This volume by a prominent Venezuelan intellectual and historian consists mainly of three chapters on three milestone events: the mass protests in Caracas in 1936, which, although harshly dealt with, induced the López Contreras government to quickly announce far-reaching reforms; the 1945 coup d’état which brought Acción Democrática (AD) and its leading figure, Rómulo Betancourt, to power; and the 1958 overthrow of Pérez Jiménez. Several shorter essays are included. One analyzes the evolution of the social Christian COPEI party, and another, the positions of the various politicians who aspired to nomination in the 1988 presidential elections. Caballero takes broad liberty to make frequent comparisons with myriad events throughout Venezuelan and world history.
Caballero makes some interesting points. For instance, he traces the career of López Contreras as a trusted officer in the army of dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, to show that when he came to power on the latter’s death in 1935 he had the military’s unconditional loyalty. The existence of an undivided military disproves the thesis—defended by a handful of historians—that, had the left been more audacious and aggressive in 1936, it might have challenged the government.
If there is a recurrent theme in this work, it is that the institution of political parties constitutes the essence of the Venezuelan democratic system. Caballero opposes the widespread view that parties have deformed the nation’s democracy by blocking the development of autonomous organizations in civil society. He maintains that the antiparty position is often a smoke screen which disguises attempts to discredit democracy. Caballero, who has a flair for dramatic statements, calls Rómulo Betancourt a “Leninist” (p. 63) due to his insistence on the need to construct a tight-knit, centralized political party. This statement is misleading, of course, in that it greatly reduces the scope of Leninist doctrine. In spite of the author’s discussion of political parties, he fails to present an underlying theme. A synthesizing introductory or concluding section would have been a corrective to the disjointedness of these essays.