Venezuela: 19th-Century General Elevated to National Pantheon

Domingo Antonio Sifontes fought against British expansion into Venezuelan territory.
The Venezuelan Armed Forces have praised Sifontes for his efforts in defence of the country's sovereignty. (@nawseas)

Caracas, January 9, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan authorities have ascended General Domingo Antonio Sifontes (1834-1912) to the National Pantheon.

A 19th-century military leader, Sifontes faced off against British expansion while stationed in eastern Venezuela. At the time, mining interests drove UK settlers deep into Venezuelan territory in present-day Bolívar state.

During his tenure, Sifontes reportedly promoted the exploration of the area, the protection of indigenous communities as well as the peaceful removal of British occupiers. The strongest confrontation was the so-called “Cuyuní incident” that saw Venezuelan forces retake a military command post.

The general’s remains were exhumed in Tumeremo, Bolívar state, on Saturday. A military caravan then transported his coffin to Caracas. It was taken to the National Pantheon on Tuesday afternoon following a ceremony at the capital’s Military Academy.

“We will offer the biggest military and popular honors to General Sifontes,” President Nicolás Maduro wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “We hold the standard of bravery with which he led the Battle of Cuyuní and drove away the English who occupied our territory.” 

Sifontes’ legacy gained special relevance in the wake of the flare-up of the Essequibo Strip controversy between Venezuela and neighboring Guyana.

The 160,000 square kilometer territory that Venezuela claims as part of its territory since independence was gradually taken over in the 19th century by the United Kingdom, then colonizing British Guiana. A US-endorsed arbitration process awarded nearly the entire disputed territory to London in 1899.

Caracas rejected the ruling and its diplomatic efforts led to the 1966 Geneva Agreement whereby Venezuela and the UK committed to finding a mutually satisfactory solution to the border issue. After independence, Guyana became Venezuela’s counterpart in the accords.

The unsolved territorial controversy came back to the fore in recent years following the discovery of massive oil reserves in the Essequibo’s territorial waters. Heightened tensions in recent months, including a referendum that saw Venezuelan voters back the country’s sovereignty claim, subsided following direct talks between Maduro and Guyanese President Irfaan Ali.

In late December, the arrival of a British warship to the region in support of Guyana saw Maduro order military exercises named after Sifontes. An estimated six thousand active personnel from the different branches of the armed forces took part in the land and sea drills. Caracas has repeatedly denounced foreign meddling and intervention threats, especially from the US.

(Click on the photos to enlarge)