Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 9:11 a.m.
In Miami's federal courthouse downtown, thousands of lawsuits are filed every day over every conceivable kind of property: houses, boats, cars, drug money, jewelry, fine art. It's a fair bet, though, that a suit filed two weeks ago is a first: A demand that the Venezuelan government give a lock of South American liberator Simon Bolivar's hair back to its rightful Florida owner.
The story of how Bolivar's hair ended up stranded in Caracas is a bizarre tale of exhumed bodies and newly re-elected leader Hugo Chavez's creepy Bolivar infatuation.
The suit was filed by a Florida man named Ricardo Devengoechea who claims to be descended from "a founding family of Colombia."
Devengoechea's ancestors were so important, in fact, that Bolivar -- who led revolts to liberate Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Panama -- personally gave a stash of artifacts to Devengoechea's great-great-grandfather.
That collection included a medal from Peru, epaulets once worn by Napoleon, and -- yes -- a few locks of Bolivar's hair.
For centuries, Devengoechea's family kept the artifacts secure. But back in 2007, the Venezuelan government got in touch with the Florida man.
Hugo Chavez wanted a few locks of that sweet liberator hair, they said -- and he was so interested in it that the government flew a private jet up to Florida to pick up Devengoechea and his collection and put him up in Caracas for a month.
Why was Chavez so keen to get the hair? Because, he was intent on exhuming Simon Bolivar's body -- a stunt he pulled on live television in 2011 in a quest to prove how the liberator was killed.
The Venezuelan leader needed Devengoechea's hair samples to determine that the body was in fact Bolivar's.
All well and good, and Devengoechea happily let Chavez go about his liberator-exhuming ways. But when the stunt was finished and he got back in touch with the Venezuelan embassy to get his family artifacts back, he says the country quickly reneged.
Devengoechea was midway through negotiating a sale of some of the artifacts when the U.S. expelled Chavez's ambassador over accusations that she'd helped a cyberhacking scheme; Chavez, in turn, closed the consulate in Miami.
Suddenly, no one would call Devengoechea back. Instead, Chavez's government is planning on displaying the collection in museums and charging admission, he claims.
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