Over the rigid shoulders of a line of Venezuelan soldiers at Maiquetía Airport, streams of spittle arced through humid sunlight, splattered on the neatly pressed grey suit of the Vice President of the U.S. and on the red wool suit of his wife. But worse was in store: less than an hour later Dick and Pat Nixon brushed close to injury and possibly death in violence-torn streets of Caracas, last stop on their eight-nation visit to South America.
The mood of the airport crowd was set an hour before the Nixons' silver-and-white Air Force DC-6B touched down. A pack of 200 students, skillfully whipped up by older men, hoisted bed sheets painted with the slogans of international Communism, blew rubber Bronx-cheer whistles and shouted, "Get out, Nixon!" When the good-will guests walked smiling down the plane's steps, The Star-Spangled Banner and a 21-gun salute were drowned in an ugly howl of hatred.
A Shower of Glass. The spitting began as the Nixons walked along the troop-lined red carpet toward their limousines. The band made a futile attempt to quiet the crowd by playing the Venezuelan national anthem; Pat Nixon shamed a hooting, teen-aged girl into silence by reaching over the guards' bayonets to take her hand. As the Nixons got into separate cars for the ten-mile superhighway trip up the coastal range to the capital, demonstrators tried to blind the drivers by draping banners over the windshields. Only when the mob was left behind did the Nixons take out handkerchiefs to wipe the saliva from their faces and clothes.
In the thick traffic of the working-class suburb of Catia, the caravan slowed to a crawl, then halted. Several hundred rioters came running. They ripped the U.S. and Venezuelan flags from Nixon's car, pounded the doors with clubs, pipes, brass artillery-shell cases. Grapefruit-sized stones smashed against the safety glass until slivers began flying through the inside of the car. A shower of glass struck Nixon, one piece lodging in his temple near his right eye (it was easily removed).
Outside, the handful of escort police hung back. Brutally manhandled by vengeful mobs after the overthrow of Dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez last January, they seemed afraid to tackle bloodthirsty civilians again. One U.S. Secret Service man threw himself across the back window of Nixon's car to protect it from stones and clubs. Others pulled at a stubborn student lying under the car's front wheels. The howling mob tried to overturn the car.
After twelve minutes' bitter combat, the limousine bucked ahead, bound for the tomb of Simón Bolívar, where Nixon was scheduled to lay a wreath. A block from the tomb the car suddenly veered off into a side street. Glancing through a shattered side window, Nixon could see a mob of 3,000 rioters, mostly high school students, waiting for him. (Days later, policemen found 400 Molotov cocktails cached in the basement of a nearby house.) The limousine sped off to the safety of the U.S. embassy residence.
An emergency phone call to Washington told President Eisenhower of the Nixons' plight. Deeply concerned, the President ordered a military rescue operation (see NATIONAL AFFAIRS). But before the troops were on the way, Venezuela's five-man junta had ringed the residence with 400 soldiers. Mobs were still roaming the streets, and the Nixons were virtual prisoners in the residence.
Welcome, President Bush, to Israel.