This article is part of an investigation work that covers nearly sixty years’ worth of history. For months, the editorial team at Cultura Política English burnt eyelashes and spent a significant amount of time digging in open-source intelligence sources trying to connect the dots of the sordid, peculiar, and utterly criminal network of hoodlums that had a common sign: a Red Rooster in a red background with a hammer & sickle juxtaposed in them. With information taken from the written and published work of Ariel Gryner, of talks with history professor Agustín Blanco Muñoz, conversations along the years with several influential military leaders and politicians, we expand the initial feel of this text, found entirely in a Venezuelan magazine called “Exceso.”
Without further ado, we shall explain that the communist insurgency of Venezuela had Soviet sugar daddy financiers, their protagonists –now in the dusk of their lives after cozying up with the status quo– blatantly deny it. The socialist insurgency was supposed to be all about romanticism and hard work; in reality, it was mere larceny, cocktails, drugs, whoring, violence & embezzlement of the most rancid Caviar Leftism.
Origins of Venezuelan Communism
Arising from the ideas of Karl Marx in 1864, the International Workers Association was born. The First Socialist International lasted until 1872, thanks to the disagreements between the followers of Marx & Engels and those more akin to the views of Mikhail Bakunin that saw in the Paris Commune insurrection of 1871 the materialization of their ideals. The anarchists and communists never agreed in the practical sense and trashed the project. Even so, the ghost of Communism was –and is– still alive.
A Parisian congress held in 1889 creates the Second International, and the division between Bolsheviks & Mensheviks and the revisionist tendencies of the German Communist Party is present with Eduard Bernstein & Karl Kautsky on one side. With Rose Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht on the other, both rose in arms and saw their deaths in 1919. When Vladimir Lenin, holding reserves about the efficiency of the organization, takes it upon himself to kickstart the Third International –the Komintern– with the sole goal of shunning reactionary socialist behaviors.
Lenin dies a victim of his impulses and excesses –syphilitic dementia– but his spirit and ghost continue to scare everybody in the world. The so-called father of the peoples of the world ended up a mummy, and Joseph Stalin, “the clean sword of Man” –as the Venezuelan author Carlos Augusto León dubbed him– starts to rule the Soviet Union from 1927 to 1953, the most glorious and gloomy times of Soviet history. Massive collectivization, gargantuan industrialization, and the simple exercise of power. Until his death, Stalin dreamt in the marble-lined floors of the Kremlin with the Soviet Union reaching as far and wide as possible.
In 1947, the Kominform was founded. It was the Office of Communist Information that unsuccessfully tried to control the Chinese Communist warfare and Mao’s triumphant entry into Beijing in 1949. The Third International faded –at unison with the end of the Second European Civil War– but Communism was still alive.
Then came Nikita Kruschev with his expansionist policies –he uses the power of the “Peaceful Atom” to strong-arm the West in the Suez Canal Crisis. He builds a wall and puts the western hemisphere in check with the Cuban Missile affair.
Leonid Brezhnev reinstated Stalinist practices, and at his time, the red spark began in Venezuela. Communism was deemed a weird ideology in the land of Marcos Pérez Jiménez & Simón Bolivar, and it wasn’t considered a threat until the 1960s.
“Lead & Silver” were considered the ingredients of the national revolution according to communist mouthpiece Eduardo Machado –a concept further developed by another ally of the Left, Pablo Escobar, in the form of “Silver or Lead” –. During the times of the Third International, Soviet Revolutionary Imperialism penetrated Venezuelan politics in the way of “Red Aid.” The organization provided administrative, educational, military, and economic assistance to weak parties or those deemed illegal. The Venezuelan recipients of Red Aid are either dead or currently in the Chavista government or conveniently infiltrating the opposition.
Communist bulwarks like Teodoro Petkoff & Pompeyo Marquez conveniently denied Soviet infiltration of the Communist movement in Venezuela, while Pedro Duno embraced it with arms wide open.
