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Captaincy General of Venezuela

The Captaincy General of Venezuela was an administrative district of colonial Spain, created in 1777 to provide more autonomy for the provinces of Venezuela, previously under the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of New Granada and the Audiencia of Santo Domingo. It established a unified government in political (governorship), military (captaincy general), fiscal (intendancy) and judicial (audiencia) affairs. Its creation was part of the Bourbon Reforms and laid the groundwork for the future nation of Venezuela, in particular by orienting the province of Maracaibo towards Caracas.

The Bourbons had already taken steps towards reorganizing their overseas possessions and Venezuela, in particular. When the New Granadan Viceroyalty was reestablished in 1739, the governor-captain general of Caracas was given military jurisdiction over the provinces of Maracaibo, Cumana, Guayana, Trinidad and Margarita. The 18th century also marked a period of marked economic growth for Venezuela. Cocoa plantations were established along the littoral valleys, which resulted in large importations of slaves. The growth of the cocoa-exporting economy was fomented by the Compania Guipuzcoana de Caracas, which was granted a full monopoly over exports and imports in 1728. The Company's second largest export was tobacco. It also promoted the exploration and settlement of Venezuela's frontiers, most famously under the Expedition of the Limits, 1750-1761 headed by Jose de Iturriaga y Aguirre, which resulted in new settlements in the Guayana region. This growth was not experienced evenly, and the monopoly hurt small farmers, who continued to sell most of their product in the contraband trade. Resentment of the Company exploded in open revolt in 1749 headed by Canarian immigrant Juan Francisco de Leon.

The Captaincy General, which was essentially a new viceroyalty in all but name, was actually created slowly over time by centralizing fiscal, administrative, military and ecclesiastical rule in Caracas. The first step was the creation of the Intendancy of Caracas, by Minister of the Indies, Jose de Galvez in 1776. The new intendancy (superintendencia de ejercito y real hacienda) covered the provinces of Venezuela (Caracas), Cumana (sometimes New Andalusia), Guayana, Maracaibo, Trinidad and Margarita. Up to this point Maracaibo, Guayana and Trinidad's governance had been directly supervised by the Bogota Audiencia; the other three provinces by the one in Santo Domingo. The following year a joint governorship-captaincy general with powers over military and administrative matters was established for the same provinces. Regional governors and military commanders were subordinated to the governor-captain general of Caracas. To maintain uniformity in judicial matters, in 1777 the provinces of Maracaibo, Margarita, Cumana, Guayana and Trinidad were transferred to the Santo Domingo Audiencia, which had taken appeals from the Province of Caracas since 1742. Judicial matters were finally centralized in 1786 with the creation of the Audiencia of Caracas, which had jurisdiction over these same provinces and the new Barinas Province, which had been established in the intervening years from the frontier regions of Maracaibo Province. The Audiencia was composed of a regent judge, three judges and a crown attorney. The governor-captain general served as its president. It was to carry out justice and to watch over the action of royal officials in the area of its jurisdiction and only communicated directly with the Council of the Indies in Spain.

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