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Venezuelans In S. Florida Hope For Change With New Election

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The restaurant El Arepazo in Doral is at the heart of the community and hundreds of Venezuelans gathered at its tables to watch news broadcasts of the death coverage while getting their fill of corn flour patties called arepas. (Source: CBS4)

The restaurant El Arepazo in Doral is at the heart of the community and hundreds of Venezuelans gathered at its tables to watch news broadcasts of the death coverage while getting their fill of corn flour patties called arepas. (Source: CBS4)

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DORAL (CBSMiami/AP) – Venezuelans living in South Florida are cautiously optimistic that with the death of President Hugo Chavez new elections could bring change to their homeland.

Many who left their homeland and settled here did so because of the Chavez regime. His death is the news they’ve been hoping and waiting for, but not everyone is confident that the change they’ve been waiting for will come.

“Now justice has been done by God,” said Elio Aponte. “Now it is in our hands, the Venezuelans, to have change.”

“I grew up in there, now we’re going to live there again in democracy, we’re going to have freedom of speech. Everything is going to better than before,” said business owner Orlando Theis.

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.

Many in Florida’s large Venezuelan community and other such pockets around the U.S. are stridently anti-Chavez.  More than 189,000 Venezuelan immigrants live in the U.S. according to U.S. Census figures.

Doral has the largest concentration of Venezuelans living in the U.S.  Wednesday morning those gathered at the city’s El Arepazo restaurant talked about what may happen not that Chavez is gone. While most were optimistic, some adopted a more wait and see attitude.

“It’s a false feeling that there’s going to be change. It’s not that easy because the Castro brothers are still in there and they are not giving up Venezuela so easy,” said Aponte.

Theis said his countrymen are strongly divided over the death of Chavez.

“One party is enjoying, happy because Chavez died. But on the other hand, the other partying feeling sad, not many people crying on the streets, you know 50-50,” said Theis.

And how does Theis feel about Chavez’s death?

“For me, relief because like I told you before, I feel that better things are going to come to Venezuela,” said Theis.

On Wednesday, Chavez’s body was transferred from the military hospital where he died to a military academy where it will remain until the funeral this Friday. As his body left the hospital, throngs of people who lined the streets waved banners and sang the national anthem, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.

Leaders from all over Latin America and the world are expected to Chavez’s funeral. The leaders of Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia have already arrived for the ceremony.

It’s not been said where Chavez will be buried. Seven days of mourning have been declared, and all school has been suspended for the week:

CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.

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