Last week I had the privilege of attending the Miami screening of acclaimed director Carlos Oteyza’s newest release: CAP Inédito. With an incredibly rich recollection of exclusive footage from 1998-1999, the film portrays the complicated life after the downfall of one of Venezuela’s most significant leaders from its democratic period: Carlos Andrés Pérez (CAP). The film is a superb historical document. However, while watching it in the theater, I noticed that when certain events were shown or names from certain politicians were mentioned, the audience (packed with journalists who covered those events) reacted to them in a particular way, as if they were reliving the complicated times that gave way to the horrible decades that were soon to follow. Yet, as a Venezuelan who only has known chavismo throughout his lifetime, I realized that even though I have studied extensively about President Pérez’s life and work, I do not have any actual memory of him because of my age. This allowed me to watch the film with probably a different point of view from other people in the room, the one of someone who is able to see CAP’s predicament from afar, without the nostalgia for a democratic republic I never knew.
If you’re a Venezuelan born in the late 1990s or early 2000s like me, you probably do not have any memories of Carlos Andrés Pérez either. As a matter of fact, unless you’re actively engaged in Venezuelan politics and/or history, few of us actually know who he was. In order to say this with conviction, I asked eleven of my closest Venezuelan friends—in the country and abroad—who CAP was: only three had somewhat of a grasp of the character, the next three confused him with dictator Pérez Jiménez (and Rafael Caldera out of all people), and five just knew he was a president but not much else other that he was accused of corruption (and you can say that about any Latin American politician). While these “numbers” could be considered bad (and they are), this is exactly the audience that director Oteyza is aiming for with CAP Inédito. In an interview for La Gran Aldea, Oteyza understands that “everyone who already loves or hates Pérez will probably not change their perspective. Yet for the people who have no idea who CAP was, this movie gives them the opportunity to understand him without the excesses and distortions that currently exist around him.” While the distortion that Oteyza mentions could be referred to many things, in the case of young Venezuelans, it could be considered biased exaggerations from our family members. For example, most of my friends started their answers with “well, what my parents told me is that he was corrupt/great…”
I asked eleven of my closest Venezuelan friends—in the country and abroad—who CAP was: only three had somewhat of a grasp of the character, the next three confused him with dictator Pérez Jiménez (and Rafael Caldera out of all people), and five just knew he was a president but not much else other that he was accused of corruption (and you can say that about any Latin American politician).
CAP Inédito gives the audience a look into the cage of a political mastermind trapped inside the bars of his previous political mistakes. However, if the spectator pays attention, CAP Inédito is not only a film reflecting the last days of CAP’s incredible political career, but it also shows the numerous attempts by President Pérez to warn the people about the incoming authoritarian regime he correctly predicted in such an early manner. As someone who has only known said regime, what CAP was warning about was not only surprisingly accurate but it also felt frustrating to see the warnings from one of Venezuela’s most relevant politicians getting almost entirely ignored by my parent’s generation, a decision that would have a great toll on mine.
While CAP’s assessments were reasonable even by those years’ standards, the film accurately depicts that by 1998-1999 the Venezuelan people were not only tired of puntofijismo and the corruption that many tied to it. But they were also tired of listening to Carlos Andrés. In a matter of a few years, President Pérez went from being one of the most powerful and popular Venezuelans in history to becoming not much better than a mere infamous celebrity. “People really do change” are the words that one of CAP’s bodyguards says that the late Pérez told him when he asked him about his decline in popularity.
The film is also very clear in showing the solitude that CAP was submerged in during those two years. However, it also leaves us to understand that CAP found himself in this lonely predicament because of his actions. His ambition and mismanagement of puntofijista politics made CAP a radioactive personality inside the Venezuelan political class. This is reflected in the remarkable birthday scene where none of CAP’s old friends attend the celebration out of fear of being linked to CAP’s infamy and, according to his daughter, out of the people that visited him “people wanted to talk to him but no one really wanted to have their picture taken with him.” While using his adeco electoral ferociousness, President Pérez was able to get himself elected Senator of Táchira, his home state, and receive immunity to secure his freedom for the time being from the multiple judicial probes against him. Yet against the advice from his remaining friends, President Pérez promptly resigned from his position as Senator to run for the newly summoned Constituent Assembly, a decision that cost him dearly as he lost that race which left him out of political options in Venezuela and was vulnerable to additional judicial probes.
Carlos Andrés Pérez is one of the most important Venezuelans in history whether we like it or not. Like any historical personality, the decisions he made throughout both of his contradictory administrations paved much of the path in which we find ourselves today. His constant contradictions, however, make his contributions so fascinating and yet so complex to study for my generation. On one hand, Pérez’s ambitious establishment of a Saudi Venezuela in the 1970s created an unsustainable reality that made the ta’ barato dame dos period a time of profound cultural impact that yielded him massive political support. On the other hand, but with similar resolve, Pérez becomes aware of the mistakes from his first administration and tries to solve them through a technocratic approach but fighting against the entire political class and without any consideration for the sociopolitical situation, leading to a political crisis that would prove the perfect trampoline for a figure like Hugo Chávez to jump into the national stage and change the course of Venezuelan history forever.
In a not-so-indirect way, my generation carries the historical baggage that the Gocho left us. The overconfidence and stratospheric ambition of the man is one of the direct causes for chavismo’s rise to power. Yet, CAP’s most emblematic quality is his compromise with democracy and his fight until the very end of his days to uphold it, a fight that at the time, much of the Venezuelan population yearning the days of oil bonanza decided to ignore in exchange of empty promises of great prosperity by a young lieutenant colonel. Venezuelan society opened the doors for chavismo and this decision left the subsequent generations of young Venezuelans like me with an impossible fight. We are tasked to face the crossroads of risking our liberty and life attempting to restore a healthy democracy we never experienced, while trying to avoid the historical errors that created the present situation in the first place. Carlos Oteyza’s work in CAP Inédito makes a great job at showing a little-known period of Carlos Andrés Pérez’s life and by doing that, it provides a great window for younger viewers to understand the anatomy of the Venezuelan political collapse and thus better comprehend the impact of the legacy of one the most consequential men to come from the Venezuelan Andes two decades after his political death.
You can watch CAP Inédito: Conversaciones desde la soledad online here
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