658. Airgram A–255 From the Embassy in Venezuela to the Department of State1 2

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  • POLITICAL BI-WEEKA No. 12 (May 29–June 12)


Governor Rockefeller’s Visit Postponed
Violence on Curacao Disturbs Venezuelans
Venezuela-Guyana Relations
Three Top Leaders of the CCN Resign
FDP Holds Plenum
PCV Promises Independent Line at Moscow Meeting
Internal Security
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President Rafael CALDERA’s decision to request postponement of Governor Rockefeller’s Presidential Mission only thirty hours before it was due to arrive in Venezuela provided the principal topic of conversation in Caracas for an entire week. And while interest in it has now subsided, some repercussions are still being felt. The decision was apparently motivated by growing fears of the possibility of serious disorders (sharpened by events in Quito and La Paz and the sudden, albeit unrelated, violence on neighboring Curacao), and concern over the probable effects of the repression of such disturbances upon the government’s pacification program and relations with its own unruly COPEI youth wing. Taking these factors into account the President decided that the political price the GOV might have to pay in the event of trouble outweighed the advantages to be gained by receiving the Mission. As the President himself stated during his weekly news conference June 5, he concluded that the visit was neither “expedient nor necessary,” and given the probability of disturbances might even have damaged its principal objective—the improvement of U.S.-Latin American relations. Other high level GOV officials including Interior Minister Lorenzo FERNANDEZ and Foreign Minister CALVANI stressed that relations with the U.S. would not suffer from the postponement, and asserted that the long range effect could even be salutary if it led to a “renovation” of U.S. hemisphere policies.

Political reactions to the decision varied widely. Both the extreme left and PEREZ Jimenez’ Cruzada Civica Nacionalista gloated and claimed victory, since they had previously declared the Governor persona non grata. Loyal Copeyanos predictably defended the GOV’s decision, with Congressional leader HERRERA Campins declaring it an act of “virile prudence.” Avowedly opposition parties such as AD and URD criticized the government for showing weakness in deferring the visit, with AD stating that the decision “creates the impression of insecurity.” About the best that other parties could find to say about the decision, which they all accepted, was that it was “prudent.” Discussions with a limited number of senior military officials by MILGP and DAO officers revealed some disappointment over the lack of prior consultation on the decision, but acceptance of it, on balance, as correct. Some younger officers, however, were reportedly not happy about events.

Despite the postponement, two reflex action demonstrations did occur. In Valencia on June 2 a group of five hundred high school students demonstrated, burned an American flag, and attacked a CADA supermarket (a Rockefeller financial interest) causing considerable damage. In Caracas on June 3 some two hundred fifty high school and university students staged a peaceful “solidarity” demonstration before the Peruvian Embassy, which had originally been timed to coincide with the Rockefeller visit.

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COMMENT: Politically, the GOV decision was a difficult one, and one for which President Caldera has paid and will continue to pay a price. The move has been interpreted by both the opposition and many average Venezuelans as a glaring admission of weakness. In historical perspective—combined with the failure of the Cartagena talks and student disorders—it may come to be viewed as a turning point for the Caldera administration. However, in and of itself at this point, the decision to postpone the visit does not appear to have been as prejudicial to GOV stability as some—before the shock waves subsided—were led to believe.

[Omitted here are items 2–8.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 2 VEN. Confidential. It was drafted on June 12 by Sleght and approved by Walters. Repeated to COMANTDEFCOM, COMCARIBSEAFRON, Curaçao, Paramaribo, COMUSAFSO, Asuncion, Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Georgetown, La Paz, Lima, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Santo Domingo, and Quito. According to a CIA report, student protests and strikes had become so common by May that the Minister of Education suspended classes in the public secondary schools. Caldera feared that he would have to bring in the military to control student protesters during the Rockefeller visit, which could have weakened the political system. (LA Staff Note No. 6–69, June 19; Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Office, Job 79–T00968A)
  2. The Embassy reported that fear of public disorder prompted President Caldera to postpone Rockefeller’s visit.