Earlier in October, comments about Chavez’s re-election in Venezuela flooded my Twitter and Facebook timeline. Friends living in Miami mentioned how their abuelitas, parents, and cousins were crying and upset after the results were announced. Given that South Florida contains the highest number of residents born in Venezuela, and thus amounts to be the most influential constituency outside of Venezuela itself, the Venezuelan presidential candidates took great consideration in how to include their support, or in Chavez case, in how to avoid their lack of support. While candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski reached out to Venezuelans in South Florida, many argue that the closing of the Venezuelan consulate in Miami spurred as a political and electoral strategy to avoid the considerable opposition Chavez faced in South Florida. Instead of being able to vote in Miami, hundreds and thousands of residents trekked from South Florida to the nearest Venezuelan consulate in New Orleans.
“It’s great to see how so many of our people are come together to exercise their right to vote, such a simple civil duty, an action that had the ability to change the lives of so many of our families still living under Chavez’s oppression in Venezuela. But it’s also sad to see how many of us weren’t able to go. My abuelita and my tia couldn’t go to New Orleans. They can’t afford the days off from work and the trip would have been exhausting for them. It was awful seeing them so upset when the news was announced. They felt so helpless.” recounted a Venezuelan friend of mine over the phone.
Another one of my friends explained to me, “So many people in Florida were hoping that finally Chavez would be replaced. And so many others don’t understand the consequences and what was at stake. I have cousins in Venezuela that are in the military. If Chavez ever finds out that they voted against him, they could lose their jobs, their lives are in danger. Regardless of what Chavez says, it was an unfair election.” My friend’s fear of placing her family in danger was so great that she refused to chat online or text me, insisting that I promise not to use her name.
Such emotional reactions shed light on the how immigrants today keep a strong transnational connection to their native countries. Thanks to technology, boundaries between countries are not as rigid as before. Even though the distance and separation proves to be difficult for families, immigrants are now able to skype, phone, and stay in communication with relatives. Native countries too have used these connections to their advantage, facilitating remittances that support the native economy and in Chavez’s case, manipulating his power to curb opposition and support from Venezuelans abroad. In addition, if Chavez continues with his socialist reforms in Venezuela during his fourth presidential term, it’ll be interesting to see if immigration to the United States from Venezuela will increase, more specifically if political asylum applications will increase. Given the increasing tensions with Venezuela and America’s complicated asylum procedures, how will the US respond? How will South Florida Venezuelans be impacted? Will my friend’s cousins in the military be safe?
Surely such questions can only be answered with time, but as my friend mentioned, “if anything, at least more people are aware of Chavez’s policies and decisions that often fail to meet basic human and civil rights. And at least Venezuelans in South Florida know that there are organizations and people who are willing to help us immigrants in times of need.”