DORAL (CBSMiami) – South Florida’s Venezuelan population took to their local restaurants and bars to discuss the death of their controversial leader Tuesday night.
In Miami-Dade, hundreds gathered in Doral. Crowds sang “he’s gone” and waved Venezuelan flags outside El Arepazo 2, a popular Venezuelan Restaurant.
The crowds started arriving soon after the death of Hugo Chavez was announced Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a new beginning. It’s a new start,” said Pastor Ricky Fernandez who moved to the U.S. from Venezuela when he was four years old.
“I’m happy because for the first time in the last 13 years we have a window of hope,” said Erika Flores.
Many expressed hope for the future, including Doral Mayor Luigi Boria who left Venezuela in 1989 but still has family there.
“We have to call for the people to join together to reunite themselves and start calling for the democracy of that beautiful country,” said Boria who prepared Doral Police to handle large crowds.
The crowds at El Arepazo remained peaceful and didn’t disrupt traffic.
While Chavez had supporters in Venezuela, many Venezuelans in South Florida came here to escape Chavez, and considered his death cause for celebration.
“He was a very bad man he destroyed my country, he destroyed families,” said Flores who said she was happy to hear of Chavez’s death.
Andres Malave, 18, recently moved to South Florida for college because his family didn’t feel it was safe for him to study in Venezuela. He left his family behind but spoke to them after hearing of Chavez’s death. He said they’re optimistic but nervous about what might happen.
“They said they are going to be in the house they’re not going to leave,” he said.
Malave said he is not here to celebrate the Venezuelan President’s death, but it gives him hope for the future.
“I’m not happy about his death, I’m happy about the change that’s going to happen in Venezuela I hope that the change is going to be good,” he said.
There is a large Venezuelan population in Broward County — more than 23-thousand residents — and many of them also celebrated into the evening when they learned of his passing.
At Cafe Canela on Weston Road, Venezuelan Americans watched the news of President Hugo Chavez’s death with a sense of hope.
“It’s a new beginning for us,” said Maria Diaz.
For those who left their native country because of Chavez they say his reign is marked by the end of cherished freedoms.
“He doesn’t respect your freedom of speech,” said Oscan Ganem. “He doesn’t respect your freedom of business. He doesn’t respect your freedom of election and also they control all your communications.”
Venezuelans living in Broward pray that a new president will restore those freedoms. Nelson Lopez said he left Venezuela in the 90’s when Chavez rose to power.
“Just looking for a better life,” Perez told CBS 4’s Carey Codd.
Perez lives in Weston with his family and bikes each week with a group of Venezuelans. He said he has mixed emotions about Chavez’s passing.
“It’s always sad when someone pass away — a president but it’s kind of a relief for Venezuelans because we’ve been in such a limbo for so long,” Perez said.
It’s a limbo that these people want to end. They hope that a new Venezuela emerges after the death of Chavez and they want it begin as quickly as possible.
“It means we are going to recover the democracy in our country,” Ganem said.