THE POLITICAL CRISIS IN VENEZUELA AND PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRACY

Created: 1/1/1963

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THE POLITICAL CRISIS IN VENEZUELA

AND

PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRACY

Venezuela is the key target in Castro'sto extend his form of revolution in Latin Indeed Venezuela ls uniquely important to Castro because it is the one Latin Amberican country in which leftistleast partially responsive to orders frombeen able to sustain aninsurrectionary effort. For its part, the US regards Venezuelarime exampleountry attempting rapid social and economic progress through constitutional democracy.

Venezuela hasastover tbe pastears, spurred initially by the development of its abundant petroleum resources. Formerly an oligarchic society restingural-agricultural base and ruled by military dictators, it nowargely.urban-industrial base and is making progress toward political and social democracy. Tbe progr.ess has never been smooth, however, and

the strains of rapid change are reflected In and are exacerbating today's major problems of political fragmentation and social instability.

this context Venezuela's fragile experi- with constitutional democracy now isits severest test. Presidentas an apostle of democraticis preparing the country for criticalin the faceerroristic challenge from

the streets and under pressureestiveestablishment. After months of temporizing he has suddenly begun to crack down onalthough in so doing he now risks the possibility that the opposition parties will boycott the

immediate problem facingthe need to repress terrorism to theof the military lest the latter put anto the experiment in democracy.. At thehe clearlytrong obligation to carry

APPROVED FOR

on with the election campaign as an earnest of Venezuela's political maturity. Over the longer run, the key problemuccessor lacking Betan-court's considerable political assets will be that of survival in office, amidst the harshly disruptive forces of Venezuelan politics.

The Situation under Betancourt

President Romulo Betancourtf ls only tbe second democratically-elected chief executive in Venezuelan history, and the first to survive in office for as long as one year. Survival9 has been no easy matter. Although troubled at first primarily but rightist military plotters, the regime in recent years has been harassed by the extreme left. Communist and Castroite forces hope by terror and violence to discredit constitutional government and prepare the way for their ultimate takeover. These forces are rather loosely aligned in theLiberation Front (FLN) and its paramilitary subsidiary, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). The Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV)the FLN, although the Castroite groups whichost notably the movement of tbe Leftften initiate terrorist activities on their own. The FLN at times engages in tactical alliances with rightist plotters.

The leftist extremists in Venezuela are ably led and resourceful, but limited in numbers. Although tbe PCV and the MIR probably count their followings in the tens of thousands, the FALN is estimated toaximum oferrorists in Caracas andembers elsewhere in the country, including those in rural-based guerrilla bands. For the most part, members are recruited from among urban youth.

The FALN appears to be largely independent of direct outside support. Many members havetraining in Cuba or elsewhere in the bloc and there probably have been some infusions ofassistance, but funds and arms are readily available through robberies in Venezuela. Although

Cuban influence in FLN affairs, we believe it likely that Castro can call upon certain elements within tbo FLN to step up terrorist activities whenever it suits his purposes to do so.

general the government has hadsuccess in curtailing hit-and-runsabotage by the FALN, The FALN has scoredsuccesseside variety of frequently US business installations andVenezuelan military personnel.* with many nonpolitical criminalsdelinquents affecting FALN methodsadds to the insecurity of life and property,

particularly in Caracas.

recently Betancourt relieddiverse civilian police organizations tohit-and-run attacks ln urbanpolice are poorly organized andeffectiveness la further reduced by lowby popular hostility toward them resultingexcesses during the Perez Jimenez In spite of assistanceS AIDfrom other foreign advisors, Improvementsefficiency have been painfully slow. unification of command of the variousof Caracas should help, but so farbeen partially implemented.

10. Until theeptember crackdown, some of the leaders of tbe FLN were protected from arrest by congressional immunity. Indeed most of the rank and file were and apparently still are able to take advantage of the legal sanctuaries afforded by the autonomous universities. Even when terrorists were arrested, they often were able to regain theirby appeal to the strongly libertarian provisions of Venezuela's Judicial code. Finally, many of those convicted in the past managed to escape from prison.

-See box on major terrorist incidents.nationalull-time component of the armed forces, is charged with police duties ln rural areas and frequently Is utilized to protect industrial facilities.

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Betancourt and the Military

Since taking officeetancourt has worked hard to strengthen his position with the military, both through skillful elimination ofand through continued efforts to cultivate the personal loyalty of the officer corps and of the personnel of key garrisons. esult of these efforts he has generally been able to count on the support of nearly all the key officers and probably of the great bulk of all other officers.

However, the inability of the government to curtail terrorism has caused periodicbetween Betancourt and theajor FALN offensive appeared to be underway. onsiderable sentiment has developed within the military, especially among Juniorfor stronger measures to suppress terrorist activities, including more extensive use of military forces for that purpose. Betancourt, however, has long been sensitive to political charges ofand fearful of appearing to rely too heavily

on the military. While In the past he has ordered occasional crackdowns againat terrorists, he has always been reluctant to curtail their constitutional guarantees, particularly the congressional immunities of their political leaders. On several occasions earlier this year, growing restiveness within the military was relieved only because FALN offensives turned out to be shortlived.

