Rómulo Betancourt / Pompeyo Márquez

Rómulo Betancourt

To Virginia Betancourt

February 22, 2008 marks the centenary of the birth of Rómulo Betancourt. I saw him for the first time in 1936, a few months after the dictator’s death, at a meeting that was held in the Circo Metropolitano of Plaza Miranda. Dozens of speakers participated that day. I joined the Student Federation. I was jailed several times. My life changed. A decree by Eleazar López Contreras expelled 47 activists. Rómulo was able to hide. Political parties were banned. I had the fortune of being a “connection” during the first Conference for the PDN [Partido Democrático Nacional]. I was able to live alongside all of its leaders for a week, in a large house in Catia that belonged to Antonio Bertorelli. I saw Rómulo engage in heated discussions with Jóvito Villalba, Inocente Palacios and Miguel Moreno. As the kids say nowadays, the “ultimate” was when I was in San Agustín del Sur, in the house of a comrade named Estrella that had a double exit and served as a “shell” for Betancourt.

I leave the PDN and join the PCV [Partido Comunista de Venezuela]. I was 17 years old.

It is a great truth that historical personalities and events must be examined in perspective, and at a distance from their actions. On more than one occasion I have recognized that character who came from the student struggles of 1928, who had elaborated, along with his fellow comrades, the Barranquilla Plan that completely transformed the struggle against Gómez by introducing ideas and proposals to pull the country out of the shadows under which it lived. That group, with Rómulo as its leader, was correct in confronting the Caribbean Bureau and the Communist International, in rejecting the Stalinist dictatorship and outlining a democratic path that kept Venezuelan reality in mind.

For reasons of space, I will mention he was also correct in fighting the insurrection of the 1960s. It’s true he exercised repression. In my case, I was detained during that time. I reject the repressive excesses. I honor those comrades who were assassinated, tortured, disappeared. That is part of the truth. The other is that during that period we chose a mistaken path that some who are with Chávez today refuse to acknowledge, or forget they once recognized it as a mistake. The assaults at Carúpano and Puerto Cabello, kidnappings of airplanes and boats and of members of the North American Military Mission, of Museum Cadres, of Alfredo Di Stéfano. Blowing up aqueducts. Guerrilla armies in various regions.

We couldn’t convince the country that Venezuelan democracy had failed in 1960 when it had been installed with our participation in 1958-59, after the defeat of Pérez Jiménez. Betancourt defeated us.

It would be foolish to deny he was an untiring fighter for democracy.

{ Pompeyo Márquez, Tal Cual, 29 February 2008 }

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