Until yesterday, the last time an Acción Democrática anniversary came around with one of its leaders holding a great office of State was back in 1998. And the last time they came together with a veritable potential presidential election winner within their ranks was, arguably, 1993. This time around they have both, in the person of Henry Ramos Allup, and so we are witnessing a resurgence of adeco identity (my social network might bring a skewed sample -I know a lot of people in politics, after all) but I have seen more than a hundred profiles wearing proudly the adeco white, and reading “Pan Tierra y Trabajo”, “El Partido del Pueblo” or, more succintly #SiVolveran.


AD’s overall record is one of success: and no party had a bigger stake in the transformation of Venezuela from 1936 onwards than the tolda blanca.

I’m not here to ponder AD’s chances of returning to the presidency, or its pivotal role within the MUD, or the status of its membership and professional party apparatus, or whether it has enough figures to lead a cabinet as a dominant party in a national unity government. That deserves analysis, but I just like to gaze into the past.

The party reaches its 75th year (or its 80 somethingth, if you count the clandestine iterations prior to AD). Taken as a whole, AD’s overall record is one of success: and no party had a bigger stake in the transformation of Venezuela from 1936 onwards than the tolda blanca.

Electorally, AD won all but three presidential elections it has contested since 1947: in the span of 50 years (ten of which it suffered horrendous persecution), the party won six times, coming in second every other time but in 1998. They also won a majority of governorships in three of the four regional elections held before 2000. Their organization and political machinery was so in tune that it became a model for every other major party to follow, copy and tinker: we do not have a fabled maquinaria copeyana or maquinaria urredista, but every person of a certain age can remember the “maquinaria adeca” as stuff of legend, a machinery that not only weathered dictatorial repression, but also did not fizzle after losing major elections.


Given that most contemporary historians actually rebelled against AD at some point in their careers, their ultimate appreciation is all the more impressive.

Alas, many other parties have been politically dominant: the Liberales Amarillos had no match between 1870 and 1899, the MVR-PSUV has commanded the State resources and institutions to bolster its erstwhile grip on the national majorities for almost two decades. But AD actually changed the country, and at some point in time, it could be argued that it not only had the most important political program in the nation, but also redefined what the Venezuelan nation could be through the single most star-studded and influential political committee in our history: Romulo Gallegos, Andres Eloy Blanco, Raul Leoni, Valmore Rodriguez, Leonardo Ruiz Pineda, Luis Beltrán Prieto, Gonzalo Barrios and primus-inter-pares Rómulo Betancourt. Given that most contemporary historians actually rebelled against AD at some point in their careers, their ultimate appreciation is all the more impressive.


Success breeds contempt.

Of course, Venezuela’s transformation was not only AD’s brainchild, but the leading version of that change came into the fore through its will. The party forced the end of Post-Gómez Venezuela, through its 1945 Revolution. The coup accelerated political, social and economic change, and gave us the 1947 Constitution as a new national idea, so powerful that it was cherished and reformed with care with its former zealous adversaries in the Puntofijo Pact and the 1961 Constitution. For better or worse, our most lasting representative democracy system had a radical revolution as its first rough draft: the creation of a true national party that overcame regional and class differences, the use of State power as a tool for social improvement; the aggressive redistribution of oil wealth; the promotion of widespread public works projects in housing, electrification, sanitation and education; the expansion of economic nationalism and the inextricable link between political democracy and growing equality. There is a famous essay by Jose Ignacio Cabrujas where he parodied that the party’s leaders, after realizing they had fulfilled most of their original program, decided the dissolve the party.

Success breeds contempt. So much has been written about the old party system’s decline, that any fair assessment reeks of nostalgic lionization. AD fulfilled its promise but in turn was hostage to the social and political culture dynamics that it criticized, though it was optimistically convinced would it could overcome them by sheer political tenacity. Administrative corruption, nepotism and cronyism, distrust of free-market capitalism, the siren song of cozying up to old and uncompetitive economic elites, and bouts of popular repression, mar the party’s legacy. Were those mistakes inbred into AD’s ideology, or were they the unintended consequences of unforeseen developments?


Conventional wisdom has it that the founders’ presidencies were, if a bit overzealous, honest and progressive, while the administrations led by the second generation pilfered and profaned that tradition.

Conventional wisdom has it that the founders’ presidencies were, if a bit overzealous, honest and progressive, while the administrations led by the second generation pilfered and profaned that tradition. Surely, reality is much more complex than this, but the decline is hard to overlook in the face of its bold achievements.

Alas, and this might be the most contentious argument for the party’s place in our nation’s history, AD brought about the until then unheard-of notion that the common folk could organize, galvanize and ultimately be trusted and heard in matters of policy and power. El partido del pueblo defeated the notion that only aristocrats or strongmen should have a say, and paved the way for modern politics in our country. Given that most Venezuelans hope for an electoral resolution to our dire state, it is a nice legacy to think about.

Happy 75th birthday, adecos.

