Jaime Lusinchi, 1924-2014

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053Jaime Lusinchi, whose 1984 to 1989 presidency is remembered as possibly the least competent of the 1936-1999 period, died last night in Caracas.

The last of the old-style Acción Democrática populist apparatchiks to run the country, Lusinchi’s ruinous term in office was marked by rampant corruption, a pig-headed refusal to countenance evidently needed reforms, the accumulation of macroeconomic imbalances and the turfing out of large tracts of the public sector to cronies close to the presidential mistress.

The economic dysfunction that slowly took over every aspect of Venezuela’s economic life in that time was directly responsible for the social unrest that broke out directly after his period in office, as the incoming administration struggled to deal with the fiscal and administrative mess left behind.

A pediatrician by training, Lusinchi played an active role in the clandestine fight against the Pérez Jiménez dictatorship. He was briefly jailed and tortured in the 50s before being sent into exile. Then he settled into a long parliamentary career, including 14 years as leader of AD’s delegation in congress, where he honed his skills as a political wheeler dealer and ultimate party insider.

Lusinchi will be remembered as perhaps the only leader of the Punto Fijo era who decisively retired from active politics after handing over power. His relative indifference to the conduct of state affairs after his term arguably mirrored a kind of fecklessness that was visible even while he was in office.

Going into self-imposed semi-exile in Costa Rica, Lusinchi quickly sank back into the obscurity he never should have risen from. He was 89.

Addendum: And the photo galleries on his personal website are kinda wild:

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1 COMMENT

  1. Otro irresponsable a la cabeza de este país que, además, sale de su gobierno con una popularidad altísima

  2. Nothing like reading this hagiography on Ultimas Noticias to get some grounding about nitpicking on Quico’s piece…

    http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/politica/perfil—quien-fue-el-dr-jaime-lusinchi.aspx

    “Durante su mandato, debido al grave descenso de los precios del petróleo y a la decisión suya de no contraer nueva deuda pública, Venezuela obtuvo un ingreso de divisas que sólo llegó a alcanzar el 62% del obtenido por la administración anterior. Mas, no obstante la reducción sin precedentes de los precios del petróleo, determinantes para el ingreso nacional, la economía creció y el presidente Lusinchi fue capaz de construir e iniciar importantes obras de transformación nacional, impulsar la salud, la educación y la vivienda, reactivar la economía, mantener la paz social y crear un ambiente de bienestar y progreso, entre 1983 y 1989. Su gobierno dio los primeros pasos para acometer la reforma y modernización del Estado.

  3. A friend shared with me her literature professor Gustavo Valle’s poignant facebook status:
    Murió Jaime Lusinchi, quien fuera paciente, al igual que Rafael Caldera y Hugo Chávez, del psiquiatra Edmundo Chirinos.

  4. Tells you something about our country that at the end of his period he had a very high approval rating , he was very attentive of the media handling of any event likely to affect his governments image , at one time it was rumoured he made the gift of a group of cars to a number of influential newsmen covering Miraflores to keep them happy . He had If I remember right Carlos Croes as handler of the govts image, someone who at the time was a thorough magician at making potentially embarrasing news look good or diffussing potential scandals .!!

    • Imagine the military caudillo had died on 17 December 2006…it would have been perfect for him. He died in early 2013 and that was still good for his fame, but no longer optimal. Had he lived just one more year his popularity would have crumbled down dramatically.

  5. “…whose 1984 to 1989 presidency is remembered as possibly the least competent of the 1936-1999 period…” Nah, I still remember Luis Herrera. Nearly a photo finish, I must concede.

    • Not really. Luis Herrera’s administration can be best summarized as negligent, despite being quite capable of preventing the disasters we already know, in stark contrast to Lusinchi’s.

