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11 Mar 1964 - 11 Mar 1969 - Raúl Leoni Otero

Perhaps the greatest of all Betancourt's accomplishments were the successful 1963 elections. Despite myriad threats to disrupt the process, nearly 90 percent of the electorate participated on December 1 in what was probably the most honest election in Venezuela to that date. The social democratic Acción Democrática (AD Democratic Action Party) standard- bearer Raúl Leoni proved victorious, gaining 33 percent of the total vote in a field of seven presidential candidates. On March 11, 1964, for the first time in the nation's history, the presidential sash passed from one constitutionally elected chief executive to another. It was a day of immense pride for the people of Venezuela.

Leoni, a hard-working but less colorful figure than Betancourt, differed little from his reformist predecessor from an ideological standpoint. Nevertheless, unlike Betancourt, Leoni proved unable to agree to COPEI's conditions for forming a governing coalition and instead made an alliance with the URD and the National Democratic Front (Frente Nacional Democrática--FND), a probusiness party created around Arturo Uslar Pietri, a noted writer and public affairs activist.

Subversive activities quieted considerably during the Leoni administration. By no means were they ended, however. Rumors of military plots were rife throughout the five-year term; the most dangerous military rebellion, an attempted coup d'état in October 1966, was swiftly put down and its leaders court-martialed. The threat from the revolutionary left also persisted, leading Leoni in December 1966 to order an army search of Caracas's Central University for revolutionaries. By 1965, however, the PCV had begun to harbor doubts about violence as a road to power, and over the course of the following two years, it gradually abandoned the revolutionary path. Splinter groups with Cuban ties persisted in their violent activities, however, and in May 1967, a small landing party headed by a Cuban army officer was captured at Machurucuto in the state of Miranda. This would prove to be the pinnacle of Castro's crusade to export his revolution to Venezuela. Insurgent activity subsequently subsided, and bilateral relations with Cuba eventually improved.

Economic growth averaged a healthy 5.5 percent annually during the Leoni years, aided by a recovery in petroleum prices and the relative political tranquility as the AD program attained legitimacy. Leoni kept the Betancourt reform programs on course and also introduced a number of impressive infrastructure projects designed to open up the nation's interior to agricultural and industrial development. Regional integration efforts advanced, albeit slowly, although Venezuela remained outside the newly created Andean Common Market ( Ancom; see Glossary) in response to objections from the local business community, which feared competition from lower-priced goods manufactured in neighboring countries.

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