Venezuelan Ex-President's Body Heads Home

For months, his body has been stuck in legal purgatory. But former Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez finally began the journey home Monday.

More than nine months after he died - Pérez's body has been in exile in Miami and following a settlement of a tense family feud over his final resting place.

Pérez's casket, wrapped in a Venezuelan flag, was loaded into a hearse at a mausoleum where the remains had been kept temporarily since June. Alex González, attorney for Pérez's estranged wife and family in Venezuela, said the body would be flown to Caracas on Tuesday.

A public viewing is scheduled Wednesday, followed by a funeral mass and burial on Thursday, González said. There are no plans for Venezuelan government involvement or any kind of state funeral.

Pérez died in Miami on Dec. 25 at age 88, triggering a lengthy legal battle over whether he would be buried in Venezuela or the U.S. Pérez, who left no written burial instructions, was president of Venezuela from 1974-79 and again from 1989-93.

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Pérez's estranged wife, Blanca Rodriguez de Pérez, 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 Pérez 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 Pérez back to his homeland.

"The family's goal from the beginning was that the president return to Venezuela so he can be laid to rest. That goal has been accomplished," said González, the estranged wife's attorney. "The former president of the Republic of Venezuela should be buried in Venezuela."

No representatives of the Matos side attended Monday's movement of the casket. The Matos family issued a statement criticizing González for failing to keep them informed of plans.

"He apparently has ample free time to keep the press informed regarding the details but lacks in enough human decency to inform us or our attorneys of the same," the statement said.

González said he simply answered questions from reporters about the movement of Pérez's remains.

"I bear the Matos family no ill will. Had anyone contacted me, I would have shared the same information with them," he said.

The settlement also covered papers, computer files, memorabilia and other presidential artifacts that Pérez 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.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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