Venezuelan ex-prez wife insists homeland burial

AP News
Posted: Apr 14, 2011 12:54 PM
Venezuelan ex-prez wife insists homeland burial

The estranged wife of deceased former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez insists in court documents that her husband wanted to be buried in his homeland next to a daughter who died in 1994 and that it would not matter whether his political foe Hugo Chavez were the country's leader.

"It is inconceivable to anyone who really knew my husband that he would want his final resting place to be anywhere other than Venezuela, regardless of what political regime happened to be in power at the time of his death," Blanca Rodriguez de Perez said in an affidavit.

She also said she has "no doubt" that Perez wanted to be buried in a plot Venezuela next to their daughter, Thais, who died at age 43 in November of 1994. The couple had six children in all.

"Thais was the child that always made my husband laugh and they would often dance together," Rodriguez de Perez said in the affidavit. "A death of a child is a terrible blow to any parent, but Thais' death was especially painful for my husband."

The affidavit is part of a monthslong struggle over burial rights between Perez's Venezuelan wife and his decades-long companion, Cecilia Matos, who lived with him in Miami. Perez, who was Venezuela's president from 1974-79 and 1989-93, died in Miami on Dec. 25 at age 88. He left no written burial instructions.

The wife's affidavit, signed on March 25, is part of a Florida appeals court filing in a dispute over whether Perez should be entombed temporarily in a crypt until the matter is settled. Circuit Judge Arthur Rothenberg ordered the temporary tomb on March 1, but Perez's body remains in a mortuary refrigeration unit while lawyers for Rodriguez de Perez pursue an appeal.

Matos contends that Perez would not return in life or death to Venezuela with Chavez in power. She also said she purchased a pair of Miami burial plots in recent years, which her lawyers contend is evidence of Perez's true intentions.

Rodriguez de Perez also said in her affidavit that she spoke with her husband weekly on the phone after he left Venezuela in August 1999 and that he always made it clear he would return one day. She said their talks ceased in 2003 after Perez had a debilitating stroke.

Matos' attorney Rebecca Fischer, however, said there are many witnesses who will testify that Perez and his wife didn't speak to each other even when they were living in Venezuela.

"My understanding is that any contact he had with the family was with the children," Fischer said in an email.

Fischer also said Rodriguez de Perez's claims that her husband could not communicate after the stroke are false.

"We have a significant number of witnesses unrelated to the family who will testify otherwise right up to the end," she said.

In addition to the temporary burial issue, the 3rd District Court of Appeal is also being asked by Rodriguez de Perez to overturn several other rulings by Rothenberg, including an order freezing her husband's assets in Venezuela and requiring a list of those assets.

Trial on the main issue of where Perez will finally be buried is scheduled for August.