  6. La de Lusinchi fue una administración ruinosa. Pero creo que heredó un modelo no menos ruinoso. Los dos gobiernos que le precedieron establecieron una cultura de la corrupción. Es difícil señalar a un solo culpable o un solo momento de la historia. Sería como aquel personaje de Vargas llosa que se preguntaba en “que momento se había jodido Perú”. Éste es un perfil interesante pero tiene un final que adolece un poco de eso que llamaba Octavio Paz la historia en “rojo y negro” de los latinoamericanos. Una lista de personajes que se exaltan o que se desprecian. Lusinchi era un personaje gris social y, por supuesto, moralmente. Me pregunto si llegó adonde llegó -al poder, of course- justamente por eso.Lusinchi murió en la oscuridad pero no salió precisamente de allí. Recuerdo la sociedad que convivía con esos líderes. Un saludo.

    • Lusinchi fue candidato y Presidente por la misma razón que Alfaro Ucero lo fue, tenían las aptitudes necesarias para ascender en un partido como AD. Ahora el hecho de que un tipo gris haya sido Presidente por saber como moverse dentro de un partido poderoso me parece más democrático y avanzado que este culto a la popularidad del galáctico. En cualquier país democrático ha habido cantidad innumerables de líderes grises, sin carisma e intrascendentes, es parte de la democracia. Precisamente lamentarno de que el tipo no fuera Churchill revela el caudillismo que todos llevamos dentro,

      • Me refería también a una grisura moral. No me lamento de que no fuera un carismático. No creo que ése fuera el problema con Lusinchi. Estoy tratando de comprender al personaje. Pero estoy de acuerdo con ud. cacr210. Un saludo.

        • ¡Un saludo! Y estoy de acuerdo hay que intentar entender al personaje. Lusinchi era parte de un partido y un movimiento que apoyaba y creía en todas esas políticas desastrosas de endeudamiento, controles, clientelismo y estatismo. El problema fue que a él le tocó presidir eso cuando se acabaron los reales. Lusinchi no fue sacado del espacio, es un producto histórico de una visión del estado.

      • Agree to a point. Reality is Lusinchi was candidate because he ran in primaries against the political “pan frío” of Piñerúa Ordaz, another one of those AD “leaders”without formal education. The other major party, COPEI, was already being shaken by internal fights to the point I do not remember if Fernández (El Tigre) o Caldera were candidates. Our countrymen then, what a surprise, disliked Piñerúa and went for Lusinchi due to his charisma (well, anyone against Piñerúa would look like the soul of the party!), an attractive and simple campaign (first one using foreign advisors if I recall properly), and because of its slogan “Jaime es como tú”. As my now no longer-Communist uncle would have said then “entre borrachos nos conocémos”.

    • “que momento se había jodido Perú”

      In Venezuela we might trace back it to the time when people started to settle down in Taima Taima and exterminated all those mastodons and other types of megafauna.

  7. Wasting time criticizing was was clearly better than what is in place today unless you tie it into a context that allows a better understanding of something particular.

    Otherwise it doesn’t do much for the present situation.

      • The 4th Republic SUCKED, period.

        Having said that, let’s put things on perspective:

        – It took the 4th Republic 40 years to send the economy down the drain.
        – The Chavistas did the same thing in 15 years.

          • Imprecator and Jose do note that:

            The 4th Republic went down the drain to a large extent because the model was so disfunctional and corrupt that it couldnt cope with the fall in world oil prices during the late 80’s and 90’s . The Chavez Maduro regime has taken the country down an abyss even with oil prices many times higher than in the past , supplemented with borrowed money to the tune of some US$150 billion .

            If the 4th republic had endured to this date we probably would be in a much better situation than we now are because despite its many failings it was on the whole much better at managing things than the current regime , or put in another way it was no where as destructive as this regime has been .!!

          • I’m more sold on the idea that puntofijismo collapsed because “historical” leaders refused to step aside, so the system became ossified.

