Gómez, Juan Vicente

Gómez, Juan Vicente gōˈmĕs [key], 1857–1935, caudillo of Venezuela (1908–35). Of indigenous and white parentage, Gómez was born on a ranch in the Western Andes and grew up a nearly illiterate cattle herder. He catapulted into the national scene in 1899 when he led his guerrilla henchmen in support of Cipriano Castro, under whom he was vice president. When Castro was overthrown, Gómez became president, and although he relinquished the title for long intervals, he ruled continuously from his estate near Maracay. Congress conferred on him the title El Benemérito (the meritorious), but his enemies dubbed him El Bagre (the catfish) because of a supposed facial resemblance enhanced by a bushy mustache. Though cordial and simple in manner, Gómez was an absolute tyrant whose secret police ferreted out opposition and subjected victims to imprisonment and torture. He was also a patriot whose shrewdness and industry brought his country economic stability. Even before the oil development at Lake Maracaibo after 1918, he had put Venezuela on a sound financial basis; he was noted for fair dealing with foreign investors, and the capital he attracted made it possible for him to build Venezuela into a modern nation of railroads, highways, and other public works. Public education during his regime advanced little. In enriching the nation, he made himself enormously wealthy. He attempted to make the country a personal fief; nepotism was rife. Though unmarried, he fathered between 80 and 100 children, and many of these, as well as his local henchmen, filled civil positions; he dominated them as he did other men by savage force of character.

See biography by J. Lavin (1954); study by B. S. McBeth (1983).

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