The Caracas Controversy
Collections - Posted 06-02-2023
The papers of the senior civil servant Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans came to the Library in 2019, but thanks to the pandemic, it was only last summer that I had the opportunity to organise and catalogue them.
Sir Guildhaume had a very interesting and successful career. After he was injured in the First World War he went to work for Lloyd George and became a specialist on labour matters, serving in the Ministry of Labour and National Service, and representing the British Government on the International Labour Organisation. This gave him the opportunity to travel, make interesting international contacts and witness the occasional political spat.
Sir Guildhaume was a member of the governing body of the International Labour Organization at the time of the petroleum conference in Caracas, Venezuela, in April 1955. Although the representatives of employers and governments supported the bid to hold the conference there, representatives of trade unions had objected because of the treatment of union officials, including the imprisonment of a number of them, by the military government there which had come to power in a coup d’état in 1948. During the opening session the representative of the unions from the Netherlands, Mr Vermeulen, gave a speech drawing attention to the rights of workers in the country and a number of union leaders who were in prison. The response of the Venezuelan government was to send officers of the security forces to his hotel to escort him to the airport and to send him out of the country.
Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans Papers, D3/4
When the other representatives of the unions heard about this, they agreed not to take part in the main conference until he was allowed to come back and because of the International Labour Organisation’s constitution of the, the conference could not go ahead. Vermeulen spent over a week in Curacao while Sir Guildhaume and other officials tried to find some kind of resolution but despite suggested compromises and high level negotiations they were unable to broker an agreement that was acceptable to both Mr Vermeulen and the Venezuelan authorities.
Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans Papers, D3/1
Despite Sir Guildhaume’s efforts to persuade the authorities otherwise, Venezuela temporarily pulled out of the International Labour Organization but it seems that indirectly at least, the whole affair did have the effect that Mr Vermeulen and the union officials had been hoping for. In a letter from Sir Guildhaume to the British delegation in Geneva on 31 May he was able to report that a number of union officers had been released from prison adding in typical civil servant understatement:
“I like to think that I might have some partial responsibility for this happy result”.
The full story can be found in Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans Papers Series D3.
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