CAP 2 intentos - One President, two paths

Carlos Oteyza's new documentary dives deep into the two presidencies of the 4th republic's most relevant figure.

For younger Venezuelans who only know life under the late comandante presidente and then his hand-picked successor, the preceding era (the never-bien-ponderada “4th Republic”) is something between a curiosity and a mystery.

It’s difficult for us to conjure a clear image of that time, shrouded as it is in layers of subsequent propagandizing. Depending on who you ask about it, the answer could be either a great period of peace and prosperity or a nightmarish time of misery and repression.

Carlos Oteyza’s new documentary, “CAP, 2 Intentos” (CAP, 2 Attempts), tries to demystify the B.C. (Before Chavez) era focusing on a key figure: Two-time President Carlos Andrés Pérez (1922-2010).

The film is the long-awaited follow-up to Oteyza’s critically acclaimed 2012 doc, “Tiempos de Dictadura.” But this isn’t just a straight biopic (as a matter of fact, his personal story is more like a sidenote), it’s mostly a dissection of the rise and fall of Venezuela’s post-1958 democracy.

The movie is divided between the two presidential terms of Carlos Andrés Pérez, which can not be more different from each other: his first term (1974-1979) is marked by the windfall of oil profits and the promise of developing the country with that wealth — the era of “La Gran Venezuela”. In his second term (1989-1993), he faced the direct consequences of failing to deliver on those promises.

Depending on who you ask about it, the 4th Republic is either a great period of peace and prosperity or a nightmarish time of misery and repression.

The film leans heavily on interviews with insiders from both administrations and tons of rare archive footage to immerse us in two moments that deeply transformed Venezuela. But as the movie wastes no time in getting us into the figure of Carlos Andrés, it skips some context that younger viewers could really use.

The first half shows Venezuela right in the middle of a historical shift on many levels: social, economic, geopolitical, etc.) and how Pérez, a controversial middle-rank politician known mostly as a hard-nosed Interior Minister managed to get into power. Thanks to huge profits following the 1973 arab oil embargo, he launched a series of grandiose projects to turn Venezuela into a first-world country and at the same, become a beacon of progress and stability in a region scourged by civil wars and brutal military dictatorships.

Things did not, to say the least, go as planned. CAP’s successor in Miraflores, Luis Herrera Campins, put the boot in during his inaugural speech: “I receive a mortgaged Venezuela”. La Gran Venezuela left behind a grand hangover of debt overhang and institutional decay.

The second half of the film dwells on the unlikely coincidence of Carlos Andres Perez reaping what he had done so much to sow. Interestingly enough, because the Constitution of 1961 banned consecutive re-election (former presidents had to wait for ten years before running for the top office again), Pérez managed to pull a surprising political comeback as the country (and the entire region) went into outright crisis at the end of the so-called “lost decade”.

La Gran Venezuela left behind a grand hangover of debt overhang and institutional decay.

Many voted for him in hopes of returning to those prosperous times. But the transformation Pérez tried to implement in his second term was completely different that the one he tried in the seventies: he brought in a cabinet of technocrats in order to execute what he called “the great turnaround” (El Gran Viraje). These were the famous (or, depending on your ideological commitment, infamous) rebellious náufragos who insisted the country could not depend any longer on oil windfalls and needed to be weaned off an overzealous state, come hell or high water.

The proliferation of nautical metaphors is no coincidence. They were trying to turn a supertanker around really quickly. And that tends not to work.

As Caracas Chronicles readers know, the country exploded in protest less than one month after Pérez took office in 1989. Those events would not only undermine his proposals but mark his entire legacy. But it’s in describing what followed that the film really comes into its own.  

For example, it’s implied that lack of communication between CAP and the political spectrum, along with a misconceived media and messaging strategy to sell the proposed reforms is what really hurt him in the end. The disconnect (along with the effects of the Caracazo and the two 1992 failed coups) opened the door to a group of influential people known as “the Notables”, key in CAP’s eventual downfall (via political impeachment eight months before the end of his term).

The movie has its share of flaws. It just bites off more than it can chew in an hour and a half. The complicated relationship between CAP and his political party, Acción Democrática, from its founding father (and former president) Rómulo Betancourt, to specific sectors like workers’ unions is touched upon but not really explored, among other things.

I believe that the movie needed more diverse voices, particularly from other sectors of society like labor unions, professional groups or even cultural figures. Also, the rural areas are barely mentioned (the same problem as in Tiempos de Dictadura). But in this case it’s more damaging, given how the growth of our cities from rural migrants looking for a better life was a key aspect of both the country’s economic expansion and the plenty of social ills that we’re still facing to this day.

And it just doesn’t stop to consider role of the media, in either of the two terms. Remember that back then, there was no Internet and cable/satellite TV was a privilege for tiny few. Of course, let’s be clear that the movie never set out to be a Caribbean “O.J.: Made in America”, but it could have touched on this more successfully. In particular, the transition between first and second term should have been better handled.

Still despite its flaws, the film is a very engaging experience.“CAP, 2 Intentos” is a necessary film for these times. Oteyza and his production crew have done quite an admirable effort. The research work alone deserves huge recognition. Congratulations!

I would share more, but I don’t want to pile on spoilers. I’d rather you made your own mind. Go see it ASAP if you have the chance, it’s worth it.