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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
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: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick