Judge: temporary tomb for ex-Venezuelan president

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2011 5:34 PM
Judge: temporary tomb for ex-Venezuelan president

A judge on Tuesday ordered the body of former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez temporarily placed in a Florida tomb to allow more time to settle a dispute between his estranged wife and his longtime companion over his final burial site.

Circuit Judge Arthur Rothenberg cited a duty to have the body interred more than two months after Perez's Dec. 25 death in Miami at age 88. Rothenberg said criminal charges have been brought in other states when a body remains unburied for such a long time.

"One must add the overriding concern for the dignity of Carlos Andres Perez _ that he be treated with honor and respect, as much in death as in life," Rothenberg wrote.

The order won't take effect immediately, providing time for possible review by Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal. Perez's estranged wife, Blanca Rodriguez de Perez, objected to the temporary entombment because it would make an open-casket funeral impossible.

Rothenberg's order indicated that may not matter, because it appears the case could drag into the summer, "well beyond the most optimistic testimony regarding intact preservation of earthly remains, even those which have been embalmed and kept refrigerated."

One daughter of Perez and his estranged wife in Caracas, Venezuela, said her family wants a final burial decision soon and will discuss with attorneys whether to appeal moving her father's body from a funeral home refrigeration unit to the temporary crypt.

"What we want is for my father's remains to rest in peace," Carolina Perez Rodriguez told The Associated Press by telephone, speaking in Spanish. "They aren't going to rest because moving him to a crypt now, only to move him later on to another crypt or to a coffin ... It's better to leave him there."

One of two daughters of Perez and his companion, Cecilia Matos, said her family was pleased with the ruling.

"The dignity of our father should be the priority," Cecilia Perez Matos said.

As the surviving spouse, Rodriguez de Perez contends she has the right under Florida law to take her husband's body back to Venezuela, where Perez was president from 1974-79 and from 1989-93. Matos contends that Perez adamantly opposed burial in Venezuela as long as his bitter political enemy Hugo Chavez remained president and that the couple had bought two crypts for U.S. burial.

The order Tuesday says that placing Perez's body in an aboveground tomb for now will give neither side an advantage in the ultimate outcome and will prevent a rush to judgment.

"The issues can be fully explored by the parties and presented in a tranquil environment, free of haste which so often results in error," Rothenberg wrote.

Trial of the feud is currently scheduled to begin March 21, but Rothenberg plans to set a new date after conferring with both sides.

The judge last month appointed a curator to inventory assets, historical items, papers, artwork and computer files Perez had in Miami. Rodriguez de Perez's attorney, Juan Antunez, accused the Matos side of moving items to a warehouse in an effort to hide them.

The Matos side, meanwhile, contended that the items were moved for safekeeping and to guard against possible theft by Venezuelan agents.

Perez had a mixed record in Venezuela, popular in his first term for a period of prosperity after he nationalized the country's oil industry. Perez's popularity plunged in his second term as he backed economic austerity programs that included hiking subsidized gasoline prices. Anger among the poor boiled over in 1989 riots that left hundreds dead.

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

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Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this story from Caracas, Venezuela.