Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Richard Nixon almost sparked an invasion of Venezuela

The Cold War was a worldwide war that often manifested in bizarre ways that aren't fully understood, even today. In 1958, Richard Nixon was veep to Dwight Eisenhower's Presidency and the Cold War was in full swing. Latin America was experiencing a tide of anti-American sentiment, and Nixon was sent to Venezuela on a goodwill tour to help stem that tide.

By the end of his trip, Ike almost had to send the Marines in to get him out.


Crowds begin to form around the Nixon motorcade.

In truth, the U.S. government should have been prepared for what (at the time) was called the most violent attack ever perpetrated on a high American official while on foreign soil. The United States had just granted asylum to Venezuela's recently overthrown dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez and awarded him the Legion of Merit. Nixon was on a goodwill tour of the entire continent and had already visited Uruguay and Ecuador, and it was well known that Nixon was on his way.

With the wounds of the departed Jimenez still fresh, anti-U.S. sentiment running high, and a long-planned visit from a high-ranking American official in the works, Nixon should have been ready for anything. Instead, he was largely "uninterested," according to his biography. The VP and his wife arrived to an angry crowd of demonstrators who threw stones and spat at them. Instead of a planned visit and wreath laying at the Tomb of Simon Bolivar, the Nixons went right to the U.S. Embassy. It seems a crowd of Venezuelans had met the Vice-Presidential team at the tomb, attacked them, and destroyed the wreath anyway.

The car's "shatterproof" glass.

As their car made its way through the capital of Caracas, traffic began to build, slowing down Nixon's motorcade. As the procession slowed, crowds of angry Venezuelans began to mob the vehicle, banging on the windows and shattering the glass. As they attempted to flip the car, the 12 Secret Service agents protecting the Veep drew their pistols and prepared to fire into the crowd. Nixon stopped them and ordered them to fire only on his order. According to Nixon, the Press Corps' flatbed truck kicked into high gear and began to push through the crowd as protestors began to climb aboard. The truck cleared the way for Nixon's car to escape to the Embassy.

When news of the incident reached Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke, he immediately prepared "Operation Poor Richard," an invasion of Venezuela using the 2nd Marine Division, the 101st Airborne, and the USS Tarawa Carrier Group, all coming from Guantanamo Bay. The Venezuelans weren't going to have Dick Nixon to kick around.

But despite a lack of protection from the Venezuelan military during the incident, they were omnipresent in the hours and days that followed. The streets had been cleared with tear gas, and infantry and armor units protected Nixon's motorcade as it went to the airport the next day. The invasion of Venezuela would never have to materialize.

Nixon never forgot the events in Caracas that day, as the violence of the crowd would certainly have led to the death of almost everyone involved. His experience later helped form his foreign policy decisions regarding South America during his Presidency.