Photo: retrieved

Rómulo Betancourt died at 73 years old; an age that would be below today’s Venezuelan life expectancy but, at the time, life expectancy was 68 years, so he was above the average. The story of his death is vividly rendered by his widow, Renée Hartmann de Betancourt, in her book Rómulo y yo (1984). Dr. Hartmann says that they travelled to New York on September 7, 1981, along with Betancourt’s assistant, Raúl Aristeguieta, and their dog Tutú, always close to the former president.

On September 24, Betancourt suffered a domestic accident. He was writing and he’d put a foot inside a bronze trash can. He did it to empty his pipe as many times as needed, but he forgot about it when he got up and tried to walk. Tangled up, Rómulo fell loudly even though he’d grabbed a sofa. He fell on his right side. Later, when Dr. Hartmann took off his slippers to put him to bed, she realized his left foot was in a strange position, which deeply worried her, but she said nothing. Fearing he might have suffered a cerebrovascular accident (which was indeed the case), she called for a doctor. He died four days later, after 4:17 p.m. on September 28, 1981.

Rómulo Betancourt died at 73 years old; an age that would be below today’s Venezuelan life expectancy.

“In my view,” Dr. Hartmann said, “he suffered the brain injury when he fell. I thought, and I still think, that the tremendous emotion of the fall increased his blood pressure, which caused the stroke.”

In other words, he didn’t have a stroke and fell, quite the opposite. In her book, the author details the entire issue of transporting him and the homages he received in Caracas.

Luis Piñerúa Ordaz spoke in Acción Democrática’s headquarters; Gonzalo Barrios and the President of the Republic, Luis Herrera Campins, spoke at the Federal Palace; and Jaime Lusinchi spoke in the Eastern Cemetery. There are 24 kilometers between the Federal Palace and the Eastern Cemetery, which a crowd crossed carrying the coffin, arriving to the cemetery at night and under the rain.

Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello (Guatire, February 22, 1908) was the son of Luis Betancourt García, a Canarian immigrant, and Venezuelan Virginia Bello Milano. He spent his childhood in his hometown and his teenage years in the capital, attending high school in the Liceo Caracas, with Rómulo Gallegos as factotum. From those juvenile years, there’s a specific memory in the book written by his daughter, Virginia Betancourt Valverde, Vida en familia (1890-1958), where the author goes over the years he lived with Carmen Valverde, Betancourt’s first wife.

Thanks to the Caracas’ bourgeoisie being so open and welcoming of talent, Rómulo, a mulatto from Guatire, the son of a poor Canarian immigrant, was a part of that social group.

In that book of pleasant resonances, there’s a phrase that locates the character’s social origin: “Thanks to the Caracas’ bourgeoisie being so open and welcoming of talent, Rómulo, a mulatto from Guatire, the son of a poor Canarian immigrant, was a part of that social group.” What his daughter is talking about is the literary magazine Liceo, chaired by Armando Zuloaga Blanco and Rómulo Betancourt in 1920, two close friends of impossibly disparate origins, who met in the classrooms and became fast friends.

Those two boys never imagined how their lives would be so dissimilar: Zuloaga Blanco died at 24 in Cumaná, in the tragic episode of the Falke invasion, commanded by Román Delgado Chalbaud, 1929, while Betancourt died at 73 with all his dreams fulfilled. One of them was killed by a gunshot, the other fell because he’d put his foot in a trash can. Life is a mystery.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I am surprised Betancourt was that young when he died. I recall, as a teenager, seeing him deliver a televised speech from El Poliedro (I think it was an ADeco women event) somewhere between 1972 and 1974, and I thought he was ancient, both in appearance and demeanor. At one point during the speech, he joked that if the crowd did not quiet down, he would put on his hat and leave. Even then, wearing a hat was anachronistic.

  2. “Thanks to the Caracas’ bourgeoisie being so open and welcoming of talent, Rómulo, a mulatto from Guatire, the son of a poor Canarian immigrant, was a part of that social group.”

