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Juan Vicente Gomez

Juan Vicente Gomez Chacon (24 July 1857 - 17 December 1935) was a military general and de facto ruler of Venezuela from 1908 until his death in 1935. He was president on three occasions during this time, and ruled as an unelected military strongman for the rest of the era.

Gomez was a barely literate cattle herder and a nearly full-blooded Native American. In 1899, he joined the private army of Cipriano Castro, with whom he had been friends since Castro's exile in Colombia. This army swept down on Caracas in 1899 and seized control of the country. He became Castro's vice president and, in 1902, head of the military, responsible for suppressing several major revolts against the government. Gomez seized power from Castro on 19 December 1908, while Castro was in Europe for medical treatment.

As president, Gomez managed to deflate Venezuela's staggering debt by granting concessions to foreign oil companies after the discovery of petroleum in Lake Maracaibo in 1918. This, in turn, won him the support of the United States and Europe and economic stability. Though he used the money to launch an extensive public works program, he also received generous kickbacks, increasing his personal fortune enormously. Because of his contributions to the country's development, the Congress bestowed the title of El Benemerito (the Meritorious One) on him. In contrast, his opponents, who disdained his brutal tactics at home, referred to him as El Bagre (the Catfish), a snide reference to his bushy moustache and outward appearance. They also called him "the Tyrant of the Andes"--a reference to his roots in the mountain state of Tachira.

Related websites

Biography at infoplease.com

Venezuela - A Century of Caudillismo

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