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History, Democratic Governments

Raul Leoni, years Venezuela, Venezuelan government, peaceful transfer of power, congressional majority

In 1957 the Larrazabal government released leading political prisoners. Other opposition leaders returned from exile. In elections held in December 1958, former president Betancourt of the AD was reelected.

The new administration restored the country’s credit, which was severely weakened by the Perez Jimenez regime, expanded social welfare projects, provided increased educational opportunities, and encouraged foreign investment. The government also raised income taxes, primarily in the higher income brackets, to secure funds for development projects. A land reform bill aimed at giving 700,000 farmers land of their own was passed in 1960, and the government promoted diversification of the economy.

The five years of the Betancourt administration were marked by almost continuous efforts by extremists of both the right and the left to unseat the government. Both groups of extremists received support from outside Venezuela. In 1960 the Organization of American States (OAS) voted sanctions against the Dominican Republic, then under the control of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, for supporting right-wing efforts to assassinate Betancourt. Diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed in November, following charges by the Venezuelan government that the disorders had been orchestrated in large part on orders of Cuba’s Communist leader, Fidel Castro. During 1962 and 1963 leftist groups attempted unsuccessfully to overthrow the government.

President Betancourt promulgated a new constitution in January 1961. Despite constitutional provisions guaranteeing various rights to labor and expressing opposition to large landed estates, social unrest and rioting continued throughout 1961.

Elections in 1963 brought Raul Leoni of the ruling AD to the presidency. For the first time in Venezuela’s history, there was a peaceful transfer of power from one constitutionally elected regime to another. Lacking a congressional majority, Leoni formed a coalition government. The Leoni government also tried to increase agricultural productivity and to expand industries, and it moved ahead with the agrarian reform program. For the next few years Venezuela enjoyed a large measure of political stability. In October 1966, however, a military uprising broke out, led by the national guard garrison near Caracas. It was crushed by the government, which had also been combating guerrilla activity in the countryside and in the capital throughout the year.

Article key phrases:

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