Early this morning, Venezuelan journalist, politician and former guerilla leader Pompeyo Márquez passed away at the age of 95. A restless political activist with a stunning career spanning over 70 years, Pompeyo Márquez opposed every dictator Venezuela had, from Eleazar López Contreras to Nicolás Maduro.
Pompeyo was born in Ciudad Bolívar in 1922, fifteen years into the brutal dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez. Early on, his family moved to Caracas where he studied accounting and typing. The latter would land him a job in the then-nascent newspaper El Nacional as well as in the official weekly publication of the Communist Party of Venezuela. Around this time, in 1943, he married Socorro Negretti; they would be together until her death in 1998.
Throughout the 1950s he was part of the underground resistance against general Marcos Pérez Jiménez, using his now-iconic alias “Santos Yorme”. Once Pérez Jiménez was ousted in 1958, he became senator for the Communist Party, representing Caracas. However, friction between the Betancourt government and far-left groups led to the banning of the Communist Party, causing Márquez and many others to take up arms against the government.
In 1967, alongside fellow guerrilla leaders Teodoro Petkoff and Guillermo García Ponce, he took part in the now legendary escape from Cuartel San Carlos in Caracas. They managed to actually dig their way to a nearby grocery store, previously acquired by a friend of the party. Legend has it they were inspired by the 1963 Steve McQueen movie The Great Escape.
He was among the guerrilla leaders that accepted the amnesty granted by the Caldera government in the late ‘60s and in 1970 he split with the old, pro-Moscow Venezuelan Communist Party. Hardline communists like his friend Douglas Bravo accused him of “selling out,” but for Pompeyo it was more of a revelation that the authoritarian ways of Soviet and Cuban-style Communism was not the path to follow.
During the Chávez government, Márquez became one of his most vocal critics from the left, briefly leading the Coordinadora Democrática.
In 1973, and thanks to a donation by Gabriel García Márquez, Pompeyo and Petkoff founded Movimiento Al Socialismo —MAS for short— a political party devoted to reconciling socialism with democracy. Though never a major party, it stood out in middle of a fragmented left, managing an impressive run and winning some municipalities and governorships.
MAS was also part of Caldera’s chiripero coalition in 1993, and Pompeyo served as minister in Caldera’s second government from 1993 to 1998. Petkoff, himself, and many others abandoned MAS due to the party’s support of Hugo Chávez in the 1998 presidential elections. Pompeyo launched the party Izquierda Democrática, which was absorbed by Un Nuevo Tiempo in 2007.
During the Chávez era, Márquez became one of his most vocal critics from the left, briefly leading the Coordinadora Democrática —a forerunner to today’s MUD. Despite his age, his energy never seemed to falter, although his public appearances became rarer in his final years.
Pompeyo Márquez spent the last half century exploring ways of ridding socialism of its authoritarian baggage. Perhaps the real tragedy for him, and many from his generation, is having been born in an undemocratic Venezuela, fighting for an entire life, only to pass away under the shadow of another autocratic regime. As he said in an interview for Noticias 24 a few years back: “I’d prefer death before a new dictatorship.”
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