Expats: Chavez's Death Liberates Venezuelans


While Hugo Chavez was in power, tens of thousands of Venezuelans fled their homeland and rebuilt their lives in South Florida. Expatriate Maria Diaz says it is too early to predict what will happen now in her native country.

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Now, when Hugo Chavez was in power, tens of thousands of Venezuelans fled their homeland and rebuilt their lives in South Florida. They're not losing a lot of time mourning now. Christine DiMattei reports from member station WLRN in Miami.

CHRISTINE DIMATTEI, BYLINE: It's busier than usual inside Cafe Canela, but owner Ramon Peraza repeatedly comes out from behind the counter to give new arrivals a hug or a handshake. All of them are jubilant.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Very happy.

DIMATTEI: Peraza struggles to describe his emotions.

RAMON PERAZA: I feel that my heart is very, very happy and quiet, quiet. We are waiting for this for many years.

DIMATTEI: When Peraza says the word quiet, he makes a soothing gesture over his chest. Maria Diaz says she too is relieved. But she says it's too early to predict what will happen in her native country.

MARIA DIAZ: The constitution said that we have to have elections in 30 days. We hope and pray for a safe and peaceful development of the situation, but I don't know. It's very hard.

DIMATTEI: Cafe Canela is just on the edge of Weston, a Broward County city with such a high concentration of Venezuelan expatriates that it goes by the nickname Weston-zuela. Parked outside is a Pathfinder with an American flag sticking out of one side, a Venezuelan flag on the other. In the driver's seat is George Centrella, who's of Italian descent.

GEORGE CENTRELLA: My wife is from Venezuela. And Venezuela was a wonderful country. It was very prosperous and they did very well. And he won the first election and he fixed every one after that. And it went continuously downhill.

DIMATTEI: Twelve-year-old Albani Morales has only been in the United States for about a month. She's been sitting quietly at one of the inside tables while the grown-ups have been chatting excitedly. She says she understands what's going on and can sum up her feelings about Chavez's death in one word.

ALBANI MORALES: It's libertad.

DIMATTEI: Libertad - freedom. For NPR News, I'm Christine DiMattei.

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