Within the last three years or so it has become customary in Venezuela for opponents of the government to accuse Rómulo Betancourt and his Acción Democrática party of having “sold out” to oligarchical business interests. Such is the burden of this provocative if error-laden treatise by a politically inactive member of the non-Communist left. The work attempts to provide an overall historical framework within which is traced the continuing domination of the “conservative oligarchy,” beginning with the March, 1795, movement of José Leonardo Chirinos and coming down to 1960.
More than half the book is used to bring the story down to the events of the post-Gómez period, during the course of which the author relies on most of the standard works to produce a perhaps-inevitably superficial treatment of many years’ history. His personal concern obviously increases in the discussion of recent and contemporary political affairs, however, and here is an overall interpretation that becomes, at best, highly questionable. Convinced that the stranglehold upon Venezuela of the “conservative oligarchy” is unbreakable, Peñalver proceeds with his catalogue of criticism.
Thus Betancourt and the AD entered into a “gigantic . . . pact with the conservative oligarchy” before the ouster of Pérez Jiménez in 1958; the Christian Democratic COPEI employs democratic procedures in order to enhance the power of the right; and even the pro-communist radicals of the now-outlawed MIR are viewed as unwilling or incapable of representing the people in the struggle against an economic and social elite. Only Jóvito Villalba, caudillista leader of the URD, and the Communists’ Gustavo Machado receive favorable marks.
Analysis of the 1960 and 1962 internal schisms of Acción Democrática is particularly unsatisfactory. Aside from numerous factual mistakes, Peñalver characterizes his view by concluding that the splinter group known as AD-ARS or AD en Oposición would prove to represent the mainstream of party sentiment in December, 1963, elections. Yet events were to show that the arsistas captured less than 3% of the vote with but one solitary congressional candidate winning national office without the aid of the electoral quotient. Additional predictions of almost equally-striking misjudgment strongly prejudice the reader against the possible validity of certain of the author’s opinions. It would be an understatement to declare that this book does not stand the test of time.