By Alberto Zambrano
The role of the Christian Democrats during the so-called Civil Republic period of 1961-1998 paved the way for today’s current political deception, the “right-wing conservatism of Christian democracy” is undoubtedly a subject for every right-winger in Venezuela to consider if they want to play politics.
At Cultura Política & Uniendo Puntos, we have left our impressions on the current state of “democracy,” and we have written extensively on the problems of liberal democracy.
We consider that it is essential for English spoken readers to get the alternative perspective to the official narratives on the aspects of Christian Democracy that profoundly influenced chavismo and shaped the way of the current dynamics of politics in Venezuela.
Origins of COPEI
The Independent Committee of Political Electoral Organization, the Social Christians, the Green Party, has its roots in the National Action Party and the Falange-inspired National Student Union formed by Roman Catholic students from the cold Andean Venezuelan states of Táchira, Mérida, and Trujillo during the 1940s: Among them Rafael Caldera, Ravard, Rodríguez Uzcanga, and Lara Peña. The National Student Union was a breakaway organization to the Venezuelan Student’s Federation after the latter chose to ban all religious organizations from public life, including the Society of Jesus, bankrollers, and teachers of the founders of the National Action Party. Inspired by the Spanish Falange, young members of the National Student Union saw in the clique of hoodlums of the Communist Party a threat, and for the Communists worldwide, the Falangist movements were natural enemies of the Proletarian Cause, dating back to the Stalinist Meddling in left-wing Spanish Republican politics.
The conduction of politics in 1940s Venezuela was one full of fiery speeches in the rostrums and heavy-hitting with the truncheons in the streets: COPEI is famous for beating up Leoncio Martínez (1), and AD was famous for killing their own, namely: Leonardo Ruiz Pineda. (2) After the overthrow of Isaías Medina Angarita, the Revolutionary Junta appoints Rafael Caldera as Solicitor General, the harsh communist rhetoric of Acción Democrática drew strong opposition from the average citizens, who saw communism as a strange doctrine from the cold lands of Piano composers. The press also drove that sentiment.
Back in the ’40s, the press was regularly summoned to Miraflores Presidential Palace to receive lessons on editorial policy, to which they quietly acquiesced: Miguel Otero Silva’s El Nacional and Miguel Angel Capriles’ network are prime examples of this (3).
At the time, every Venezuelan political organization that wished to have some relevance had to resort to mass gatherings & demonstrations — Bread & games.
The Caracas’ Nuevo Circo bull-fighting ring was the venue chosen by Rafael Caldera in which he decided to make public his resignation to the Solicitor General Office and draw attention to his political party. That event was the first major Christian Democrat gathering in Venezuela’s political history. During Perez Jimenez’s government, COPEI cooperated with the state policy of stifling insurgency while conspiring with low-rank officers that were in cahoots with the communists. Top-level intelligence officer Pedro Estrada explained to Agustín Blanco Muñoz in 1983 that COPEI’s role in the Perez Jiménez government had been one of a controlled opposition because Venezuela’s Directorate of Homeland Security had informants reporting every vital movement.
COPEI’s leader Rafael Caldera went at odds with the Perez Jimenez administration after an alleged botched bombing and took refuge in the Apostolic Nunciature of Caracas then fled to New York, where Caldera nurtured himself with the intellectual baggage that allowed him to produce written work for posterity. Nevertheless, it was Rafael Caldera’s way of conducting politics in a personal style that made an imprint in the Christian democrats of using a doctrine axis as a means to reach, exercise and further deepen the grip upon political power, to push for change and affirm political participation as a motor for social reforms. The combination of the Christian democrat doctrine led by Caldera, as well as the use of infiltration & tightly-knit intelligence networks, were the elements around which chavismo got inspired to execute its exercise of power.
The Adeco way of dealing with the Military
The origins of Venezuela’s Military Academy date back to when General Juan Vicente Gómez felt the need to modernize the army and imported Chilean colonel, Samuel McGill, to run the academy under a Prussian model. Before the military academy institution, officers in Venezuelan armed forces were illiterate cowboy riders & cattle rustlers within Gomez’s clique.
