May 13

This Day in History

Cold War

May 13, 1958:

Vice President Nixon is attacked

During a goodwill trip through Latin America, Vice President Richard Nixon's car is attacked by an angry crowd and nearly overturned while traveling through Caracas, Venezuela. The incident was the dramatic highlight of trip characterized by Latin American anger over some of America's Cold War policies.

By 1958, relations between the United States and Latin America had reached their lowest point in years. Latin Americans complained that the U.S. focus on the Cold War and anticommunism failed to address the pressing economic and political needs of many Latin American nations. In particular, they argued that their countries needed more basic economic assistance, not more arms to repel communism. They also questioned the American support of dictatorial regimes in Latin America simply because those regimes claimed to be anticommunist—for example, the U.S. awarded the Legion of Merit medal to Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1954; Jimenez was overthrown by a military coup early in 1958.

This was the atmosphere into which Vice President Richard Nixon arrived during his goodwill trip through Latin America in April and May 1958. The trip began with some controversy, as Nixon engaged in loud and bitter debates with student groups during his travels through Peru and Uruguay. In Caracas, Venezuela, however, things took a dangerous turn. A large crowd of angry Venezuelans who shouted anti-American slogans stopped Nixon's motorcade through the capital city. They attacked the car, damaged its body and smashed the windows. Inside the vehicle, Secret Service agents covered the vice president and at least one reportedly pulled out his weapon. Miraculously, they escaped from the crowd and sped away. In Washington, President Eisenhower dispatched U.S. troops to the Caribbean area to rescue Nixon from further threats if necessary. None occurred, and the vice president left Venezuela ahead of schedule.

The riot in Caracas served as a wake-up call to U.S. officials in Washington, alerting them to America's deteriorating relations with Latin America. In the next few months, the United States increased both its military and economic assistance to the region. However, it was not until communist Fidel Castro's rise to power in Cuba beginning in 1959 that the United States truly realized the extent of discontent and rebelliousness in Latin America.

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