Rómulo Gallegos was a Venezuelan novelist and politician. For a period of some nine months during 1948, he was the first cleanly elected president in his country’s history.
Rómulo Gallegos was born in Caracas to Rómulo Gallegos Osío and Rita Freire Guruceaga, into a family of humble origin. He began his work as a schoolteacher, writer, and journalist in 1903. His novel Doña Bárbara was first published 1929, and it was because of the book’s criticisms of the regime of longtime dictator Juan Vicente Gómez that he was forced to flee the country. He took refuge in Spain, where he continued to write: his acclaimed novels Cantaclaro (1934) and Canaima (1935) date from this period. He returned to Venezuela in 1936 and was appointed Minister of Public Education.
In 1937 he was elected to Congress and, in 1940–41, served as councillor of Caracas. In 1945, was involved in the coup d’état that brought Rómulo Betancourt and the “Revolutionary Government Junta” to power, in the period known as El Trienio Adeco. In the 1947 general election he ran for the presidency of the republic as the Acción Democrática candidate and won in what is generally believed to be the country’s first honest election. He took office in February 1948, but officers Carlos Delgado Chalbaud, Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Luis Felipe Llovera Páez, threw him out of office in November in the 1948 Venezuelan coup d’état. He took refuge first in Cuba and then in Mexico. From 1960 to 1963, he was Commissioner of the newly created Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (created on 18 August 1959), and he was also its first President (1960).
He was able to return to Venezuela in 1958. He was appointed a senator for life, awarded the National Literature Prize (1958, for La doncella), and elected to the Venezuelan Academy of the Language (the correspondent agency in Venezuela of the Spanish Royal Academy). He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1960, largely due to the efforts of Miguel Otero Silva, and gained widespread support in Latin America, but ultimately lost out to Saint-John Perse. The Rómulo Gallegos international novel prize was created in his honor in 1964, with the first award being made in 1967. Rómulo Gallegos Freire died in Caracas on 5 April 1969.