Friday, February 23, 2018

Hopes rise in Florida among expatriates

DORAL — First the car horns blasted the news on street corners here, a town so packed with Venezuelans that it is nicknamed "Doralzuela." Then came dozens of yellow, blue and red flags, floating in celebration, followed by bursts of singing.

"It's the Venezuelan national anthem," Carolina Gamboa, 36, shouted over the ruckus. "This is a triumph for Venezuela. Justice has finally arrived."

In this slice of Miami-Dade County, where more Venezuelan expatriates live than anywhere else in the country and where Hugo Chavez is particularly reviled, news of his death elicited outpourings of raucous celebration and, to many, cautious optimism for the future. At Arepa 2, a popular restaurant where Venezuelans typically gather to share news from home, crowds streamed in shortly after work to trade words about what could be, in time, a different Venezuela.

Many came fleeing Chavez's socialist vision, his iron grip on the nation or the explosion in crime that has consumed oil-rich Venezuela in recent years.

Eleimar Lemus, 27, heard the official declaration of Chavez's death and did not wait long to hop into her car with friends and drive from Broward County to Doral.

"I knew I had to be here," she said, as she raced toward the restaurant.

Lemus said she moved to Florida three years ago, after nearly being kidnapped at gunpoint from her car in Caracas. She got away with a broken nose. The mugging was just one in a string of crimes she faced, including robberies, burglaries and an attempted carjacking.

"They were after my Toyota," she said. "Having a Toyota is saying, 'Rob me, kill me.' "

Lemus said she knew that change would not come quickly to Venezuela. But she is hopeful that with Chavez's death, it is now inevitable.

"Death is always lamentable," said Angel Monterusco, 51, a computer software consultant, as he sat at a table with his family, "but it's a new era. We had a dictator. There were no laws, no justice."

His new wife, Maria Eugenia Prince, 43, arrived just six months ago from Venezuela.

"Venezuela has suffered so much in recent years," she said. "So many people who moved, died and lost jobs in a country that is so oil rich."

"I want to go back home," she said. "It's my country."

   
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