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 on Saturday.
The 88-year-old Perez`s daughter, Maria Francia Perez, said her father had died in a Miami area hospital.
"He was happy and well when he awoke this morning. Suddenly he had difficulty breathing," she said.
She said her father was rushed by the family to the hospital, where he died on Saturday afternoon. Venezuelan TV channel Globovision had quoted the daughter initially in reporting Perez had suffered a heart attack but she denied that to a news agency, citing "respiratory failure”.
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 late Saturday that a funeral service and burial are being planned in South Florida and details would be disclosed once arrangements were complete. She said the family would not return the remains to Venezuela at this time.
"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 nationalising Venezuela`s oil industry, paying off foreign oil companies and then capitalising 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 subsidised 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.
In 2010, Venezuela`s Supreme Court cleared the way for Chavez`s government to request Perez`s extradition from the United States. Prosecutors accused Perez of ordering a harsh crackdown during the unrest, when rights activists say many were shot indiscriminately by security forces.
Perez stopped speaking in public after a 2003 stroke, but he maintained he was innocent. And his office issued a statement accusing the Supreme Court of doing Chavez`s bidding after it approved plans for the extradition request.
The former president`s supporters called the charges politically motivated. Members of his party Democratic Action announced in 2008 that Perez hoped to return to Venezuela and held talks with judicial officials on that possibility.
Party leader Henry Ramos Allup said the former president`s condition was "extremely delicate" and that he hoped to "live out his last days in the country”. But that possibility faded as government authorities called for his extradition.
While he was in office, Perez`s popularity as a leader rose and fell with the country`s economic situation, and he eventually came to be despised by many Venezuelans who resented his elegant suits and his affinity for jetting around Latin America.
Venezuela`s Congress impeached Perez on corruption charges in 1993 and he was placed under house arrest. Its Supreme Court convicted him in May 1996 of misspending USD 17 million in public funds — a charge he always denied.