— DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Cheering Venezuelans in the U.S. waved their country's flag and voiced hope that change would come to their homeland after the death Tuesday of long-ruling populist President Hugo Chavez.
"He's gone!" dozens in a largely anti-Chavez community chanted after word spread swiftly of the death of the 58-year-old leftist. Many said they were rejoicing after nearly a decade and a half of socialist rule, heavily concentrated in Chavez's hands.
"We are not celebrating death," Ana San Jorge, 37, said amid a jubilant crowd in the Miami suburb of Doral. "We are celebrating the opening of a new door, of hope and change."
Wearing caps and T-shirts in Venezuela's colors of yellow, blue and red, many expressed cautious optimism and concern after the announcement of the death. But some were anxious, too.
"Although we might all be united here celebrating today, we don't know what the future holds," said Francisco Gamez, 18, at El Arepazo, a popular Venezuelan restaurant in Doral.
In Caracas, Venezuela's foreign minister announced late Tuesday that Vice President Nicolas Maduro would be interim president and run as the governing party candidate in elections to be called within 30 days. It wasn't immediately clear when presidential elections would be held.
Chavez, though cancer-stricken in recent years, had led the oil-rich Latin American nation for years by espousing a fiery brand of socialism. All the while he bickered 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 similar communities around the U.S. are stridently anti-Chavez and had fled their home country in response to the policies his government instituted.