According to Petkoff & Márquez, the USSR opposed to the insurrectional line they pursued, so when they rose in arms, they fell at odds with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A unique situation which placed Venezuelan Communism with the Chinese as the only two Hammer and Sickle parties in the world that dared oppose the soviet revisionist line.
Venezuela’s Leftist Insurgency
The Venezuelan insurrectional conflict had a few unique characteristics: It was a movement that saw its genesis in the barracks and was concentrated mainly in the cities. The rural combats would be a posterior experience, primarily headed by folks of the Douglas Bravo & Alí Rodríguez Araque varieties to emulate the work of Ernesto Guevara without having the means to accomplish such a feat.
Venezuelan communist guerrillas carried on a bloodbath, and after the slaughter, also went at odds with Cuba. Nevertheless, the flow of cash kept going even past Kruschev’s tenure. For sneaky characters like Teodoro Petkoff, the practice of receiving money from the Soviets and doing nothing in return was romanticized by expressing that the insurgency had many casualties. Simultaneously, the soviets provided poetry and theory in a context where Latin America became a trend. A wordy way to hide the fact that the guerrillas lacked proper combat training because they were a group of disorganized bank robbers and petty criminals.
Venezuelan communists knew much more about Caribbean musical genres like conga, salsa, merengue, & mambo as they sipped cocktails with umbrellas in the beaches. These leftists loved debating the polymorphous rebellions of Herbert Marcuse and dancing with young ladies. The pretension to seize power was secondary because they were there for the booze, the drugs, the money and the ladies.
They thought they knew how to seize power by claiming that the same distractions that had them squander the millions of dollars in handouts that international communists sent their way also hampered the national proletariat to acquire the revolutionary conscience to join them in the struggle.
Moving the Hegelian dialectic from the cold, scarce Urals to the shores of Venezuela proved a difficult task.
The first Venezuelans to attempt such a feat were a group of privileged bourgeois men that rallied in New York City in 1926, where the Venezuelan Revolutionary Party was formed as a breakaway political organization to José Rafael Pocaterra’s pseudo-masonic “Order of The Skull.”
That Party later became the Communist Party of Venezuela.
The Machado Brothers –Eduardo & Gustavo–, Salvador de la Plaza, Pío Tamayo, Ricardo Martínez, Julio Martínez are amongst the group of men that gathered support in exile to fight Juan Vicente Gómez. They fail. Gómez dies, and next in succession to lead Venezuela is General Eleazar López Contreras, a man who set up a trap for the insurgents, as he first welcomed them back to the country to have the communists be put in jail afterward. Under López Contreras, Venezuelan Communism takes roots in the urban settings and the oil fields, they manage to stage a national oil worker’s strike, and the stage was set up for guerrilla warfare.
Antonio Machado once said that Soviet politics had universal reach and a clear sense of what was real. Knowing that a triumph of the revolution in Latin America would open for the USSR massive spheres of influence, that’s the reason why Nikita Kruschev –General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party– and Nikolai Podgorny offered special financing for the armed struggle in Venezuela. Kruschev held a soiree in Moscow for none other than Eduardo Machado, Jorge Dáger Simón Sáez Merida, & German Lairet.
Nikolai Podgorny would ratify Kruschev’s plans to Pedro Duno and Joaquin Araujo Ortega at the USSR embassy in Cuba.
The Venezuelan communists wanted ten thousand automatic firearms for their cause. The Soviets provided two million dollars and told the Venezuelan leaders to purchase those guns in the international black market. The deal was struck and sealed with vodka. What seemed a straightforward transaction was conducted under the utmost cloak and dagger in Lake Geneva, Switzerland.
The money that was supposed to buy firearms instead was used for supporting guerrillas, paying off bribes, safe houses, vehicles, printing propaganda, buying drugs, paying prostitutes, and alcohol.
