In the South Florida enclaves crowded with Venezuelans who fled President Hugo Chávez’s regime, Chávez’s death Tuesday afternoon prompted spontaneous gatherings in familiar places. Local politicians weighed in offering predictions. And television and radio stations ramped up their news coverage, in what could be a preview of how Miami reacts to the eventual death of Fidel Castro.
News crews broadcast live from Doral, home to scores of Venezuelans and a Venezuelan-born mayor. A celebratory mood spread at El Arepazo 2, a popular Venezuelan family restaurant, where more than 300 people gathered.
They waved Venezuelan flags and cheered “Venezuela presente” — Venezuela is present. Some men sat outside playing dominoes. Others danced joropo, a traditional Venezuelan dance. No one seemed to mind to wait an hour for an arepa.
It was a far different gathering than the one five months ago, when somber crowds filled with supporters of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski watched presidential election returns showing a victorious Chávez.
“We are not celebrating someone’s death,” Mary LaBarca, whose grandmother was dancing outside the restaurant, said in Spanish. “We are celebrating freedom.”