The visit of the Vice President of the United States, Richard Nixon, to South America, was a carefully-planned and highly symbolic trip. The role of the Latin American countries in the grip of the Cold War was unclear.
Yet the visit to Venezuela took place on hostile terms. Earlier in the year the US government granted asylum to the unpopular dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez who had been overthrown in a revolution. In his place was Admiral Wolfgang Larrazábal whose candidacy was supported, among others, by the Venezuelan Communist Party.
So it was that when Nixon's motorcade traveled through Caracas crowds of communist supporters launched themselves on his vehicle and began smashing their windows with their fists and with stones. Many were injured in the altercation, including Nixon's secretary and his translator.
The motorcade eventually escaped and made it to the US Embassy. In response, Nixon left Caracas seven hours early and returned to America. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, furious at the attack, said to his staff "I am about ready to go put my uniform on". He ordered twelve battleships to Venezuela on standby, compelling the government in Caracas to protect Nixon thereafter.
The Venezuelan police had refused to intervene in the attack. Admiral Larrazábal depended on communist support to win the upcoming election and felt that heavy-handed police tactics would damage his chances - he went on to lose the election anyway.
The incident had a big impact on Nixon. It hardened his attitude to Latin America - he later said all of Latin America (except Colombia, where he had been well received) were too immature for democracy - and he would gather with Vernon Walters, another survivor of the attack, to celebrate privately every year on May 13.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
- 1958-05-13 The motorcade carrying US Vice President Richard Nixon is attacked in Caracas, Venezuela; several of Nixon's staff are injured
Elvis Meets Nixon
Nixon Meets Mao
Richard Nixon's Resignation Letter
Richard Nixon, The Only US President to Resign