Perez shows a caricature he received for his 73rd birthday while serving house arrest in Caracas in 1995 [AFP]

Carlos Andres Perez, the 88-year-old former president of venezuela, has died in a Miami hospital, according to his family.

"He was happy and well when he awoke this morning. Suddenly he had difficulty breathing," Maria Francia Perez, his daughter, told the Associated Press news agency on Saturday.

She told the Venezuelan television channel Globovision he died of a heart attack.

Perez's popularity soared with Venezuela's oil-based economy, but he later faced riots, a severe economic downturn and impeachment.

In the final years of his life, Perez came to personify the old guard Venezuelan political establishment which is bitterly opposed by Hugo Chavez, the current president.

Perez survived two coup attempts in 1992, the first of which was led by Chavez, who was then a young army lieutenant colonel.

In recent years, Perez lived in Miami as the Venezuelan government demanded he be turned over to stand trail for his role in putting down bloody 1989 riots.

Perez - who governed Venezuela from 1974-79 and again from 1989-93 - denied any wrongdoing.

His second stint in office was marred by corruption scandals and saw him leave office accused of fraud.   

Source: Agencies