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‘Dangerous Territory’ for Democrats as Republicans Seize Venezuela Moment in Miami

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

Ernesto Ackerman, 69, a Venezuelan-American activist who came to the United States in 1989, long before Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, President Hugo Chávez, came into power, described the arrival of subsequent “tides” of Venezuelan immigrants.

“If the problem gets solved,” said Mr. Ackerman, a Republican, “a lot of people are going to go back.”

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers insist that they back Venezuela action on principle, not as an electoral ploy. Yet Democrats saw politics at play this month when Vice President Mike Pence delivered a Venezuela policy speech in Doral — a Miami suburb known as Doralzuela — and did not invite Democratic members of Congress. Then, on Tuesday, Mr. Trump mentioned Venezuela in his State of the Union address and immediately pivoted to a campaign line that seemed to liken Venezuela’s socialist government to liberals in the United States.

“Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” he said.

During last year’s midterm elections, Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, frequently deployed the word “socialist” against Mr. Gillum, his opponent. The jab, dismissed by Democrats as ridiculous, appeared to stick: Mr. DeSantis won. So did Rick Scott, a Republican who was elected to the Senate after working hard to court Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos who typically vote for Democrats.

Florida’s Venezuelan community has a smattering of activists who are the heads of various organizations but no obvious leader — a reflection of an immigrant group still getting established, still up for grabs politically and still glued to the news from home, usually via Twitter posts or forwarded audio files on WhatsApp.

“I’ve been sleeping maybe three hours a night,” said Yusnaiberth Detraux, 44, who described spending hours online scouring for information “until my eyes hurt.”

Ms. Detraux, who left Venezuela 12 years ago and became a United States citizen last year, said she had lost hope until Mr. Guaidó came along, and the United States and its allies in the Western Hemisphere and Europe rallied behind him. Though she leans Republican, Ms. Detraux had not liked Mr. Trump at first. Then he delivered on his promised hard line on Venezuela.

“Thank God we have this president,” she said. “At least he’s listened to us. Unfortunately, the previous administration did not.”

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