Venezuela
12:05 pm
Mon January 14, 2013

Taking The Pulse Of Venezuelan-American Sentiment After Chavez' Delayed Swearing In

WLRN's Phil Latzman recently visited the Miami-Dade city of Doral, home to the largest concentration of Venezuelans in the U.S., to find out how they are reacting to the political crisis in their homeland. Listen here.
Venezuela president Hugo Chavez in healthier times.
Credit cc-by Valter Campanato - Agencia Brasil.

With an ailing Hugo Chavez still in Cuba, and perhaps on his deathbed, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans now living in South Florida are anxiously awaiting word of what happens next.

El Arepazo 2 on N.W. 79th Avenue in Doral is their unofficial headquarters.

Inside the restaurant, the walls are covered with major league baseball cards, honoring players from Venezuela's most popular sport, such as reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio.

The large screens in the dining room are tuned to Venezuelan television, with patrons watching for the latest news on their country's political crisis.

“We have a lot of information, but no good information,” complains Jose Hernandez, who is editorial chief for El Venezolano, the Miami-based newspaper that caters to the country's diaspora around the world.

“Everything is contradictory. We don't exactly know what is going on,” continues Hernandez. “We have no notion of reality.” 

That's because President Chavez hasn't been able to return from Cuba after complications from a fourth cancer surgery, more than a month ago, and the only people who really know about his health are in Havana.

What is known is that Chavez couldn't make it to his scheduled swearing-in last week.

But the country's Supreme Court ruled that he could return to take the oath of office for another term when he is healthy enough. Many expatriates here, including Juan Carlos Suarez of Fort Lauderdale, say that violates the Venezuelan constitution.

“We have to continue with the consitutional process in Venezuela. That's the main thing. Because so far, we Venezuelans have  been peaceful, we have tried to respect the constitution, even though they have changed it so many times to their own values”

The fact that Chavez has been allowed to delay his inauguration has infuriated many people in Doral, where it’s estimated that as much as 20 percent of the population is of Venezuelan descent.

Newly elected mayor Luigi Boria recently became the first Venezuelan-born mayor in Florida.

He says from what he hears, with Chavez out of the country, things have only gotten worse.

“The people that are now in power are doing things against the constitution and this is bad for the people who are living there.”

Carma Gimenez fears the worst.  “I can see, easily, see a civil war. I think that Venezuela today, is lost.”

Meanwhile, Venezuelans in South Florida have also been trying to function without their Miami consulate after the Chavez government shut it down more than a year ago.

That's made life difficult for Alexis Ortiz, editor of El Politico.com, an online publication catering to the local Venezuelan-American community.

“The closing of the consulate has created enormous economical issues and practical issues. Just the basic issues of paperwork,” Ortiz said.

That was never more apparent than in October, when thousands of Venezuelan citizens living in South Florida were forced to head to the nearest consulate in New Orleans to vote in their presidential election.

Only a handful voted for Chavez and many here would love to see him go.

But Sam Feldman, a member of the Venezuelan-American Democratic club, says there should be no dancing on his grave, if he should succumb to cancer.

“Personally, I don't think anybody should be celebrating the death of Chavez. I don't think anyone should be happy that he's dying. We may disagree on policy, but it's not an occasion for dancing in the streets and music. Venezuela has been undergoing a crisis.”

It's a crisis that most Venezuelans in South Florida agree won't be solved anytime soon, even if Chavez never returns to the country alive.