Carlos Andrés Pérez: President of Venezuela during the oil boom who was later forced out of office

Just as in the case of the current president Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan presidency of the social democrat Carlos Andrés Pérez was never dull. He first led his nation from 1974-79 at the height of the oil boom when he nationalised the oil industry and the country became a world player with the nickname "Saudi Venezuela."

His second incarnation in the presidential palace, from 1989 to 1993, did not go so smoothly: his austerity measures caused street riots in which troops killed hundreds; Chávez, at the time an army lieutenant-colonel, staged an unsuccessful military coup against him in 1992; and in 1993, Perez was impeached and placed under house arrest for two years for siphoning off public funds into private accounts in New York. He died in exile in a Miami hospital on Christmas Day, attacking Chávez as a "dictator" until the end.

Chávez, his long-time nemesis, offered his condolences to the Pérez family in his own special way: "May he rest in peace. We send his relatives our regrets, and our wish that that old, egotistical way of doing politics never again returns to Venezuela." He said the family had "every right" to bury Péréz in Venezuela but they said they would do so only after Chávez was no longer in power. Chávez had previously accused Pérez, from exile, of plotting to assassinate him in 2003.

CAP, as Pérez became known to Venezuelans from his initials, was the epitome of the political animal and a natural-born survivor. Having studied law in Caracas, he decided against being a lawyer and went straight into politics, seeing it as a route to riches, fame and glamorous women. He became known for his bushy sideburns, his bespoke but always a bit too tight-fitting suits, a lifestyle which included an openly-flaunted, bling-bling mistress and a determination to make his little-known nation a player on the world stage – with himself playing the role of international statesman. In 1991, while both men were presidents, George HW Bush described Pérez as "one of the hemisphere's great democratic leaders."

While Pérez's glitzy style and nationalism attracted many Venezuelans – even the poor, who felt he was putting their country on the world map – the fact that his name began rising fast in business magazine lists of the wealthiest Latin Americans during the 1970s increasingly aroused suspicion as to where the money had come from. This was a fact that Chávez would later use against him, attacking Pérez as part of "the old, corrupt guard" during his own, eventually successful campaign to become president in 1998.

Péréz, of the social democratic Acció* Democrática party, was fortunate in that his first term coincided with the oil boom of the mid-1970s when the price per barrel rocketed. He nationalised the industry in 1976, as well as the holdings of American iron ore companies, turning him into a player on the world stage and an influential member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting States (OPEC). An orgy of national mega-projects followed, including social programmes and construction of subways. The private sector boomed as a result and Venezuelans entered a period of glitzy consumption as never before, hence the nickname Venezuela Saudita, or Saudi Venezuela.

Péréz began portraying himself as leader not only of Latin America but of the Third World. He established diplomatic ties with Castro's Cuba, opposed the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua and backed Panama's efforts to gain sovereignty over the Panama Canal from the US.

But then oil prices began sliding, reports of high-level corruption spread – Péréz's mistress Cecilia Matos wore a gold necklace in the shape of an oil well tower (he was married at the time) – the foreign debt surged and capital flight towards the US reached an estimated $35bn. Despite the oil earnings, the country had gone from boom to bust. Pérez's successor, Luís Herrera Campins, said he had taken over "a mortgaged nation" and was forced to devalue the bolivar.

Having survived the corruption allegations during his first term, CAP the survivor was re-elected a decade later, in 1989, after a populist campaign slamming the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Once in office, however, he did a U-turn, borrowed $4.5bn from the IMF and launched an austerity programme and spending cuts while raising petrol prices at the pumps. Riots ensued in Caracas and were suppressed by gunfire from troops, killing hundreds in what became known as el Caracazo [the Big One in Caracas].

Péréz survived, as he did during two military coup attempts in 1992, one led by Lt Col Chávez, but he never quite recovered from the social upheaval. Venezuelans began resenting the fact that his mistress, Matos, appeared to have more influence than his government. In 1993, with a year of his term still to run, the Supreme Court impeached him for misuse of $17m of government funds, suspended him and in 1996 convicted him. After two years under house arrest, his survival instinct intact, he was elected senator in 1998 for his Andean home state of Táchira.

At the same time, however, his nemesis Chávez, who still blamed him for el Caracazo, became president and abolished the Senate, indeed the entire traditional political system. Péréz fled into exile, flitting between Santo Domingo, New York and Miami.

Carlos Andrés Pérez, the 11th of 12 children of a coffee farmer of Colombian origin, was born in the major coffee-producing town of Rubio, in Táchira state near the border with Colombia. On leaving school in 1938 he joined the Partido Democrático Nacional (PDN – the National Democratic Party) founded the previous year by the lawyer and journalist Rómulo Betancourt Bello and which would later become the Acció* Democrática. He married his first cousin, Blanca Rodríguez, in 1948.

He served as Interior Minister after Betancourt was elected president, overseeing a counter-insurgency against Cuban-backed guerrillas in Venezuela, before an ageing Betancourt backed his successful bid for the presidency in 1973.

Carlos Andrés Pérez, politician: born Rubio, Venezuela 27 October 1922; married 1948 Blanca María Rodríguez (divorced; six children), secondly Cecilia Matos (two children); died Miami 25 December 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat