Contemporary Venezuelan political parties evolved from the student groups formed at the Central University of Venezuela in the capital during the long years of the Juan Vicente Gómez dictatorship. The most prominent of these groups was the FEV. Not surprisingly, the aging dictator swiftly dispatched into exile some of the young leaders of these protests. Abroad, they formed links with activists of similarly democratic inclinations. Other leaders who avoided exile established the bases of clandestine partisan organizations, the most important of which was the Republican National Union (Unión Nacional Republicana--UNR). Shortly after Gómez's death in 1935, these exiled leaders returned, and a spate of new political groups emerged.
Many of the former student leaders helped launch the Venezuelan Organization (Organización Venezolana--Orve); the more radical elements coalesced around the Progressive Republican Party (Partido Republicano Progresista--PRP), a Marxist group. The UNR mostly attracted young businessmen, while the Democratic National Bloc (Bloque Democrático Nacional--BDN) was primarily a regional organization centered in Maracaibo. The Orve, the PRP, and the BDN decided to join forces and, with the remnants of the old FEV, formed the National Democratic Party (Partido Democrático Nacional--PDN). Novelist Rómulo Gallegos ran under the PDN banner in the 1941 presidential election against government candidate Isaías Medina Angarita. Although Medina's victory was a foregone conclusion, as president he did open up the system somewhat, enabling the opposition, under the banner of AD, to make common cause with a reformist faction of the military to launch a crucial experiment in democracy between 1945 and 1948.
The trienio was a time of great political ferment during which two former leaders of the Generation of 1928 came to the fore. Jóvito Villalba called his political group the Democratic Republican Union (Unión Republicana Democrática--URD) and Rafael Caldera founded COPEI. AD also began organizing labor and peasant leagues during this period. Although Betancourt was the undisputed AD leader, he and others felt compelled to put forward Gallegos as their presidential candidate in the late 1947 elections.
Gallegos won overwhelmingly, but his political inexperience contributed to his overthrow less than a year later. During the reign of Pérez Jiménez (president, 1948-58), political activities were banned, political groups once again had to go underground, and political leaders such as Betancourt once more went into exile. The ten-year hiatus, however, allowed the Generation of 1928 to mature and to deepen its understanding of Venezuelan political and economic problems and realities. After 1958 many of the old organizations revived and reestablished themselves. AD and COPEI went on to hold the presidency a number of times, while Villalba made several runs for the office.
Several other political parties and organizations also were active in 1990. National Opinion, formed in 1958, won three seats in the Chamber of Deputies in 1983 and placed fifth in the presidential elections. New Democratic Generation, a small conservative group formed in 1979, managed to elect one senator and six deputies in 1988. In January 1989, it merged with two smaller groups, Formula One and the Authentic Renovating Organization, under the name of the Venezuelan Emergent Right. The Venezuelan Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Venezuela-- PCV), probably the oldest political party in the country, had functioned under the same name since 1931. Accused of involvement in subversive movements that threatened the new democracy, the PCV was banned for several years beginning in 1962. MAS originated as a radical left-wing faction that split off from the PCV in 1971. In the 1970s, MAS became the Venezuelan counterpart of "Eurocommunist" parties. In the 1988 presidential election, the MAS's nominee, Teodoro Petkoff, came in third, after the AD and the COPEI candidates. Still smaller organizations, most of them former factions of the major political parties, included New Alternative, the United Vanguard, the Revolutionary Action Group, the Radical Cause, the People's Electoral Movement (Movimiento Electoral del Pueblo--MEP), the Independent Moral Movement, the People's Advance, the Socialist League, and the Party of the Venezuelan Revolution.
The most noteworthy aspect of Venezuelan party politics, however, was not the proliferation of small parties, but rather the fact that two parties, AD and COPEI, have been the major contenders for power for over three decades. The competition between these two democratic and pragmatically reformist parties gave the Venezuelan political system a great deal of stability; and although the other contenders contributed fresh ideas and at times brilliant leaders, AD and COPEI managed to occupy the broad center, where most Venezuelan voters felt most comfortable.
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