Vandals in Venezuela target ex-president's tomb

AP News
Posted: Jun 15, 2016 9:33 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Vandals have desecrated the tomb of Romulo Gallegos, a former president and the country's most-beloved novelist, his family said.

The apparent defacing of Gallegos' grave in a Caracas cemetery is the latest and most-shocking case of grave robbery in the increasingly lawless nation. It was reported Wednesday by Gallegos' granddaughter, who said that with the attack on the tomb a piece of Venezuela's history had been stolen.

"They stole my history and part of every Venezuelan's history," Theotiste Gallegos said on Facebook. Alongside her post were photos of a grave with its marble tombstones thrown wide open and covered in red earth.

Gallegos was author of Venezuela's best-known novel, the 1929 classic "Dona Barbara." He won the first fully democratic presidential elections in 1947 but was overthrown nine months later in a military coup.

Robbing crypts for marble and to supply bones to practitioners of Voodoo religions has long plagued Venezuela. But some say such crimes are becoming more frequent as the country spins further out of control and an economic crisis forces Venezuelans scrounge for anything of value.

While opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro expressed outrage, pro-government allies accused them of trying to score political points and raised doubts about the veracity of the reports.

Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez said he would request permission from Gallegos' family to send a prosecutor to investigate. He also ordered around-the-clock security to protect the tomb.

Meanwhile, Culture Minister Freddy Nanez blasted a photo on social media standing over what looks like Gallegos' recently cemented-over tomb. He criticized the act of vandalism but said luckily the writer's remains hadn't been removed. The former president's daughter, Sonia Gallegos, also said nothing was stolen.

The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the extent of the damage.

Reports also surfaced that a second former president had his tomb damaged in the same General Cemetery. The son of former military rule Isaias Medina Angarita, whose presidency preceded Gallegos by a few years, told El Nacional newspaper that his father's grave had also been vandalized.