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Cumaná, the first permanent European-built settlement in Latin America. It was founded on the site of a Franciscan monastery on the northeastern Venezuelan coast in 1520. The pearl beds of Margarita and Cubagua for a short period in the early sixteenth century sustained the small colony and Spanish commercial interests. The German banking house of Welser obtained a grant from the Spanish crown to explore the region and used Cumaná as one of its bases of operation. The only other commercial interest in the region during this period was slave raiding, which predictably resulted in a high level of Indian hostility from the early sixteenth century into the seventeenth century.

The region was characterized by a high level of strife, not just between Spaniards and Indians, but between Spaniards themselves. Jurisdictional disputes arose frequently between rival conquistadores as royal territorial authorizations often overlapped. By the end of the 1500s, Spanish control of the region had been established. Religious missions were created by the Franciscans in the early seventeenth century and the Capuchins in 1650. Cumaná was an important port that was economically associated with the Caribbean colonies. It also was one of the major links in the Caribbean defense network. The colony was governed by a captain-general from 1650 to 1830. Although economically focused on the Caribbean, it was Lima's central treasury that provided annual subsidies for the settlement. In the 1700s the Cumaná area supported a hide and cattle industry. Due to its coastal location and the nature of Spanish expansion, Cumaná's economic, political, and religious activities were directed toward the Caribbean rather than Caracas.

Today, Cumaná is the capital of the province of Sucre and functions as a minor seaport. Its economic and strategic importance declined, and its major commercial activities now center around resort hotels and sport fishing on the coast. The estimated population in 2003 was 257,783 inhabitants.

See alsoColonialism; Indigenous Peoples.


Raymond E. Crist and Edward P. Leahy, Venezuela: Search for a Middle Ground (1969).

John V. Lombardi, Venezuela: The Search for Order, the Dream of Progress (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Castillo Hidalgo, Ricardo Ignacio. Asentamiento español y articulación interétnica en Cumaná (1560–1620). Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 2005.

Hollis, Micheal, Denova Tarver, and Julia C. Frederick. The History of Venezuela. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Laserna Gaitán, Antonio Ignacio. Tierra, gobierno local, y actividad misionera en la comunidad indigena del Oriente venezolano: La visita a la provincia de Cumana de don Luis de Chavez y Mendoza (1783–1784). Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1993.

                                        Heather K. Thiessen

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