As Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro clings to power, many of the loudest American voices urging on the Trump administration in its campaign to push Maduro out are concentrated in one place: Florida.
Florida has a large number of anti-Maduro Venezuelans and Cubans and is also likely to be a critical battleground state in the 2020 race for the White House. As a result, the crisis in the South American country is reverberating politically thousands of miles away in the U.S.
“Foreign policy is domestic policy in South Florida,” said Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who lives in Weston, one of the Florida communities that have seen a Venezuelan influx.
Florida is home to an estimated 190,000 Venezuelans, many of whom arrived in the past decade as their homeland slid into economic and political crisis under Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
They have found common cause with Cuban-Americans, who see parallels between what has happened under the socialist government in Venezuela and what has gone on under communism in Cuba. Cuban-Americans — a potent voting bloc in Florida — are also angry about Venezuelan support for Cuba over the past two decades.
“It’s the same cancer,” said GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American who represents the Miami-area city of Doral, which has so many Venezuelans that some have nicknamed it Doralzuela.
News about Venezuela is a near-constant in South Florida. Videos of Maduro feasting on a steak dinner prepared by a celebrity chef prompted a midday protest in September outside the chef’s Miami restaurant. In 2017, a former member of Venezuela’s government was loudly confronted by a group of exiles when he was spotted at a local restaurant.
Many Venezuelan exiles can be seen wearing baseball caps with the colors and stars of their homeland’s flag. There are also many bumper stickers with messages such as “Pray for Venezuela.” A lot of Uber drivers will make small talk and tell you they were architects, pilots or even mayors back in Venezuela, blaming Maduro for the troubles that made them leave.