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Acción Democrática : the evolution of a democratic revolutionary party in Venezuela Bejar, Flaury

Abstract

The Acción Democrática party of Venezuela was officially established on September 13, 1941. Its founders, led by Rómulo Betancourt, began their political careers as members of the radical student "Generation of '28” during the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez. Acción Democrática (AD) was conceived as a democratic revolutionary party dedicated to 1) the establishment of a constitutional government; 2) the eradication of the semi-feudal system of landowner ship; and 3) the development of a self-sufficient diversified economy, independent of foreign exploitation of Venezuelan resources. Many AD militants envisioned a democratic evolution towards socialism, in particular, government control of basic industries. This goal was reaffirmed at successive AD National Conventions. However, part of the leadership has always been willing to compromise in the name of practical politics. From October 18, 1945 to November 24, 1948 Acción Democrática held the reins of government in Venezuela and attempted to implement many of its promised reforms. On November 24, 1948 a coup d'état led by Colonel Marcos Pérez Jiménez established a military dictatorship which would last ten years. The senior AD leaders spent this period in exile, while within the country the clandestine party organization was left to a younger generation of university students. The Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), previously a stiff competitor with AD for control of labor unions, collaborated with the young “adecos” in the struggle against military dictatorship. However, simultaneously Rómulo Betancourt and his colleagues in exile supported the United States’ anti-communist efforts in the Korean War in an attempt to obtain U.S. support for a return to constitutional government in Venezuela. The overthrow of the Pérez Jiménez regime on January 23, 1958 marked the culmination of a joint effort by many sectors of Venezuelan society: dissident military officers, businessmen, the Catholic Church, and a large civilian population that still had hopes for an authentic democratic revolution. In particular, the young adecos who had fought Pérez Jiménez were committed to AD democratic revolutionary doctrine. The success of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959 re-enforced their revolutionary fervor. Although Betancourt still seemed to advocate the realization of AD policy, after his election as president on December 7, 1958 it was evident that he and the "Old Guard" were more concerned with staying in power by maintaining the support of the military, the foreign capitalists, and the latter's allies: the Venezuelan economic elite. The Inevitable result of this compromise in ideology by the senior AD leaders was the disintegration of party unity and the defection of those party members who would attempt to maintain the orthodoxy of AD doctrine. This paper traces the evolution of Acción Democrática, from its ideological inception in the 1930's to its factional division in the 1960's, with particular emphasis on the role played by the senior AD leadership in the transformation of Acción Democrática from a potentially democratic revolutionary party to a moderate— if not right of center—representative of the private-sector economic elite in Venezuela.

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