Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez, Venezuela's last military dictator, died Thursday. He was 87.
Perez Jimenez died of a heart attack in his home in Madrid, Spain, where he lived in self-imposed exile, his daughter, Flor Perez Jimenez, told local Globovision television.
Perez Jimenez ruled Venezuela from 1952 to 1958, when he was ousted in a bloodless coup, which ushered in 43 years of uninterrupted democratic rule--the longest-standing democracy in Latin America.
Born in 1914 in the western state of Tachira, Perez Jimenez was educated at military colleges in Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. He participated in a military coup that ousted the dictatorship of Gen. Isaias Medina Angarita in 1945, helping to install the democratic government of President Romulo Gallegos. But in 1948, Perez Jimenez led a coup that ousted Gallegos.
A junta of three military officers ruled Venezuela until 1952, when Perez Jimenez declared himself president. His regime was backed by a security force that silenced opposition leaders by jailing and torturing them.
During his term, he created grandiose public works, including a highway that connects Caracas to the northern coast.
In 1957, he was elected to a five-year term in a vote widely considered fraudulent. But his regime had lost public support, and a clandestine movement to overthrow him, led by the Democratic Action party, gained force.
On January 23, 1958, a popular uprising backed by the military forced Perez Jimenez and his family to flee to the Dominican Republic and then to the U.S.
In 1963, the U.S. extradited him to Venezuela, where he was tried and sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $250 million. Freed in 1968, Perez Jimenez moved to Madrid.