Chávez Bids Half-Hearted Farewell to Former Rival President

En esta foto sin fecha distribuida por la familia de Carlos Andrés Pérez, aparece el ex mandatario venezolano en su casa en Miami. Pérez falleció el sábado 25 de diciembre del 2010  (AP Foto/familia de Carlos Andres Pérez)

En esta foto sin fecha distribuida por la familia de Carlos Andrés Pérez, aparece el ex mandatario venezolano en su casa en Miami. Pérez falleció el sábado 25 de diciembre del 2010 (AP Foto/familia de Carlos Andres Pérez)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez sent his regrets to the family of former president Carlos Andrés Pérez, but added that he hopes the leader's politics rests in peace with him.

Chávez said the family can bring Pérez, who died Saturday at the age of 88, to Venezuela if they wish. The kind gesture was quickly followed by a cheap shot, however.

"May he rest in peace. But with him... may the form of politics that he personified rest in peace and leave here forever," Chávez said in a televised speech in western Venezuela, accompanied by Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Pérez's family said the funeral will be held in Miami, where the former president, who served from 1974 to 1979 and again from 1989 to 1993, passed away.

Chávez sent his condolences to the family, but said Pérez led governments that violated citizens' rights and were subservient to U.S. interests.

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"We send his relatives our regrets, our regrets, and our wish that that old, egotistical.. way of doing politics never again returns to Venezuela," Chávez said.

He said a relative of Pérez had asked someone close to the government for permission to fly the body to Venezuela for burial, and Chávez said "they have every right."

But relatives in Miami said they have no intention of returning his remains to Venezuela until Chávez is no longer in office. 

They said Pérez died of respiratory failure and would be viewed on Tuesday and buried on Wednesday.

One of Pérez's daughters, María Francia Pérez, said neither she nor her sister had contacted the Venezuelan government, and that her father "was never in agreement with returning with antidemocratic governments like the current one" in power. Pérez also had other children from a previous marriage.

Other Latin American leaders, meanwhile, offered praise for Pérez.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in a statement that he had a great personal relationship with Pérez, expressing condolences to his family and describing Pérez as a "statesman."

Peruvian President Alan García told reporters in Lima that "like any politician, he was a man often argued about," but that "he was very democratic."

Pérez lived out his final years in Miami while Chávez's government demanded he be turned over to stand trial for his role in quelling bloody 1989 riots in Caracas.

Pérez, who largely dropped out of the public eye after a 2003 stroke, denied wrongdoing. In a statement issued by his office earlier this year, he accusing the Supreme Court of doing Chávez's bidding after it approved plans to request his extradition.

Venezuela's main opposition coalition said in statement that Pérez was for years "one of the principal promoters of democracy in Latin America."

In his first term in the 1970s, he 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.

He became one of Latin America's most prominent political leaders, popularly known after his initials as "CAP."

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 including increasing the subsidized prices of gasoline. Anger among the poor boiled over in the 1989 riots and more than 300 people were killed in the unrest known as the "Caracazo." Some activists put the death toll much higher.

Pérez came to personify the old guard political establishment bitterly opposed by Chávez. Pérez survived two coup attempts in 1992, the first led by Chávez, who was then a young army lieutenant colonel.

Diego Arria, a close ally who was governor of Caracas and also minister of information and tourism during Pérez's first term, described him as a democrat and "the opposite image" of Chávez.

Arria -- who was also ambassador to the U.N. during Perez's second term -- accused Chávez of trying to kill Pérez and his family during the coup.

Chávez spent two years in prison for leading the coup attempt and was pardoned in 1994 by then-President Rafael Caldera. Chávez has called it a legitimate rebellion against a government that he felt betrayed the country's interests.

While he was in office, Perez's popularity rose and fell with the economic situation. Even as he faced domestic troubles, though, he sought international involvement.

He helped promote talks to end wars in Central America in the 1980s, and when Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 1991, he sent a plane for him. Then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush at the time called Perez one of the hemisphere's great democratic leaders.

Venezuela's Congress impeached Pérez on corruption charges in 1993 and he was placed under house arrest.

The Supreme Court convicted him in May 1996 of misspending $17 million in public funds. He denied it, calling the accusations politically motivated.

Pérez spent more than two years under house arrest, then was released in September 1996.

He was elected senator in 1998, but later left Venezuela after Chávez closed the congress in 1999 to elect a new one under a new constitution. Starting in 2000, Pérez spent his time in New York, the Dominican Republic and Miami.

Members of his party Democratic Action announced in 2008 that Pérez hoped to return to Venezuela and held talks with judicial officials on that possibility.

"He always wanted to return to Venezuela, but that isn't possible until Mr. Chávez is no longer in power," Perez's daughter Cecilia Victoria said in Miami.

She urged Venezuelans to honor his legacy by standing up for democracy under Chávez, who faces re-election in 2012.

Written by Ian James of the Associated Press.

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