DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Venezuelans in the U.S. cheered and expressed cautious optimism that new elections will bring change to their homeland after the death of President Hugo Chavez.
“My hope is that Venezuela will become a free country once again,” said Elizabeth Gonazalez, 52, who wore a smiley face sticker on her sweater with the words, “Venezuela without Chavez.”
A jubilant celebration broke out in the Miami suburb of Doral late Tuesday after word spread of the death of the 58-year-old leftist. Many dressed in caps and T-shirts in Venezuela’s colors of yellow, blue and red.
“He’s gone!” dozens in the largely anti-Chavez community chanted.
Chavez, though cancer-stricken in recent years, had led the oil-rich Latin American nation for nearly 14 years while espousing a fiery brand of socialism and bickering with a succession of U.S. governments over what he called Washington’s hegemony in the region. Venezuela’s foreign minister said Vice President Nicolas Maduro would step in as interim president and elections would be called within 30 days.
Many in Florida’s large Venezuelan community and other such pockets around the U.S. are stridently anti-Chavez and had fled their home country in response to the policies his government instituted. An estimated 189,219 Venezuelan immigrants live in the United States, according to U.S. Census figures.