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Venezuela

Miami-Caracas Telenovela: Feud Over Ex-Venezuelan Leader's Funeral

Estranged wife, longtime mistress battle over where to bury former President Carlos Andrés Pérez

Carlos Andrés Pérez

EYES INSIDE - LATIN AMERICA


When Carlos Andrés Pérez was serving his second term as president of Venezuela (1989-93), the press and political insiders knew about Cecilia Matos, although her name never appeared in print. It was an unwritten rule among Venezuelan newspapers editors and television and radio news directors to never write about or mention Matos.

She was his secretary when the Social Democrat served as interior minister in the 1960s, and at some point began a love affair with the married Pérez. But by 1992, she was considered one of the country's most powerful women, and the perception that she was serving as his de facto vice president helped contribute to Pérez's eventual downfall.

Matos' name is now splashed all over the news in Venezuela, and beyond, as she and Pérez's estranged wife and former first lady Blanquita Rodríguez have launched a court battle over his remains. The former president, popularly known by his initials CAP, suffered a fatal heart attack on Christmas Day at the age of 88. He died in Miami, where he had been living in exile with his longtime mistress and their two daughters.

"May he rest in peace. But with him... may the form of politics that he personified rest in peace and leave here forever," said Pérez's longtime foe, President Hugo Chávez, who led an unsuccessful coup against him in 1992. Chávez said that he would allow Pérez to be buried in his native country.

But in an interview two days following his death, one of the daughters, Cecilia Victoria Pérez, told the Venezuelan news channel Globovision that her father's remains would be buried in his home country "when there is true democracy" and not while Chávez is in power.

Following her comments, the former first lady and her children filed an injunction in a Miami court to have the body flown back to Venezuela for burial. In her court filing, Rodríguez said that she and Pérez were never legally divorced, according to Efe News Agency.

At first, Matos and her two daughters said they wouldn't fight Rodríguez's request to repatriate the body. "The Pérez Matos family isn't going to block any action by the Pérez Rodríguez family" to repatriate the remains, she and her two daughters said in a statement issued to the AFP and reprinted in the Caracas daily Ultimas Noticias. "Repatriation is a way to render tribute to him."

Even José Hernández Borgo, Venezuela's consul in Miami, told Globovision that the remains could be sent to Venezuela as soon as all the paperwork was done.

But by Tuesday the Matos family said they had never agreed to send the body home. Carolina Pérez Rodríguez, CAP's daughter by Blanquita, told Globovision that she was surprised by the Matos' family's change of heart. "We tried to contact them, and their lawyers told our lawyers that at not one given moment had they agreed to have my father's remains sent to Venezuela."

The operatic end is reminiscent of the 1996 funeral of former French President François Mitterand, attended by both his wife and his longtime mistress, and their respective daughters that he'd fathered. The existence of the mistress, Anne Pingeot and their daughter, Mazarine, was revealed only months before Mitterand left office in 1995 by Paris Match magazine.

Pérez has been out of the public eye much longer. He was impeached in 1993 and had served two years in prison on corruption charges before going into exile in 1999. While abroad, the Venezuelan courts had issued another arrest warrant for him in connection with an investigation into the deaths of at least 276 people who were killed in violent rioting that took place in 1989 over austerity measures he had imposed at the beginning of his second term. The former president had long charged that he was being persecuted by Chávez's government.

Martin Delfín

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