Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela government sued in US over Bolivar items

Simon Bolivar
Image caption Bolivar is a hero of 19th-Century Latin American independence

A man from Florida has sued the Venezuelan government, calling for the return of artefacts that once belonged to Simon Bolivar.

The lawsuit alleges that Venezuela borrowed the items from Ricardo Devengoechea in 2007.

They include a lock of Bolivar's hair, used by Venezuela to determine the cause of his death 200 years ago.

Bolivar helped free much of South America from Spanish rule, and is revered by President Chavez.

The lawsuit says one of Mr Devengoechea's ancestors was given the items by Simon Bolivar himself. They include documents and letters, some of which were written by Bolivar, who died in 1830.

Exhumed remains

In the complaint, Mr Devengoechea is described as a descendant of a founding family of Colombia.

The lawsuit says that the items were "taken by the Venezuelan government under the guise of a co-operative investigation with Ricardo Devengoechea".

In 2010 President Hugo Chavez ordered the exhumation of Simon Bolivar's remains, to test their authenticity and determine the cause of his death.

Experts later confirmed that there was no evidence that Bolivar had been murdered, or had suffered any other unnatural cause of death.

The lawsuit claims that the Venezuelan government sent a private jet to Florida to transport Mr Devengoechea and the artefacts to Venezuela, where he says he spent a month as a guest of the government.

It said that after learning that the Venezuelan government had completed its investigation into Bolivar's death, Mr Devengoechea had tried to secure the return of the artefacts, to no avail.

There has been no comment on the lawsuit by the Venezuelan authorities so far.