            In the 90’s AD made a reform, at the behest of the Alfaro Uceros and Ramos Allup of this world, that allowed the party leadership to control almost half of the votes to elect them. This reform prevented the generation of Ledezma, Marquina and Fermin from rising to take leadership of the party. That’s one of the main reasons we have ABP and UNT nowadays, they had to leave AD because the white dinosaurs were holding them back.

            CAP 2 (born in 1922) had a good idea of the political and economic reforms needed, if his reforms hadn’t been aborted and then reversed to some extent, the country would be in much better shape today. Sadly, he frustrated the first attempt at generational handover (if Fernandez, who was born in 1940, had won), but he also prevented the lusinchista pre-candidate Lepage from being nomited, so there’s that.

            Caldera 2 effectively killed COPEI and took the puntofijista constitution down along with the country. That was the election were the next generation should have risen Fermin (born in 1950), OAP (born in 1943), Velasquez (born in 1953) and Caldera (born in 1916), but tragically it didn’t.

          • What did they do?
            Think on how things are to how they were in 1999 vs how things are now…….. and then tell me what they did 🙂

          • Ok, Take 2:

            What did they do?
            Think on how things were in 1999 vs how things are now…….. and then tell me what they did 🙂

    • metodex,

      I worry that so many young people are buying the hype that the 4th was just as bad, simply because they were not there to see the truth…

      and depending on who your authorities are is generally how people think (unfortunately)….

      You know how people are. They only recognize greatness when some authority confirms it….so here go round the merry go round : with an authoritarian government to reflect authoritarian thinking = Culture trumps politics every time.

      • The way my father contrasts Chavez with the fourth is “el remedio fue peor que la enfermedad.”

        I was born in 1990 and sure miss the Venezuela that saw my childhood years.

      • Indeed, the IV was just as bad; otherwise there would not had been a V and we would been writing about something else instead of our flunked country.

    • 91′ here.

      The only bit of democracy that I remember was watching the senile old man of Caldera giving a speech.

      • ’74 here.

        I have only watched democracy crumbling and chaos rising while growing up. To me, the real deal was to have experienced democracy during the 1960s. The sense of a good future felt very strongly during those days. Then CAP happened.

        • Sorry, but it was when CAP happened that we felt a “sense of good future”, rightly or wrongly. See, I was there.

          • That is true.
            Those were the times of the Bs4,30 x $, of the “ta’barato dame dos”, of the quinceaneras trips to Europe, of the nationalization of the iron, first, and then of the oil (“el petroleo ahora es nuestro”, anyone?), and of course, the caso Sierra Nevada.
            I was there too.

          • We were a country of mediochre deluded people ( and leaders ) which the gift of high oil prices gave an inflated false sense of hubris , of being ‘succesful’ , of being capable of achieving great things while the country wallowed in a binge of wild consumption and petty corruption . !! Lusinchi was indeed ‘one of us’!!

          • Using my own words: when CAP happened, the sense of a good future went from “very strongly” to “too strongly” so it could not be possible to hint that the real deal had become an illusion.
            The irony of it all: fast-forward 30 years and drizzle a chunk of the second oil bonanza on very poor people, then you get a similar feel-good reaction from them. If we tell’em it was an illusion, they’ll also answer they were there.

          • No, no. Only about the middle class my friend, only. Poverty was becoming a huge issue, historical data might point to the right ranges but I am sure it was noticeable then. To a point, it was comparable to what we have seen al these last 15 years, a lot of money in the streets while people struggle to find a path to a better future. The revolutionaries of today hate that much the materialistic approach of the “tá barato dame dos” precisely because felt/still feel they were left aside of the economic orgy.

          • The poor were in it too , the political patronage system corrupted them also , they got cushy make do jobs , heavily subsidized benefits of all kinds , labour practices that encouraged them bilking the govt and their employers of everything they could . High Oil prices allowed mediocre political leaders the chance of setting a table full abundant nicknacks for the whole country to share in . People were led to believe that it would last for ever , that no one need work hard to achieve a sustainable prosperity . then reality set in , oil prices fell, the whole artificial system of small corrupt gifties could not be sustained and we all felt dissappointed and betrayed . We blamed it on the corrupt politicians but it was really the blame of a climate of general self sattisifed mediochrity which blinded us to reality , which made us forget how fragile it all was , how we had to think ahead for more challenging times and prepare ourselves in order to methodically become a structurally productive society for the long haul .!!.

