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History, The Perez Jimenez Regime

COPEI, Perez Jimenez, good contacts, nights of terror, general strike

Venezuela’s enormous oil revenues allowed the Perez Jimenez government to undertake construction of roads, bridges, railroads, and public buildings. One of the larger projects undertaken was the rebuilding of the center of Caracas. However, the government spent a great deal of money on military installations that became obsolete upon completion, and it made no efforts to improve agriculture, education, or standards of public health. Members of the administration embezzled vast sums of money, with Perez Jimenez himself accumulating an enormous fortune.

The government maintained generally good contacts with other American countries, and the Tenth International Conference of American States was held in Caracas in 1954. Venezuela, however, broke off diplomatic relations with Argentina in 1957, after having rejected numerous Argentine complaints concerning the activities in Caracas of former Argentine dictator Juan Peron.

Jimenez ruthlessly suppressed all criticism of his regime. The government drove opponents into hiding or exile, and the secret police carried out mass jailings and tortured political prisoners. Until late 1957, however, the administration appeared stable. As the time for the 1957 national election approached, Perez Jimenez jailed all known opposition leaders, including Rafael Caldera Rodriguez, leader of the Social Christian Party (COPEI). In December the government held a plebiscite, the results of which showed that 2,353,935 of a total of 2,900,543 voters approved of Perez Jimenez and his regime.

The people, already resentful of the dictatorship, reacted violently to the official announcement of the referendum. On January 21, 1958, a general strike in Caracas signaled the start of a popular uprising. Rioting broke out in the streets of Caracas. The situation culminated in two days and nights of terror, during which police killed about 300 citizens. Perez Jimenez fled the country and a group of military officers and civilians, known as the Patriotic Junta and led by Rear Admiral Wolfgang Larrazabal, seized control of the government.

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