656. Intelligence Note 240 From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rogers 1 2
- Venezuela Searches for Peaceful Accommodation with the Militant Left
The newly-elected Social Christian (COPEI) government of President Rafael Caldera announced on March 26 that it had legalized the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), suspended from political operations since 1962. The move is part of a broad-front effort on Caldera’s part to reduce the level of insurgent violence in Venezuela by creating a climate of reasonableness and tolerance in which guerrilla movements will appear anachronistic.
Insurgent Movement Develops Fissures. After the inauguration of Romulo Betancourt in 1959, a far-left group of the Democratic Action (AD) party, inspired by Castro’s successes in Cuba, broke away to form the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR). This group quickly allied itself with the PCV and strove to push it toward more and more violent actions aimed at overthrowing the AD government. The guerrilla arm of the PCV was organized as the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). The MIR organized its own separate and smaller insurgent force.
Hard-pressed by PCV–MIR urban terrorist units, Betancourt outlawed the political parties of the PCV and the MIR, and brought considerable pressure against the insurgents. The insurgent offensive failed to disrupt the 1963 national elections and also failed to provoke a [Page 2] right-wing coup by the military. Accordingly, in 1964 the PCV and MIR shifted their major emphasis from urban terrorism to rural guerrilla operations, which reached their peak in early 1965. By then, however, some members of the PCV and the MIR had begun to doubt the efficacy of continued armed struggle in the Venezuelan context. During this same period Soviet financial aid to the PCV dropped off sharply and made it increasingly difficult for the party to continue the armed struggle. The Cubans, however, continued their support for the FALN, which in turn declared its independence of the PCV and its allegiance to Castro.
Caldera’s approach emphasizes disunity in communist movement. Since 1965 the dispute in the extreme left between proponents of violence and others seeking to continue the struggle along non-violent, political lines has continued within the PCV and MIR hierarchies. Rafael Caldera, aware of this weakness, began as early as January 1969—three months before his inauguration—to approach known soft liners, including the PCV leader Eduardo Machado, with an offer to legalize the PCV in the hope that, by isolating the FALN and MIR, this would lead to peaceful accommodation and an ultimate end to the guerrilla conflict.
In his inaugural address on March 11, Caldera outlined a broad peace effort, and called on all guerrilla groups to lay down their aims in return for a general amnesty. At the same time, [Page 3] Social Christian party emissaries continued their direct contacts with the PCV and MIR parties, and perhaps the FALN as well. The PCV, eager to return to legal activity, reacted cautiously in an effort to extract the maximum in concessions from the new government. The MIR responded by presenting the government a list of eight demands which included, inter alia, the nationalization of all oil companies, release of all political prisoners, and the reorganization or abolition of the Directorate General of Police and the Armed Forces Intelligence Service. The COPEI negotiators had earlier agreed in principle to consider the cases of some of the remaining exiled and jailed leftists, and might have been willing to make other concessions, but the demands presented by the MIR were clearly unacceptable to the government. The legalization order did not, therefore, include the MIR, its guerrilla arm, or the FALN. However, the public offer of amnesty has been kept open, perhaps as a means of sharpening differences between the soft-liners and the militants in leftist ranks.
Legalization of the PCV unlikely to halt guerrilla activity. Caldera is aware that the PCV cannot halt guerrilla activity because it does not control the FALN and the MIR. He probably hopes that an implied renunciation of armed conflict by the PCV will reinforce the impact of his effort to promote general accommodation, serve to further dissent among the two guerrilla groups and to isolate them from their leftist intellectual support. [Page 4] This effort may also in time entice some disenchanted guerrillas out of the hills.
Hardened guerrilla veterans and the ideologically motivated cadre who together form the fighting core of the guerrilla units will probably continue the struggle with at least token support from the Cubans. Some hard-liners among the guerrillas may be spurred to greater heights of activity in an attempt to counter Caldera’s effort to promote pacification. In any case, no dramatic reduction in the dimension of the guerrilla problem appears likely during the immediate future.
Reaction to program mixed but generally favorable. Caldera’s program of accommodation and reasonableness has been sharply attacked by some police officials, conservative military officers and AD politicians. Many of these critics view the program as a demonstration of weakness. They fear Caldera is being naive and will only strengthen the position of the guerrillas in the long run. Others criticize the program on its own merits, pointing out that amnesties have been tried before and have failed. Caldera will have to avoid giving the appearance of caving in to guerrilla demands, but we do not believe he is running a serious political risk in making a try for accommodation. In fact, one of his motives in undertaking it was undoubtedly his belief that it would be politically popular in most quarters.
Most sectors of the press, the COPEI party, the new government appointees and the military have expressed approval of the president’s methods. In general, public opinion has been hopeful of a favorable [Page 5] response to Caldera’s initiatives. Business and religious leaders, without altering their traditional anti-Communist stance, have approved the program as a useful attempt to increase stability, and as a valid humanitarian gesture. Caldera’s own image as a staunch anti-Communist, interested first and foremost in the well-being of the nation, has blunted much criticism. In addition, his well-known moderation will assist him in keeping the broad public support he needs to continue the attempt to reach an accommodation with the extreme left.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 VEN. Secret.↩
- President Caldera legalized the Venezuelan Communist Party in an attempt to isolate the guerrilla movements in the country. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) predicted it would have little impact on guerrilla activity.↩