The Venezuelan comrades did purchase some weapons, only to have them seized in the shores of Falcón in 1963. That didn’t stop them from trying to stage an incursion to the shores of Machurucuto in 1966, only to see their hopes shattered by the brave actions of the Venezuelan armed forces. In both attempts, commanders of the Cuban army took part, like disgraced General Arnaldo Ochoa, whom Fidel Castro sent to the firing squad decades later for dealing cocaine.
The Soviet aid to Venezuelan communists that dates back to the times of the Third International consisted of small remittances to the Communist Party of Venezuela. By then, it was thought that the small amount paid for by party members, was an expression of the organized life existing within the Party and that in consequence, finances would be the best aspect of the Party because the money gathered was the expression of the political insertion of the Party within Venezuelan society.
The Communist Party was composed of youngsters that found within it ranks their raison d’ être. It gave them a practical purpose and a social environment, something that applied to the Machado brothers and Jesús Faría, who were regular recipients of the alms that the Cuban Communists sent their way.
The 1960s had variable cash flow for the Venezuelan commies, all hailing from red beacons all over the world: Nearly $14 million US dollars—nearly $123 million in today’s 2020, accounting for inflation— hailing from the Soviet Union, Cuba & China were placed in the hands of Venezuelan Communists to administer, something routinely denied by their recipients –like Américo Martín, Teodoro Petkoff & Moisés Moleiro– because it would be evident that they squandered the cash in other enterprises –women, booze, airplanes, cars, cattle, drugs, jewelry, real estate, personal entrepreneurship, and gambling.
The East Germans printed fake money –Bolivars & Dollars–only to have them seized by Venezuelan Intelligence after tracking them down in border town brothels. North Koreans provided 73 tons of weapons, the communist Czechoslovak Party supplied them with passports and treated their wounded, the French Communist Party, despite their harsh criticism of the Venezuelan armed struggle, supplied logistics for them.
The Italian Communist Party made considerable contributions to Venezuelan communists, because they thought that the significant number of Italians immigrants setting shop in different parts of the Venezuelan geography could rouse the patriotic nationalist sentiments and see their paesane join the fight for the conquer of the revolution. The Italian Communists insisted on reaching socialism in a peaceful way –something their Chinese counterparts considered a contemporary revisionist heresy.
Different places in the European geography were rendezvous points for foreign communists to give their alms to their Venezuelan comrades. The Chinese met them in Paris or Bern, the Cubans used different capitals all over Europe –sometimes Algiers, via a government wire transfer facilitated by Ahmed Ben Bella “for the liberation of Venezuela.”
Despite these numerous financing sources, the main financiers of this operation were the Muscovites.
The Russians’ delivery of the money took place in Geneva or Zurich, and the Venezuelan recipient would have to play spy games. He had to wear a new coat and carry a copy of Paris Match, then two soviet agents would approach them and ask the Venezuelan what time was it. If the answer were right, the Russian would show the recipient a book from some Venezuelan author and started to chit-chat as they made their way to an alley where they would agree to meet on another quiet night.
Later, they’d meet again, and the soviet would appear with a suitcase full of money, placed it on the ground, and produced a Tokarev TT-33 or 9mm Walther PPK pistol to cover for his Venezuelan comrade. All of these cloak and dagger procedures were intended to provide a safeguard from American or British intelligence. The Venezuelan recipient would return to his hotel to deliver the money to an Italian counterpart who would later smuggle the cash into Venezuela.
The Venezuelan communist delegations that visited the Soviet Union crossed the streets of Moscow in black luxury stretch limousines. They followed the secular custom of visiting the Walls of the Kremlin and paying their respects to the tombs of Lenin & Stalin. Men like Aníbal Escalante, Jesús Faría, Palmiro Togliatti, Eduardo Gallegos Mancera, Porfirio Rubirosa, Héctor Mujica, Germán Lairet, Roney Arismendi & Gustavo Machado enjoyed the lavishness of the Soviet apparatchik lifestyle from early in the morning to late night.
