CARACAS, Venezuela -- Jaime Lusinchi, who overcame political imprisonment and torture under military rule, took the oath today as Venezuela's president and pledged his oil-rich country will repay its multibillion dollar foreign debt.
Lusinchi, 59, an American-trained pediatrician, was sworn-in for a five-year term as the sixth elected president of Venezuela, in a ceremony attended by Secretary of State George Shultz at the dome-shaped National Congress building just across from the Plaza Bolivar.
Thousands of people, waving Venezuelan flags, gathered outside Congress and along the streets from the building to the National Pantheon, tomb of Venezuela's independence hero Simon Bolivar, where Lusinchi was to lay a wreath before proceeding to the presidential palace of Miraflores and a lucheon with visiting heads of state.
Police and soldiers with machine guns lined the streets of downtown Caracas as part of strict security measures for some 150 dignataries attending the inauguration. Guests included Shultz, Argentine President Raul Alfonsin, Nicaraguan junta coordinator Daniel Ortega, Colombian President Belisario Betancur, Panamanian President Ricardo De La Espriella and Dominican President Salvador Jorge Blanco.
'Venezuela will pay ... to the last cent,' Lusinchi vowed in his inaugural speech referring to Venezuela's foreign debt estimated at approximately $35 billion to some 450 international banks.
'I will firmly face' the country's foreign debt obligations and 'Venezuela will pay all it owes,' said Lusinchi, who won a lanslide victory in the Dec. 4 presidential elections.
The new Venezuelan head of state succeeds Christian Democratic President Luis Herrera Campins, who tried for a year to restructure the foreign debt, but failed.
During his speech, Luisinchi, a member of the liberal Democratic Action Party, also highlighted the many economic and social difficulties he inherited including a battered economy, 14 percent unemployment and worsening administrative corruption. He is the fourth leader of his party elected president since military rule ended in 1958.
Lusinchi assumes the presidency as Venezuela, which imports most of its food and pays for it out of some $15 billion in annual oil revenues, suffers from serious recession and unemployment.
He promised to create jobs, revive agricultural production and restructure the $35 billion foreign debt to 450 international banks.
Lusinchi also has offered to negotiate a 'social pact' -- a price and wage accord that would benefit both workers and employers and avert sharp hikes in inflation, currently set at about 7 percent.
He said he would back the Central American peace efforts of the Contadora nations, of which Venezuela is a member. The group also comprises Columbia, Panama, and Mexico.
Lusinchi has also said Venezuela would observe price and production quotas of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which it is a founding member.
In 1952, during the dictatorship of Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez, Lusinchi was imprisoned for two months and beaten with a sword. He was exiled to Argentina, where he lived for eight months before moving to Chile.
Five years later, he moved to New York City where he interned at Bellevue and Lincoln hospitals and earned a master's degree in pediatrics at New York University.