          • Could not agree more; however the description your provide agrees more with AD’s political click and their well known motto “Los adecos son mejores gobernantes porque roban y dejan robar” and with the emergent middle class always so prone to the pleasures of selfish satisfaction.This means that although the poor my have been into it as well, it was a fairly restricted part of the poor population, not all of them. To me, the zenith of all this situation came early when watching Carlota Flores say in TV while holding Aleida Josefina (the little girl bitten by a rat) in her arms: “Hámos vivío márrrr”. It was the now infamous TV commercial of Luis Herrera and COPEI during the presidential elections of 1979 which signed the existence of two very different countries which mutually ignored each other for more than two decades. Hence, Chávez and his later disaster did not came up fortuitously. He, the worst consequence of our national reality, effectively exploited this contradiction in his favor, submerging us all in the tragedy of a country we are today.

          • “Hámos vivío márrrr” was said by an anonymous woman on a Teodoro Petkoff political ad in 1983. The catchphrase produced by the infamous TV commercial of Luis Herrera was: “Esto no es correcto”. Easily verifiable via YouTube.

          • Ohhh, I see the confusion. That is the same Carlota Flores saying exactly the same phrase she had used years before to shake us we about what was going in the cerros while supporting Luis Herrera Campins. I tried to find a video of the original 1978 commercial but unfortunately the ones I found appear edited for length. Still, this link I might be useful to clear the confusion: http://m.panorama.com.ve/not.php?id=24412&width=748. It was published in July 2012.
            BTW, I am not upset, just wanted to highlight that poor classes have been struggling for many years more than we believe, hence their disconnection to the achievements the democracy had for the rest of the country during the IV.

          • You’re leaving an important fact out of the picture: where those poor people originally came from and the reason they moved. Farmers and peasants who were seeing the news of a vibrant wealthy capital city and were also seeing their beloved countryside being left behind. The majority choice was to move in order to make their dream of having a brighter future come true. The reality was harsher than expected: only a minority could succeed in making the slums a temporary place and later getting decent housing in Caracas; the rest languished and had to replace their naive view of life with a more violent culture. However, the possibility of leaving poverty behind was always there due to Venezuela’s economic stability, and that’s what got crushed when the bolivar was devalued in 1983.

          • Gabriel, Herrera used several catchphrases in his campaign. The one you cite was only one of them. Another one for example was “¿Dónde están los reales?”, a clear reference to the corruption period during CAP I. “Esto no es correcto” was actually his closing line to ads such as the one I mentioned before referring to the Caucagüita slum where the mother and the girl lived. Check the record, your memory is playing you tricks. We as a country have been stumbling for longer than you think, and getting that straight is an important perspective to consider in discussions, analyses, and potential solutions. Otherwise, there will be chavismo for a while.

          • Many of the poor got something , two examples out of many , the ports authority had thousands upon thousand of ‘reposeros’ in its payroll , people who never showed up to work but only to collect their paychecks , they were untouchable , finally they had to bribe the union leaders to allow port administration to become rationalized . If you worked in one of the repair ‘cuadrillas’ of CANTV you worked only enough so that they would have to pay you overtime , the collective bargaining agreements gave total protection and a lot of benefits you could get with no effort at all. ( told by an engineer who supervised these cuadrillas , work was interrupted for the silliest of reasons and he could do nothing about it ) , multiply this kind of scams a thousand times and you get the picture . Govt made public and private companies hire much more people than needed as a condition to authorize specific jobs , all with their party recommendation , many who shared their union dues with corrupt political small time political leaders . I have too many stories in ,my head to think that part of the model was corrupting every one , poor and middle class one way or another !!

