Rufino Blanco Fombona
The hamlet of Camoruco stands at one of the gateways to the plains. The wagon road cuts the little settlement squarely and neatly in two, like the parting of a dandy’s hair. Stretched out upon the savanna, the village consists of two rows of houses which stand in a file along the edge of the road and seem to peer furtively upon the passerby. They look like a double row of sparrows upon two parallel telegraph wires. Close by flows the Guarico, an abundant stream that irrigates the pampas; in its sand slumbers the skatefish and on its banks, with half open jaws the lazy alligators take their noonday rest.
It was election time; a governor of the Department was to be chosen. For certain political reasons, the interest of an appreciable part of the Republic was centered upon the contest. El faro (the lighthouse), a backwoods sheet which had been established for the occasion, declared in its opening number: “Perhaps for the first time in Camoruco, the elections will cease to be work of a group of petty politicians; perhaps for the first time in Camoruco the elective fabric will be woven by the unsullied hands of the people.”
The number of candidates had dwindled to two. On the eve of the election the local bosses, wealthy cattle breeders of the district, brought into the neighboring town, which served as a business center for the shacks of the outlying settlement, herd of peons, submissive farm hands, good, simple plainsmen ignorant of everything, even on what they were to do in the next day’s election; for these peons, rounded up like cattle, were the citizens; that is to say, the voters. The apparel of most of them consisted of drill trousers, striped shirts; on their feet, hempen sandals; on their heads the high crowned, wide-brimmed sombrero or the saffron-colored pelo de guma around their waist, slung diagonally like a baldric, the red and blue sash; in their right hands, like a cane, they carried the peasant weapon- the ever-present machete. A goodly number of these citizens were of medium height, muscular, bronzed by the sun and by their mixed blood and recalled the classic plainsmen of Apure and Ahauca- those terrible centaurs of General Paez, in the armies of Bolivar, those mighty warriors who captured the Spanish war vessels on horseback, at the point of the lance, and of whom a hundred and fifty attacked six thousand of Morillo’s soldiers as in the Quesars del Medio- those heroes of the pampas who live in history, on canvas, in ballads, in epic and, above all, in the popular imagination.
The parties concerned in the election, like the candidates, were two. The efforts of the party leaders were directed toward herding the largest possible number of men. Each faction in Camuruco was quartered in its own district- one to the north, the other to the south of the village. As new groups of peons continued to arrive, the bosses of each side would spy on the other to see how many voters were being added in their rival forces. “See here,” they would say to some trusted farmhands, “ go and take a look at those dunderheads.” Meanwhile, party hacks were going from group to group explaining the procedures of tomorrow’s election. But despite all explanations, the simple rustics displayed certain suspiciousness. Many believed that plans for an armed uprising were afoot. In one of the groups particularly, a feeling of mistrust grew apace. Wild talk arose. “Elections!” scoffed one vaquero, as chubby and as brown as sausage. “Before long we’ll be hearing Pum! Pum! Then ho, for stubbing hides!”
To this bit of grim humor in the face of possible tragedy, another vaquero added, “Yes. Soon we’ll be hearing two shots, boys, then out with your machetes!”
This was the slogan familiar to everybody, and many smiles bitterly at the memories it awoke. “Two shots, boys, then out with your machetes.” This was the cry of the revolutionary officers in time of battle, for lacking ammunition as they...