Last week Venezuelans commemorated the life and legacy of assassinated revolutionary leader Fabricio Ojeda (1929-1966), President of the Patriotic Junta that brought an end to the dictatorial regime of Marcos Perez Jimenez (1952-1958).
Widely popular for his role in defending the democratic rights of all Venezuelans, Ojeda was one of the first popular leaders to denounce the US-backed Fourth Republic (1958-1998), resigning from his seat in the National Assembly and making public his decision to join the armed struggle against “all that is putrid, all that is unjust, all that is not worthy of the new society we will build based on justice and liberties”.
Born on February 6, 1929, Fabricio Ojeda grew up in the small rural town of Bocono, state of Trujillo. According to Anayansi Jimenez, Ojeda’s partner at the time of his physical disappearance, the future revolutionary hero spent the greater part of his childhood immersed in the social injustice and poverty that was common in the Venezuela countryside prior to the Bolivarian Revolution.
In a recent interview with Correo del Orinoco, Anayansi explained how rural life in Venezuela was “fertile terrain for the development of Ojeda’s political consciousness”. “In that environment and context, he came to understand the work ethic of the campesinos, their survival-based austerity, and the principal of solidarity that they live by”. From an early age, she continued, Fabricio’s “interest in understanding his surroundings was supplemented by an avid desire to read”.
While still in high school, Ojeda spent a year teaching oil workers at the Creole Petroleum Corporation. In the oil fields, Anayansi explained, Ojeda “witnessed inequality and exclusion first-hand, but also met Jovito Villalba, Mario Iragorry, and Alirio Pelayo” founders of the Democratic Republic Union (URD), a grassroots political force engaged in the struggle for social, political, and economic justice.
Fabricio Ojeda joined the URD at 17 years of age and, according to recently-released legal records, Venezuela’s previously-existing secret political police began following his movements from that point on. Three years into political activism, Ojeda suffered his first detention at the hands of national security intelligence officers. On August 23, 1952, while living and work ing in Maturin, Monagas state, Ojeda was held for questioning by officials known to be linked to the recently installed dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez.
In 1955, Ojeda moved to Caracas and began studying journalism at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). One year later, he was hired by daily El Nacional to cover the news coming out of Miraflores Presidencial Palace. Still an active member of the URD, Ojeda used his role as a reporter to help secretly organize the successful overthrow of Venezuela’s last known dictator.
“We didn’t know it at the time”, explained his partner Anayansi, “but he was actually President of the clandestine Patriotic Junta while reporting from Miraflores”. Ojeda’s role in the civic-military uprising “only came to light on January 23, 1958 (the day Perez Jimenez fled the country), at which time he (Ojeda) had just turned 30 and was already a respected and victorious figure”, explained Anayansi. The popular victory, however, was soon co-opted by US-backed members of the “democratic” coalition, a move Ojeda denounced in both thought and action.
On January 20th, 1958, just three days before the Patriotic Junta successfully forced Perez Jimenez out of power, a handful of leaders from within the civic-military coalition held a secret meeting in New York in which they committed to excluding the leftist Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) from the country’s Fourth Republic (1958-1998) government.
Commonly referred to as the ‘Pact of New York’, the anti-communist accord between Romulo Betancourt (Democratic Action, AD), Rafael Caldera (Social Christian Democrats, COPEI), and Jovita Villalba (URD) was facilitated by none other than Maurice Bergbaum, Chief Latin American Affairs Officer for the US State Department at the time.
The agreement was later ratified at the private residence of COPEI’s Rafael Caldera, known as the ‘Pact of Punto Fijo’. Signed on October 31, 1958, the ‘pact’ required AD, COPEI, and URD to recognize the results of upcoming elections, form a national unity government, and, as was agreed upon earlier, exclude the Communist Party from the entire process. Just as Democratic Action was celebrating Romulo Betancourt’s 1958 presidential victory, Fabricio Ojeda was elected to represent the people of Caracas in the country’s National Congress.
True to their elitist roots and hidden agenda, AD and COPEI soon began excluding the URD from the power-sharing accord and, three years later (1962), Ojeda’s party pulled its support for the US backed government consolidating itself in Caracas. Making history in Venezuelan political life, Fabricio Ojeda formally resigned from Congress on June 30, 1962 and announced he was joining an armed guerrilla movement so as to secure “the profound changes needed in Venezuela to recover its status as a sovereign nation, recover the means of wealth now in the hands of foreign capital, and turn both these elements into instruments of collective social progress”.
Inspired by the radical reforms being carried out by the Revolutionary Government in neighboring Cuba, Ojeda also affirmed that Venezuela was in need of “a profound change that liberates workers from their misery, ignorance, and exploitation; puts education, technology, and science at the service of the people; and ensures that working people have the permanent employment, social protection and safety nets required for their children’s well-being”.
“Venezuela”, Ojeda concluded, “requires deep-rooted changes so that the democratic rights of the people not remain dead letters written into the law books, so that liberty exists and justice reigns; so that the rights to education, employment, health and the general well-being become true rights for the great majority of people and not the privilege of a scarce minority”.
Three years into the Fourth Republic, Ojeda had already identified what would turn into four decades of bi-partisan power and privilege for the country’s political elites.
In October 1962, just months after his departure from “representative democracy”, Ojeda was captured by the Venezuelan Army and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Three months later, on January 1, 1963, Ojeda and numerous other revolutionary leaders announced the formal launch of the Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN), one of Venezuela’s most important guerrilla movements during the 1960’s and 70’s.
On September 15, 1963, FALN guerrillas and allies within the country’s official armed forces helped Ojeda escape from prison. Soon after, Ojeda was made Commander of the National Liberation Front (FLN), one of many guerrilla cells belonging to the FALN, and in early 1966 was elected President of the FLN’s Executive Committee.
As Commander of the FLN, Fabricio Ojeda is said to have played an important role in the founding of the Venezuelan Revolutionary Party (PRV), organizing many of its first consolidated political cells. Concerned with the inability to incorporate Venezuela’s Communist Party (PCV) into the guerrilla movement, Ojeda returned secretly to Caracas in a final, and failed, attempt to bring the PCV into the struggle for a new Venezuela.
After two months in Caracas, Ojeda was captured on June 21, 1966 and, four days after, was found dead in a prison cell operated by the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces (SIFA) with direct support from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to the official account, Venezuela’s most prominent revolutionary leader “committed suicide”.
While Ojeda’s life and legacy were erased from public view throughout the Fourth Republic, his written works and struggle for social justice have been widely disseminated by the revolutionary government of President Hugo Chavez (1998 – present). Speaking to those gathered outside Miraflores Presidential Palace this January 23, President Chavez announced that a new investigation would be opened into the death of Fabricio Ojeda, one of Venezuela’s most important modern revolutionary leaders.