The Election Campaign

concern of the military overefforts to cope with urban terrorismby ita alarm over election prospects. is ineligible for reelection, and none ofpresidential candidates who have beencapable of obtaining sufficient popularto give promisetrong executive hand in

the post-Betancourt period.

Leonl, the candidate ofAction (AD) party, was clearly theat the moment when Betancourt's crackdown

on the terroristsew dimension to thepicture. Leonl, president of the party and

leader of its labor wing, apparently has little "voter appeal" and bis strong identification with AD partisan affairs makes him unattractive to other parties and to political Independents. he is running on Betancourt's record and is supported by the country's largest and bestpolitical party.

The Social Christian PartyD'a present coalition partner, rejected Leonioint candidate and has nominated Its longtime leader, Rafael Caldera. In addition to holding COPEI's sizeable number of supporters, Caldera is expected to siphon off from Leonl some of the Independent pro-Betancourt vote.

The anti-coalition forces are also divided. There are three principal opposition candidates, each apparently convinced that he is in the strongest position to capture the antl-Botancourt vote, and each apparently determined to stay in tbe race. Wolfgangran second to Betancourt

arrying Caracas by an overwhelming margln--has made the strongest play for extreme leftalthough he has stopped short of overt ties with tbe Communist Party and the Castroite MIR. While be probably retains some of bis popularin Caracas, he now Is without the backingtrong nationwide party and his identification with the extreme left ls likely to alienate the moderate and conservative support be received The Republican Democratic Unionhich supported Larrazabalominated Jovito Vlllalba, Its longtime leader. Villalba would stand to do well if there shouldtrong ant1-Betancourt trendeftist tendency. On the other hand, Arturo Dslaroliticalsupportedariety of minor parties, would be likely to gain votes if there were an antl-Betancourt trendonservative tendency.

things now stand, Leoni probablyenough to obtain tbe simple pluralitywin the presidential election. If allin the field, the vote in Caracas and instrongholds would probablyadding to the likelihood of an ADare, however, that Leoni would still fall

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considerably shortlear majority. The race for congressional seats is also likely to be close, with no one party, and possibly no two parties combined, winning effective control.*

The Extremists and the Election

At first the leftist extremists seemed undecided about their tactics for the election. On the one band, both the PCV and the MIR wanted to present candidates ln the election in order to preserve or enlarge their representation in Congress Moreover, the government had indicated that it would exclude them from participation in theas long as they continued to support terrorist activities. On tbe other hand, the extremists realized that the election affordedpecial opportunity to embarrass the Betancourtand to weaken constitutional government through terrorism. They reasonedampaign ofpolitical rallies. Intimidating voters, stealing ballottend totbe election returns, andajoroffensive might make it impossible to hold electionsall.

By early September the FLN, after its overtures for an electoral alliance had been turned down by both Larrazabal and Villalba, increased the tempo of terrorism, thereby Indicating that it had decided on the strategy of disrupting the The first target was the AD party itself; party functions and facilities were attacked. Then oneptember, tbe printing plant charged with preparing tbe ballots for the election was destroyed

*In addition to the large number of candidates, there are several factors which complicate anyof election prospects. There has been no electoral test of voter trends since8 victory. One-third of the electorate,will be comprised of new voters, or of old voters who, through rural-to-urban migration, haveasic change in their way of lifeinally, since Venezuela has had few democratic elections. It ls difficult to assess tbe relative influence of such factors as party loyalties,personalities, and campaign issues.

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in an unmistakable assault against the election. Onunday excursion trainALN band, and ln the ensuing fight, five National Guardsmen were killed. Whether by design or not, tbe terrorists had pushed thetoo far.

The Crackdown

terrorist offensive against theprobably gave Betancourt second thoughtsthe feasibility of conducting an electionmuch less of holding elections,first with the extremists and theirfor disruptive terrorism. In addition,September terrorist offensiveof growing restiveness ln the military Military spokesmen for thewere sent to various encampments toposition to the officer corps;particularly were Incensed over theapparent immunity from effective The military coup in the Dominicanoneptember deeply disturbedhis adminstratlonpart out ofthe attitude of the military ln Venezuelaaffected. But the train attackhe resulting deaths of military personnel,

was the triggering incident. heneeded no formal prodding from the military. The next day the government launched Its crackdown on extremist leaders including those with congressional immunity.