16 COMMENTS

  1. A lot of the time, organizations, institutions, even countries die of success. AD is not dead, but well… the fall of the country to where is know is, in a great deal, due to the success of AD in transforming the country… and failing to deal with a lot of the new problems of said transformation.

  2. “Of course, Venezuela’s transformation was not only AD’s brainchild, but the leading version of that change came into the fore through its will. The party forced the end of Post-Gómez Venezuela, through its 1945 Revolution. The coup accelerated political, social and economic change, and gave us the 1947 Constitution as a new national idea, so powerful that it was cherished and reformed with care with its former zealous adversaries in the Puntofijo Pact and the 1961 Constitution.”

    In addition to AD’s role in the clandestine Junta Patriotica against the dictator MPJ. When all known leaders were exiled and/or killed by the regime, only a handful of very young leaders coming from the lower ranks of the party resisted and risked their lives to continue the campaign against the dictatorship. Many of them left AD to form MIR after Betacourt was elected president and implemented several pro-USA policies (contrary to AD initial, and founding ideals), but they deserve their share of recognition inside the tolda blanca history as the ones that held their ground in one of Venezuela’s most obscure periods. Silvestre Ortíz Bucarán, Simón Sáez Mérida, Domingo Alberto Rangel, among others.

  3. I’d say there’s more than enough evidence that AD’s distrust of the free market is the single most important factor that ultimately led the country to a borderline communist dictatorship. However, the conclusion of your article is perfectly fair. Common folk might have freely elected their way to the current catastrophe. But being free to choose in the political arena is as necessary for learning from our own mistakes as it is in the individual arena. And we would have never been able to go through that learning process if it wasn’t for AD.

    • I think it was not AD’s mistrust in free markets, but rather the distrust of both mainstream political parties. If you look at Copei as well they elected Herrera Campins, who was from the most left leaning wing of the party (which was heavily influenced by the Teologia de la Liberacion, which is quite socialist). His vision was that of el Estado Promotor. Then you have Caldera, who pushed for the modification of the labour laws, and the housing laws, which are some of the most pervasive pieces of legislation we have in terms of economic freedoms. Before the 90s both mainstream parties in Venezuela supported heavy tax increases, nationalisations, price controls, and heavy levels of economic dirigism. The only difference is that AD was in power for much longer.

  4. AD, Copey, Mud, in the end the turn out to be corrupt politicians. Historically. I don’t have high hopes for the Mud, massive corruption will continue, unless the military takes over. Unfortunately. But look at the past 50 years..

    • massive corruption will continue, unless the military takes over.

      Given the current levels of corruption in the military, I find it hard to believe that a military takeover will lower corruption.

    • The current massive corruption was originited by a military….Chavez. This same speech of “we need a military” was the same one that drove Chavez to win back in 1998. I seriously doubt that we need them now to end corruption, in times when they’re not only the most corrupted, but also involved in illegal drugs traffic.

      • To this you can add that the Venezuelan military likes control and interventionism. Active and retired military members have played a fundamental role in both Chavez’s and Maduro’s regime, and in their policies. So, it’s not only corruption, but terrible economic policy making.

  5. As I understand the issue, the hyper-emotional case of trying to reclaim the Esequibo (unbiased international legal scholars have told me that it is a closed case, since Venezuela accepted the arbitration for over 50 years and even published government maps and postage stamps showing Vzla without the Esequibo) was the brainchild of AD trying to whip up support from the 1960s onward. If it is true that AD politicians whipped up this frenzy knowing that there was no legal case to stand on, I would be very disappointed.

  6. Corruption in Venezuela has grown much worse in the last 17 years , it has always existed but at a much smaller scale and level of pervasiveness , of course once you let the tiger out of the cage it gets very hard to put it back in.

    It is a myth that it only thrives among pols or people working in government , Businessmen can be as corrupt as pols . Hasn’t any one read the history of the political machines that dominated so much of US politics in the XIX and XX century or heard of the gigantic frauds and shenanigans of the Robber Barons who founded US industry.

    You can control corruption to a level where it doenst do great harm but never entirely abolish it…….goes against the grain of the human condition……!!

    Tell you what fosters massive corruption in both business and politics and government , DISORDER and people having more power that they can be trusted with …….!! Education helps but not nearly as much as having the right home models and the right corporate or political culture.

    Even then there are lapses ,where even people bred and raised in impeccable backgrounds lose their moral compass !!

    People tend to think that corruption has to do with money when actually many times it has more to do with the lust for power and dominance and the pursuit of an aggrandized personal status .

    Read that when the Tatcher govt had to decide on the railway link between London and the Chunnel there were two alternate routes , one which although shorter passed thru an area inhabited mostly by Tories and another inhabited mostly by labourites and liberals , knowing people would be bothered to lose their homes when the line was built the ultimate decision was to adopt the latter route ………a straight political decision if there ever was one …..no one took any bribes but that was an act of corruption !!

  7. Very interesting article. Nonetheless, you have to give to AD though, at least they tried to modernise the party with CAP II. Although, sadly this was too late and too fast, facing an internal rebellion from young and prominent politicians at the time (like HRA).

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