Venezuelans bury former president Perez

AP News
Posted: Oct 06, 2011 10:08 PM
Venezuelans bury former president Perez

Thousands flocked to the burial of ex-President Carlos Andres Perez on Thursday, bidding farewell to a politician praised by supporters as a guarantor of Venezuela's democratic freedoms and condemned by critics as a corrupt power-broker.

Chanting "We will return!" and "Companion, brother, you will be vindicated," relatives, friend and supporters watched as Perez's casket was lowered into a grave at the Cemetery of the East on the outskirts of Caracas.

He was laid to rest alongside the body of one of his daughters, Thais Perez Rodriguez.

"The demonstrations of love, the spirit of his people move us and confirms his dedication to politics was not in vain," said Carolina Perez Rodriguez, one of the former leader's surviving daughters.

"Despite the insults from his enemies, the people recognize him as a man who fought against dictatorships, an example of democratic freedoms," she added.

Perez's remains arrived in Venezuela on Tuesday, nine months after his death in Miami at age 88 set off a feud over where to bury him. His wife wanted to bring the body home, while his mistress in the United States argued Perez had vowed repeatedly never to return as long as political arch-nemesis Hugo Chavez was Venezuela's president.

The two sides finally reached a confidential settlement on sending his body back to his homeland.

Perez was president in 1974-79 and again in 1989-93, surviving two failed coup attempts, including one led by Chavez. He left Venezuela in 2000 during Chavez's first term as president, facing the threat of arrest on corruption accusations, and did not return.

In his first term, Perez won popularity 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 and bankroll new social programs.

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.

Speaking on state television, Chavez criticized the former president's politics, saying his economic policies increased poverty.

"Venezuela was a hell," Chavez said.