CARACAS, Wednesday April 01, 2009 | Update
This was a hectic year marked by diplomatic maneuvers. In 1961, the first Venezuelan Constitution under democracy was enacted. Venezuela severed ties with Cuba because of the political stance adopted by Havana, particularly preservation of the death penalty as part of the island's legal regulations. In order to stress the ideological basements of his government, President Rómulo Betancourt welcomed in Caracas his US counterpart John F. Kennedy
During Kennedy's visit to Venezuela, he and his Venezuelan counterpart Rómulo Betancourt initialed an economic agreement under the Alliance for Progress socioeconomic program approved by the OAS Photo: Luis R. Bisbal
In a year marked by impasses with Havana and, because of the constant clashes between the local leftists and communists and police forces, US President John F. Kennedy's visit to Caracas meant more than symbolically the stance the government, politically speaking, would assume.
Rómulo Betancourt's pipe was not precisely pointing to Cuba. After enacting a new Constitution on January 23, the government dismantled several coup d'état schemes, mainly orchestrated by military factors eager for dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez's return. At the same time, other issues had to be dealt with. For example, in March, the Communist Party vigorously called for a "new coup d'état, now."
In April, the Congress' Chamber of Deputies, presided by Rafael Caldera, agreed to seek the end of the death penalty in Cuba. Around the end of the first semester, a group of students burnt down the car of the US ambassador and stole documents from his briefcase, which would later be read aloud by Minister Ernesto "Che" Guevara during the Inter-American Economic Conference in Punta del Este, as evidence of the imperialist Yankee dominance over the Venezuelan ruler.
In September, 65 Cuban refugees that had sought refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy in Havana finally made it to the country, and by November tensions grew.
On the 1st, the homes of the Cuban political refugees were attacked with Molotov bombs and firearms. On the 3rd, news of the murder of university activist Livia Margarita Gouverneur broke out and on the 11th Venezuela announced the rupture of diplomatic relations with Cuba resulting from the deaths by firing squads of political opponents to the new regime. By then, Cuba had broken off relations with the United States and on April 16 had announced its Marxist-Leninist stance, just prior to defeating invading forces trying to enter the island through the Bay of Pigs.
That was the atmosphere surrounding newly elected President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline upon arriving in Caracas, still agitated by student protests (10 dead and 106 wounded) resulting from the political rupture with Cuba.
On December 16 at 9:15 a.m., the presidential couple arrived in the Maiquetía airport, where a voluminous welcoming committee headed by Betancourt and his wife Carmen Valverde, as well as Raúl Leoni and Rafael Caldera, then president and vice president of the National Congress, awaited.
On that same day, both rulers signed an economic agreement under the Alliance for Progress socioeconomic program approved by the OAS.
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