Social Christian Copei Party
Social Christian Copei Party
The Committee for the Organization of Independent Electoral Politics (Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente—COPEI) was established after World War II as a Christian Democratic political party. Founded in 1946, COPEI, together with Democratic Action (AD), was one of the two principal political parties in Venezuela in the second half of the twentieth century.
In the late nineteenth century, the Vatican began to recognize the problems of poverty and the mistreatment of labor. Although Catholics were not taking direct orders from the Vatican, this new stance helped push them into electoral politics. In 1934 the Christian Democratic movement was established internationally at the Congress of Catholic Youth in Rome. The young Venezuelan Rafael Caldera Rodríguez, one of COPEI's founders, participated in this event. Back home, he and other Catholic young people later founded the National Student Union (UNE) in 1936, separating themselves from the Federation of Venezuelan Students, a more radical organization, which defended the process of educational secularization. Later, the UNE founded the Electoral Action organization in order to participate in the municipal elections of 1938. In 1942 this organization merged with the Nationalist Action Movement and called itself Acción Nacional (National Action), finally taking the name by which it is still known, COPEI, in 1946. In terms of political orientation, COPEI tended to be moderate reformers seeking to provide the humane social and economic standards for the poor and working classes advocated by the Vatican.
Over the next half century, the party participated in every national electoral process in Venezuela and achieved steady growth. After the overthrow of the Marcos Pérez Jiménez regime in 1958, the party formed an alliance with the Democratic Action Party and the Democratic Republican Union in order to bring about a government of national unity that would guarantee the preservation of democracy. At that time it had about 15 percent of the vote. In 1968 Caldera Rodríguez, the party's principal national figure, won the presidential elections and COPEI achieved power for the first time, significantly increasing its share of the vote. In 1978 the party scored another victory with the election of its candidate, Dr. Luis Herrera Campins, as president of the republic. In the mid-1990s COPEI remained the second national party. The party had some triumphs in regional elections; several state governors were elected from its ranks; and in the mid-1990s it was represented significantly—although it was not the majority party—in Congress. Like many of the older political parties in Venezuela, COPEI lost support in the 1990s as the electorate began to see the party system as corrupt and inefficient. Caldera split from COPEI and returned to the presidency in 1994 with a new party called Convergencia. In the 2000 elections, in which Hugo Chávez, a former colonel, won the presidency, COPEI won only 5 of 165 seats in the National Assembly. Protesting the government of Chávez, COPEI did not participate in the 2005 elections and no longer has representation in the legislature.
With a Christian socialist orientation, the party's basic doctrines follow the general principles of the Christian Democratic International, to which it belonged. Its members defended the democratic system, civil and political liberties, a program of social benefits, individual freedoms, and the incentive of private property.
Rafael Caldera, Especificidad de la democracia cristiana Rafael Caldera, 2nd ed. (1973).
José Elías Riera Oviedo, Los socialcristianos en Venezuela (1977).
Donald Herman, Christian Democracy in Venezuela (1980).
Guillermo Luque, De la Acción Católica al Partido Copei, 1933–1946 (1986).
Carnevali de Toro, Dinorah. Araguatos, avanzados y astronautas: COPEI, conflicto ideológico y crísis política en los años 60. Caracas: Editorial Panapo, 1992.
Ellner, Steve, and Daniel Hellinger, eds. Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era: Class, Polarization, and Conflict. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner, 2003.
Molina, José Enrique, and Angel Eduardo Alvarez Díaz, eds. Los partidos políticos venezolanos en el siglo XXI. Caracas: Vadell Hnos., 2004.