MIAMI (CN) - A man claims in court that Venezuela illegally seized his trove of Simon Bolivar artifacts, including a lock of The Liberator's hair that Bolivar gave to his great-great grandfather.
Ricardo Devengoechea sued the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Miami Federal Court.
Devengoechea, of Florida, claims he inherited from his Colombian family a collection of artifacts, letters and historical documents that belonged to Simon Bolivar.
Bolivar (1783-1830) is revered as the George Washington of South America. He led modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador and Panama to independence from Spain and became president of each country.
Devengoechea claims his family's collection includes a lock of Bolivar's hair, which contains The Liberator's DNA, and epaulets from a uniform worn by Napoleon Bonaparte.
"Ricardo Devengoechea's ancestors, a founding family of Colombia, came to lawfully possess important artifacts belonging and pertaining to General Bolivar," the complaint states. "In fact, the artifacts in dispute were gifted by General Bolivar to Ricardo Devengoechea's great-great grandfather, Joaquin de Mier. The Ricardo Devengoechea family, now living in the United States, have been in possession of these valuable historical items (hereinafter the 'Devengoechea collection') for generations until they were recently taken by the Venezuelan government under the guise of a cooperative investigation with Ricardo Devengoechea into Venezuela's history, and the questionable circumstances surrounding the death of General Simon Bolivar and the location of Bolivar's burial site."
Devengoechea says Venezuela borrowed the items in 2007, under the guise of an investigative project meant to authenticate Bolivar's remains, and never returned them, despite repeated requests.
"The Devengoechea family, a founding family of Colombia, owns and was in possession of the Devengoechea collection which was comprised of General Bolivar's Liberation Medal awarded to him by the nation of Peru, the epaulets from the military uniform of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France, and a treasure trove of historical documents and letters, many of which were written and/or signed by General Bolivar himself," the complaint states.
"Perhaps most unique to the Devengoechea collection was hair samples of General Bolivar which provided Venezuela with authenticated DNA samples.
"With these hair samples, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez intended to scientifically verify the remains of General Bolivar to ensure their 'rightful' place within Venezuela's borders.
"In fact, with the DNA samples provided by Devengoechea, President Chavez subsequently exhumed General Bolivar's alleged body with the intent of proving the authenticity of the remains that are in Venezuela's possession which it claims to be those of General Bolivar. The exhumation was televised live on Venezuela's state-owned television stations including Venezolana de Television, which then disseminated the footage worldwide, including in the United States. Venezuela used Devengoechea's artifacts and antiquities for its own commercial gain, particularly in the United States through coverage of this event by Venezuela itself. This activity constituted commercial activity within the United States as it boosted Venezuela's worldwide appeal to foreign travelers and tourists, including those in the United States."
Devengoechea says he spent a month in Venezuela, after the country's government flew him over in a private jet, with his Bolivar collection.
He says Venezuelan officials invited him to participate in the project with the experts that reviewed his collection, and to travel with them to his ancestral home in Colombia for further investigation.
When Devengoechea returned to the United States, Venezuela asked him to leave the collection behind until the end of its investigation, according to the complaint.
Devengoechea says he learned from news reports in July 2011 that Venezuela had completed the investigation, and asked officials to return his collection, with no success.
He says that after Venezuela's consular office in Miami closed in January, the embassy in Washington D.C. ignored his requests.
And he says Venezuela did not pay him, and offered no explanation for keeping the collection.
Devengoechea believes Venezuela plans to display the collection in museums for commercial gain.
He seeks declaratory judgment that he owns the artifacts, he wants them returned, and seeks punitive damages for conversion and unjust enrichment. And if Venezuela does not return the collection, he seeks damages for its value.
He is represented by Max Price.
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