Temporary US crypt set for Venezuelan ex-president

By CURT ANDERSON | June 21, 2011 | 3:00 PM EDT

MIAMI (AP) — A tentative agreement has been reached for the temporary U.S. entombment of the remains of former Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, nearly six months after his death. But his final resting place is far from settled.

Attorneys for Perez's estranged wife in Venezuela and his longtime companion in Miami said Tuesday they would accept the recommendation of a court-appointed curator to place the body in an above-ground crypt in a South Florida mausoleum. Perez's remains have been kept "under refrigerated management" at a mortuary since his death Dec. 25 at the age 88, according to court documents.

In February, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Arthur Rothenberg ordered the temporary entombment out of respect for the former president and to preserve Perez's dignity. But it took months more to get that accomplished, mainly because Perez's estranged wife appealed the ruling and eventually lost.

An August trial is scheduled on the competing claims by the wife, Blanca Rodriguez de Perez, and the companion, Cecilia Matos, over who has rights to decide where Perez is ultimately buried. Perez left no burial instructions, and Rodriguez contends under Florida law as surviving spouse that she has the power to bury the body in Venezuela.

Matos, however, insists that Perez made it clear that he would never return to Venezuela as long as political arch-foe Hugo Chavez was that country's president. Perez was Venezuela's president from 1974-79 and 1989-93. After leaving office, Perez had lived in Miami for years with Matos, his former secretary.

Under the agreement, which still must be ratified by the judge, Perez's body is to be taken by hearse from the funeral home to a mausoleum at Flagler Memorial Park in Miami. Total cost, which would be shared by both sides, would be $5,175, according to curator Enrique Zamora's report.

The document notes that Perez's remains are kept in a copper casket, which is "designed to seal immediately without allowing anything to seep inside or outside of the casket once closed." There would be no funeral, but both sides agreed that "families and their counsel would be present at the entombment, with the least amount of publicity possible."

Juan Antunez, attorney for Perez's estranged wife, said his client accepts the recommendation. Cecilia Victoria Perez Matos, one of two grown daughters of Perez and Matos, said her family was ready to agree with whatever decision the curator made.

"The important point is to bury him," she said. "We want to know what will happen next."


Curt Anderson is on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt