President Hugo Chavez’s imposition of a socialist state in Venezuela has driven an increasing number of his countrymen to leave their homeland and settle in Florida.
The Venezuelan community in the U.S. has grown more than 94 percent during this decade, from 91,507 in 2000 — the year after Chavez took office — to 177,866 in 2006, according to U.S. Census data.
Many of those Venezuelans have settled in South Florida, the closest U.S. point to their former country and already the home of a substantial Hispanic community.
So many Venezuelans have moved to Weston, Fla., a suburb west of Fort Lauderdale, that some are calling it Westonzuela, the New York Times reported.
Most of the latest arrivals are from the middle and upper classes in Venezuela as Chavez has consolidated his power and sought to impose greater state control over many parts of the economy. Some have established legal residency, while others are in the U.S. illegally.
Manuel Corao, director of a Venezuelan newspaper published in South Florida, told the Times that the main reason for the flight from Venezuela is the fear that Chavez would significantly change the quality of life for the middle and upper classes there.
“The principle reason is fear of change of daily life, the loss of private property, loss of independence from the government, fear of the loss of constitutional rights and individual liberties,” he said.
Chavez has already nationalized his nation’s electricity, telecommunications and oil companies, and forged alliances with Cuba and Iran. In January 2007, the National Assembly gave Chavez the power to make law by decree.
Ariel Dunaevschi, who left behind a prosperous furniture business in Caracas to move to Florida in 2002, said “life was very good” for him in his homeland. But as far as moving back to Venezuela is concerned, he said: “I won’t consider it, as long as there’s that guy there.”
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