Carlos Andres Perez Would Have Made a Better Venezuela

So the last sane president of Venezuela died in Miami Saturday. Carlos Andres Perez was the probably the first Latin president to flex his muscles over oil, thus setting the stage for his one-time nemesis, the half wit Hugo Chavez, to take power.

I interviewed Cap -- who was 88 at the time of his death by heart attack, -- in Caracas in 1992 or so....the date is now fuzzy. He was a handsome guy who really did have a sense of decency -- expressed in his later offer of succor to Haiti's troubled president, Jean Bertrand Aristide.

And it always seemed to me that he was an old-tme caudillo --- the kind of guy whom the masses should have liked in the way they later took to Chavez. He made a mistake, though, in caving to international pressure and pushing austerity measures, rather than adopting the pandering style of government that has characterized Venezuela since he was removed from office.

Interviewing him was for me a powerful experience. He was smart and manipulative -- dressed to intimidate in a light suit and full of personal advice even to those he didn't know. He suggested that blue would be a better color for me -- who knew? -- and he talked about Bolivia and the new Latin order that would later take form.

In a half hour, he gave a sense of worldly leader who was the smartest guy in the room where-ever he went. Certainly there were huge corruption problems in his government -- as well as personal problems and too little attention to detail. But these problems, at least at the time, seemed minor when it came to the guts of a guy who had the money and guts to chastize the Americans for being stupid in allowing OPEC to form.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that CAP might well have developed Venezuela into the international power that Brazil has become in the last 10 years. The resources and education and polish are there. But history -- and a canny dictator who continuously has gathered more power overcame him. So long, Cap, You won't be forgotten.

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse