MIAMI – Former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, whose popularity soared with his country’s oil-based economy but who later faced riots, a severe economic downturn and impeachment in his homeland, has died in Miami, his family said Saturday.
The 88-year-old Perez’s daughter Maria Francia Perez said her father had died in a Miami-area hospital.
In the final years of his life, Perez came to personify the old guard Venezuelan political establishment bitterly opposed by current President Hugo Chavez. Perez survived two coup attempts in 1992, the first led by Chavez, who was then a young army lieutenant colonel.
In recent years, Perez lived in Miami while the Venezuelan government demanded he be turned over to stand trial for his role in quelling bloody 1989 riots. Perez – who governed Venezuela from 1974-’79 and again from 1989-’93 – denied wrongdoing.
His other daughter, Cecilia Victoria Perez, said a funeral service and burial are being planned in South Florida.
“Everything is going to be here in Miami,” she said of the planned funeral and burial. “His desire was to go back to Venezuela, but this is not going to happen – at least until there’s a change of government.”
In his first term, Perez won praise by nationalizing Venezuela’s oil industry, paying off foreign oil companies and then capitalizing on a period of prosperity that allowed his government to build subway lines, bankroll new social programs and set up state-run companies in areas from steel to electricity.
He became one of Latin America’s most prominent political leaders, popularly known after his initials as “CAP.”
Venezuelans elected him for a second time in 1988, hoping for a return to good times after a decade of economic decline. But his popularity plunged when he tried to push through an economic austerity program including increasing the subsidized prices of gasoline. Anger among the poor boiled over in the 1989 riots and more than 300 people were killed in the unrest known as the “Caracazo.” Some activists put the death toll much higher.