Betancourt: a key Latin democrat

Romulo Betancourt, the former Venezuela President who passed on in New York Sept. 28, probably had a greater influence on 20th-century Latin America than any political leader of his era.

His strong commitment to democracy made him almost legendary, Monitor correspondent James Nelson Goodsell reports.

"Don romulo," as he was known, was President of Venezuela as it left the era of dictators and launched out into the uncertain waters of democracy in the late 1950s and early '60s.

The soundness of Venezuela's democracy is a tribute to Mr. Betancourt. But his influence went far beyond the country's borders. He was te acknowledged leader of Latin America's "democratic left" in the 1950s. Fidel Castro, long an antagonist of Betancourt's, supported leftist guerrilla's working to undermine the Venezuelan democracy in the early '60s. But the Castro effort did not work. Don Romulo and Venezuelan democracy emerged wounded but victorious.

Less well known in the United States, perhaps because he was such a friend of Washington, he was a friend of many North Americans and he loved the US and its democracy.

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