a week, the key urban centerswere under an undeclared state offorces were patroling the streetssearching some districts forand for terrorist arms caches. Thehave responded with sporadic attackspatrols. Incidents of political andsabotage also are continuing. In spiteroundup of terrorists and of extremists,the operational leaders and presumably mostrank and file members of the FALN still are at

large

22. On the other hand, many of the political leaders of the extremistncluding most of

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those who are members of Congress, have been put in

military prisons.$ Betancourt at first tried

obtain Judicial or congressional support forD'* '

these leaders of their congressional immunity. Fall-

ing this, heroad Interpretation of bis

executive powers, and charged them with "intellectual

responsibility" for acts of war against the country;

he declared that such activities are not coverod

by their constitutional immunity, which is restricted

to political and criminal offenses.

a nationwide broadcast on the night

ctober, Betancourt assured the nation that be was firmly in control of the government, retaining the full confidence of all branches including the military. He called upon the Venezuelan people to assist tbe government in an all-out attack against the terrorists. The situation in the country now is tense, but there appears toomewhatsense of stability.

Betancourt's Position

We believe that Betancourt will survive the present "crisis with little if any diminution of his presidential powersis tbe military. His decisive action so far in the crackdown on the leftist extremists probably has served to reassure the military, and he apparently retains tbeof the military command and tbe support of the great bulk of the officer corps. Some officers continue to nurse serious grievances againstgovernment in general and Betancourt inbut they are believed to be without effective leadership at this time. Over and beyond theof bis own party and organized labor,will also probably enjoy the support of the COPEX leadership and tbe business community while his crackdown against the terrorists continues.

Much, however, will depend on the course of the campaign against tbe terrorists. Betancourt apparently ls committed at this point to an all-out effort to bring the terrorist menace under Nonetheless, tbe FALN, should it decide to

continue its terrorisa, probably could prolong tbe crisis (or an extended period by restricting Itself to sporadic attacks against vulnerable targets, such as oil pipelines and small military patrols. We believe it unlikely, under present conditions of virtual martial law, that the extremists will be able to touch off either largescale urban riotingarrison uprising of any consequence. On the other hand, they may attempt to step up theiroperations in rural areas.

the anti-terrorist campaign in terms of largescale casualties amongand with no appreciable success inthe strength of FALN bands, sentimentmilitaryoup probably wouldto the point where the militarybe forced to act to maintain Its controlofficers. Under such circumstances,

we believe it likely that an attempt would be made to preserve the guise of constitutionality, by seeking to share political power with Betancourt, whose ability to mobilize popular resistanceoup the military still respects. Shouldbeattempts have been made ln themilitary probably wouldto take control of the government.

Prospects for the Election

of tbe problem of thewill also depend largely on the course ofagainst the terrorists. In his 7Betancourt pledged that freebe held as scheduledecember, andelection campaigning has continuedof the crisis. Nevertheless, athe crisis probably would force some delaya delayonth orwould not be critical since Betancourt

is not scheduled to leave office until March.

least during the period ofthe opposition parties probablyunder pressure to tone down their campaignagainst the government, especiallythat government persecution isfor terrorism ln Venezuela. On the

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other hand, thereanger that the opposition parties nay react to such restrictions by boycotting, and thereby tending to discredit the election.

29. Should the government crackdown against the terrorists go reasonably well, Leonl, who has been campaigning on the theme of tougher measures to control the terrorists, probably would benefit.rolonged crisis may wellhange in tbe lineup for the election. Not only tbebut also tbe business community, has become concerned about the prospect of an Indecisivewith the returns susceptible to challenge and with little chance that the new president would be able to command an effective majority In Congress. Betancourt, too, probably shares these concerns. Under pressure from the military, he might attempt to persuade Leonl to withdraw from th" race, in favor of an AD candidate with considerable "voter appeal" and also acceptable to COPEI, the military, and the business community. ove might touch off steps toward selectionnityby the opposition parties.

" Post-Election Problems

30. Should elections be held roughly as scheduled, Leonl, or any other elected sucessor to Betancourt, would still face the difficulties of taking and retaining office. Constitutionalism has shallow roots In Venezuela; adherence to it probably still is superficial among many groups.urvival is in considerable measure attributable to his personal political assets: bis national reputation, nonpartisan appeal, skilled political touch, and most important, his assiduously cultivated personal standing with the military. His successor, who ls not likely to possess these advantages In equal measure, will be mors vulnerable to antlgovernment plotting- The immediateperiod ls likely toritical one for constitutional government, especially if theis close. Should an AD candidate win thebut do poorly in Caracas, as would likely be the case, the candidate carrying Caracas might try to force his way to power by inciting the city's slum dwellers.

31. There is apparently growing support ln the military for the principal of constitutionalism. Thus the military is not likely, on its ownto bar from office any successful candidate, except one suspected of ties with the leftist If, however, tbe election outcome is challenged by the losing candidates and largescale disorders ensue, the chancesilitary coup would increase. Once tbe new president takesmoreover, the military will be sensitive to any signs that he can not rule effectively. In the last analysis the attitude of the military will continue to be the key to the survival ofgovernment.

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