LUIS PRIETO was that rare phenomenon, a successful black Venezuelan politician. Mulatto, perhaps, rather than black, but still unusual enough in a society that prides itself on its freedom from racial prejudice but is, nevertheless, dominated by the descendants of immigrants from Spain, Portugal, Italy and other European countries.
In the course of a 70-year career in public life, Prieto, a teacher by profession, won wide recognition as an educator, author and politician. He was a founder of the Venezuelan Teachers' Federation in 1932, and later one of the group of idealistic young social democrats who formed today's ruling party, Accion Democratica (Democratic Action - AD), in opposition to the military dictatorships of the time. He was briefly minister of education in 1948 during the short-lived AD government of President Romulo Gallegos, a leading novelist, who was overthrown by the military in November of that year. During the years of exile that followed, Luis Prieto worked as a teacher in Cuba and as a Unesco official in Central America.
After his return to Venezuela in 1958, on the fall of the dictator General Marcos Perez Jimenez, Prieto was elected to the Senate for AD and later served as chairman of the party for a number of years. But he broke with AD in 1967 when he was passed over for the party's presidential candidacy in favour of another of the party's founders, Gonzalo Barrios, despite his victory in an internal election. Prieto believed that AD's white ruling clique had blocked his advancement.
Undaunted, he went off to found his own party of left-wing AD dissidents, the People's Electoral Movement (MEP), and stood as its candidate for president that year in elections won by the Christian Democrat Rafael Caldera. He remained a prominent figure in Venezuelan politics for the rest of his life, and also found time to produce more than 20 books as well as columns for a number of leading Venezuelan newspapers.
President Carlos Andres Perez decreed three days of national mourning for Luis Prieto on 23 April.
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