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Expats: Chavez's Death Liberates Venezuelans


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.