Photo: Wikipedia retrieved

The July 14th, 1947 issue of Time magazine had Eva Perón on a cover which read “Between two worlds, an Argentine rainbow.” That same issue had a brief note on Venezuela, “No. 22,” about the approval by the National Constituent Assembly of the twenty-second Constitution since the foundation of the republic. The note is illustrated with Rómulo Betancourt’s picture, reading “Something to cheer about.” 

Both the piece on Evita, who was at the top of her career as redeemer of the poor, and the one on the new Venezuelan Constitution, describe changes in Latin America that have repercussions to this day. The text recounts the European tour of La Presidenta: Evita went to Spain, where she received the Great Cross of Isabel La Católica from the very dictator, Francisco Franco. La Señora continued her trip to Italy, where the communists, according to the article, received her with “angry demonstrations” and obscenities. “Unreconstructed” fascists applauded the visit, recalling the “forgotten” associations of Argentina during World War II.

Both the piece on Evita, who was at the top of her career as redeemer of the poor, and the one on the new Venezuelan Constitution, describe changes in Latin America that have repercussions to this day.

The anonymous writer, surely informed about Argentine politics, recognizes the ideological ambiguity of Evita and Perón himself, or what would later be peronismo. He quotes a speech in Spain from La Presidenta, in which she said that she didn’t come as a stand-in for any axis (the word still had a connotation close to WWII’s axis,) “but as a rainbow between our two countries.” 

In Venezuelan jargon, we could say that peronismo was presented politically as “neither chicha, nor lemonade.” Already in 1947, Perón was announcing what would be the so-called “movement of the non-aligned,” intended to be a “third way” between capitalist and communist hegemonies. 

A Progressive Venezuela

And that takes us to the next piece, on Venezuela. Time recounts the official promulgation of the new Constitution, on July 5th, 1947, by then president Rómulo Betancourt. It was “modeled on the U.S.’s, the hemisphere’s most leftist.” 

The 1947 Constitution, highlights the writer, establishes social and labor rights: the right to strike, paid vacations, extra payment for working on Sundays, compensation for dismissal and share-profit (“utilidades” in Venezuelan Spanish). The Constitution enshrines the right to health, education and employment. The state has a role in planning the economy. Private property is respected, although monopolies are prohibited, capital is entitled to “fair return” and employers’ associations are authorized.

Time points out the bicameral character of Congress, with the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and the establishment of the Supreme Court of Justice, which has the power to rule the constitutionality of laws. The presidential term is four years, and the president is elected for the first time by the direct and universal vote of Venezuelans. The president can’t run for re-election until two terms after his administration ends.

The most controversial measure of the Constitution is the power given to the president, with prior approval of Congress, to preventively arrest suspects of conspiring against the government, a forecast that didn’t help Rómulo Gallegos, the first president elected by direct and universal suffrage, overthrown by a military coup on November 24th, 1948.

A Mutating Region

Both articles show important changes in South America. In the Argentine and Venezuelan cases, the nascent peronism and the so-called “adeco triennium” meant the irruption of the masses in politics through universal vote, including the female vote. It was also the beginning of what we would call “populist” or redistributive policies today, in which the state plays a central role in the economy, owns industries and services, and education and health programs are established to benefit the poor.

Although this impulse of democratization was interrupted in both nations by military coups, we can’t say that both movements, peronism and the one by Acción Democrática, share the same features. In the case of Perón and Evita, the role of the charismatic leader is much more important than in Venezuela, where those quasi-fascist tones were absent. Actually, Perón started to shape his movement during his service as a military attaché at the Argentinian Embassy in Rome, during the rise of Benito Mussolini. 

In the Argentine and Venezuelan cases, the nascent peronism and the so-called “adeco triennium” meant the irruption of the masses in politics through universal vote, including the female vote.

Perón’s vocation to eternize himself in power was fulfilled with his 1973 reelection. The subsequent death of Perón a few months later, and the rise to power of María Estela Martínez (his vice-president) led Argentina to one of the most chaotic periods in its history, and eventually to terrible military dictatorship. In Venezuela, after ten years of dictatorship, democracy returned on January 23rd, 1958. Elected president, Rómulo Betancourt retired from the public scene in 1964, and did not run again for re-election, understanding the importance of power switching in democratic systems. He fought against subversions from the Right and the Left, and jump-started a long period of stability, growth and development.

Today, in some way, we’re experiencing the consequences of these two processes portrayed by Time in 1947. In Argentina, peronism, has returned to power by electoral means. In Venezuela, the betancourist democracy lived its twilight, and chavismo killed it. Power switching is over. Institutions are destroyed or very weak. The country is dominated by a group with criminal traits that claim to defend a socialist ideal. Chávez wanted to be an eternal caudillo, death prevented him from doing so. But his legacy is corruption, violence, nepotism, death and the emigration of millions of Venezuelans.

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