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Pérez Jiménez: the original “hot rodding” president

The Pastor Maldonado spectacle was prefigured by other speed-related feats in the 1950s under dictator Pérez Jiménez…..The images in this article from Time Magazine in 1955 form irresistible parallels in the mirror of time and were an invaluable reference in my thesis. Politics and spectacle. Cars and progress. Not much changes. The image below is an original Quaker State motor oil ad from the ’50s that I found on Ebay.

Monday, Feb. 28, 1955

VENEZUELA: Skipper of the Dreamboat

Westward out of Caracas, a speeding convoy of official limousines and patrol cars snaked down the winding, concrete Pan American Highway. From the back seat of a Cadillac limousine, a short, rotund man in khaki took in the fleeting sights: trucks piled high with sugar cane, drowsy town plazas seared to a dry-season brown, the jet air base near Maracay, and scenic Lake Valencia, a shimmering turquoise in a chartreuse valley. But most of the time Colonel Marcos Pérez Jiménez, President of Venezuela, eyed a low, sleek, two-seater Mercedes-Benz sports car that rolled along with the cavalcade.

At Valencia, his patience ran out. Stopping the procession, he strode over to the Mercedes-Benz, settled into the red-leather driver’s seat, pulled down the top-hinged door and streaked off.

“One must test oneself against danger in preparation for when it comes,” says President Pérez Jiménez. Setting a killing pace for the official sedans that followed, he swerved along the northward-twisting highway toward the Caribbean. At the coast he turned west again over the low plain to Barquisimeto, speeding through the clear dusk that silhouetted wide-spreading samán trees blackly against an orchid sky.

Next morning at 8, the President, a road-racer’s gleam in his eye, took the wheel again and sped away through dun-colored hills. Official chauffeurs in the convoy crossed themselves and followed. But it was ideal driving: troops patrolled the highway (particularly guarding bridges) and kept all other traffic backed up at side roads.

In gullied wastelands, the shriek of tires and the stench of scorched rubber filled entire valleys. On straight stretches of new road built by his government, Pérez Jiménez watched the speedometer needle of the Mercedes-Benz tremble around 160 kilometers (100 m.p.h.). He flashed by goats, banana plantations, royal palms and startled girls in magenta dresses; he hurried dustily on through villages where school children lined the streets for shrill vivas, through towns that tried to attract official attention to their rustic needs with crude banners impossible to read at high speed. After nine hours he coasted into San Cristobal, 18 miles from the Colombian border and 650 miles from Caracas. “Sports, swimming, high speeds,” he mused, “all are fine ways to set aside the cares of office.”

Firm Hand, Fast Engine. Almost anywhere else, a hot-rodding President, with or without office cares, would be an unusual spectacle. But in Venezuela, that famed, throbbing boom land of South America, the spectacular is commonplace. Four years ago Colonel Pérez Jiménez, then 36, put together an unbeatable combination of nerve and luck to seize dictatorial power in Venezuela; today, growing in influence to the stepped-up beat of the boom, he is a key man in Latin American politics. But though the hard-driving President keeps a firm hand on the wheel, it is Venezuela’s fabulous oil wealth, coming in an ever-faster flow, that powers the boom. Under a sense-making profit split with the foreign companies that produce petroleum, the Venezuelan treasury gets about $1,500,000 a day in one form or another. What the money does is downright wondrous.


2 comments for “Pérez Jiménez: the original “hot rodding” president”

  1. […] aquí esta publicación del 2011 para reflexiones relacionadas y antecedentes históricos. Como bien decía este grafitti […]

    Posted by Lisa Blackmore | ¿Una pista de Fórmula Uno en La Carlota? El colmo de la insensatez… | June 28, 2012, 2:17 pm
  2. Beautifull words. Thank you

    Posted by Francisco Pérez | July 8, 2012, 4:06 pm

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