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López Contreras, Eleázar (1883–1973)

López Contreras, Eleázar (1883–1973)

Eleázar López Contreras (b. 5 May 1883; d. 2 January 1973), president of Venezuela (1936–1941). Having completed high school in 1898, López Contreras joined the army of Cipriano Castro in 1899. In 1908, he left the army with the rank of colonel, but in 1913 he returned as commander of the barracks of Ciudad Bolívar, and in 1914 assumed command of an infantry regiment at Caracas. In 1919 he became minister of war and marine, and undertook the acquisition of war matériel from Europe and the United States. As a loyal supporter of Juan Vicente Gómez, he used military force against students, workers, dissident army officers, and other opposition groups. For his reward, he rose through the ranks during the 1920s, taking over as commander in chief in 1930. From 1931 until December 1935, he again served as minister of war and marine.

Following Gómez's death López became president of the republic. He quickly ended popular demonstrations by students and workers. In so doing, he became the first Venezuelan president to speak to the nation by radio. In February 1936, he introduced a broad reform program aimed at appealing to everyone. On the one hand, he checked the power of the army. On the other, he followed Arturo Uslar Pietri's call to "sow the petroleum" by using oil revenues to finance educational and institutional reforms. The government established a new teacher training institution, the Instituto Pedagógico (1936), and gave further assistance to child care by creating the Consejo Venezolano del Niño (1939), the Instituto Preorientación para Menores (1939), and the Casa de Maternidad Concepción Palacios (1938). New cabinet departments included the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the Ministry of Labor and Communications.

López's administration guided Venezuela toward a more democratic government. He tolerated opposition movements, although he exiled Communists and radicals. Like Gómez, he followed an anticommunist policy and limited the activities of labor organizations. The government also imposed more control over the economy by creating the Industrial Bank and the National Exchange Office, as well as the Central Bank of Venezuela.

In 1938, the López government enacted petroleum legislation aimed at giving the nation more control over the industry and a larger share in the revenue, but for various reasons, including corruption, little was done to enforce the laws. In 1941, López stepped down from power, the presidential term having been reduced from seven to five years, and turned the government over to his chosen successor, Isaías Medina Angarita. Following the overthrow of the latter, López Contreras went into exile and effectively dropped out of politics.

See alsoGoméz, Juan Vicente; Medina Angarita, Isaías.


Henry J. Allen, Venezuela: A Democracy (1941).

Winfield J. Burggraaff, The Venezuelan Armed Forces in Politics, 1935–1959 (1972).

Judith Ewell, Venezuela: A Century of Change (1984).

Eleázar López Contreras, Proceso político social, 1928–1936 (1965).

Emilio Pacheco, De Castro a López Contreras (1984).

Alfred Tarre Murzi, López Contreras: De la tiranía a la libertad, 2d ed. (1982); López Contreras, el último general (1983).

Additional Bibliography

Battaglini, Oscar. Legitimación del poder y lucha política en Venezuela, 1936–1941. Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1993.

Capriles Ayala, Carlos. Vida y muerte de la democracia: López Contreras y Medina Angaria vs. Rómulo Betancourt y Pérez Jiménez. Caracas: Consorcio de Ediciones Capriles, 1999.

Dávila, Luis Ricardo. El estado y las instituciones en Venezuela (1936–1945). Caracas: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1988.

Moleiro, Rodolfo. De la dictadura a la democracia: Eleazar López Contreras, lindero y puente entre dos épocas. Caracas: Editorial Pomaire Venezuela, 1993.

                                     Winthrop R. Wright

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