Ibarra Family Papers Provide Window into Venezuelan History

September 14, 2013

The Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII) is excited to announce the unveiling of the Ibarra Project, a joint initiative between the LAII, Dr. Roberto Ibarra, and University Libraries (UL). The initiative makes available to the scholarly community a rare and unusual collection of documents from one of Caracas' leading families, and offers a novel glimpse into 18th, 19th, and 20th century Venezuelan history and politics. Susan Tiano, director of the LAII, observed that the institute is now "poised to convene symposia and other activities to introduce the collection to the scholarly community and help spread word of their existence and utility for historians and other researchers."

The Ibarra Project takes the form of the Roberto Ibarra Family Papers, a special collection housed within the Center for Southwest Research (CSWR) The collection contains over 1,000 documents, books, newspapers, photographs, and letters from the family of General Diego Ybarra of Venezuela. The documents were donated by Dr. Ibarra, Associate Professor in the UNM Department of Sociology and descendent of General Diego Ibarra.

According to Suzanne Schadl, curator and coordinator for the UL Inter-American Studies program, "Family papers in general, but specifically those from Latin America (and in this case a central nexus of power in South America during the 18th and 19th centuries), enhance our strong library and special collections resources by offering students, as well as faculty and visiting scholars, unique windows into the lived experience of individual members of this family, many of whom are women. Having access to these materials locally offers students at UNM an important opportunity to interact with unique documentation from Latin America. Its placement here may also bring visiting scholars with expertise on Bolivar and Venezuela to UNM -- giving our students enhanced opportunities to participate more broadly in academic discussions with additional scholars of Latin America."

For the past several months, Samuel Sisneros, Archivist Assistant with CSWR, has carefully preserved the collection of historical documents. According to Cisneros, the materials shed light not only on the personal history of the Ibarra family but also on the broader historical, political, and economic history of Venezuela and Latin America writ large. The newspapers in particular, many of them from the early 1800s, offer a unique glimpse into the region's history.

The Ibarra (also spelled "Ybarra") family is recognized as one of the elite "first families" of Venezuela during the Spanish Colonial and Independence periods. This branch of the family arrived in the early 1600s from their Basque homeland in Ojacastro, Spain. They were granted land and eventually established one of the largest haciendas in Venezuela, raising cacao for export and later sugarcane for manufacturing rum on the hacienda, which was known as "Hacienda Trapiche" or simply "Trapiche" for its iconic tower-like chimney used for turning sugarcane into molasses. During the 18th century, family member Monsignor Francisco Ibarra became the first creole Bishop and eventually Archbishop of Caracas.

With the first stirrings of independence from Spain in South America, many males of the family (i.e. Diego, Vicente, Alejandro, Andres, etc.) became military leaders in the campaigns against the Spanish forces. After independence had been won, they continued to engage in the struggle to maintain social and political stability, eventually gaining appointments as high ranking government officials. (Vicente Ibarra became Minister of Interior & Mines). General Diego Ibarra y Rodríguez del Toro (1798-1852) was a childhood playmate and close relative of Simón Bolívar Palacios, leader of the independence movement in Venezuela (which included the modern nations of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and parts of Peru). General Diego Ibarra was asked by Bolívar to be his first and foremost aide-de-camp (Primer Edecán). General Ibarra sheltered Bolívar in the Ibarra hacienda at various times throughout the struggle for independence. During one of those visits to the hacienda, Bolívar established guidelines for the first public university in Venezuela, the Universidad Central de Venezuela. General Ibarra was honored as one of the heroes of the revolution both before and after his death. His remains were placed in the Pantheon of Heroes in Caracas near those of General Simón Bolívar.

In the 1940s, the Ibarra hacienda (or Casona Ibarra as it was called) was purchased by the federal government from General Ibarra's grandson, Antonio Ibarra Elizondo. The legislature declared it a national monument in 1961. Though it was destined to become a living museum of colonial family life and a memorial to the struggle for independence, it was instead absorbed into the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) to be used as offices for faculty, and now record storage. A complex plan for restoration was recently completed; however, due to lack of funds Casona Ibarra is in deteriorating condition today.

In 1996, Venezuelan historian, and former UCV administrator, Dr. Ildefonso Leal, published a history of the place, La Casona de la Hacienda Ibarra: Origen de la Ciudad Universitaria, which frames the backdrop and context for the collection of Ibarra family documents. In December 1999, Diego Ibarra y Palacios, the great-grandson of General Diego Ibarra, passed away, and the historical family documents were recovered among his effects by his son, Dr. Roberto Antonio Ibarra. With approval of family members, Dr. Ibarra took possession of the collection and transported it to the U.S. Dr. Ibarra, Associate Professor in the UNM Department of Sociology, then ensured the collection's survival and accessibility by collaborating with the LAII and UL to donate the materials to the university.

The collection is now entirely preserved and cataloged, and is available through the Center for Southwest Research (CSWR). Digital objects of materials described in the inventory can be made available upon request. To see the online inventory, visit the Rocky Mountain Online Archive. Details concerning the LAII's related symposia and other activities related to this important initiative will be announced as they become available.