Tiempos de Dictadura: A great Venezuelan documentary

Here’s another thing you almost never see: a Venezuelan documentary in the local cinema.

It’s rare to find them in theaters for a reason, you’d have to be mad to pay money to see the average Venezuelan documentary.

But now we have a breakthrough Venezuelan doc for our times.

“Tiempos de Dictadura” (Era of Dictatorship) tries to condense the last decade of military rule in the country (1948-1958), not only in the historical and political, but also offers a glimpse of how life in Venezuela was back then.

Director Carlos Oteyza, a specialist in historical docs (JC wrote recently about one of his recent projects), has pulled off a feat in combining archive material that was unseen by many (I finally know how the voice of Rómulo Gallegos sounded like!) with a series of interviews of some of the people that lived during that period. Here’s the trailer:

The production values are top notch – amazing for a film made without any kind of State money. Narration by humorist Laureano Marquez is sober for the most part but it’s not dull. Most of the testimonies comes from political dissidents of the era (like Teodoro Petkoff or Pompeyo Marquez). Special mention for publisher and former political prisoner José Agustín Catalá (who passed away late last year). This was his last public interview.

But there’s also presence of people of other walks of life (like singer Mario Suarez and dancer Yolanda Moreno) and even a former member of the Pérez Jiménez regime: Former Army Major Víctor Maldonado. For some aspects where there was no archive material available, the film used stylish animations to fill the gaps. The soundtrack accurately reflected the times: From Billo’s Caracas Boys to Alfredo Sadel.

Sadly, some points were left unexplored. The doc is too Caracas-centric and with some minor exceptions, no other parts of the country were mentioned. Other elements could have been explored further, such as the origin of the Perez Jimenez’s motto: El Nuevo Ideal Nacional (The New National Ideal) and the attempt to force patriotism into society through military-styled actions.

Overall, the film is easy to understand even if you don’t have any previous knowledge of the subject. In the end, Tiempos de Dictadura is a great documentary that helps not only in presenting history, but could help to engage viewers into curiosity to learn more about that period and what came after. If you have the chance to see it, do so. I recommend it.

The film is already a hit in theaters after a very successful opening weekend.

23 thoughts on “Tiempos de Dictadura: A great Venezuelan documentary

  1. It seems from watching the trailer like the documentary tries to indict society for simply “going along” with the dictatorship. To this day, you still meet people from my parents’ generation who look on the Perez Jiménez days with certain nostalgia, as if they were the good’ol days.

    Perhaps that complacency, that unwillingness to look at something and say, “this is wrong, no matter what,” laid the foundation for what we see today, where civil liberties are eroded and half the country doesn’t give a damn. Civic virtues die rather quickly if don’t live them day to day.


    • I recently listened an interview with Carlos Oteyza about the documentary. He mentioned Reventon 1 and 2, highlighting the fact that Perez Jimenez popularity was mostly a consequence of the oil boom Venezuela enjoyed at the time. Not only that, but the 50-50 law of the trienio adeco was the biggest culprit in the benefits that MPJ enjoyed. So, in a sense, they were indeed the good ol’ days.

      Half the country – probably even more – are living in poverty and covet the oil wealth that a small fraction of the population have enjoyed so far. Acccording to Reventon 2, a mere 3% of the work force was employed by the oil industry in the 70’s. That hasn’t changed. So you have perhaps a 5-10% of the population living like your average American while the rest is living miserably. However, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or wealth redistribution or are beyond the point here.

      My question to you is: In a country in which the chances of a criminal getting caught are smaller than 1 in 10, a Land of Do-As-You-Please, why are not most of the guys turning into criminals. Why are most of the persons trying to live a nice, quiet, decent life? Not all chavistas are members of La Piedrita. Not all chavistas are made equal…

      And as for civic virtues, well. You can claim that the countless persons that had stood against this government, i.e. the exiles, the political prisoners, the dead are not a good example of civic virtue. It’s obvious that there is a HUGE room for improvement.


    • One of my uncles, now defunct, always would tell me about life under the Perez Jimenez government. He spoke about life in those times as if it were some kind of golden age.There was no crime, people left their homes unlocked,cars were left with their keys in them and the windows open, you could go out at night.

      He always spoke of the infrastructure built in those days, in particular the mock up of the bridge over teh Lake in Maracaibo, and how there would be a hotel halfway across and three levels of bridge, one level for trains two for cars.

      Autopistas, contracts that came in on time and within budget, no corruption. In short, it was Paradise on Earth.

      I always took what he said with a grain of salt since even at an early age I intuited that no place was like that outside of a Fairy Tale. Later, as I grew up in DEMOCRACY, I understood there was a dark underbelly to that Paradise, there was corruption, people went to jail and were tortured for their beliefs.

