Rómulo Betancourt

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Rómulo Betancourt
RB 1975.jpg
47th & 54th President of Venezuela
In office
19 October 1945 17 February 1948
Preceded by Isaías Medina Angarita
Succeeded by Rómulo Gallegos
In office
February 13, 1959 March 13, 1964
Preceded by Edgar Sanabria
Succeeded by Raúl Leoni
Senator for life
In office
1964–1981
Personal details
Born
Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello

(1908-02-22)22 February 1908
Guatire, Miranda state, Venezuela
Died28 September 1981(1981-09-28) (aged 73)
New York City, United States
Political party Acción Democrática
Spouse(s)Carmen Valverde (Div.) (d.1977)
Renée Hartmann Viso (1920-1991)
Signature Firma betancourt.png

Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello (22 February 1908 – 28 September 1981; Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈromulo betaŋˈkuɾ] ), known as "The Father of Venezuelan Democracy", was the 47th and 54th President of Venezuela, serving from 1945 to 1948 and again from 1959 to 1964, as well as leader of Acción Democrática, Venezuela's dominant political party in the 20th century.

President of Venezuela head of state and head of government of Venezuela

The President of Venezuela, officially known as the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the head of state and head of government in Venezuela's presidential system. The president leads the National Executive of the Venezuelan government and is the commander-in-chief of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. Presidential terms were set at six years in with the adoption of the 1999 constitution, and re-election has been unlimited since 2009.

Venezuela Republic in northern South America

Venezuela, officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is a country on the northern coast of South America, consisting of a continental landmass and a large number of small islands and islets in the Caribbean Sea. The capital and largest urban agglomeration is the city of Caracas. It has a territorial extension of 916,445 km2. The continental territory is bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Colombia, Brazil on the south, Trinidad and Tobago to the north-east and on the east by Guyana. With this last country, the Venezuelan government maintains a claim for Guayana Esequiba over an area of 159,542 km2. For its maritime areas, it exercises sovereignty over 71,295 km2 of territorial waters, 22,224 km2 in its contiguous zone, 471,507 km2 of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean under the concept of exclusive economic zone, and 99,889 km2 of continental shelf. This marine area borders those of 13 states. The country has extremely high biodiversity and is ranked seventh in the world's list of nations with the most number of species. There are habitats ranging from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Amazon basin rain-forest in the south via extensive llanos plains, the Caribbean coast and the Orinoco River Delta in the east.

Contents

Betancourt, one of Venezuela's most important political figures, led a tumultuous and highly controversial career in Latin American politics. Periods of exile brought Betancourt in contact with various Latin American countries as well as the United States, securing his legacy as one of the most prominent international leaders to emerge from 20th-century Latin America. Scholars credit Betancourt as the Founding Father of modern democratic Venezuela.

History of Latin America history of the Latin American region

The term "Latin America" primarily refers to the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in the New World.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Early years

Rómulo Betancourt during his childhood
Betancourt in 1936

Rómulo Betancourt was born in Guatire, a town near Caracas. His parents were Luis Betancourt Bello (from Canary origins) and Virginia Bello Milano. He attended a private school in Guatire, followed by high school at the Liceo Caracas in Caracas. He studied law at the Central University of Venezuela. [1]

Guatire Place in Miranda, Venezuela

Guatire is a city in Miranda, Venezuela. In 2006, its population has been estimated at 200,417. Today, Guatire has virtually merged with its neighbour, Guarenas forming the Guarenas-Guatire conurbation.

Caracas Capital City in Capital District, Venezuela

Caracas, officially Santiago de León de Caracas, is the capital and largest city of Venezuela, and centre of the Greater Caracas Area. Caracas is located along the Guaire River in the northern part of the country, following the contours of the narrow Caracas Valley on the Venezuelan coastal mountain range. Terrain suitable for building lies between 760 and 1,140 m above sea level, although there is some settlement above this range. The valley is close to the Caribbean Sea, separated from the coast by a steep 2,200-metre-high (7,200 ft) mountain range, Cerro El Ávila; to the south there are more hills and mountains. The Metropolitan Region of Caracas has an estimated population of 5,297,026.

Canary Islands Archipelago in the Atlantic and autonomous community of Spain

The Canary Islands is a Spanish archipelago and the southernmost autonomous community of Spain located in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 kilometres west of Morocco at the closest point. The Canaries are among the outermost regions (OMR) of the European Union proper. It is also one of the eight regions with special consideration of historical nationality recognized as such by the Spanish Government. The Canary Islands belong to the African Plate like the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the two on the African mainland.

