Opposition hopeful Pablo Martin Perez Alvarez, more commonly referred to as Pablo Perez, is the brainchild of fugitive opposition politician Manuel Rosales. Having fled the country in 2009 to avoid charges of corruption, Rosales announced the Perez candidacy via Skype, from his self-imposed exile in Peru, on August 17, 2011.
Suggesting a Perez presidency would allow him to return to Venezuela, Rosales affirmed that Perez, “is our North and the hope for all those of us who suffer”. Perez, who owes his political career to Rosales, has been Governor of Zulia since 2008. In charge of a border state with numerous socio-economic issues associated with neighboring Colombia, Perez is using his remaining time in office to garner favor within the Venezuelan opposition and secure the presidential nomination of the Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD), or Democratic Unity Roundtable in English.
Scheduled for February 12, 2012, the opposition primaries are part of a US-backed strategy to bring together opposition forces in an attempt to defeat Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in presidential elections set for October 7, 2012. The Perez candidacy, however, is marred by the fact that that Rosales tried the same strategy in the country’s previous presidential election (December 2006) and was easily defeated by the widely-popular socialist President.
Chavez won that election by some 3 million votes, obtaining 7,161,637 (62.89%) votes to Rosales’ 4,196,329 (36.85%). President Chavez, who is expected to sweep the elections, has committed to “deepen, push forward, and consolidate” the Bolivarian Revolution’s platform of ‘21st Century Socialism’ during his next presidential term (2013-2019).
PROMISING THE PAST
Son of former Democratic Action (AD) lawmaker Pablo Perez Herrera, Pablo Perez Jr. was born and raised in a “Fouth Republic” (the political period in Venezuela from 1958-1998) household. Known in Zulia as an ‘AD Family,’ political life for the Perez’s is said to have begun after Pablo’s grandmother, Amalia Herrera de Perez, helped organize AD’s first clandestine bases of support against the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez (1952-1958).
Speaking to reporters in August 2011, Perez Jr. jokingly affirmed that his “first diapers were changed in AD headquarters”. Reports indicate that the Perez family maintained close personal ties to former AD President Carlos Andres Perez (1974-1979, 1989-1993), and that Carlos Andres was the godfather of one of Perez’s brothers, named Carlos Andres Perez Alvarez.
Former president Carlos Andres Perez is one of AD’s most prized politicians, though his attempts to implement neo-liberal reforms provoked a massive popular revolt (El Caracazo) to which his government responded with fierce repression. Carlos Andres spent the six years following his second presidency under house arrest for fraud and misuse of public funds and he later left the country, living in the Dominican Republic and the United States before passing away last year in Miami, Florida.
Before he became Governor of Zulia, Pablo Perez studied law at the Universidad de Zulia(LUZ) and is said to have spent most of his time engaged in both student politics and sports. While at the university, Perez was openly supported by AD’s student movement at a time in which numerous factions of 4th Republic parties were vying for control of university politics. Before graduating in 1994, Perez was named AD’s Regional Director for Universities.
Immediately after graduating, Perez became a staff member of then Mayor of Maracaibo, capital of Zulia State, Manuel Rosales. Among other tasks he was assigned by Rosales, Perez was made chief legal advisor to the Maracaibo Municipal Council. In 1999, just as the Bolivarian Revolution was delivering on its promise to found the 5th Republic (1999 – present), Rosales, Perez, and numerous other professional AD politicians broke from the party and established their own, regional force. Named Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT), or A New Time in English, and heavily subsidized by US agencies, the newly-founded UNT helped Rosales win the governorship of Zulia one year later.
Governor Rosales, appreciative of Perez’s loyalties, made the young politician his Private Secretary. In 2004, Perez made his first attempt at winning office in the mayoral campaign for Maracaibo. After trying, and failing, to defeat Chavez-backed Giancarlo Di Martino, Perez decided to wait out the Rosales governorship and, in 2008, was elected Governor of Zulia. Perez’s campaign was backed by UNT, AD, and the Social Christian Democrats (COPEI), among others.
Just months into his term, Perez lost his closest political ally after Manuel Rosales fled the country to avoid charges he used his time as governor to misappropriate public funds for his own personal benefit, using these moneies, for example, to make illegal land purchases.
As governor of Zulia, Perez has been accused of helping Colombian paramilitary forces enter the country as part of destabilization plans aimed at toppling the Chavez government. Earlier this year, neighboring Apure State Governor Ramon Carrizalez accused Perez of using his role in office to “make frequent trips into and out of Colombia” and “making agreements to bring in paramilitaries to sow anxiety and violence in the region”.
These claims was first made public by former Colombian intelligence chief, Rafael Garcia, who accused former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and members of the Venezuelan opposition of using “paramilitary forces to conspire against the Chavez government”. According to Jose Pereira, Regional Coordinator of the Bolivarian Circles along the Venezuela- Colombia border, Governor Perez has “tried to force the Chavez government into militarizing the zone and creating a state of war…bringing about bloodshed so as to point fingers later down the line”.
Though Perez denies any wrongdoing, Zulia has seen a dramatic increase in paramilitary violence since he took office just three years ago, including an increased presence of the feared, Colombia-based paramilitary group, Las Aguilas Negras, or The Black Eagles in English. Largely unknown in national politics before becoming governor, Perez won a great deal of favor in opposition circles after he helped the MUD win numerous seats in last year’s parliamentary elections. Using the governorship to campaign for MUD candidates, Perez helped the opposition take 13 of the 15 seats available to Zulia in the National Assembly.
Since announcing his bid for the opposition’s presidential ticket, the Rosales brainchild turned governor has received several important endorsements from within the country’s anti- Chavez minority. Apart from the obvious support of his own, UNT Party, Perez is now officially backed by both the 4th Republic’s AD and COPEI.