MIAMI - Capping a series of events straight out of a telenovela, the mistress of charismatic and controversial former Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez agreed yesterday to honor his estranged wife's wishes and allow his body to be buried in his homeland.
Perez's longtime partner Cecilia Matos and the couple's two adult daughters had planned to bury him in South Florida after a Mass yesterday.
But less than 24 hours before the ceremony, lawyers for wife Blanca Rodriguez de Perez went to court and convinced a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge to issue an order stopping it.
One of his daughters with Matos, Maria Francia Perez, told the Associated Press yesterday that his body will remain at the funeral home until it can be sent back to Venezuela. She was not sure when that would happen.
"This is a process that will take time, a mutual agreement among family," she said.
Rodriguez, who lives in Venezuela, maintained that she had the right to decide what happened to Perez's body because, while the two were separated, they never legally divorced.
She also claims that Perez left no written instructions regarding his remains.
Their daughter, Carolina Perez, told the AP in Caracas:
"They're still married, and the law is very clear in Venezuela and in the United States: When the person dies, the one who has the right to reclaim the body is the spouse, and we exercised that right."
Matos, once Perez's secretary, was frequently identified as his current wife.
It is not clear if they ever married and their daughter would not say.
The revelations regarding Perez's personal life surprised many in Venezuela as they prepared to say goodbye to their former president, who died Saturday in Miami at 88.
His family in the United States had said Perez did not want to be buried in Venezuela until President Hugo Chavez, who led a failed 1992 coup against him, leaves office.
Perez's family in Venezuela wants him buried there next to his daughter Thais, who died 15 years ago.
Carolina Perez said she found out about her father's death from Twitter and her family was never consulted about the burial.
"We tried not to have it come to this, but it seems to us that the attitude of the Matos family to not take us into account at all forced us to do this," she said.
"All of this is very sad because this is a very painful moment for the family."
She said she had been in contact with Chavez's government and Chavez has said the family has a right to bury Perez in his homeland.
Perez, who served from 1974-79 and 1989-93, was a popular president who presided over an oil boom in the 1970s. He was later impeached during his second term in office and spent two years under house arrest in connection with misspending $17 million in public funds. Authorities said part of that $17 million was used to help bankroll the security detail of the woman running against the Sandinista candidate in Nicaragua's 1990 presidential election.
Perez always denied the charges of corruption and defended that spending as legitimate to help ensure stability in Central America after years of conflict.
Yesterday, a former vice president in Nicaragua's Sandinista government revealed that Perez also provided more than $1 million in aid to the Sandinistas as they sought to topple Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in the late 1970s.
The revelation is notable partly because Chavez is now a key backer of the left-leaning Sandinista party that Perez first helped.