Body of former president returns to Venezuela

October 4, 2011 - 10:35 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The remains of former President Carlos Andres Perez arrived in Venezuela on Tuesday, nine months after his death in Miami set off a bitter family feud over his final resting place.

The embalmed body of Venezuela's former leader had remained in limbo, kept for a time in cold storage in a Miami mortuary then in a Florida mausoleum, while the families of his former first lady and his longtime mistress battled in court over whether he should be buried in Venezuela or the United States.

Edgar Zambrano, one of Perez's former confidants, said a casket bearing the remains of the former Venezuelan president arrived on a plane that departed from Atlanta, Georgia.

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, a one-time friend of Perez who escorted the casket to Venezuela, lamented Perez's death and his trip to bring back the ex-president's remains.

"It's an burdensome mission: Retrieving a friend who left us," Ledezma told Union Radio. "We must understand that friendship does not die along with the men who leave us physically."

Perez died on Dec. 25 at age 88. His estranged wife, Blanca Rodriguez de Perez, insisted she had the right under Florida law as surviving spouse to bring her husband's body home. But his longtime companion in Miami, Cecilia Matos, contended that Perez vowed repeatedly never to return as long as political arch-nemesis Hugo Chavez was president.

After months of negotiations, a confidential settlement was reached in August that is sending Perez back to his homeland.

The settlement also covered papers, computer files, memorabilia and other presidential artifacts that Perez had in Miami when he died. A court-appointed curator has been cataloguing all of the material, but no details have been released on where it will end up.

Perez was president from 1974-1979 and again from 1989-1993, surviving two failed coup attempts, including one led by Chavez. He left the country in 2000, facing the threat of arrest on corruption accusations, and did not return.

Alex Gonzalez, attorney for Perez's estranged wife and family in Venezuela, said Monday that a public viewing is scheduled Wednesday, followed by a funeral mass and burial on Thursday.

There are no plans for Venezuelan government involvement or any kind of state funeral.

Perez was born on Oct. 27, 1922, near the town of Rubio in western Tachira state. Perez, who was widely referred to by his supporters and opponents as CAP — his initials — started his political career as a youth leader and founder of Democratic Action, a center-left party that dominated politics for decades before Chavez's rise to power in 1999.

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Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.