Rómulo Betancourt (1908-1981)


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Rómulo Betancourt – by Unknown – Archives of the Rómulo Betancourt Foundation. Wikimedia Commons.

Rómulo Ernesto Betancourt Bello was born on 22 February 1908 in Guatire, a town on the outskirts of Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela. He was a member of a group of college students and activists who organized a protest against dictator Juan Vicente Gómez at the Central University of Venezuela in February 1928. This group, best known as the Generation of 1928, includes Jóvito Villalba, Juan Oropeza, Joaquin Gabaldon Marquez, Raúl Leoni, Andrés Eloy Blanco, Miguel Otero Silva, Pedro Sotillo, Isaac J Pardo, Juan Bautista Fuenmayor, Germán Suárez Flamerich, and Gustavo Machado, and Antonia Palacios. Since the events of 1928, Betancourt held a grudge against fellow writer Arturo Úslar Pietri, who despite of being a student at the same university refused to participate in the protests. After Betancourt and several of his compañeros are sent to jail for a few months, he decides to go into exile, first in Curacao, later in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Chile until the death of the dictator in 1935.

Betancourt first ambition was literature. During the 1920s, he publishes poetry, short fiction, and articles in well known magazines such as Billiken and Caricaturas, but after the events of 1928 his main interest will be politics. In 1931, he is co-author of the “Barranquilla Manifesto,” described by some as a historical essay and the “first attempt to apply the categories of historical materialism” to the specific conditions of 20th century Venezuela (Cabello 102). In 1941, he co-founds the political organization Acción democrática (Democratic Action), one of Latin American first social democratic parties.

In 1945, his party participates in the coup against president Isaís Medina Angarita. Shortly, he is selected as the President of the Junta that emerged from the coup.  As President, he works to reform the country’s constitution in order to guarantee free universal and secret elections. In 1948, he helps organize the first truly democratic elections in the history of the country. The elections’ results favor his former high school teacher and fellow party member Rómulo Gallegos who becomes the new president in February that year. A few months after the election, a group of military officers leads a successful coup against Gallegos, forcing Betancourt into exile one more time, first to Costa Rica and ultimately New York.

In January 1958, the military regime established in 1948 falls under the pressure of labor strikes and the military. Betancourt returns from New York early that year to accept the nomination for the presidency of his party. He wins the election in December and becomes the second president of Venezuela ever to be elected in universal and secret elections. After his term ends in 1964, Betancourt retires and lives abroad until his death in New York the 28 September 1981.

Betancourt’s best known work is Venezuela, política y petróleo, published in Mexico by Fondo de Cultura Económica in 1956. The book is a collection of essays in which he explores the intricate relationship between oil and politics in 20th century’s Venezuelan history. Other important works: Posición y doctrina (1959) and América Latina: democracia e integración (1978).

Critical Reception

  • Alexander, Robert J. The Venezuelan Democratic Revolution; a profile of the regime of Rómulo Betancourt. New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, [1964]. Link.
  • Dávila, Luis R. “Rómulo Betancourt and the Development of Venezuelan Nationalism (1930-1945).” Bulletin of Latin American Research, vol. 12, no. 1, 1993, pp. 49-63.Link.
  • Ellner, Steve. Betancourt y la conjura militar Del 45. vol. 62, Duke University Press, 1982. Link.
  • Ellner, Steve. “Robert J. Alexander: Rómulo Betancourt and the Transformation of Venezuela (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1982, $19.95). Pp. Viii + 737.” Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, 1984, pp. 238-239. Link.
  • Kennedy-Betancourt Communique. vol. 42, Current History, Inc., etc, Philadelphia, etc, 1962. Link.
  • Langue, Frédérique. “Fundación Rómulo Betancourt.”, 2007. Link.
  • Langue, Frédérique. “Rómulo Betancourt. Liderazgo democrático versus personalismo en tiempos de celebraciones.”Araucaria, vol. 11, no. 21, 2009, pp. 226-238. Link.
  • Langue, Frédérique. “Machiavel et la Démocratie au Venezuela ou l’héritage pragmatique de Rómulo Betancourt.” Nuevo Mundo – Mundos Nuevos (2005), 2005. Link.
  • Martz, John D. La revolución democrática en Venezuela, 1959-1964. vol. 50, Duke University Press, 1970.Link.
  • Olivar, Jose A. “edgardo Mondolfi Gudat. Temporada de golpes. Las insurrecciones militares contra Rómulo Betancourt. Caracas: Editorial Alfa, 2015.” Boletín de la Academia Nacional de la Historia (Venezuela), vol. 98, no. 390, 2015, pp. 143-146. Link.
  • Philip, George. “Betancourt Rómulo: Venezuela; Oil and Politics (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979, $14.95). Pp. 408.” Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, 1982, pp. 244-245. Link.
  • Romulo Betancourt. vol. 98, Newsweek LLC, 1981. Link.
  • Schwartzberg, Steven. “Rómulo Betancourt: From a Communist Anti-Imperialist to a Social Democrat with U.S. Support.”Journal of Latin American Studies, vol. 29, no. 3, 1997, pp. 613-665. Link.
  • Shapiro, Samuel. Betancourt’s Venezuela. vol. 31, American Jewish Committee, New York, N. Y, 1961. Link.