As a young man he was expelled from Venezuela for radical agitation and moved to Costa Rica where he founded, and led, a number of radical and Communist student groups. [2] In the early 1930s, while in Costa Rica, he became at the young age of 22, the one of the main militants of that country's Communist Party. [3] [4] In 1937, after resigning from the Communist Party and returning to Venezuela, he founded the Partido Democrático Nacional, which became an official political party in 1941 as Acción Democrática (AD).

Costa Rica country in Central America

Costa Rica, officially the Republic of Costa Rica, is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island. It has a population of around 5 million in a land area of 51,060 square kilometers. An estimated 333,980 people live in the capital and largest city, San José with around 2 million people in the surrounding metropolitan area.

Colombian leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán claimed Betancourt had "offered him arms and money to launch a revolution in Colombia" which was part of Betancourt's alleged plan to build a solid phalanx of left-wing regimes in the Caribbean. [5] It was alleged by Azula Barrera and Colombian President Mariano Ospina Pérez that Betancourt had supported the armed rising at the 1948 Inter-American Conference (Bogotazo) that left more than a thousand people dead, among these the political assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. [6] This started a new volatile political period in neighboring Colombia some claim continues to this day with FARC.

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Colombian politician

Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala was a politician, a leader of a populist movement in Colombia, a former Education Minister (1940) and Labor Minister (1943–1944), mayor of Bogotá (1936) and one of the most charismatic leaders of the Liberal Party. He was assassinated during his second presidential campaign in 1948, setting off the Bogotazo and leading to a violent period of political unrest in Colombian history known as La Violencia.

Mariano Ospina Pérez Presidente de Colombia

Luis Mariano Ospina Pérez, commonly known as Mariano Ospina Pérez, was a Colombian politician and a member of the Colombian Conservative Party. He served as the 17th President of Colombia between 1946 and 1950.

Bogotazo massive riots that followed the assassination in Bogotá, Colombia,Jorge Eliécer Gaitán

El Bogotazo refers to the massive riots that followed the assassination in Bogotá, Colombia of Liberal leader and presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948 during the government of President Mariano Ospina Pérez. The 10-hour riot left much of downtown Bogotá destroyed. The aftershock of Gaitan's murder continued extending through the countryside and escalated a period of violence which had begun eighteen years before, in 1930, and was triggered by the fall of the conservative party from government and the rise of the liberals. The 1946 presidential elections brought the downfall of the liberals allowing conservative Mariano Ospina Pérez to win the presidency. The struggle for power between both again triggered a period in the history of Colombia known as La Violencia that lasted until approximately 1958, from which the civil conflict that continues to this day grew.

First term as president

Members of the Revolutionary Government Junta, from left to right: Mario Ricardo Vargas, Raúl Leoni, Valmore Rodríguez, Rómulo Betancourt, Carlos Delgado Chalbaud, Edmundo Fernández and Gonzalo Barrios. Miraflores Palace, 1945
Rómulo Betancourt voting at the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election, 1946

Betancourt became president in 1945 by means of a military coup d'état and, during his time in office, completed an impressive agenda. His accomplishments included the declaration of universal suffrage, the institution of social reforms, and securing half of the profits generated by foreign oil companies for Venezuela. His government worked closely with the International Refugee Organization to aid European refugees and displaced persons who could not or would not return home after World War II; his government assumed responsibility for the legal protection and resettlement of tens of thousands of refugees inside Venezuela. The refugee initiative was the subject of great controversies within his government with the winning side led by Betancourt's secretary of Agriculture, Eduardo Mendoza.

Suffrage right to vote

Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise is the right to vote in public, political elections. In some languages, and occasionally in English, the right to vote is called active suffrage, as distinct from passive suffrage, which is the right to stand for election. The combination of active and passive suffrage is sometimes called full suffrage.

