Two days after her partner of almost 40 years died, as Cecilia Matos and her two daughters were planning his funeral, they got a call from Woodland Park Cemetery. "We've got a letter from a lawyer here that says you need to turn over his body by 11 a.m. or you'll be sued by 2," the funeral home said.
So began the international fight over Carlos Andrés Pérez, ex-president of Venezuelan. Matos wants him buried in Miami, but CAP's never-divorced wife in Caracas is demanding his return. Miami's Venezuelan community, meanwhile, is rooting hard for Matos -- who gave us an exclusive interview on the case.
You can read our full story on Matos and her fight's meaning to Miami exilios in this week's New Times. In the meantime, here's a preview:
Matos on her relationship with CAP:
Pérez was born in 1922 in a small Andean town near the Colombian border. He rose to political prominence in the '40s after helping to found the Acción Democrática party, a centrist group. At age 26, he married his first cousin, Blanca Rodriguez. They eventually had six children, several of whom suffered genetic disorders.
Then in 1963, at a dinner in Caracas, an 18-year-old beauty with flowing brown hair presented Pérez with a civic achievement award, a small gold key in a box. Pérez was spellbound. He began sending letters to the girl, Cecilia Matos.
Two years later, after meeting at another dinner, they began secretly dating. He was married. It didn't matter. Matos was taken with the intellectual statesman. "He was very charming," she remembers. Matos, a serious-looking woman with sharp cheekbones, smiles as she remembers her lover: "He would captivate me with the way he talked."
Matos on CAP's refusal to divorce Blanca
CAP was happy with his new family, but he never followed through on pledges to divorce Blanca, Matos says. "He asked Blanca to please sign the divorce papers. But she said she would commit suicide if they divorced," she says. "He had aspirations to get back to the presidency, and he couldn't have a scandal to jeopardize that."
Matos on CAP's feelings about Chavez
To Cecilia Matos and her daughters, the just solution is clear. CAP repeatedly said he'd never return to Venezuela while Chávez was in power. "He told me, 'Do whatever you want except cremate me, and I will not go back to Venezuela until there is a democratic government,'" Cecilia says.
One Expert's Take on Chavez's Role In the Fight
"It goes way beyond a family dispute," says Eduardo Gamarra, a Florida International University professor who studies Miami's Venezuelan community. "Chávez always wanted CAP returned so he could prosecute him. Now it's about telling exiles in Miami, 'Look, we got this guy back one way or another.'"