage with a beautiful sweet smelling  flowering vine with gourds on it hanging from a trellis over the door and I was reminded of some lines from "At the Tomb of Napoleon" by that old infidel, Robert G. Ingersol, in which he said (standing by Napoleon's Tomb) "And I thought of alll the tears that had been shed for his glory and I said I would rather have been a poor French peasant and worn wooden shoes and lived in a thatched cottage with vines growing over the door and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust than to have been that impersonation of force and murder known as Napoleon the Great".  How applicable in these days of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.  Well, this little cottage was larger than most of them and had a porch along one side which looked out on a tranquil little brook full of tiny fish and with a rude little wooden footbridge across it and fruit trees on the other side and various and sundry kinds of fruits, nuts, cane, etc, all round--but you cannot reach the place by automobile.

The tranquility of existence, the grandeur of the jungle, the beauty of the flowering trees, shrubs and plants, the copiousness of nature's  provisions for sustenance, the beauty of the exquisite dawns and sunsets, the moonlight on the white roads and great white trunked trees with their high foliage distinctly interesting for their perfect symmetrical balance--nature in all its grandeur--these are some of the things that give the tropics an irresistible charm.

One Sunday afternoon, deep in the jungle, I stood still in the path--looked straight up over my head and saw two little "Monos" or Red Howler monkeys, pass one right after the other, jumping from the top branches of one tree to the top branches of the next.  Altogether that afternoon we saw around a dozen of these little monkeys.  And it must be Tarzan's jungle because it is full of vines for him to swing about upon.

S. O. V. is doing a great deal for Venezuela--their attitude is that this is the land of the Venezuelans, it is their oil, S. O. V. is handling it for them--they are making every effort to use Venezuelans in every job in which it is possible and to train them for more and more important positions in the company.  Of necessity the most important and technical positions are still held by Americans, but the number of these is gradually diminished--we are the "Vanishing Americans"--they are sorta "giving it back to the Indians".

Venezuela is a rich country--I am convinced that the oil so far found in Eastern Venezuela is only a small part of the actual potential resources.  Also down in the Amazonas country where the uncivilized Indians are, there are rich gold deposits and the Bethlehem Steel Corp., is in the process of developing a great coal field, down on the Orinoco, which, by the way, is the third largest river in South America and is about comparable with the Mississippi.

On a four-day holiday Easter I had a grand trip down the Ciudad Bolivar on the Orinoco.  C. B. is the third largest city in Venezuela, although it has a population of only 30,000.  It is most a interesting old Spanish town, very quaint and just now beginning to awake to modern life.  This is the headquarters of the Orinoco River Mission, which has some twenty-five American missionaries here in Eastern Venezuela, some 16 of whom I am happy to now number among my personal friends.

I have told you only about Eastern Venezuela--Western Venezuela is much more advanced in every way and I am hoping to visit Caracas and other points about a year from now, during my short leave.
Perry Wayne Shaffer.

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