DORAL, Florida — The political banter that once took place in line for a pork and cheese-filled arepa at El Arepazo restaurant in the heart of South Florida’s Venezuelan community has died down since Nov. 3. But the fear that a socialist sympathizer will enter the White House lingers strong.
“Trump used the idea that the United States would turn into a Venezuela,” Venezuelan American Jorge Luis Gonzalez, 58, told the Washington Examiner in a Spanish-language interview, surrounded by television screens showing unrest and soccer in his home country.
“It’s politics,” he added, of the socialist label that stuck to Biden in South Florida and influenced thousands of votes in Miami-Dade County, helping deliver President Trump a solid win in Florida this year.
Gonzalez said he voted for Trump for different reasons.
“Many of us voted for Trump for all the effort he made to change things in Venezuela,” he said, noting policies such as recognizing National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader, increasing sanctions, and ramping up political pressure.
His vote was also based on the pre-COVID economy.
“The economy was good. We were paying less taxes. The only big problem that Trump had was his language, the way he spoke,” he said. “If he was mute, he would have won the election.”
Behind the food counter, where Venezuelan men cook sweet cornbread cachapas over a griddle, and Venezuelan women take orders and serve hot plates of plantains and rice, customer conversations in the days leading up to the election often crossed the plexiglass divider.
“They were saying, ‘Who are you going to vote for? Who do you support?’” said one 19-year-old server, a Venezuelan political asylum seeker who asked the Washington Examiner not to use her name for fear of political persecution in her home country.
“Many people had the idea that a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for socialism,” she said, having suffered, until two years ago, the trappings of a bankrupt petro-state.
In the hands of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, socialism has been forcefully imposed on the Venezuelan people with a litany of government takeovers that have led to shortages in food and medicine and millions of economic refugees.
Another Venezuelan refugee, 24-year-old Jorge Galicia, told the Washington Examiner in a Spanish-language interview that Biden represents the early signs of socialism that seeped into Venezuela some four decades ago.
That’s when Venezuela first nationalized the state oil company to bankroll government social programs.
“Venezuela began its process of decomposition during the democratic era, when the democratic, progressive society made great political advances,” said Galicia, a student activist who was forced to go underground in Caracas before entering the U.S. on a student visa at Arizona State University.
Before the election, he toured a handful of states sponsored by The Fund for American Studies, telling students his story and warning them about the slippery slope of socialism in his country.
“A lot of these programs were not sustainable long term. Indebtedness problems began, and society became dependent on the social programs,” he said.
“The people in South Florida know very well the consequences of applying the socialist model,” he said. “What bothers me with Biden is his age, and as his capacity to govern deteriorates, it will open the doors to a presidency of Kamala Harris, who is much closer to the most radical ideas of the Democratic Party.”
The argument worked, Florida political analyst and University of South Florida professor Susan MacManus told the Washington Examiner.
“They’re a sizable group,” MacManus said of the estimated 60,000 voting Venezuelan Americans in South Florida.
“One of the things that the anti-socialism message did was to build and cement a really strong and large coalition in South Florida,” she said. “Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, Colombians, and even Hondurans — people that come [from] or had ties to countries where socialism is a big reason their family came here. It was a very real message to them, not just an ideological debate.”
In the end, Biden failed to deflect the socialist label and Trump made inroads to expand his base with Florida’s diverse Latino population, MacManus said.
For the young asylum seeker, whose legal status is still in process, a Biden presidency, for her and many in her situation, likely means an easier path to remain in the U.S., she admits.
But, fear of socialism and a desire for a continued U.S. hard line on Venezuela outweighs even her hopes to remain here.
“There is a fear that they will complete the socialist promises and no longer try to help the Venezuelan people,” she said of the Democratic Party. “These are the two aspects, even though they don’t connect.”