This Miami cemetery holds the remains of two Cuban presidents, a Nicaraguan president, and the senior Desi Arnaz. And it was once the resting place of the crown prince of Spain. The Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Cemetery in Miami holds a who’s who of Miami royalty, like the Merricks and the Brickells, founders of Coral Gables and the University of Miami, and creators of Brickell Avenue, respectively.
Also lying beneath the cemetery’s manicured lawns and blindingly white mausoleums is a less expected group of notables, Latin American presidents. Geraldo Machado was president of Cuba from 1925 to 1933. During his administration most of Havana’s signature spectacular structures were built; the Hotel Nacional, Centro Asturiano, and the Bacardi Building. The victim of a coup during his second administration, Machado fled Cuba in 1933. He settled in Miami where he died in 1939.
Better known as the father of entertainer Desi Arnaz, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz II was the youngest person ever elected mayor of Santiago, Cuba’s second city. When President Machado’s government was overthrown in 1933, Arnaz was arrested and remained in jail for six months. Upon his release, he fled to Miami where he died. Interestingly, Arnaz’s crypt in Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Cemetery lies immediately above Machado’s.
Carlos Prio Socarras was another Cuban president who fell victim to a military coup. Elected president in 1948, he served until March 1952. He fled to Miami after being deposed and died there by suicide 25 years later.
Anastasio Somoza Debayle, Nicaraguan dictator from 1974 to 1979, was the third member of the Somoza family to be president of Nicaragua. The family controlled Nicaragua with an iron fist for over four decades. Somoza Debayle escaped Nicaragua as the Sandinistas, a socialist guerilla group, were closing in on the capital city of Managua.
Denied asylum in the United States by U.S. President Carter, Somoza Debayle fled to Asuncion, Paraguay, where he was assassinated a year later, with a bazooka, by a group of highly-trained leftist guerillas in a spectacular ambush worthy of a Hollywood movie. The U.S. asylum that was denied him in life was granted in death and his remains rest in Miami.
Alfonso Prince of Asturias was born heir to the throne of Spain until the Spanish monarchy was abolished in 1931. Two years later he renounced any right to the defunct throne in order to marry a Cuban commoner whom he divorced four years later.
Speeding along the streets of Miami at night in the company of a local entertainer, the prince’s car crashed into a phone booth. The prince was not badly hurt but his hemophilia, inherited from his great-grandmother, Britain’s Queen Victoria, caused internal bleeding which led to his death.
He was buried in Miami’s Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Cemetery from 1938 to 1985 and re-entombed in El Escorial in Spain, once the Spanish monarchy was re-instated.
The Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Cemetery is the final resting place of world-class ballet dancers, baseball hall of famers, Grammy winners, Olympic swimmers, and many more.
The cemetery’s bucolic landscape and graceful gothic-style mausoleum seem incongruous in the middle of busy, bustling Miami. It’s worth a visit to this lovely spot just to enjoy the calm, silence, and rich history.
Know Before You Go
This lovely cemetery is easy to visit. The staff at the office will be happy to show you around and talk about the cemetery's fascinating history.