    Unfortunately Romulo didn’t return the favor, (before he became a Bourgeois himself enjoying the good life and travels worldwide). He failed to educate the rest of the ‘poor mulattos”, the ignorant pueblo-people. Thus, Chavismo emerged, stronger than ever after 2 disastrous decades.

    Luis Piñerúa Ordaz.. Luis Herrera Campins..and Jaime Lusinchi.. Carlos Andres Perez..
    All a bunch of corrupt, uneducated indians. How could they have educated the highly corruptible and even less educated pueblo-people? That’s why millions of alienated, jealous, uneducated, corrupt Kleptozuelans, such as Nicolasno Masburro, became what they became. A resentful ‘Pueblo’ of uneducated, highly corruptible indians, where Chavismo came from. Blame Lusinchi, Luis Herrera, CAP, Piñerua and such useless clowns. The previos MUDcrap leaders that wasted the oil boom of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Stole it almost all, without incorporating and educating the clueless populace.

    If Betancourt and the other “democrats” from AD/Copey had let MPJ in power just 10 more years, perhaps enough infrastructure would have been built, the economy would be much more robust, the ignorant masses would have been much better educated, and the Chavistoide pueblo-people catastrophe could have been avoided. Much like what happened in Chile after 17 years of Pinochet. Too late now for Chinazuela.

  3. It sounds like he was fucking drunk. And died the William Holden drunk death:

    Death by gravity, because he was too stoned to stand up.

    More important, why does CC waste our time with these irrelevancies?

    Without a doubt, this blogger’s contributions here get more or more meaningless each time. And he’s not even reporting accurate history.

  4. Never did a venezuelan regime concern itself with education as did the regime founded by Betancourt ….thats the reason why Venezuelans migrating to other latam countries are notorious for on average having a higher level of education than is prevalent in other migrating movements or in the country to which they migrate …they say it Chile, Peru, Ecuador , even in the US. Of course education is only part of the chore of socializing people ,the fundamental cornerstone is at home and since about 50% of Venezuelan homes arent regular families (mother will have children from different partners all of which will abandon her and her children) , the problem was not one of educating people but of repairing the personality flaws of people who bore the damage of being raised neglected or fatherless and who thus knew not the rule of discipline , respect for authority and the observance of social norms in daily life.

  5. I am surprised by the intensity of negative emotion running through these comments. There is hatred in them. Reading them and watching what is going on in the U.S., where I now live, it would seem that an alien civilization had sprayed Earth’s atmosphere with a substance that made people distrust each other, so they would eventually destroy each other without a need for war.
    The brief years of Betancourt, Leoni, Caldera I and, even, a portion of CAP I (before the oil windfall made him lose his way) saw doubtless social advance in our country. The work that has not been properly done (and now it will be twice as hard) is to convert enough of our population into citizens, having a clear sense of social responsibility. Too much oil, I guess.
    I found Arraiz Lucca’s brief note very factual, informative and crisp, undeserving of some of the reactions from readers.

    • Very well said. Betancourt stands out as a statesman of vision, who achieved miraculous results given the circumstances at the time. He is correctly credited with being the father of democracy in Venezuela, while actively resisting insurrection and guerrilla activity by Fidelistas. He was extreme in his desire to solidify the democratic centre to make it resistant to tyranny of the right and of the left. I don’t admire many politicians, but Betancourt is an exception.
      The iconoclastic spray you mention is composed of equal parts of identity politics, polarisation of thought and the belief that facts can be modified to whatever viewpoint one holds.

    • Very well put, Gustavo. Half the time these days I am left scratching my head after I read some of the unhinged vitriol in the comments section of CC.