International Refugee Organization

The International Refugee Organization (IRO) was an intergovernmental organization founded on 20 April 1946 to deal with the massive refugee problem created by World War II. A Preparatory Commission began operations fourteen months previously. In 1948, the treaty establishing the IRO formally entered into force and the IRO became a United Nations specialized agency. The IRO assumed most of the functions of the earlier United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In 1952, operations of the IRO ceased, and it was replaced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Eduardo Mendoza Goiticoa Venezuelan politician

Eduardo Mendoza Goiticoa was a Venezuelan scientific researcher and agricultural engineer. He served the government of Romulo Betancourt, becoming the youngest cabinet minister in Venezuelan history at the age of 28. His appointment was problematic due to his young age and required a Constitutional Amendment. Betancourt had insisted on the appointment and vastly expanded the portfolio of the Secretary of Agriculture to include all immigration matters. Mendoza was married to Hilda Coburn Velutini having two daughters.

Reform of the oil industry

In 1941, before AD's entry into policymaking, Venezuela received 85,279,158 bolívars from oil taxes, out of a total oil value of 691,093,935 bolivars. Before Betancourt's changes in the taxing system, the state of Venezuela was making only a fraction of what foreign oil companies were making in profit. President Betancourt had overthrown the Isaías Medina Angarita government which enacted a law to tax oil companies up to 60%, and reserved for the government the right to raise more taxes as needed. Betancourt changed the law to "Fifty Fifty." One of Betancourt's original objectives was the nationalization of the country's oil industry. Mexico had nationalized its oil industry in 1938, and because its economy was more diversified than Venezuela's, there was little to no backlash. Though oil nationalization became one of AD's main objectives, Venezuela's economy was not stable enough to handle potential boycotts by foreign oil companies and would have left nation fiscally vulnerable.

Rationalizing the complications of nationalization at the time, Betancourt's government raised taxes on oil production instead accomplishing the same goal: Venezuela's oil riches to benefit Venezuelans. In the late 1940s Venezuela was producing close to 500,000,000 barrels (79,000,000 m3) annually and as production climbed, the tax followed. Venezuela was the Allies' top oil supplier during the wars occurring in the European continent. Betancourt identified this potential to play an important historical role, using the knowledge to his nation's advantage transforming Venezuela into a global player. Germany then lacked reliable access to oil limiting troop movements. Some historians identify this vulnerability a deciding factor in Hitler's defeat. Venezuelan oil played a key role.

According to Betancourt, a spike in taxes was just as effective as nationalizing the oil industry, "Tax income was increased from then to such a degree that nationalization was unnecessary to obtain maximum economic benefits for the people of the country". Oil companies were forced to cede to the demands of labor unions and no longer entitled to make larger profits than the Venezuelan government. As a result, Betancourt's government generally had full support of the labor unions as the administration openly encouraged workers to organize. In 1946, 500 labor unions were created. Another notable achievement of Betancourt's first administration include the termination of the concession policy, the initial development of refineries within Venezuela, and tremendous improvement in worker conditions and pay. Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso served as Minister of Development in Betancourt's first term.

Government Junta cabinet (1945–1948)

Third exile

Rómulo Betancourt during his exile in Havana, Cuba, 1949

On 27 November 1948, Carlos Delgado Chalbaud, Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Luis Felipe Llovera Páez launched the 1948 Venezuelan coup d'état and overthrew the elected president Rómulo Gallegos, and Betancourt went into exile in New York City. In exile he planned a political return sustained on democratic principles and open elections legitimizing his national leadership role. His forward vision and strategy was successful and Betancourt was elected president by his own people upon returning to Venezuela. He had been determined to expose to the world the political problems and dictatorships that plagued the country through most of its modern history – a risky proposition.

"Betancourt's third, and longest, period of exile was a time of enormous frustration. In the prime of his life --for roughly the decade of his forties-- he was forced into relative inactivity and obscurity. He traveled extensively, living in Cuba, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, and remained a leader of an opposition-in-exile to the Perez Jimenez dictatorship. And of course wrote 'Venezuela: Oil and Politics'. A beach home outside of San Juan (Puerto Rico) provided a quiet refuge for this work," wrote Franklin Tugwell in his Introduction to the 1978 English publication of Betancourt's book.

"The preparation of this book has been as hectic as the life of the author. I wrote it first between the years 1937–39 while I was underground hiding from the police. It could not be published then because no Venezuelan publisher would dare risk printing a book written by one who was in such compromising position. The only typewritten copy was among my personal papers and it disappeared with them when a military patrol plundered the house I was living in when the constitutional government was overthrown on 24 November 1948. Thus most of the material from the first draft was lost.

"I believe that 'the dead command,' although not in the sense that reactionaries have traditionally given the phrase. When they die they give the command for an ideal of human excellence, obliging those who survive to finish their work," wrote Romulo Betancourt in the Prologue to the first edition of "Venezuela: Oil and Politics".

