CARACAS, Wednesday April 01, 2009 | Update
Alcohol was blamed for all the ills afflicting the human race. Therefore, the United States moved to ban alcohol production, sale and consumption. The decision gave rise to the world's largest alcohol smuggling mafias. Huge fortunes were built upon illegal trade of alcohol until 1933, when US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt abrogated the Prohibition. In Venezuela, in 1916, the government of President Juan Vicente Gómez enacted the so-called Tasks Law, whereby political prisoners and ordinary inmates should engage in public works with no pay whatsoever
Enforcement of the ban was troublesome as there were very few agents responsible for that task, thus leading to proliferation of smugglers (Photo: AP)
Fundamentalism in the United States went stronger and instilled
into the people the idea that alcohol was the cause of all
the evils and sins; therefore, banning alcohol consumption
would end with these problems.
The prohibition of alcoholic beverages entered into force on July 1st, 1916 in 24 US states. This was the prelude of the enactment of the Prohibition at the federal level, which entered into force in 1919, following the approval of the 18th amendment to the Constitution. In this way, manufacturing, transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages was officially made illegal. The Prohibition was effective nationwide on January 16th, 1920.
The law caused division and social upset. Law enforcement was troublesome. There were very few agents responsible for that task, their wages were poor and they got little support from the authorities. Illegal bars proliferated and smugglers brought spirits into the United States from Mexico or Canada.
Pretty soon there was widespread corruption across the United States and gangsters ran the illegal spirits trade in many major cities. Only in Chicago, in the 1920's, there were more than 500 deaths as a result of the brawls among gangsters. In 1925, Al Capone started to control the business of illicit alcohol trade in the city. Multiple killings and huge proceeds from his mafia activities have been attributed to this man. In 1931, he was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in a federal prison.
In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt abrogated the Prohibition. However, each municipality or state retained the freedom to implement the measure.
Back to Venezuela, in 1916, the government of President Juan Vicente Gómez enacted the so-called Tasks Law, whereby political prisoners and ordinary inmates should engage in public works with no pay whatsoever.
The regulation included forced works and was strictly implemented. Shackled prisoners laid roads, including the emblematic Trans-Andean freeway, which operates to date.
Also in 1916, in March, Juan Vicente Gómez became the first Latin American president who was awarded one of the highest pontifical decorations ever bestowed by the Holy See on a head of state.
Pope Benedict XV, after being apprised of the existing good relations between the Venezuelan government and the Vatican, and of Gómez's attempts at ensuring peace in the country and freedom of cult for the national Catholic Church, conferred on Gómez the Knighthood of the Piana Order, First Class: Great Cross.
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