  6. This morning, for no good reason, I read a few worthless articles on Aporrea.
    It is absolutely astounding that some of the people that contribute to Aporrea have enough intelligence to learn how to e-mail their opinion essays.
    I don’t need Poet Criollo to again tell me that the indigent people of Venezuela are ignorant and expect the government to support them. It happens in the US also.
    Bill Bass makes a valid point regarding the family structure being the major contributing factor to minority social ills.
    In NY State, spending on education is nearing $20,000 per student per year. Head Start programs for preschoolers and full day Kindergarten initiatives are commonplace. With all of this investment in education, the inner city areas have still remained uneducated and poverty stricken.
    LBJ’s Great Society initiatives substantially increased welfare benefits, now referred to as “entitlements” throughout the US. One of the features of these generous benefits was that the benefits were paid to the females. This had the effect of making the males irrelevant to the support of their families and contributed greatly to the destruction of the Black nuclear family in the US. It is very common for an inner city single parent family to be comprised of the mother with children from multiple fathers.
    For many reasons these fathers are not involved in their children’s lives and the lack of a male authority figure is detrimental to the children.
    I do not know if LBJ intended to lift people from poverty or create a class of people that are perpetually dependent on the Democrats for ever increasing handouts. His Great Society initiative has resulted in generational poverty, teenage pregnancies, single parent homes, Very high dropout rates, crime, violence, drug use and incarceration. Rinse and repeat.
    The damage to our country is staggering. The loss of productivity, ingenuity and creativity, coupled with the high costs of social welfare programs, crime and incarceration is only part of the picture. It is impossible to put a monetary cost on the incredible suffering and misery that millions of people endure due to being trapped in this generational poverty.
    During election campaigns the Liberal or Democrat candidate more often than not will issue a warning to voters that should the Republican or Conservative candidate be elected, the welfare dependent voter risks losing an “entitlement”.
    The reality is that 2 simple things, finishing high school AND not having children out of wedlock greatly reduces someone’s chances of ever living in poverty. If the people that “care” so much about the people suffering poverty are honest, why don’t they turn this message into their mantra?

    • Teacher salaries in New York are driven to a significant degree by the cost of living. New York teachers need to be reasonably close to where they teach.

      New Jersey schools are comparable in per student expenditure and have the best or among the best outcomes in the USA. The worst performing education systems in the USA are also among the lowest funded. Those states also have among the highest levels of poverty.

      Access to good education, from a very early age, is a critical and highly effective tool in reducing poverty. Innumerable studies bear this out. Access to good education in Venezuela played a large role in creating social mobility and building a middle class. Now of course, the Maduro regime is destroying this progress.

      If you want to destroy your best resource as a country, drastically defund education and send them instead, homilies about living a righteous life. And start building more prisons (vastly more expensive than schools).

    • “The reality is that 2 simple things, finishing high school AND not having children out of wedlock greatly reduces (sic) someone’s chances of ever living in poverty. If the people that “care” so much about the people suffering poverty are honest, why don’t they turn this message into their mantra?”

      Fair point, but I don’t see this message coming out of conservative politicians in this country. They could put their money where their mouth is by fostering programs that prevented teen pregnancy, not by openly opposing them as public policy. They could also work harder to improve the secondary education system. The current administration does not even pay lip service to that. As Canuckle Head said, “homilies about living a righteous life” are comforting to some, but hardly a public policy.

  7. I look forward to the day when Latin American politicians choose the country of their birth and the country that they helped shape as their retirement home.

    If a political career is only for the purpose of accumulation of the wealth needed to retire abroad in style, what possible hope is there for governance in the best interests of the country?

    • This poem by Andres Eloy Blanco, who died in Mexioco, poor, as many of them did (no accumulation of wealth) refers to this topic Roy mentions:
      nacimos en la pura tierra de Venezuela,
      la del signo del Exodo, la madre de Bolívar
      y de Sucre y de Bello y de Urdaneta
      y de Gual y de Vargas y del millón de grandes,
      más poblada en la gloria que en la tierra,
      la que algo tiene y nadie sabe donde,
      si en la leche, en la sangre o la placenta,
      que el hijo vil se le eterniza adentro
      y el hijo grande se le muere afuera.

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