Country Listing

Venezuela Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


Venezuelan Weaponry: F-16 fighter, Constitution-class attack craft, and AMX-13 light tank

BY 1990 VENEZUELA REPRESENTED one of the few Latin American countries where a democratic system had produced a military institution that exerted little or no direct influence on the government. When civilian government returned in 1958, the military had been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the public by the performance of the venal and reactionary regime of Marcos Pérez Jiménez. This rejection of the military strengthened the appeal of civilian politicians, raised the profile of reformist officers within the armed forces, and deterred coup plans by isolated sectors of the officer corps. In short, the return to democracy symbolized a social consensus that supported the concept of civilian control over an apolitical military.

Until Rómulo Betancourt's 1959 inauguration, with the exception of the brief trienio (see Glossary) period of 1945-48, Venezuela had been ruled by a succession of militarybased caudillos stretching back to "The Liberator" himself, Simón Bolívar Palacios. The nation exhibited all the characteristics of a traditional society--an agricultural economy, a small economic and political elite, and militarism--until the oil industry developed in earnest after World War II. The changes wrought by the influx of oil revenue eventually altered the military institution as much as the society as a whole.

Under a succession of democratically elected presidents, the military has improved its capabilities and expertise. It has also enhanced its public image. Although defense ministers and other leaders still felt compelled to deny occasional rumors of coup, such rumors appeared to have no serious basis. And despite popular disillusionment with the economic performance of civilian administrations, there was no indication that Venezuelans would support a return to military rule. Democracy in Venezuela was institutionalized, and no serious threats to its survival, from within or without, were evident.

Data as of December 1990