      Interestingly enough, that Uncle was the only one in our family who thought Chavez deserved a shot ( we all thought he deserved a shot too, but not the one my uncle had in mind)


      • I know some older people who are both Chavistas and Pérez Jimenez supporters. And none of them see the ideological irony. I think its something related to that myth about the military “order” and strong government, no real Congress to deal with, no due process, the guys “knows” whats best for the country and just does it. Chavez himself is an admirer of Pérez Jimenez which tells you a lot about how much he cares about democracy and civil government. He doesn’t admire the right wing policies, he admires that he acquired total control of the country and its institutions to realize whatever its vision was.
        Many of the infrastructure made by Pérez Jimenez was intended exclusively for the benefit of the army and I think someone once did the math and found that we had expended more concrete per year in Infrastructure during the democracy than during Pérez Jimenez (really not sure about this), but the myth of him as a great builder still persists because I guess its easier to say that you like him because of his infrastructure policies than for his undemocratic ways


        • DEfinitely agree with you, CACR210, it’s the myth of the strongman that brings order that was one of the things that drew people to Chavez after 1992. Same with Perez Jimenez.

          Remember how Chavez wanted to bring Perez Jimenez back for his inauguration and PJ refused? I imagine that while Chavez expressed all kinds of admiration for him, PJ probably couldn’t stomach the thought of appearing next to a tin soldier


          • Let’s get real: Chávez hasn’t brought order. He’s brought orders. He doesn’t embody authority. He’s embodies authoritarianism.

            That’s why a strain of Venezuelan opinion likes both Perez Jimenez and Chávez – they embody a reflexive horror of institutional decision making, a hankering for the stern paternal caudillo. Left vs. right is garnish to this debate, there are much deeper psychosocial forces at play here…

            And this from someone who found out only recently that my grandfather was actually “elected” to the cámara de diputados in 1952, así que imagínense Uds…


              • Of course, that’s why I called a myth. What people who support both Chávez and Pérez Jimenez perceive as chaotic and weak government (consensus building, compromising, institutional Control, independent Courts) are the normal characteristics of a democratic country whether left wing or right wing. So, they exaggerate or just totally made up facts about how live was much better back then (infrastructure myth, Pérez Jimenez did not allowed the construction of barrios myth) to disguise what they truly admire (one guy making all the decisions freeing us all from that burden)


              • If your other grandpa was in El Calabozo with Betancourt et al, back in 1928-1932, then perhaps he, like my dad (then a young medical student at UCV) received ‘una boina morada’ y una cuchara de plomo. My mother has kept those ‘efectos’, the spoon having been broken off so that my dad could scrape his initials on the wall.

                Needless to say, my dad did NOT favour PJ and there were threats at a time when my dad was helping to found the YMCA, then considered a secret and inappropriate organization.


      • Imagínense los miles y miles de italianos, españoles y otros europeos, muertos de hambre, después de la 2da Guerra mundial, llegando a Venezuela, y econtrándose con trabajo, pan, y orden. What’s not to like?

        My grade-school perspective was different and led to multiple nightmares of the secret police (Seguridad Nacional) entering our home, as well as to several no-school days, during 1957, because of bomb threats.


  2. My ex husband was arbitrarily thrown in jail during the Perez Jimenez government, together with an Uncle.They had not committed any crimes to justify their incarceration.

    Neither of them were corrupt even though they were ADECOS.

    Unfortunately now we see the same hardline, unreasoned response observed in dictatorships where people are always 100 % against the 4th Republic.

    Attitudes don’t see to fundamentally change.


  3. I’ve been wondering for a while where this mythical normal democratic country is. I have already ruled out all major land masses and archipielagos.


  4. ““Tiempos de Dictadura” (Era of Dictatorship) tries to condense the last decade of military rule in the country (1948-1958…”

    You mean the next-to-last episode of military rule… We are under military rule, have yet to come out…


  5. Has somebody found a way to see the whole thing online, for those of us outside of Venezuela? I would really like to see this movie.


  6. have any of you seen “tiempos de dictadura yet”? or have the chance to see it?? last night a young girl was riding up the elevator in tolon going to the movie, wearing a chavista red shirt.
    a lady in the elevator asked her about it. she said she was a public employee “escaping” from the catia rally to see the movie. the older lady told her: “well you can wear any shirt as long as you vote from the heart & the young woman winked as she ran to get her tkt.
    the theater was absolutley full hasta los tequeteques. the woman next me and her boyfriend told me they came from propatria. i hear that by tonite almost 400.000 have seen it in the last 2 weeks.
    the very well made documentary’s parallelisms are incredible, even though IMO PJ and chiabe are the alpha and omega of an autocratic and militaristic regime: one wanted to build a new vzla and envisioned a first world country while justifying his arbitrarities, the other justifies them by destroying it the most inefficiently way possible.

    PJ had no personal charisma whatsoever and chiabe had tons. neither cared for the poor, they just used them, PJ by ignoring rural poverty in the midst of his plan of urban growth and prosperity, while chavez has seduced the poor as a pedophile does,by handing out candy, to later F* their expectations by ignoring all their needs

    ( check out what happened in chiabe’s catia rally yesterday = which is zero + cacerolazos) you guys should see it, up close and personal to understand the belly of this beloved beast called “venezuela mi patria querida”. there will always be a juan bimba sitting on the porch waiting to suck from the state’s tit.

    my only p.s. is that it only took 6 years of PJ’s iron fisted dictatorship to turn the country against him vs the 14 years of desencanto de que te pisen y te pisen bailando el bolero of chiabe’s religious following. mas el tufo de tener bailar pegao’ con el. uacala :p patria o muerte?? noooo mijito… demasssiao’ muerto, desempleo, hueco, inflacion y carestia mi hermano…mr zapata is a remnant of that link. but more of a minority. each day. IMO… janine vici


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