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Rómulo Betancourt

Rómulo Betancourt (1908-September 28, 1981), 'the father of Venezuelan democracy' was president of Venezuela from 1945 to 1948 and again from 1959 to 1964. He survived an assassination attempt by Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 First term as president
3 Exile in US
4 Second term as president
5 Later life
6 Books
7 External links


Rómulo Betancourt was one of Venezuela's most important political figures and led a tumultuous and highly controversial career in Latin American politics. Periods of exile brought Betancourt into contact with various Latin American countries as well as the United States, securing his legacy as one of the few real international leaders to emerge in twentieth-century Latin America.

As a young man he founded and led a number of radical student groups. In the early 1930s while in Costa Rica he assisted with organizing the country's communist party. In 1935, he founded the Organización Venezolana, which later became the party Acción Democrática (AD).

First term as president

He became president in 1945 by a military coup, and accomplished an impressive agenda. His accomplishments included the declaration of universal suffrage, the institution of social reforms, and securing half of the profits generated by oil companies for Venezuela.

Exile in US

In 1948, Marcos Pérez Jiménez overthrew the elected president Rómulo Gallegos, and Betancourt was forced into exile in New York, where he was determined to expose to the world the political problems and dictatorships that troubled Venezuela.

Second term as president

Economic problems

He returned a decade later, after Pérez Jiménez was ousted, and was elected president. Having inherited an empty treasury and enormous foreign debts from the spendthrift Pérez, Betancourt nevertheless managed to return the state to fiscal solvency despite the rock-bottom petroleum prices throughout his presidency.

In 1960 two important institutions were created by Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso, Betancourt's minister of energy: the Venezuelan Petroleum Corporation (Corporación Venezolana de Petróleos--CVP), conceived to oversee the national petroleum industry, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the international oil cartel that Venezuela established in partnership with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran.

Agrarian reform

AD's land reform distributed unproductive private properties and public lands to halt the decline in agricultural production. Landowners who had their properties confiscated received generous compensation.

FALN Terroristic group

Betancourt also faced determined opposition from extremists and rebellious army units, yet he continued to push for economic and educational reform. A fraction split from the AD and formed the Leftist Revolutionary Movement (MIR). When leftists were involved in unsuccessful revolts at navy bases in 1962, Betancourt suspended civil liberties. Elements of the left then formed the Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN), a terrorist group. After numerous terrorist acts, he finally arrested the MIR and Communist members of Congress. It became clear that Fidel Castro had been arming the terrorists, so Venezuela protested to the [[Organization of American States]] (OAS).

Trujillo's assassination attempt

Betancourt was also attacked from the right. They received help from Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, who got involved in some Venezuelan military circles. Betancourt had denounced the Trujillo dictatorship; The fascist-like Trujillo developed an obsessive personal hatred of Betancourt and supported plots of Venezuelan exiles to overthrow him. This led the Venezuelan government to take its case against Trujillo to the OAS. That in turn infuriated Trujillo, who ordered his foreign agents to assassinate Betancourt. The attempt, on June 24, 1960, in which a military aide was killed and the president badly burned, inflamed world opinion against Trujillo, who was assassinated himself in 1961.

1963 elections

Perhaps the greatest of all Betancourt's accomplishments, however, were the successful 1963 elections. Despite threats to disrupt the process, nearly 90 percent of the electorate participated on December 1 in what was the most honest election in Venezuela to that date. March 11, 1964 was a day of pride for the people of Venezuela as for the first time the presidential sash passed from one constitutionally elected chief executive to another.

He was the first democratically-elected president to serve his full term, and was succeeded by Raúl Leoni. Venezuela's political life after 1959 was uninterrupted civilian constitutional rule.

Betancourt Doctrine

The Venezuelan president's antipathy for nondemocratic rule was reflected in the so-called Betancourt Doctrine, which denied Venezuelan diplomatic recognition to any regime, right or left, that came to power by military force. Later president Caldera rejected the doctrine, which he thought had served to isolate Venezuela in the world.

Later life

In 1973, Betancourt was awarded a lifetime seat in Venezuela's senate.

He died on September 28 in Doctors Hospital in New York City. On his death US President Ronald Reagan made the following statement:

"I speak for all Americans in expressing our heartfelt sadness at the death of Romulo Betancourt. While he was first and foremost a Venezuelan patriot, Romulo Betancourt was an especially close friend of the United States. During the 1950's he considered the United States a refuge while he was in exile, and we were proud to receive him. We are honored that this courageous man whose life was dedicated to the principles of liberty and justice -- a man who fought dictatorships of the right and the left -- spent his final days on our shores. We join the Venezuelan people and those who love freedom around the world in mourning his death."


External links