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11 Mar 1969 - 12 Mar 1974 - Rafael Caldera Rodríguez

The governing party split in 1967 over the choice of the party's presidential candidate for the 1968 elections. Stemming in part from a long-simmering rivalry between former president Betancourt and AD secretary general Jesús Angel Paz Galarraga, a highly damaging split led Paz to launch the People's Electoral Movement (Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo--MEP). The MEP tendered Luis B. Prieto as its candidate, while Gonzalo Barrios headed the AD ticket. The URD joined forces with the FND and the party of former presidential candidate Larrazábal to promote the candidacy of Miguel Angel Burelli Rivas under the banner of a coalition dubbed the Victorious Front.

The Christian Democratic (COPEI) once again ran Caldera, who proved victorious in this fourth attempt to capture the presidency. His victory resulted both from the split in AD and from COPEI's liberalization of its image away from that of a strictly conservative Roman Catholic party. All four candidates finished strongly at the end of a hard-fought campaign, however, and Caldera eked out a victory over Barrios by a margin of merely 31,000 votes. The passing of the presidential sash from Leoni to AD's principal opposition leader in March 1969 marked yet another first in Venezuela's rapidly maturing democracy.

President Caldera never made an earnest effort to form a governing coalition. Throughout his five-year term, his cabinet consisted exclusively of copeyanos (COPEI party members) and independents. In Congress, however, the governing party was forced to form a working alliance with AD in 1970 because mounting student demonstrations and growing partisan intransigence made unilateral rule impossible.

The major concerns of Caldera's government were not unlike those of his two predecessors: agrarian reform and increased farm production, the improvement of educational and social welfare benefits, the expansion and diversification of industrial development, and progress toward local control of the petroleum industry. With respect to the latter, the government's tax rate on the petroleum companies rose to 70 percent by 1971. In the same year, the Hydrocarbons Reversion Law--stipulating that all of the oil companies' Venezuelan assets would revert to the state when their concessions expired--went into effect.

The key policy distinction between Caldera's government and those of his AD predecessors lay in the area of foreign policy. President Caldera rejected the Betancourt Doctrine, which he considered restrictive and divisive, and which he thought had served to isolate Venezuela in the world. Bilateral relations were soon restored with the Soviet Union and the socialist nations of Eastern Europe, as well as with a number of South American nations that had fallen under military rule. By dividing Latin American nations from one another, the Betancourt Doctrine, Caldera believed, had served to promote United States hegemony in the region. Seeking points of unity instead, Caldera established "pluralistic solidarity" as the guiding principle of Venezuelan foreign policy. Among its positive results was Venezuela's entrance into Ancom upon signing the 1973 Consensus of Lima, which assuaged the fears of the business community by allowing Venezuela to attach a number of special conditions to its membership.

On the one hand, by joining Ancom, Venezuela emphasized its Andean identity. On the other hand, the striking expansion of its investment in the Caribbean Development Bank emphasized the nation's Caribbean character. Caldera thus began to provide oil- based financial aid to the nations of Central America and the Caribbean, an effort that would be greatly expanded in subsequent years.

Although the internal security situation had improved, Caldera adopted a policy of "pacification" toward the remaining armed opposition. The newly-elected Social Christian (COPEI) government of President Rafael Caldera announced on March 26 that it had legalized the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), suspended from political operations since 1962. The move is part of a broad-front effort on Caldera's part to reduce the level of insurgent violence in Venezuela by creating a climate of reasonableness and tolerance in which guerrilla movements will appear anachronistic.

Caldera's approach emphasizes disunity in communist movement. After the inauguration of Romulo Betancourt in 1959, a far-left group of the Democratic Action (AD) party, inspired by Castro's successes in Cuba, broke away to form the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR). This group quickly allied itself with the PCV and strove to push it toward more and more violent actions aimed at overthrowing the AD government. The guerrilla arm of the PCV was organized as the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). The MIR organized its own separate and smaller insurgent force.

Since 1965 the dispute in the extreme left between proponents of violence and others seeking to continue the struggle along non-violent, political lines has continued within the PCV and MIR hierarchies. Rafael Caldera, aware of this weakness, began as early as January 1969--three months before his inauguration--to approach known soft liners, including the PCV leader Eduardo Machado, with an offer to legalize the PCV in the hope that, by isolating the FALN and MIR, this would lead to peaceful accommodation and an ultimate end to the guerrilla conflict. The PCV, eager to return to legal activity, reacted cautiously in an effort to extract the maximum in concessions from the new government.

The pacification program legalized the PCV and other leftist parties and granted amnesty to revolutionary activists. Caldera's program of accommodation and reasonableness has been sharply attacked by some police officials, conservative military officers and AD politicians. Many of these critics view the program as a demonstration of weakness. They fear Caldera is being naive and will only strengthen the position of the guerrillas in the long run. The government credited the program for the dramatic decline in guerrilla activity. Its opponents, however, pointed out that the most conspicuous decrease in Venezuela's revolutionary violence came under Leoni, when Cuba and the Soviet Union changed their policies in the wake of the 1967 death of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Bolivia and the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2012 15:30:35 ZULU