          • Carlos, my memory is not playing with me. It is your eyes that are playing you tricks. If you care about reading again both your comments and mine you should realize we’re not contradicting one another. In short: “Hámos leío márrrr”.

          • Bill, you are absolutely right. When I was writing about violent culture, I should’ve also added patronage and the corruption it begets.

          • ” ‘Hámos vivío márrrr’ was said by an anonymous woman on a Teodoro Petkoff political ad in 1983.” . . . Not to make it an issue but I would agree with you: “Has leío marrrr”

          • I’m issuing an error report: those women are not the same person. You had trust in an article with wrong information. And I’m saying no more.

    • CAP II was no AD government at all. A (hidden) neo-liberal agenda and a complete absence of partisan ministers in his cabinet was a 180-degree turn on the centrist and populist adeco style of governing.

  8. Some points about the Lusinchi tenure:

    1) Blanca Ibáñez in military fatigues. Blanca Ibáñez handing out donations to religious figures.

    2) The press was censored back then. Sure, they criticized the government, but they could not mess with the President’s private life. If they did, they could not get access to Recadi to import newsprint.

    3) Recadi was the precursor to Cadivi, a sweltering hotbed of corruption that ultimately ended in nothing.

    4) Lusinchi left us with inflation of over 20% for the first time in our history (1987 and 1988).

    5) Lusinchi (Carlos Croes, actually) was a master at keeping popularity high while sending the country to the dogs.

    All of this sounds mighty familiar. Yes, Lusinchi broadly respected the rules. But his tenure was the precursor of what came afterwards. He and his cronies came to symbolize everything that was wrong with the old AD-style petro-populist model that gave way to this. I, for one, remember his term with dread.

    • For sure, JC.

      Imagine how screwed up we were that we went and elected CAP to take over from Lusinchi.

      Despite CAP’s willingness to try to bring some “orden a la pea”, as a society we kept accepting that corruption was a part of life, that justice went to the ones with the biggest checkbook, that who you knew determined whether you made money or not, etc. etc.

      I remember clearly folks on the street stating that they would vote for CAP because “even though he was a thief, he left some for the rest of us to steal”.

      And speaking of RECADI, any one know what ever happened to “el chinito de Recadi”? The only one who went to jail for corruption related to the exchange controls?

    • Regarding Blanca Ibañez, I imagine you all remember when Lusinchi took her to an official trip to Spain and the King and Queen refused to receive her since they were not married. As a result an edition of Hola! was censored in Venezuela, it did not enter the country…

      • He tried to take ‘la barragana’ (I don’t remember which politician called her that) to a special cocktail with the Pope in January 1985. The Nuncio had to change the invitation to a “sin esposas”.

        Que vaina pa’ folklorica!

      • La barragana was perhaps one of his worst mistakes. He gave her power, he gave her a free degree in law, and she ended conducting and managing the country.

    • Chavismo is Lusinchismo on steroids, policy-wise. At least 80% of Chavismo’s craptacular policies were first shown by Lusinchismo.

      – Chavismo had CADIVI (now CENCOEX), Lusinchi had RECADI

      – Chavismo had SUNDECOP (now SUNDDE), Lusinchi had CONACOPRESA

      – Chavismo blames usury, especulation and hoarding for the country’s woes, so did Lusinchi.

      – Chavismo censors the media (including limiting access to paper, shutting down RCTV and RCTV-I, buying off Globovision and Cadena Capriles), Lusinchi censored the media (including limiting access to paper, temporarily shutting down RCTV, and funding El Nuevo País).

      – Lusinchi had the advantage of being able to directly appoint governors, and he abused it, being the first guy to name every regional AD secretary as governor. Chavismo has no such prerrogative, thanks to CAP 2, but they make do with the appointed viceroys (Capitol District Government, Corpomiranda, Corpolara, etc).

