538. Telegram From the Embassy in Venezuela to the Department of State 1

4034. 1. Ever sensitive military-government relationship in Venezuela has come under particular scrutiny in past month in wake of dramatic government use of military to intervene in Central University following Communist efforts to assassinate Army Chief of Staff.2 The Communist effort to generate friction between government and military establishment has clearly backfired in terms of welfare of the Communist movement in Venezuela. At this point however, some speculation is extant re long-range effect on relations between the civilian government and military officers. On basis government’s determination to carry through reforms which terminate once and for all inviolability of university campus (which enabled Communist exploitation of the campus) our assessment is that these doubts and irritations are in the process of being resolved.

2. Following Embassy comments are also designed to provide the context for DAO message no. 0051, January 1967 and [1 line of source text not declassified]3 which reported on existence military distrust and impatience with government in connection with university crisis.

3. Possibility that ever present irritations between military and civilian government could flare up into a significant crisis of stability is heavily influenced by general state of nation’s economic and political situation. In a period of political crisis in which law and order are threatened, such as that which was manifested in Carupano and Puerto Cabello uprising, that which existed prior to the 1963 elections and on a lesser degree a year ago (see A–537 of January 11, 1966),4 and briefly prior to the government’s intervention in the university this past December, military unrest and dissatisfaction with government inefficiency inevitably increases. Same holds true, although to a lesser degree, in periods of economic deterioration. There is little doubt, for example, that many military officers were watching the crisis between [Page 1118]the government and the petroleum companies which the government finally resolved last summer. In all of these periods of strain, when showdown came, military stood behind government. Both the political and economic situations have now improved over the past year and there are no fundamental pressures for the military to consider moving against the government.

4. Although some military officers have expressed serious reservations about the government’s determination to carry through university reforms, there is no reason to doubt record to date indicating that government fully intends to carry through these reforms.

5. University residences which were long a virtual fortress of Communist activities have been closed and converted into classrooms. University Hospital which was a particular target for Communist activities is being fenced out of the campus and incorporated directly into the city. Government’s draft university regulation which has now been publicly presented goes further than anyone would have expected and reserves for the government the responsibility for maintaining law and order within the campus. Although government spokesmen have indicated that there is flexibility in some of the more unexpected and sweeping effects of new regulations, have consistently and publicly reiterated that there is no flexibility in their determination that government police will patrol the campus just as though it were part of the city and thus inviolability of Communist campus haven is terminated once and for all. This was most recently stated to the Embassy by former Minister of Interior and present Secretary General of the AD party, Gonzalo Barrios, on January 27 and in press interview January 28 by present Minister of Interior Leandro.

6. Military officers with particular political interests naturally view university situation and government’s performance from their own vantage point. It must, of course, be recognized that government has a much broader responsibility and it thereby seeks to construct a solution to national problems which reflects the national interest, which is not necessarily always exactly the same as the interpretation of national interest held by some military officers. Thus, some of chronic military critics are now denouncing government on these grounds.

7. Finally, it is essential in weighing military attitudes to recognize that Venezuelan military establishment is complex, varied and far from monolithic as to political attitudes. There are many officers, particularly at upper levels who are close to AD party or the opposition COPEI party which is also dedicated to constitutional government. Perhaps a majority of officers are largely apathetic about political issues and unlikely to actively play a role in such questions. There are some officers who are devoted to a “golpe” and military dictatorship regardless of which political party is in power. This means, of course, that we are not dealing with a solid bloc of military opinion.

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8. In summary, we consider military government relationship has passed a number of tough tests since 1958 and present politico-economic situation in general, and government objectives and performances on university in particular, give ample basis for hope these relations will improve rather than deteriorate.

Bernbaum
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–8 VEN. Secret. Repeated to USCINCSO, Rio de Janeiro, Bogota, Santo Domingo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Georgetown, and Moscow.
  2. On December 13 General Roberto Morean Soto, Chief of the General Staff of the Army, was wounded in a terrorist attack. The next day the Leoni administration suspended certain rights guaranteed by the constitution and occupied the Central University in Caracas.
  3. Neither found.
  4. Airgram A–537 is not printed. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 VEN)