Foreign Policy Blogs

Former President Caldera Dies

Rafael Caldera, the last Venezuelan president to serve in office prior to the administration of Hugo Chávez, passed away on Thursday. Interestingly, Caldera’s terms seem to have book-ended the more democratic period of the country’s history.

In 1946 Caldera founded COPEI, a Social-Christian political party. In 1958 he played an instrumental role in the Punto Fijo Pact, which maintained democratic processes in Venezuela after the dictator General Marcos Perez Jimenez lost power earlier that year. (Some, however, critique this pact as guaranteeing control by only two parties, COPEI and Acción Democrática.)

Venezuela elected Caldera as its president in 1968 and he served from 1969-1974. Two decades later he again won election, though this time as an independent, without COPEI’s support. Soon after his inauguration he pardoned Hugo Chávez, who was serving time in jail for a coup attempt in 1992. This may appear imprudent now, but at the time Chávez was very popular among many Venezuelans, including both privileged elites and poorer members of society. As a whole, they supported his more populist approach to politics.

As occurs with any presidency, opinions on Caldera and his impact vary depending on to whom one talks to. Some refer to him as a “statesman”, who preserved democracy and ended a dangerous leftist guerrilla movement in the 1960s. Another historian writes that during his second term he revoked some constitutional guarantees, including protection against arbitrary searches and arrests by the police.

Regardless of where one stands, Caldera will not be forgotten for his link to Chávez. Despite the amnesty that Caldera granted to this former-paratrooper turned politician, relations between the two men soon soured. Caldera came to criticize the current administration, and this week his son stated that the family did not want a government-sponsored state funeral.



David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.