After Chavez, Carlos Andres Perez has been the most controversial president in the last century (twice elected, in 1973 and 1988). And he also was the first populist president of Venezuela even though with Chavez we had to redefine the populist terminology....
Four men have marked Venezuelan politics in the last century of our republican or not so republican existence. The first one was of course the long dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gomez who at least had the virtue of ending the never ending succession of local caudillo revolts that made Venezuela a chaos all through the XIX century.
The second one was Romulo Betancourt who for all his faults had always a clear goal in mind: transform Venezuela into an elective political system where social justice would be a compass. The third one was Rafael Caldera who demonstrated that political alternativeness was a possibility in Venezuela even though he managed to do that espousing some of the vices of the Adecos of Romulo Betancourt. The fourth one was Carlos Andres Perez, CAP in his campaigns (for his death on Christmas day El Universal has a photo gallery of some of his main political moments).
It is very easy to speak ill of CAP. It is certainly true that populism became the political modus operandi during his first tenure. But it is also true that in his second tenure he tried to get away of that corrosion.
It is very easy to accuse him of all sorts of corruption, but it should also go along with some of modern ideas he brought to the country such as new and large national parks, or sending thousand of kids overseas to soak in new technologies and new ways of thinking.
For all the criticism we can throw at him it remains that he is vindicated today because whatever corruption happened under his tenure it has been dwarfed, by orders of magnitude, by the corruption we see today. And if his tenures were corrupt they also were productive in many aspects, something that still needs to be achieved with any, ANY of Chavez programs.
It is not that I am trying to defend CAP: I did like him at first, specially when he created new National Parks rescuing areas that were all but doomed. I also was one of the Fundayacucho kids. But I was bitterly opposed to his reelection sensing that this was not the way Venezuelan democracy had to go, something confirmed when the subsequent reelection of Caldera paved the way for Chavez. The political culture of the masses in Venezuela has remained rather primitive and loves a good caudillo; thus reelections IMO should be banned because with such a culture the populist temptation is always too strong to resist, the more so if oil prices are high.
But when everything is said and done the regime of Hugo Chavez will have been the great rehabilitation of CAP even though CAP was Chavez demon. Because you know what? When CAP was put on trial he left power without anything more than the legal fight. CAP was a democrat. And Chavez has demonstrated that he is not, and thus Chavez will always be the lesser man to CAP, no matter hate crazed chavistas may scream.