      – Chavismo routinely uses state resources for political proselytizing, Lusinchi bough Jeeps through Casa Militar to use in the 1988 election (won by CAP 2).

      One important thing Lusinchi did, Chavismo hasn’t done yet is the whole Barragana affair. There hasn’t been a moral scandal of that magnitude yet.

      One important thing Chavismo has done, that Lusinchi didn’t do, was the politicizing the armed forces.

      • I don’t know, the barragana affair would be a minor issue had it not been because that woman also misused state funds…but then: is Flores not doing the same?

        • Cilia Flores is notorious for hiring family members, but it ‘s my understanding (I was a toddler at the time) that Blanca Ibañez had a way more prominent role on state affairs: deciding military promotions, for example, even overshadowing Lusinchi at times. This would make her influence more similar to Diosdado or something like that.

        • Kepler, I disagree. It was a big issue that confronted Church and Government openly, undermined the ethical character of Lusinchi’s tenure, and ultimately, initiated the sense of hostility for the common citizen towards democracy. As an example, it is worth to remember the case of the San Mateo priest who was caught smuggling cocaine into Europe to get money for his social projects in Aragua State. It was the perfect weapon Lusinchi’s needed against the Church’s verbal opposition against his government because of the his extra-marital relationship. After he was caught, the Government made a big campaign about the issue in the media. Eventually the Church went mute about Blanca Ibańez and we did not hear so much anymore about the priest, who I believe died decades later while still in jail. By then the damage had been already done, common citizens perceived political parties as “antros” who had done little or nothing for the country and the welfare of everyone, and who used power to create perversive systems such as the barraganas. CAP 2.0 with Cecilia Matos only but re-in forced that perception.

  9. Dos cosas interesantes de la página del expresidente:

    – Hagan click en un vínculo titulado “El buen gobierno de Jaime Lusinchi” http://www.jaimelusinchi.org/anlsis.htm jajaja…
    – Esta foto: agreguen algunas canas y, Fantástico!, entenderán a los que todavía dicen: No volverán! No volverán!

    • There’s something beautifully poetic about that:

      “El Buen Gobierno de Jaime Lusinchi: !
      File not found (404 error)
      If you think what you’re looking for should be here, please contact the site owner.”

      Drops mike.

  10. How do you guys pronounce Lusinchi? The ch is prnounced like in Spanish or like Italian? (El extranjero se pone en evidencia)

    • Like in Spanish: Lu-sin-chi.

      But we have a mayor in Valencia, Cocchiola, a local businessman representing the MUD. He was born in Italy. Some people say Coquiola and some “Cochola”

      He speaks like Maduro, by the way.

  11. My recollection of this era is a little different: Lusinchi was a guest at our house because dad worked for Alberto Finol. Beto (from Maracaibo) owned Ilapeca among many businesses (including GTE). He had the shrimp business (he killed off all the shrimp), the powdered milk concession, Supermercados Victoria, and the list goes on. Beto also had the finest fleet of business jets in Venezuela in the 70’s. I had a lot of fun back then. I was too young to know what was really happening and for that I apologize. Beto was Lusinchi’s backer btw.

    • Somehow it happened to all of us, although in very different ways. My family and I were lucky enough to move from a popular area in Caracas back then (Guarataro), to a middle class apartment in Los Chaguaramo thanks to my parents hard work with their small shops. My two older brothers complete their university programs, and I was already in a private high school. It was not until I started my studies in the UCV in 1981 that I realized not everyone else was moving up as well. I saw a lot of poverty around me in the university, classmates that only had “el comedor” as an option everyday, seven days a week. Many were from the countryside, but there were other from the capital as well. Eventually I had the opportunity to volunteer at lot in popular areas with UCVs programs such as the GAS-Medicine (Grupos de Acción Social), el the Teatro Estudiantil and the GIDA of Ingenieria. Poverty was everywhere man, so what happened later in terms of social unrest, political turmoil, and street violent never surprised me.

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