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Venezuela, Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN)

Venezuela, Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN)

The FALN was a pro-Cuban Marxist-Leninist guerrilla army that began operations in Venezuela in 1962. Its membership included groups opposed to the government of President Rómulo Betancourt: dissident military officers, radical members of the Venezuelan Communist Party, and leaders of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria—MIR), a breakaway splinter faction of Betancourt's ruling Democratic Action Party (Acción Democrática—AD).

Following his election in 1958, Betancourt faced bitter opposition from several factions. By 1960, some leftists had organized the MIR. Two years later, radicals from the Communist Party, such as Douglas Bravo and Teodoro Petkoff, set up the FALN to undertake a Cuban-inspired struggle against the legitimate Venezuelan government. At that time, the leaders of the newly founded FALN advocated a long, campesino war against the government rather than a coup. They were joined in 1962 by Américo Martín and by the reactionary Lieutenant Colonel Juan de Díos Moncada Vidal, who became one of the FALN's guerrilla commanders.

During 1962, the FALN launched an urban and rural guerrilla war. The following year, it tried to disrupt the elections to force a military coup. But it did not succeed, and some 90 percent of the electorate went to the polls.

On assuming office in 1964, Raúl Leoni declared a state of emergency. He invoked censorship, closed schools, arrested demonstrators, lifted congressional immunity, and suspended the writ of habeas corpus. He rounded up leaders of the Communist Party, including members of the National Congress, and isolated the FALN from its urban supporters. A strong military campaign further reduced guerrilla forces. Leoni also used the police to eliminate FALN sympathizers.

Forced to the countryside, the FALN fought in isolated districts. It never mounted a popular war there, however; as one woman later wrote of her life as a guerrilla, "nothing has occurred here." Without popular support the FALN faltered. Even continued assistance and encouragement from Cuba could not keep the FALN struggle alive.

During its existence, the FALN attracted women to its ranks. One, Arelia Laya, served as a commander in Lara. Students also joined the FALN as "weekend warriors," but their sporadic involvement proved ineffectual and their participation steadily declined.

By 1967, the Communist Party withdrew its support of the FALN. In 1968, newly elected President Rafael Caldera offered amnesty to any guerrilla who voluntarily surrendered. Most of the FALN leaders accepted this offer and, like Martín and Petkoff, turned their attention to legitimate political movements. Bravo and some MIR factions continued the struggle for a few more years.

See alsoGuerrilla Movements .


Richard Gott, Guerrilla Movements in Latin America (1971).

Angela Zago, Aquí no ha pasado nada (1972).

David Blank, Politics in Venezuela (1973).

Teodoro Petkoff, Razón pasión del socialismo: El tema socialista en Venezuela (1973).

Raymond Estep, Guerrilla Warfare in Latin America, 1963–1975 (1975).

Alfredo Peña, Conversaciones con Américo Martín (1978) and Conversaciones con Douglas Bravo (1978).

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

Additional Bibliography

Art, Robert J. and Louise Richardson. Democracy and Counterterrorism: Lessons from the Past. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007.

Corro, Alejandro del, ed. Venezuela: La violencia. Cuernavaca, Mexico: Centro Intercultural de Documentación, 1968.

Tarver Denova, Hollis Micheal, and Julia C. Frederick. The History of Venezuela. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

                                    Winthrop R. Wright

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