Tere Figueras Negrete
The Miami Herald
June 6, 2007
The recent unrest in Venezuela -- student protests, clashes with state police, the government shutdown of a popular television station -- has reinforced the sympathies for Venezuelans in a city where fears of socialism are more than a vestige of the Cold War.
In South Florida, Cubans living in el exilio see a natural political kinship with Venezuelans who oppose President Hugo Chávez, albeit one separated by nearly five decades of history and circumstance.
''Few communities can find such close parallels,'' said J.C. Bermudez, a Cuban exile and mayor of Doral, a city that has become home to a thriving Venezuelan population. ``There is a lot of empathy here. We know what they're going through, because we went through it, too.''
Local Spanish-language radio programs, which frequently denounce Chávez for his close ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, have anted up the anti-Chávez rhetoric in recent days.
Blogs and online forums devoted to Cuban issues have set up separate threads allowing postings that express solidarity with students protesting the Chávez government's decision not to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, RCTV, one of the few television channels producing news reports critical of Chávez's policies.
On the message board for listeners to Miami station WQBA (1140 AM), one poster -- whose online avatar is the image of a Cuban flag -- notes optimistically ''there is still a chance to turn things around and root out this cancer,'' referring to Chávez.
Hundreds of sympathetic messages have been posted in recent days on the online forum Café Cubano, which also dedicated a multimedia section to Venezuelan topics -- including a link, via YouTube, to an hour-long documentary on RCTV's history and final days.
The children of Cubans, who have heard the tales of exile filtered through parents and abuelos , feel a sense of familiarity as well.
''When we were kids, those stories seemed so impossible for us to imagine,'' said Ilia Cuesta, 27, who grew up in West Kendall with two brothers, all well-versed in the saga of their family's flight from Cuba in the 1960's.
Her father, Daniel Cuesta, left Cuba with his family aboard the Freedom Flights when he was 11.
''But now you're seeing it on TV, and it illustrates what my family went through. It strikes a chord,'' said Cuesta, who was moved by the images of student protesters in Venezuela. ``All of a sudden those old fairy tales become very real.''
Diane Cabrera, a 24-year-old Cuban American activist, has worked with counterparts in Venezuela through the International Youth Committee for Democracy in Cuba.
This week, worried about her friends' safety amid the protests, she tried with limited success to call them in Venezuela.
The phone connections were dicey, but she was able to make sure they were all safe.
''They were doing well despite all the craziness,'' said Cabrera, a Georgetown University graduate.
Cabrera is an an administrator for Raices de Esperanza , or Roots of Hope, a network of young Cubans, as well as the spokeswoman for Directorio Democrático, which fights for human rights and democracy in Cuba.
Born in Miami to Mariel refugees, Cabrera describes herself as more politically passionate than her parents -- and especially attuned to events not just in Havana but Caracas as well.
''I've always had Venezuelan friends, but now these two tyrants have brought us even closer together,'' Cabrera said. ``We exchange stories, learn from each other, so that history is not repeated.''
She added ``But unfortunately that seems to be happening.''
Chávez, a former army officer who led a failed coup in 1992 before his presidential election in 1998, has called his political agenda for Venezuela , ''Bolivarian Socialism,'' taking over the country's main telecommunications company, the capital city's electric utility and oil production facilities from multinational corporations.
Chávez has won reelection twice, but opponents charge he has undermined Venezuelan democracy by filling the courts and other government institutions with political allies and ruling by decree after last year's election, which many voters opposing him boycotted.
Unease has prompted many Venezuelans to leave their homeland, many settling in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. An estimated 50,000 live in South Florida , and the number of asylum claims has spiked dramatically in recent months.
''We've been embraced as brothers,'' said Rafael Adrianza, director of Unidos por Venezuela y América in Miami.
As ties between Venezuela and Cuba have strengthened in recent years, so have the bonds between those opposing Chávez and those who fled Castro, said Adrianza.
''They have the experience of 50 years,'' he said. ``Venezuelans are now just opening their eyes.''