An abundance reserved only for those in the higher echelons of the Party. The Venezuelans —familiar to arepas & sancochos—gobbled on smoked salmons, pirogis, sausages, lamb, kasha, and even American flapjacks for breakfast, followed by a 14-course lunch that included borscht, beef, and nearly 20 varieties of bread from different regions of the Soviet Empire.
The Venezuelan delegation would get the regular visit to Gorky Park, a Bolshoi ballet show –where they would usually fall asleep–, and always –to the surprise of their soviet hosts– request a tour of the Lumumba University to get a chance to hook up with some Russian girl.
The Communist Party of Venezuela was never a numerous organization. The Soviets, however, deemed it a strategically important one, and the Soviets gave them the top-notch treatment: Luxury hotels, specialized clinics, vehicles, and a credit line at the GUM department store.
Despite the tons of arms and the millions of dollars in cash from Cuba, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, China, Italy, and North Korea, none of that effort was enough to bring about an insurgency in Venezuela. Weak, fragmented leadership, full of contradictions, was a significant handicap to guarantee an armed victory. All that money was squandered. Something that even angered Che Guevara,, who came to express his discontent with the mismanagement of their money by his Venezuelan counterparts: “Venezuelans sell the war to their friends, and peace to their enemies.” Che’s resentment for Venezuelan communists manifested when he realized that his comrades in Caracas had a knack for cocktail party fundraisers for congressional campaigns instead of armed struggle in the mountains.
Che Guevara wasn’t the only top brass communist leader to feel that the Venezuelan comrades were doing little to nothing for the armed revolution. In an exchange with history professor Agustín Blanco Muñoz he revealed to us that for his biographical book on Eduardo Gallegos Mancera —Secretary International Affairs for Venezuela’s Communist Party, who travelled illegally with over 33 fake passports all over the world meeting with red agents of the stature of Mao, Ho Chi Minh & Kim Il Sung— during a visit to Beijing in a meeting with the Chinese leader, Mancera produced a map of Venezuela showing all the active subversive cells. Mao asked Mancera —and his interpreters were very incisive in the translation— that if the Communist Party had so many cells active for the insurgency, why weren’t they able to topple Rómulo Betancourt’s government? Mancera remained silent, and shortly after, the meeting abruptly concluded when Mancera asked the Chinese for more money and arms.
If Venezuelan guerrilla leaders lacked the will to fight, the political focus of all that effort was an enormous mistake for international Communism. The apathy of the Venezuelan public towards that soviet doctrine of weird non-exultation was something that even the most charismatic communist leaders in Venezuela couldn’t deal with, that was the reason why the armed revolution was nothing but derision.
The fact that the average Venezuelan despised communists triggered Teodoro Petkoff, who found in critical theory an excuse to pontificate about how those times were periods of the great revolutionary exaltation of romanticism and the will to die in the name of socialist glory.
Petkoff was a man who couldn’t care less for the lives of police officers and armed forces personnel who were murdered brutally. Describing the Venezuelan communist insurgency —characterized by a massive wave of kidnappings & bank robberies with brutal aggression towards the victims— as “a beautiful time in our history.” The hypocrite leftist, who years later, pretended to show remorse by expressing that it was a political mistake, albeit a justified one.
Venezuelan communists were greedy, womanizing crooks who had no qualms using the cash they received from their counterparts in different enterprises. They behaved like the most warped, deformed, and sick aspects of the Venezuelan decadence that only rivaled the opulent Saudi lifestyle, a fact that angers the few surviving ones and their contemporary Generation X acolytes.
The guerrillas in Venezuela were eventually disbanded and assimilated into niches that the democracy created especially for them –culture, academia & the media– where they laundered and gathered a significant wealth. Other guerrilla leaders sought to penetrate the giant Venezuelan state apparatus, where they rubbed elbows with Rafael Caldera, Jaime Lusinchi & Carlos Andrés Pérez. The days of thunder of the armed guerrillas are long gone. Still, their imprint on the psyche and general culture of the Venezuelan intellectual politicking is palpable and alive, which gives us the present dispensation.
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