The concept of “seniority” measured in time of service or merit is a respected military tradition. Venezuela’s historical political unrest made it almost impossible to maintain seniority, one of the pillars of the military institution.
After Marcos Pérez Jiménez ‘s forceful removal from office, adecos reincorporated expelled officers, several communists amongst them with contacts with USSR representative to Venezuela Gustavo Machado.
Acción Democrática’s leadership saw the threat of communist infiltration in the armed forces, namely in the way that Rear-Admiral Carlos Larrazábal was buddies with a top USSR spy. The Rear-Admiral had a knack for being on everybody’s side, being good friends with Perez Jimenez cost him the Ministry of Defense in favor of an Air Force general by the name of Jesús María Castro León, who claimed to be as senior as Rear-Admiral Wolfgang Larrázabal (Carlos’ brother) despite losing four years of service after a dishonourable discharge for plotting against Juan Vicente Gómez.
In 1935, right after Gómez died, Castro León rejoined the armed forces, only to be kicked out again in 1958 for threatening Wolfgang Larrazábal. This revolving door at the Ministry of Defense led to Castro León staging an uprising in Táchira on April 20, 1960 (4) with the help of Dominican Republic’s Rafael Leónidas Trujillo (5) with intentions of setting up another Pérez Jiménez-like regime but with ideological notes of left-of-center Gamal Abdel Nasser with conflated critical theory of the historical manipulation of Simón Bolivar’s life, aiding him with the plot were the Hernández Carabaño brothers and double agent Carlos Savelli Maldonado (6).
Getting rid of Marcos Perez Jimenez’s supporters in the Armed Forces implied for adecos that the policy of seniority had to be tweaked.
The average graduation of Second Lieutenants at the time, by the time a general reached age 50 that meant automatic retirement. When Betancourt suffered a botched assassination attempt plotted by Trujillo (7), a car bomb that exploded killing a man and wounding Minister of Defense General Josué Lopéz Hernández.
Rómulo Betancourt had to replace López Hernández and chose General Antonio Briceño Linares over senior officer Rear-Adm. Larrazábal(8).
So right after General Castro León’s adventure, Betancourt wanted to get rid of the remaining colonels loyal to Marcos Pérez Jiménez.
The Betancourt Administration passed an act that retired Armed Forces officers after thirty years of service.
The law signed by Betancourt was supposed to last ten years, and in practice, it helped created an Acción Democrática-friendly ring of influence in the Armed Forces. The decree allowed Betancourt to extend the service time of any officer he wanted, This allowed Gen. Antonio Briceño Linares and then General Ramón Florencio Gómez to serve Betancourt & Leoni and effectively to stifle the Soviet plan of placing a red proxy in the Ministry of Defense. The political ring of influence served to secure national defenses from tyrants of the Fidel Castro and Rafael Leónidas Trujillo variety; it also paved the way for the creation of political cronyism within the armed forces.
A seed for the fruits that COPEI’s best would later sow in cahoots with the worst class of politicians that Acción Democrática would train- as pundit Daniel Lara Farías likes to say in his radio shows.
It is essential to state that Generals Briceño Linares and Gómez had a pivotal role helping fight communist subversion led by Fidel Castro, for their tenures saw the Barcelonazo, Carupanazo & Porteñazo revolts as well as the Machurucuto Beachfront Incident, Fidel’s own Bay of Pigs.
COPEI’s First Electoral Victory: “It was necessary.”
The Venezuelan 1968 Presidential Election was a close call in which adeco candidate Gonzalo Barrios was tricked out of the election by his party to let COPEI’s Rafael Caldera win in hopes of showing foreign investors that the new Venezuelan democracy was stable, that Venezuela was a safe bet, backed by the American administration seal of approval.
Tricking Gonzalo Barrios infuriated the Acción Democrática party base, and the military had to watch in complacency as the Supreme Electoral Council, Venezuela’s electoral authority discarded the votes and called the election in favor of Caldera, a marginal 30.000 votes, created through trickery, fraud, and deception.
In a conversation I had with Simón Alberto Consalvi regarding democratic change somewhere in 2010, the 1968 Venezuelan election was brought up: “It was not a transparent victory, Caldera’s first presidential victory was fraudulent, we [the adecos] gave Caldera the election, it was necessary.” Carlos Andrés Pérez would say to Giusti & Hernández that massive electoral fraud in Barinas (homeland of Hugo Chavez) & Lara states was evident.
