Venezuelans mourn former president Perez

By Fabiola Sanchez

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 5 2011 2:20 p.m. MDT

Supporters of Venezuela's former President Carlos Andres Perez surround the coffin, covered by a Venezuelan flag, containing his remains at the Action Democratic party headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011. The remains of Perez arrived in Venezuela on Tuesday, nine months after his death in Miami set off a bitter family feud over his final resting place.

Fernando Llano, Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Thousands of Venezuelans attended a wake for former President Carlos Andres Perez on Wednesday amid tears and speeches a day after his remains arrived in his homeland and ended a a bitter family feud over his final resting place.

Politicians, relatives and supporters of Perez crowded around his closed casket at the headquarters of the Democratic Action party in downtown Caracas and sang the party's anthem.

"Rest in peace, president," said Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, once a confidant of Perez.

The remains of Perez arrived in Venezuela nine months after his death in Miami at age 88 set off a feud between his wife, who wanted to bring the body home, and his mistress in the United States, who said Perez had vowed repeatedly never to return as long as political arch-nemesis Hugo Chavez was president.

The two sides finally reached a confidential settlement sending his body back to his homeland.

Matilde Diaz, an 80-year-old housewife, celebrated the repatriation of Perez's remains.

"I feel great happiness that my president has returned to Venezuela," Diaz said.

There are no plans for any kind of state funeral in a Venezuela governed by Chavez, who once led a failed coup against Perez.

But Carmen Aracelis Alvarez, a retired nurse who clutched a plastic doll in the former leader's image, said there was no need for an official ceremony because "he's receiving the best homage from the people who loved him and continue loving him."

Perez finally will be buried on Thursday following a funeral Mass.

Perez was president from 1974-1979 and again from 1989-1993, surviving two failed coup attempts. He left the country in 2000, facing the threat of arrest on corruption accusations, and did not return.

In his first term in the 1970s, Perez won popularity by nationalizing Venezuela's oil industry, paying off foreign oil companies and then capitalizing on a period of prosperity that allowed his government to build subway lines and bankroll new social programs.

Venezuelans elected him for a second time in 1988, hoping for a return to good times after a decade of economic decline. But his popularity plunged when he tried to push through an economic austerity program.

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