  • Con quién estamos y contra quién estamos. San José de Costa Rica – Costa Rica, 1932.
  • Una república en venta. Editorial Futuro. Caracas – Venezuela, 1937.
  • Problemas venezolanos. Editorial Futuro. Santiago de Chile – Venezuela, 1940.
  • Trayectoria democrática de una revolución. Discursos y conferencias pronunciadas en Venezuela y el exterior durante el ejercicio de la Presidencia de la Junta Revolucionaria de Gobierno de los Estados Unidos de Venezuela. Imprenta Nacional. Caracas – Venezuela 2 volúmenes., 1948.
  • El caso de Venezuela y el destino de la democracia en América. Editorial Cultura. Ciudad de México – México, 1949.
  • Pensamiento y acción. Impresores Beatriz de Silva. Ciudad de México – México, 1951.
  • Venezuela: una factoría petrolera. Ciudad de México – México, 1954.
  • Venezuela, política y petróleo. 1ª ed. Editorial Fondo de Cultura Económica. Ciudad de México – México, 1956. NCSU Libraries.
  • Posición y doctrina. Editorial Cordillera. Caracas- Venezuela, 1959.
  • La revolución democrática en Venezuela: documentos del Gobierno presidido por Rómulo Betancourt. 1959-1964. Imprenta Nacional, Caracas – Venezuela 4 volúmenes, 1959-1964.
  • Golpes de Estado y Gobiernos de fuerza en América Latina: la dramática experiencia dominicana. Editorial Arte. Caracas – Venezuela,1966.
  • Hacia una América Latina democrática e integrada. 3ª ed. Taurus. Madrid –España, 1969.
  • Venezuela dueña de su petróleo. Ediciones Centauro. Caracas – Venezuela, 1975.
  • América Latina: democracia e integración. Editorial Seix Barral. Barcelona – España, 1978.
  • El petróleo de Venezuela. Barcelona. Editorial Seix Barral. Barcelona- España, 1978.
  • Obras selectas. Editorial Seix Barral. Barcelona – España: 4 volúmenes, 1978
  • El 18 de octubre de 1945: génesis y realizaciones de una revolución democrática. Editorial Seix Barral. Barcelona – España, 1979.
  • Memoria del último destierro, 1948-1958. Centauro. Caracas – Venezuela, 1982
  • Hombres y Villanos. Grijalbo. Caracas – Venezuela, 1987.
  • Archivo de Rómulo Betancourt. Fundación Rómulo Betancourt. y Ediciones de la Presidencia de la República. 3 volúmenes. Caracas – Venezuela, 1988-1981.
  • Antología política. Fundación Rómulo Betancourt Caracas. Venezuela, 1990.
  • La segunda independencia de Venezuela. Fundación Rómulo Betancourt. Caracas – Venezuela. 3 volúmenes, 1991.
  • Rómulo Betancourt: leninismo, revolución y reforma. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1998.


  • Bravo, Víctor. Diccionario general de la literatura venezolana. Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, 2013.
  • Caballero, Manuel. Rómulo Betancourt, político de la nación. México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica/Alfadil, 2004.
  • Carrera Damas, Germán. Rómulo histórico. Caracas: Alfa, 2013.
  • “Rómulo Betancourt.” Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre. 24 July 2017.