Reactionary Coup in Venezuela 1948

[ 1948 ]

AD's wide margin of victory (in 1946 it drew 79 percent of the vote); in 1947, 73 percent) led its leaders to believe that they could push through a highly progressive program without considering the conservative political opposition. A new constitution was promulgated in 1947. The party's vigorous pursuit of "social justice and better conditions for the workers" (as stated in a decree by the 1945 junta that established a separate ministry of labor) engendered widespread hostility within the business community, both foreign and local. The overhaul of the 1943 petroleum law to assure the government a 50 percent tax on the oil industry's profits intensified the foreign oil companies' antagonism. The junta's aggressive campaign to expand public education and its regulation of both public and private education incensed the Roman Catholic Church. The church, whose dominant role in education had heretofore gone unchallenged, now enlisted COPEI in a strident anti-government campaign.

The political polarization intensified following the inauguration of Rómulo Gallegos as president on February 15, 1948. At that time, Venezuela's most renowned author, Gallegos proved less than adroit as a politician. His signing of AD's wide-ranging land reform bill in October pitted the nation's powerful landowners against him, and his reduction of the military personnel in his cabinet and advocacy of a reduced military budget alienated the armed forces. In mid-November, the UPM issued an ultimatum to the president demanding that COPEI share political authority with AD and that Betancourt, still AD leader, be sent into exile. Gallegos refused, and on November 24, after barely ten months in office, the military overthrew him in a nearly bloodless coup and exiled him along with Betancourt and the rest of the AD leadership.

The three-man provisional military junta that assumed control of the government was headed by Colonel Delgado. Delgado had joined the anti-AD conspiracy only after Gallegos had rejected the UPM ultimatum and it was clear that his fall was inevitable. Delgado had been a UPM co-conspirator in 1945, and had served as a member of the AD junta and as minister of defense under Gallegos. The military junta's other two members, UPM conspirator Pérez Jiménez and Luis Felipe Llovera Páez, were tachirenses who also held the rank of colonel. The junta quickly set about undoing the reforms of the AD trienio. It voided the 1947 constitution and restored the traditionalist 1936 constitution. The new military government outlawed AD and persecuted its militants... ...labor failed to avert the November 1948 coup that brought Pérez Jiménez to power.

Pérez Jiménez further alienated labor by allowing the immigration of thousands of workers from Southern Europe. With the return to democracy in 1958, however, organized labor returned to political prominence. All political parties vied to obtain links to labor.

Related Conflicts

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