Rómulo Betancourt

Infobox_President | name=Rómulo Betancourt

order=45th President of Venezuela
term_start=October 18, 1945
term_end=February 17, 1948
predecessor=Isaías Medina Angarita
successor=Rómulo Gallegos
order2=52nd President of Venezuela
term_start2=February 13, 1959
term_end2=March 13, 1964
predecessor2=Edgar Sanabria
successor2=Raúl Leoni
office3=Senator for life
birth_date=birth date|1908|2|22|mf=y
birth_place=Guatire, Miranda state
death_date=death date and age|1981|9|28|1908|2|22|mf=y
death_place= New York City, New York, USA
party=Acción Democrática
religion=Roman Catholic

spouse=Carmen Valverde,
Renée Hartmann Viso| |

Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello (February 22, 1908 – September 28, 1981), "The Father of Venezuelan Democracy", was President of Venezuela from 1945 to 1948 and again from 1959 to 1964, as well as leader of Accion Democratica - Venezuela's dominant political party in the 20th century. He survived an assassination attempt ordered by Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic. 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 few real international leaders to emerge from twentieth-century Latin America. Scholars credit Betancourt as the Founding Father of modern democratic Venezuela.

Early years

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. [Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. page 3. OOC:60-53203.] In the early 1930s, while in Costa Rica, he became at the young age of 22, the leader of that country's Communist Party. [Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. pages 3-5. OOC:60-53203.] 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). The 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. [Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. page 4-5. OOC:60-53203.] 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 that left more than a thousand people dead, among these the political assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. [Nathaniel Weyl. 1960. Red Star Over Cuba. page 25, 30-31. OOC:60-53203.] Which started a new volatile political period in neighboring Colombia some claim continues to this day with FARC.

First term as president

He 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 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 being led by Betancourt's secretary of Agriculture, Eduardo Mendoza Goiticoa.

Reform of the oil industry

In 1941, before AD's entry into policymaking, Venezuela received 85,279,158 bolívars from oil taxes, outof 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 the foreign oil companies were making in profit.One of Betancourt's main objectives was to see the nationalization of the country's oil industry. Mexico had done so in 1938, 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, the economy was not stable enough to handle potential boycotts by big oil companies.

Rationalizing the complications of nationalization at the time, Betancourt's government raised taxes instead on oil production accomplishing the same goal: Venezuela's oil riches to benefit Venezuelans. In the late 1940s Venezuela was producing close to 500,000,000 barrels annually and as production climbed, the tax followed. At the time Venezuela was the top oil supplier for the Allies during the wars occurring in the European continent. Betancourt understood his nation's important historical role, and used it to its advantage. Germany then lacked reliable access to oil limiting troop movements, some historians identify this vulnerability as a deciding factor in Hitler's defeat.
Andrés Eloy Blanco (center) swearing Rómulo Betancourt (left) as President of Venezuela, in 1945] According to Betancourt, the spike in taxes was just as effective as nationalizing as the profits from tax, "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 were no longer entitled to make larger profits than the Venezuelan government. Betancourt's government generally had full support of the labor unions as the administration openly encouraged workers to organize and in 1946, 500 unions were created. Other notable achievement of the first Betancourt administration include the termination of the concession policy, the initial development of refineries within Venezuela, and a tremendous improvement in worker conditions and pay. Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo served as Minister of Development in Betancourt's first term.

During the second term, Alfonso served as Betancourt's Minister of Mines and Petroleum and in 1960, through his initiative, OPEC was founded in Baghdad, Iraq. 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, thus establishing a strong link between the South American nation and the Middle East region that survives to this day.

Exile in the US

In 1948, Marcos Pérez Jiménez overthrew the elected president Rómulo Gallegos, and forced Betancourt 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 November 24, 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.

econd term as president

A decade later, after Pérez Jiménez was ousted, Betancourt 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. 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.

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 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 thenformed the Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN), a guerrilla army.

After numerous attacks, he finally arrested the MIR and Communist 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). Yet it would not be the last time Caribbean military dictators tried to undo Betancourt's civilian government using violence and guerrilla tactics on his own soil, perhaps envious of Venezuela's oil prosperity in contrast to their island's prevalent poverty.

Assassination attempt

Betancourt had denounced the dictatorship of Dominican Republic's Rafael Leonidas Trujillo; the fascist-like Trujillo, who had 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 in Caracas. The June 24, 1960 attempt, in which the president was badly burned, inflamed world public opinion against Trujillo, who was in turn assassinated in the Dominican Republic a year later.

Photos of a wounded but living Betancourt were distributed around the world as proof he survived the assassination attempt that killed the head of security, and severely injured his driver. An incendiary device was detonated as his car drove by one of Caracas' main avenues. With both burned hands wrapped in bandages, Rómulo Betancourt walked out of the hospital, in front of a sea of photographers, looking more like a professional boxer ready to face his rivals; a victor survivor willing to fight. The incident elevated him in the eyes of the public opinion, and helped to destroy one his most ferocious Caribbean enemies.

1963 elections

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

He was the 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.

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. 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.

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, machinations of Caribbean-based dictators against democratic regimes. The USSR was flexing its muscle in the Caribbean using Castro's Cuba as its regional proxy creating a direct security threat both to Venezuela and the United States of America.

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 hadserved 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

In 1973, 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 September 28, 1981 in Doctors Hospital in New York City. On his deathUS President Ronald Reagan made the following statement::cquote|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 1950s 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.


*Cecilio Acosta (1928)
*Dos meses en las cárceles de Gómez (1928)
*En las huellas de la pezuña (1929)
*Con quién estamos y contra quién estamos (1932)
*Una República en venta (1932)
*Problemas venezolanos (1940)
*Un reportaje y una conferencia (1941)
*El caso de Venezuela y el destino de la democracia en América (1949)
*Escuelas y despensa, los dos pivotes de la reforma educacional (1951)
*Campos de concentración para los venezolanos y millones de dólares para las compañias petroleras (1952)
*Venezuela, factoría petrolera (1954)
*Venezuela: política y petróleo (1956)
*Posición y Doctrina (1958)
*Venezuela rinde cuentas (1962)
*Posibilidades y obstáculos de la Revolución Democrática (1965)
*Golpes de estado y gobiernos de fuerza en América Latina; la dramática experiencia dominicana (1966)
*Latin America: its problems and possibilities (1966)
*Hacia una América Latina democrática e integrada (1967)
*Venezuela dueña de su petróleo (1975)
*José Alberto Velandia: ejemplo para las nuevas generaciones de Venezuela (1975)
*El Petróleo de Venezuela (1976)
*Acción Democrática, un partido para hacer historia (1976)
*El 18 de octubre de 1945. Génesis y realizaciones de una revolución democrática (1979)


*"Rómulo Betancourt and the Transformation of Venezuela"; 1981; by Robert Jackson Alexander; ISBN 0878554505
*"Venezuela: Oil & Politics"; 1978; by Rómulo Betancourt; ISBN 0395279453


* [http://www.venezuelatuya.com/biografias/betancourt.htm Betancourt´s biography at Venezuelatuya.com]
* [http://www.efemeridesvenezolanas.com/html/romulo.htm Biography at Efemeridesvenezolanas.com]

External links

* [http://www.fundacionromulobetancourt.org/ Betancourt Foundation - Official Page]
* [http://www.1upinfo.com/country-guide-study/venezuela/venezuela17.html 1Up Info about the Triumph of Democracy]
* [http://www.jfklink.com/speeches/jfk/publicpapers/1961/jfk509_61.html President Kennedy's speech at la Morita]

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