Jaime Lusinchi: Politician who was unable to deal with an economic crisis in Venezuela and was later charged with corruption

 

As President of Venezuela from 1984-89, Jaime Lusinchi struggled with an economic crisis sparked by plunging oil prices in the late 1980s and saw his reputation tarnished by allegations of corruption after leaving office.

He entered politics in the 1930s, and after the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected leader in 1948 he joined the political underground led by Democratic Action that organised action against the 1950-1958 dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez. He was jailed in 1952 then went into exile in Argentina, Chile and New York. In Santiago he became close with politicians including Salvador Allende, who later governed Chile from 1970 until his removal in a military coup three years later.

A surgeon by training, as president Lusinchi struggled with galloping inflation and a plunge in the currency that made it impossible for Venezuela to service debt that had risen as a result of spending during the 1970s oil boom. He tried to recover some of his popularity by boosting salaries, imposing price caps on basic goods and expanding state subsidies. But the measures only exacerbated inflation.

His reputation was tarnished after he left office by allegations of corruption, and in 1991 Venezuela’s Congress voted to condemn him for using his position to hand out money to associates and for stealing state funds to promote his party’s charismatic leader, Carlos Andres Perez, who succeeded him as president. Two years later the Supreme Court stripped him for life of immunity from prosecution. He fled to Miami and then Costa Rica, but charges were dropped after courts ruled that the statute of limitations had run out. 

Jorge Rueda

Jaime Ramon Lusinchi, politician: born Clarines, Venezuela 27 May 1924; twice married; died Caracas 21 May 2014.

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