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LATIN AMERICAN DICTATORS: Perez Jimenez, Simon Bolivar, Romulto Betancourt

Forgotten by the world, General Marcos Perez Jimenez died, aged 87. Born in Tachira like other Venezuelan dictators, he was president of Venezuela from 1952 to 1958. It was a period when dictators were becoming common in Latin America: Argentina (Peron), Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile. In general, US business was pleased with them, since it was simple to deal with them. The US government in general approved of them. President Eisenhower gave Perez Jimenez the Legion of Merit. Not so pleased were the liberal politicians and intellectuals who were forced into exile.

Most American intellectuals were unhappy too. Having founded Stanford's Latin American program, I was given a building to house it. I named it Bolivar House in honor of the great defender of parliamentary democracy. Only later did right-wing extremists transform him into their forerunner. Bolivar House became a haven for exiled Latin American intellectuals. One of them was former President Romulo Betancourt, exiled by Perez Jimenez. The US government treated him unceremoniously as just another exile. My, how the attitude changed when he returned to Venezuela as President after Perez Jimenez fell! The opportunism of official international relations was blatantly patent. It was worse in Latin America, where official lips which had once been pressed against Perez Jimenez cheek now were pressed against those of Betencourt. What cheek! Grateful for the sincere reception I had given him, Betancourt sent me his picture with an appreciative dedication. It is framed in my home.

Adriana de Pena's family was one of those which emigrated to the US. She writes "I was born in Argentina. I grew up under Peron, a man whom I view now with much more indulgence than I once did. I came to the USA in 1968, with my family". This is singificant. Is it a straw in the wind? Economically democracy seems to have failed, and many Latin American countries are rent by the turmoil the dictators suppressed. Are Latin Americans longing for the good old times?

Ronald Hilton - 10/7/01