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DeSantis Sends Migrants to Martha’s Vineyard Divides Venezuelan Americans

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After Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent two planes carrying mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, advertising director Max Lefeld labeled the move a political stunt.

“It’s like taking my trash out and just driving to different areas where I live and just throwing my trash there,” said Lefeld, a Venezuelan American who is one of the founders of the Casa Venezuela Dallas foundation, which helps recent refugees.

But in an Instagram post from Miami-based EVTV focused on Venezuelan news, a video of the migrants getting off the plane in Massachusetts especially provoked support, with many emojis of clapping hands.

The Shuffle of Asylum Seekers from the US Border to the Democratic States by DeSantis and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, both Republicans, is intensifying the debate among Venezuelans in the US and deepening their division over the increasing influx of people from their country.

The division largely falls along political lines, with Venezuelan Republicans defending DeSantis and Democrats destroying the movement.

Patricia Andrade, who has been helping recently arrived Venezuelans for more than seven years through her Miami-based nonprofit Raíces Venezolanas, said she feels sorry for the Venezuelans who flew to Martha’s Vineyard, but added that DeSantis was trying to draw attention to a problem that “the Biden administration doesn’t want to take over.”

Andrade said many of the Venezuelans she helps with donations of food and household items say they came with the understanding that the US government would provide them with food and housing.

“But what I see is that a lot of the Venezuelans who come end up on the streets,” she said.

She said the latest wave of Venezuelans coming to the US has polarized the community, with some believing some migrants to be “delinquents” and coming to the US as an “adventure” rather than a planned move.

“If the US government lets them in, they must screen them for criminal backgrounds and have infrastructure to provide them with shelter and food,” she said.

‘An incredible gap’

In Texas, Lefeld said his foundation’s Facebook page contains comments from people saying they won’t help Venezuelans from the Chavista Party — referring to the late Venezuelan Socialist President Hugo Chavez — or that the latest entrants were part of the current left-wing government of President Nicolas Maduro.

“My criticism of my compatriots here is that it’s people who made it, just like them, but they walk and they have no luggage and we flew,” said Lefeld, the founder of the advertising agency Co.Jones. . “People kind of forget how they got here.”

“There’s an incredible gap that’s permeated with the gap we see in American politics,” he said.

José Antonio Colina is a former Venezuelan army lieutenant who now heads Veppex, a Venezuelan exile organization in Miami.

Colina does not support what DeSantis has done, which is “not consistent with what DeSantis has said in the past”. He called it a “political stunt.”

But he said that prior to DeSantis’ actions, his organization and other groups had expressed concerns to the Department of Homeland Security that among those released in the US were former members of Maduro’s paramilitary group and former police officers, as well as former police officers. persons released from prison.

“It is dangerous for those seeking political asylum and it is a threat to US national security,” Colina said.

He said the Venezuelan community is “confused” and that “the real problem is that there is massive migration of Venezuelans across the border and DHS is unable to monitor or handle it properly.”

Since 2014 more than 6.8 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled to other countries, sparking one of the world’s largest refugee crises. Migration has increased dramatically in recent months after a slowdown following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The South American country was once one of the most prosperous in Latin America, with the largest oil reserves in the world. Many Venezuelans used to travel to the US for vacation and shopping.

Everything changed after the late President Hugo Chavez took office in 1999. Poor planning under his socialist government caused the economy to deteriorate. Under his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the economy went into freefall, causing shortages of food and medicine, while violence and crime flourished.

With the pandemic lockdowns, migration slowed as travel became more difficult and economic opportunities dried up. Venezuela’s government has implemented reforms to slow down the economic crisis. Venezuelans began returning to their home countries at the height of the pandemic, but the trend has since reversed.

Venezuelan migrants often cross the dangerous Darien Gap in the Colombia-Panama border, then head north through Central America.

After applying for asylum and being released, many move to Florida, home to the largest Venezuelan community in the US

Former President Donald Trump has courted Venezuelan American voters with his “anti-communism” message during his four years in office. trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other government officials made multiple trips to Florida to deliver policy speeches involving Venezuela and meet with community leaders. A majority of Venezuelan voters voted for Trump and other Republicans in 2020.

DeSantis has also done his share of outreach to Venezuelans and his anti-socialist messages have resonated with them. Now many Venezuelans are divided, with Republicans defending DeSantis’ move to send Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard and Democrats condemning it.

‘Throw them away’

Carla Montilla, a Venezuelan-American graduate student in Washington, DC, criticized DeSantis, saying that he and other politicians in Florida always talk about communist countries and say they stand behind the people in those countries.

“These are empty political talking points,” said Montilla, who is originally from Doral, Florida, where many Venezuelan Americans live. “These victims of communism are here now and they’re just throwing them away,” she said.

Montilla said she is a Democrat but has relatives who are Republicans “who have found this behavior disgusting”.

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