However, it was convenient for the birthing democracy to show that by using rigged elections, the political elite could stage a regime change under the complacent eye of the military, which is kept at bay with contracts and juicy pension funds.
The Green Way of dealing with the military
If the Adecos seeded the ground for political cronyism within the armed forces, Caldera doubled down on courting the Armed Forces with excessive military promotions and contracts. His first controversial episode was when he had to name his Minister of Defense.
The Acción Democrática-friendly military was expecting that Caldera would pick an officer according to the seniority tradition. However, Caldera felt the need to cement his place amongst the ranks of the political elite by giving power to the military that had either strong opposition to AD or staunch COPEI supporters.
The Senate Commission in charge of promoting the military halted Caldera’s policy of giving money and guns to anyone that would oppose AD with an Armed Forces uniform.
Caldera’s pompous pretensions of a highbrow Bolivarian Prussian-inspired army of social-Christian intellectuals was just a blown-up fantasy concocted by him and his supporters. The 1960s were rife of communist subversion in the Americas, led by the Bearded Cuban Marxist guerrillas. Fidel Castro always saw in Venezuela the beachfront for his domination of the American Continent, so when courting the social democrat adecos failed, Fidel turned to guerrilla leader Douglas Bravo to construct a plan to infiltrate the Armed Forces, these officers were benefited with Caldera’s policy of promotions.
Caldera’s first pick for a defense minister was not an officer based on seniority like General Pablo Antonio Flores Alvarez, a man whose role in the military recognizing Caldera’s victory was pivotal, but a general of his choice using his presidential prerogative.
The massive fraud which robbed Gonzalo Barrios out the 1968 presidential election, coupled with his reluctance to become president under a pyrrhic victory infuriated the military spirit of the Prussian-inspired, Chilean-imported Military Academy doctrine of Samuel McGill, whose disciples took inspiration from Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk & Simón Bolívar’s body of work to conflate a theory of nationalism under the civic tutelage of none other than from men grown from the rank & file of the Communist Party of Venezuela that created a breakaway political party to claim power. General Pablo Flores had both the seniority and the merits of defending Venezuela’s unstable democracy against communist subversion, namely stifling Castro León’s coup.
As we can see, the way in which Rafael Caldera mimicked his rivals’ military relations set up a time bomb for Venezuela’s stable democracy that would see its frail veil of stability finally crushed by Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías in 1992.
- (1) Hernández, Ramón, and Roberto Giusti. Carlos Andrés Pérez: Memorias Proscritas. First ed., Caracas, Libros El Nacional, Editorial CEC, Jan. 2007, p. 50. Chapter 10: Victims of Medinismo gives a political context of Venezuela in the 1945 Revolutionary Government.
- (2) Blanco Muñoz, Agustín. Pedro Estrada Habló. First ed., Caracas, Consejo de Desarrollo Científico y Humanístico UCV, July 1983, p. 167
- (3) (1) Ibid, p.49
- (4) Barragán, L. (2004, April 20). A 44 años de la invasión de Castro León. Retrieved from https://www.analitica.com/opinion/opinion-nacional/a-44-anos-de-la-invasion-de-castro-leon/. Archived at http://archive.is/LlISS
- (5) (1) Ibid, p.121. Chapter 30: Castro León uprises in Táchira
- (6) Suniaga, F. (2018, August 7). El atentado a Rómulo Betancourt. Retrieved from https://prodavinci.com/el-atentado-a-romulo-betancourt/. Archived at http://archive.is/kOe0h
- (7) Díaz Espejo, A. (2009, June 23). CRÓNICA “La necesidad crea el método”. Retrieved from https://antoniodiazespejo.wordpress.com/2009/06/23/la-necesidad-crea-el-metodo/. Archived at http://archive.is/HjVVp
- (8) Peñaloza Carlos. (2014). Chávez, el delfin de Fidel: la historia secreta del golpe del 4 de febrero (1st ed.). Miami: Alexandria Library. p 102
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Yours truly, Alberto Z.