The supposed struggle against local and international communism in the context of the Cold War logically led to an increased connection with the United States. Military populists at the time, represented by Juan Domingo Peron, who was granted asylum after being overthrown in 1957, and Manuel Odria of Peru, were considered to be, alternatively, protective and repressive of leftist movements.
In March 1954, during the 10th Inter-American Conference held in the recently inaugurated Aula Magna of the University of Caracas, the Declaration of Caracas was adopted, condemning totalitarianism and reaffirming adherence to representative democracy — which now sounds ironic. [Also adopted] was a “Declaration of Solidarity for Preservation of the Political Integrity of the American States against the Intervention of International Communism,” with the governments of Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica opposed. This provided a rationale for overthrowing Guatemala President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who was of a progressive leftist persuasion.
American delegate John Foster Dulles expounded on the dangers of the expansion of communism, and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Guillermo Toriello Garrido contended that the resolution was directed against his country, arbitrarily placed among those with a communist ideology. The Inter-American Convention on Political Asylum was adopted at the conference.
In a speech in the Senate in 1953, Chilean Christian Democrat leader Eduardo Frei Montalva asked the Chilean government not to send representatives to the Caracas conference, because Venezuela was subject to a despotic regime that violated human rights.
The Supplementary Trade Agreement between Venezuela and the United States, signed in August 1952, modified the Reciprocal Trade Agreement of 1939, providing access to the domestic market of American products. It was based on low tariffs, with the guarantee that no prohibition, restriction or any other qualification would be imposed by the U.S. government on Venezuela, particularly regarding Venezuelan oil.
A proposal from the U.S. Congress — the Simpson bill — to reduce oil imports, particularly from Venezuela, was rejected by both houses. It had been promoted by the owners of American oil companies, which requested the reduction of imports because of a crisis in the U.S. domestic oil market. This fact disturbed relations between the two countries, to the point that Marcos Perez Jimenez threatened to stop delivery of iron to the American market.
On Feb. 23, 1954, Ambassador Fletcher Warren of the Eisenhower administration presided over the induction of Perez into the Legion of Merit, reserved for high foreign personnel, for the achievements of his government. He affirmed that the relationship with the U.S. maintained a “high level of dignity and not of subordination.”*
The military governments of the continent built networks of political and ideological solidarity, with the purpose of helping each other in the fight against national movements of populist-democratic ideology — launching violent campaigns against radical insurgent groups. Anti-communist politics became the banner of these governments, both in terms of domestic and international politics. The parties committed to defending the hemisphere and the security of the continent against any external threat.
On Jan. 11, 1956, it so happened that Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons Edmundo Luongo Cabello produced an extensive report justifying the technical and economic reasons for the Venezuelan government to authorize granting new concessions to private U.S. companies. The oil boom, greatly influenced by the Korean War (1952-1956), transformed the Venezuelan government into a dynamic economic entity, with a budget needed for financing a variety of activities, such as industry, agriculture, and services and payment to the bureaucracy.
This trend, maintained until 1957 by the blockade of the Suez Canal and military actions in the Middle East, allowed a further increase in oil production and tax revenues. Despite favorable economic conditions, general expenses exceeded the capacity for government response, resulting in large debt.
There is no apparent evidence to support the participation or interference of the United States government and private interests in the overthrow of the Pérez government in January 1958. In February, Romulo Betancourt signaled that he would return from exile, although he criticized the “strategic hatred” that the “communist minorities” exhibited against “everything North American.”
He lashed out at Washington’s lenient and equivocal policy against dictatorships, such as those of Fulgencio Batista, Rafael Trujillo and Perez. He attributed a portion of their strength to complacency because of American economic interests, as well as to adherence to doctrines like the National Security Doctrine, promoted by the Pentagon during the Korean War.
At the root of the triumph of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in January 1959 was the consolidation of an idea, a force; the “anti-imperialist” struggle and the establishment of the Marxist project in Venezuela. This was made manifest in a chaotic protest by leftist youth brigades, including Democratic Action, to Vice President Richard Nixon’s visit to Caracas in May of 1958.
Betancourt argued that Nixon represented a policy that rejected Latin American public opinion during the 1950s, characterized by support of and sympathy with dictatorships. Perez had received the highest honor the United States could give to foreigners — at the same time that Venezuela was a vast concentration camp.
Exile and Extradition
Perez would go into exile in the Dominican Republic and end up in the United States. On Aug. 16, 1963, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg issued an opinion rejecting an appeal of Venezuela’s extradition request. By then, Perez had been in prison since Dec. 1962.
Remarkable among the arguments of the Perez defense to the Betancourt government’s extradition request was his allegation that a surrender to Venezuelan justice “would be equivalent to a death sentence,”* if left to the will of his political enemies.
Perez asserted that John Kennedy was the person principally responsible for his extradition; and Attorney General Robert Kennedy was the one who oversaw it. Perez was held to answer only on charges of embezzlement — and not on charges of political murder, as the government of Betancourt had requested.
Perez was granted his rights under Venezuelan law, as provided in the extradition treaty signed between the two nations in 1922. He faced a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.
*Editor’s note: This quotation, accurately translated from the original, could not be verified.
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