The book published in Mexico City by Editorial Fondo de Cultura Economica in 1956 was prohibited from circulating in Venezuela. Effectively censored; yet Betancourt persisted.

Second term as president

U.S. President John F. Kennedy in December 1961 promoting the Alliance for Progress with Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt, who had invited Kennedy to this land redistribution ceremony in a Venezuelan village. [8] Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, addressed the audience in Spanish. Video of this ceremony can be seen here.

A decade later, after Pérez Jiménez was ousted, Betancourt was elected president in the general election of 1958, becoming the first leader of the Punto Fijo Pact. Having inherited a well constructed country but with the need to give more education to its people, 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 Mines and Hydrocarbons: the Venezuelan Petroleum Corporation (Corporación Venezolana del Petróleo — 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. Considered a radical revolutionary idea at the time by its opponents, but essential to Venezuela's independence and fiscal solvency by a visionary nationalistic Betancourt.

At an annual oil convention in Cairo, Venezuela's envoy, fluent in Arabic, convinced oil producing Middle Eastern countries to sign a secret agreement that promoted unity and control of their own national oil resources; under the noses of the British and American corporations that dominated the oil industry globally and had funded the event. Planting the seed for OPEC that was founded in September 1960 at Baghdad, Iraq. This movement was triggered by a 1960 law instituted by American President Dwight Eisenhower that forced quotas for Venezuelan oil and favored Canada and Mexico's oil industries. Eisenhower cited national security, land access to energy supplies, at times of war. Betancourt reacted seeking an alliance with oil producing Arab nations as a pre-emptive strategy to protect the continuous autonomy and profitability of Venezuela's oil, establishing a strong link between the South American nation and the Middle East region that survives to this day.

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 guerrilla group

Betancourt's inaugural address in 1959

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 Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). When leftists were involved in unsuccessful revolts at Barcelona ( El Barcelonazo ) in 1961 and in navy bases in 1962 ( El Carupanazo , Carúpano and El Porteñazo , Puerto Cabello), Betancourt suspended civil liberties. Elements of the left parties then formed the Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN), a communist guerrilla army to fight him. This drove the leftists underground, where they engaged in rural and urban guerrilla activities, including sabotaging oil pipelines, bombing a Sears Roebuck warehouse, Alfredo Di Stefano kidnapping, and bombing the United States Embassy in Caracas. FALN failed to rally the rural poor and to disrupt the December 1963 elections.

After numerous attacks, he finally arrested the MIR and Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) members of Congress. It became clear that a leftist Fidel Castro had been arming the rebels, so Venezuela protested to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Assassination attempt

Betancourt had denounced the dictatorship of Dominican Republic's Rafael Leonidas Trujillo supported by the United States government. In turn, Trujillo had developed an obsessive personal hatred of Betancourt and supported many plots by Venezuelan exiles to overthrow him. This led the Venezuelan government to take its case against Trujillo to the OAS, turning to diplomacy first over armed response to resolve the political conflict. That in turn infuriated Trujillo, who ordered his foreign agents to assassinate Betancourt in Caracas. The 24 June 1960 attempt, in which the Venezuelan president was badly burned, inflamed world public opinion against Trujillo, who was in turn assassinated by his own people in the Dominican Republic only a year later, May 30, 1961.

Photos of a wounded but still living Betancourt were distributed around the world as proof he survived the assassination attempt that killed his head of security, and severely injured the driver who later died. An incendiary car bomb that was in a parked vehicle was detonated as his presidential car drove by one of Caracas' main avenues, shocking the nation. With both burned hands wrapped in bandages, Rómulo Betancourt walked out of the hospital in front of photographers. This incident elevated him in the eyes of the public opinion, and helped to destroy one of his most ferocious Caribbean enemies at the same time.

Constitutional government cabinet (1959–1964)

1963 elections

Perhaps one of the greatest of Betancourt's accomplishments, however, was the successful 1963 elections. Despite threats to disrupt the process, nearly 90 percent of the electorate participated on 1 December in what was the most honest election in Venezuela to that date. 11 March 1964 was a day of pride for the people of Venezuela as for the first time the presidential sash passed from one democratically elected chief executive to another. It should be noted prior to Betancourt changing the law, all presidents in Venezuela were elected by Congress – in typical republic model.

