“Now we don’t have Venezuela.” It is a phrase that is repeated in recent days on La Palma, whose population compares the current eruption with that experienced five decades ago during the Teneguía volcano or with that of 72 years ago in San Juan, with which they appreciate even more similarities. At that time, La Palma did not have the same population that it currently houses, nor was it the second largest banana-producing island in the Canary Islands. “I hope that the bolivars will be replaced by euros,” says María Victoria Hernández, official chronicler of Los Llanos de Aridane. Get to know first-hand what the opportunity that Latin America provided meant for the islanders, since his family has also been a migrant. Starting in 1950, what were known as “soft loans” were offered by the Franco dictatorship for those affected by the volcano. To this, the chronicler highlights that the remittances sent by the Canarian emigrants are added. Thus, the bolivars “which were like gold” allowed the purchase of land. The area now affected by the eruption of September 19 flourished thanks to the efforts of generations and work on the other side of the ocean.
When canaries illegally emigrated to Venezuela on ‘ghost sailboats’ and shut them up on islands
The historian and professor Manuel Hernández, author of Canarian emigration to Venezuela, explains that clandestine migration to that country is a phenomenon that had begun a year before the San Juan volcano, but adds that it is true that in that natural catastrophe there were people who lost their lands. The eruption was not as such the trigger for the migration, since it had also been produced by the inhabitants of other islands since 1948, but it was an added factor. The population of the island was then much lower and much more widespread, but the chronicler of Los Llanos remarks that the lava did fundamentally destroy houses and vineyards in the area. The historian remarks that these migrations in clandestine ships to Venezuela lasted from 1948 to 1952, in the midst of the postwar period and Franco’s dictatorship. More than 12,000 people embarked in search of opportunities in those years alone on multiple ships that traveled there from the Canary Islands such as the Telémaco, La Elvira or Saturnino.
In general, they were boats that were in very bad condition and where the crew “traveled overcrowded”, highlights the professor. Néstor Rodríguez Martín, in his research article Clandestine emigration from the Canary Islands to Venezuela in the 1940s and 1950s where he points out some exceptional cases among those ships, such as the Juanita, which left Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on February 2, 1950 with 65 crew members and passengers and which was “the only one that had an iron hull, for which it was known in the island ports like Juanita de Hierro ”, but also highlights the case of a schooner that left La Palma. It is the “elegant” yacht Benahoare (aboriginal name of La Palma) “manufactured in a riverside carpentry in Santa Cruz de La Palma and heir to the palm tree shipbuilding tradition”, he details in this article. The ship was owned by Armando Yanes Carrillo, also the author of the book Old Things from the Sea (1953).
Professor Manuel Hernández underlines the historical context in which this clandestine emigration is framed. In 1948 the writer Rómulo Gallegos ruled in Venezuela, who “in fact, did not have diplomatic relations with Franco.” Within a few months of governing, there was a coup d’état and then came the dictatorship of Pérez Jiménez. So, “a lot of people who were well received, suddenly, were now considered communists.” These canaries were taken to places that served as concentration camps, such as the island of Orchilla or that of Guasina, where they were deprived of their freedom and suffered misery. The professor affirms that this situation “put pressure on Franco” so that in 1952 “migration was liberalized and obstacles were not put in place,” since not only Canaries emigrated to Venezuela, but also people from other territories of the country such as Galicia. There were some boats with canaries that were already traveling clandestinely and who did not receive the information that the migration to the continent had been released. This was the case of Doramas, which came out of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
The palm trees, historical defenders of agriculture
María Victoria Hernández gets emotional thinking of the love that the people of La Palma feel for their land. Volcanoes, droughts, hard work or emigration first to Cuba and then to Venezuela have marked the character of its people. The chronicler remarks that with these remittances from the emigrants, the land had to be worked very hard. “With pick and shovel,” he explains, those terraced crops so characteristic of the island were built. “Trucks of earth were brought from the summit” so that the land that was destroyed by the lava would be fertile. “Water was thrown into the dry stone of the volcanoes and walls were built. I believe that if we put all the dry stone walls we have in a straight line, La Palma would have a wall bigger than that of China ”, exclaims the chronicler. Manuel Hernández points out that the emigration of the Canaries to Venezuela lasted until the 80s and that the property structure also had to do with the purchase of plots, that the large landowners sold their lands to those who returned with money from America and that They decided to invest in the area of Tazacorte, Los Llanos or El Paso. But the palm trees, he explains, also made large investments in El Hierro, both with banana and later with tropical pineapple, as well as in the south of Tenerife.
It was especially from the 60s when this takeoff began to be perceived in the Aridane valley. “Many people came from Gran Canaria and Lanzarote to work and then stayed here”, remarks María Victoria Hernández. Then came the Teneguía, which she herself remembers, but it was an eruption in which the initial fear gave way to great expectation. “On October 26 of this year the 50th anniversary of the Teneguía is celebrated and look at everything that has changed life,” he highlights. The professor points out that the causes of the return of the emigrated Canaries are multiple and it was progressive. First, there was a world crisis in 1973 that caused the increase in the price of oil. Subsequently, there was the nationalization of the oil industry in the country. Before the caracazo (a series of popular protests that took place in 1989 and that left hundreds of deaths in Venezuela), the first devaluation of the Venezuelan currency had taken place (1982), “which has nothing to do with the current one”. recalls the history teacher. The degradation of the Venezuelan economy caused canaries, as well as descendants of Italians, to settle in the Archipelago as a result of the development of tourism, especially in territories that “where there was a possibility of work” such as the south of the islands or Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.
In La Palma, however, it was the agricultural sector that stood out until today and the population did not experience as high a growth as that of other islands such as Lanzarote or Fuerteventura. Manuel Hernández emphasizes that the palm trees had already claimed in Venezuela as defenders of agriculture and narrates the example of what is today one of the main livestock companies in the country, El Tunal, founded in the city of Quíbor 51 years ago by Alejo Herández, a palm tree from El Paso and known by the name of “screw”. The ties with Venezuela are palpable in the Canary Islands, especially in the western islands where “you just have to see the number of areperías,” remarks the historian, who emphasizes the lexicon, culture, music …
The chronicler of Los Llanos highlights the strength of the Palmeros to get ahead, but adds that it is “very hard” to think about those signs of identity that they have lost as a people. The case of the Todoque church stands out, an emblematic place for both believers and non-believers. A neighborhood that he carries in his heart and of which he shares images on his Facebook account. “Photographs of places that are no longer there” and that are the result of the work of so many generations. But “it is not only Todoque, it is Paraíso, it is the Los Campitos school…” and many other places that make up the history of La Palma and that the chronicler remembers while waiting for the lava to not carry away the municipal cemetery, where it is located. buried his father and the relatives of so many neighbors.
María Victoria Hernández hopes that now the euro, the European Union. the aid and advances that his people did not have 50 years ago allow the palm trees to get ahead. He remarks that the volcanoes of his island gave the first samples of the literature made in the Canary Islands by the colonizers in the 15th century; the dirges of Guillén Peraza.
Cry, ladies, yes, God is worth it.
Guillén Peraza stayed on La Palma
the withered flower of his face.
You are not palm, you are broom,
you are cypress with a sad branch,
you are misery, bad misery.
Your fields break sad volcanoes,
do not see pleasures, but sorrows,
let your flowers cover the sands.
Guillén Peraza, Guillén Peraza,
Where is your shield? Where is your spear?
Everything is finished by the mess.