02 Feb 1984 - 02 Feb 1989 - Jaime Ramón Lusinchi
By historical standards, the 1983 electoral campaign was a dull affair. Enjoying a substantial lead in opinion polls from the start, the social democratic Acción Democrática (AD Democratic Action Party) candidate Jaime Lusinchi coasted to an easy victory over former president Caldera, who was burdened with both the miserable record of the outgoing COPEI administration and the undisguised hostility of his fellow copeyano, President Herrera. Lusinchi, a physician with no previous administrative experience, ran a campaign that focused on the failings of the Herrera administration, and won the contest on December 4 with 56.8 percent of the valid vote, the highest percentage gained by a candidate since the dawn of the democratic era in 1958. Caldera gained 34.9 percent, while the combined vote of the two candidates on the left totaled 7.4 percent.
Although the 1983 elections again demonstrated the predominance of the two major parties, the record of ineffective government (known locally as desgobierno), corruption, an increasing foreign debt, and a growing list of unaddressed socioeconomic problems all contributed to a widespread disillusionment with the political process among the electorate. After twenty-five years of gradual consolidation of democracy in Venezuela, doubts had emerged as to the future stability of the much-cherished democratic political process that had proven so elusive before 1958.
Agriculture recorded its worst growth in years in the early 1980s, and the decade saw successive programs designed to revive agriculture in the face of a weakened economy. Government policies toward the sector often alternated between deregulation and extensive government intervention, with the latter being the more typical response. In 1984 the Lusinchi administration confronted rural stagnation with a multifaceted program of producer and consumer subsidies, import protection, and exchange rate preferences. The plan also reduced interests rates on agricultural loans through scores of government development finance institutions serving the sector. Government decrees also required commercial banks to hold at least 22.5 percent of their loan portfolios in agriculture. Farmers were exempt from income taxes. These measures paid off handsomely in the short run. During one five-year period of expansion, for example, annual growth rates in the agricultural sector reached 8 percent in 1984 and 1985. The government's program to resuscitate the rural economy, however, was extremely costly because it entailed high levels of subsidization.
The government of Jaime Lusinchi (president, 1984-89) attempted to reverse the 1983 economic crisis through devaluations of the currency, a multi-tier exchange-rate system, greater import protection, increased attention to agriculture and food self-sufficiency, and generous use of producer and consumer subsidies. These 1983 reforms stimulated a recovery from the negative growth rates of 1980-81 and the stagnation of 1982 with sustained modest growth from 1985 to 1988. By 1989, however, the economy could no longer support the high rates of subsidies and the increasing foreign debt burden, particularly in light of the nearly 50 percent reduction of the price of oil during 1986.
Jaime Lusinchi (president, 1984-89) sought to retain Venezuela's creditworthiness by paying the interest on its US$32 billion foreign debt, but was sadly disappointed when his gestures were not tangibly rewarded by foreign bankers. Bankers praised Venezuela's political courage and agreed on the country's long-term prospects, but they declined to approve new loans to Lusinchi's government. The ensuing economic crisis forced the government to devalue the currency; as inflation and unemployment soared, Venezuelans again felt vulnerable at the hands of the "multinationals."
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