Message by Massacre: Venezuela's War to the Death, 1810–1814

TitleMessage by Massacre: Venezuela's War to the Death, 1810–1814
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsRacine, Karen
JournalJournal of Genocide Research
Pagination201 - 217
Date Published2013

During the ‘War to the Death’, which took place in Venezuela (and parts of modern-day Colombia) between 1813–1815, there was an extensive campaign of symbolic violence on both the patriot and royal sides, with various types of massacres being carried out against specific targets and by specific groups, with racialized or gendered overtones often laid over the more obvious political categories. For example, when American patriots captured royalist strongholds, European Spaniards (including elderly men) were hauled out of their homes, paraded around in feminizing poses, such as being placed side-saddle on mules, before they were executed. Similarly, royalist commanders ridiculed patriot women sympathizers as traitors to their God and King (not to mention their biology) and executed them in ways that aimed to restore the women's gender submission, which could include rape, hanging upside down to emphasize their genitalia, and ripping stomachs open to reveal (and simultaneously ruin) wombs. Both the royalist and patriot sides engaged in body-related communication through the sending of notes written in blood, the hanging of corpses in sacred places, the taking of ears and other body parts to be worn as part of a triumphant Indian-style war costume. Both sides courted the local slave population and incorporated imagined elements of African warfare to augment their message. Depending on the particular context, rumours of imagined African-style cannibalism were floated among populations to create fear and hostility. The essay will be based on eight years of archival research in Venezuela, Spain, Britain and the United States, along with contemporary memoirs, correspondence, newspaper accounts, travelogues, and the extensive secondary literature in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

Short TitleMessage by Massacre
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