Venezuela’s loss is South Florida’s gain when it comes to the economy, according to experts.
Tens of thousands of exiles have left the country and settled in South Florida, for various reasons. Some left because of economic chaos, and others because of Venezuela’s violent crime rate.
Many exiles have bought and sold real estate, and others have started their own businesses, such as Luis Schilling. His Doral restaurant, El Arepazo, was crowded as always with Venezuelan customers Wednesday.
"More than 80 percent of the people who come here are from Venezuela,” Schilling said.
On Wednesday, his customers were watching Venezuelan television, which showed the streets in Caracas packed as the body of Hugo Chavez was moved from the hospital. His death was still a shock to many.
A group of Venezuelan students at the University of Miami said Chavez drove them out.
Valeria Briceno said she “and my friends and other people are here because the impact he has been doing in Venezuela has been horrible."
There are more than 300 Venezuelan students at UM, all contributing to the South Florida economy.
With his socialist rhetoric and his leanings toward Iran, North Korea, and Cuba, Chavez scared off tens of thousands of upper-class Venezuelans. South Florida has benefited from those Chavez exiles, said Dr. Ariel Armony, the director of the UM Center for Latin American Studies.
"They have capital, that's of course tremendously important because they didn't want to keep that capital in Venezuela, and they have, very important, very strong entrepreneurial skills,” Armony said. “They have ideas, these are people who want to have a good life and therefore they are not going to sit down and just wait."
There's no exact number of Venezuelan exiles in South Florida; Armony said the census data showing 41,000 is definitely low. Now the question is, will they stay here – or go back to a Venezuela without Chavez?
UM student Silvestro Monaco said that with Chavez gone, he has hope that he could go back.
“Of course I would like to go back to my country,” Monaco said.