He was Venezuela's first democratically-elected president to serve his full term, and was succeeded by Raúl Leoni. It was Romulo Betancourt who established a democratic precedent for the nation that had been ruled by dictatorships for most of its history.

It was 'revolution' by popular vote, without historical reference until then; Betancourt created the political model that had survived in Venezuela for many years afterward.

Betancourt Doctrine

Rómulo Betancourt during a speech to a group of officers

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. Betancourt always defended, and represented, democratic values and principles in Latin America. This put him at odds with the military strongmen who came to dominate and define political perception of the region. During his first message to Congress as President of Venezuela, on 12 February 1959, Betancourt said:

"...Regimes disrespectful of human rights, violating their citizens´ freedom, tyrannizing them with the backing of totalitarian political police, should be submitted to a rigorous sanitary cordon and eradicated, through collective pacification, from the Inter-American juridical community" [10]

It was during the tense Cuban Missile Crisis, between the United States and Cuba, the relationship between President Kennedy and President Betancourt became closer than ever. Establishing a direct phone link between the White House and Miraflores (Presidential Palace) since the Venezuelan president had ample experience on dealing, defeating and surviving, actions of Caribbean-based pro-soviet regimes against pro-US regimes.

These conversations between both presidents were translated by Betancourt's only child, Virginia Betancourt Valverde, who served as interpreter and confidant to her father.

Later president Rafael Caldera rejected the doctrine, which he thought had served to isolate Venezuela in the world. A thesis that continues to be debated among academics and intellectuals who see in Betancourt not an isolationist but a courageous defender of democratic principles in the midst of adversity and ferreous enemies.

Later life

Betancourt playing soccer, c. 1960s

In 1964, Betancourt was awarded a lifetime seat in Venezuela's senate, due to status as a former president. His last days were dedicated to writing and to his wife Dr. Renee Hartmann. He died on 28 September 1981 in Doctors Hospital in New York City. On his death US President Ronald Reagan made the following statement:

Personal life

Betancourt was married to Carmen Valverde,[ citation needed ] who served as First Lady of Venezuela from 1945–1948,[ citation needed ], and 1959–1964. Virginia Betancourt Valverde was the Betancourt's only child. Divorced he married Dr. Renee Hartmann.[ citation needed ]

Rómulo Betancourt was a very close friend of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marín, visiting the island often and frequently exchanging political views with him, viewing him as a political advisor on democracy. Although they disagreed on certain issues they remained faithful friends. On one occasion in 1963, he refused to attend the inauguration of Juan Bosch as president of the Dominican Republic if Bosch did not extend an invitation to Muñoz Marín, who had provided a safe haven for Bosch and various members of his political party in Puerto Rico. Betancourt attended the funeral of his friend in 1980.[ citation needed ]

Bibliography

Rómulo... "great spirits do not die". Advertising published after the death of Betancourt in 1981

Books

Betancourt´s Personal Library - Rómulo Betancourt Foundation, Caracas

See also

References

  1. Fundación para la Cultura Urbana. 2009. Rómulo Betancourt: crónica visual. page 16. Cronología RB.
  2. Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. page 3. OOC:60-53203.
  3. Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. pages 3-5. OOC:60-53203.
  4. Robert Jackson Alexander Romulo Betancourt and the Transformation of Venezuela, Transaction Books, New Brunswick and London 1982 p.74
  5. Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. page 4-5. OOC:60-53203.
  6. Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. page 25, 30-31. OOC:60-53203.
  7. Rómulo Betancourt Foundation (2006). "Political Anthology of Rómulo Betancourt, Fourth Volume 1945–1948."
  8. Rabe, Stephen G. (1999). The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina press. p.  101. ISBN   080784764X.
  9. Rómulo Betancourt Foundation (2007). "Political Anthology of Rómulo Betancourt, Seventh Volume 1958–1964."
  10. The Daily Journal, 16 May 1977. (Rómulo Betancourt, The) "Return of the Warrior"
  11. "Ronald Reagan: Statement on the Death of Former President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela".
Political offices
Preceded by
Isaías Medina
President of Venezuela
1945–1948
Succeeded by
Rómulo Gallegos
Preceded by
Edgar Sanabria
Interim
President of Venezuela
1959–1964
Succeeded by
Raúl Leoni
Party political offices
Preceded by
Rómulo Gallegos (1947)
AD presidential candidate
1958 (won)
Succeeded by
Raúl Leoni (1963)