1952: When Jovito's Constituyente Win Was Stolen

Pérez Jiménez, our last right-wing dictator, also disregarded the will of the people and the law of the land. He created that era’s Tibisay & Co., willing to rob Jóvito Villalba (and the nation) of his victory.

Photo: Contrapunto retrieved.

To talk about the election fraud of 1952, we have to set it in context: the escalation of repression by the Government Junta increases after Pedro Estrada is appointed head of National Security, on August 31, 1951. By October, the number of political prisoners is close to 2,000, most of them leaders of Acción Democrática (AD) and the Communist Party (PCV), imprisoned in the Model Prison of Caracas and those in state capitals, particularly the General Penitentiary of San Juan de los Morros.

The concentration camp at Guasina, one of the islands in the Orinoco Delta, is opened in November, 1951, and populated by nearly 400 political prisoners. Freedom of press was non-existent and newspapers that dared publish news contrary to the Junta’s interests had all sorts of problems, which means the constant human rights violations weren’t reported. People only knew through hushed word of mouth.

The election year of 1952 starts with problems in the Central University of Venezuela, until academic activities are suspended and many students and professors are arrested (others went into exile). The government gets ready with its electoral group, FEI (Independent Electoral Front) to participate in the November elections; AD and PCV, which are illegal, can’t run, while Social-Christian Party (COPEI) and the Democratic Republic Union (URD) remain hesitant, finally choosing to concur. There are small uprisings in military bases, which provided the excuse for more detentions or murder, as was the case of Leonardo Ruiz Pineda, head of AD in clandestinity, killed on October 22, 1952, in San Agustín del Sur.

By October, the number of political prisoners is close to 2,000.

The elections are held on November 30, 1952, after a campaign in which URD collected significant support; the rally they organized in the Nuevo Circo de Caracas, on November 27, is the largest of the era. People turned out for elections en masse, and the first figures hailed URD’s victory, with considerable votes for COPEI, while the government party, FEI, is left behind. On December 1, it’s a fact that URD has won, and Jóvito Villalba is the lawmaker elected with the highest number of votes in the National Constituent Assembly, turning him into the Venezuelan with greatest popular support, but the government chooses to scrap electoral results.

A crisis ensues in the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) where honest officials refuse to alter results. The Council’s chairman, Vicente Grisanti, takes refuge in the Embassy of Brazil. 11 of the CSE’s 15 members resign too, while the government appoints a new CSE willing to forge the results.

On December 2, the new CSE delivers the fake results, where the FEI wins with a large advantage. Marcos Pérez Jiménez takes over as Provisional President of Venezuela that same day, while the government struggles to make URD accept the result. They refuse, and get expelled to Panama.

There are small uprisings in military bases, which provided the excuse for more detentions or murder, as was the case of Leonardo Ruiz Pineda.

Once Pérez Jiménez carries out his coup, the Constituent Assembly is installed on January 9, 1953. The body immediately ratifies Pérez Jiménez’s provisional presidency and begins writing the new Constitution. On April 15, the Provisional President signs the approval of a new Constitution and, two days later, the Constituent Assembly appoints him as Constitutional President for the five-year period between April 1953 and April 1958.

Regarding the presidential period, the new Constitution kept the term of five years and the electoral system of the Constitution of 1947, but in other aspects, it backtracked to what was established in the Constitution of 1936, particularly in terms of citizen rights. Constitutional lawyers agree that it was a text designed for the military dictatorship, which would overrule all the individual and citizen liberties it claimed to uphold.