Hugo Chavez’s death draws quick reaction in South Florida
By South Florida Business Journal
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has died after a lengthy battle with cancer, the Venezuelan government announced. He was 58.
His death resonates in South Florida, which has a sizable Venezuelan population in areas including Doral, a booming city west of Miami International Airport, and Weston, an upscale city on the edge of the Everglades in western Broward County. Weston has so many Venezuelan residents that it’s nicknamed “Westonzuela.”
Among those reacting was Gustavo Pena, a partner at Ascendo Resources, a professional services company. He was an attorney in Venezuela but his family left after Chávez made things difficult for the family’s newspaper.
“Investments and home buying from Venezuelans in South Florida are going to be put on hold for a while; some of them might even start taking the money and focus back to Venezuela in order to cash in down the road once ‘El Chavismo’ leaves office,” said Pena.
Chavismo is the term that describes Chávez’s leftist politics.
“Some folks that are struggling and/or haven’t completely adapted to Florida might start thinking of going back; even though the insecurity might make them think it twice,” said Pena.
Pena also said South Florida banks will need to beware of “politically exposed persons” who will abandon the Chavismo ship and look to protect their illegally made money.
Chávez was succeeded by his hand-picked successor, VP Nicolás Maduro. Pena said he expected Maduro to win the upcoming election, “so not many things will change in the short term politically speaking.”
Opposition politicians have been critical of Chávez’s approach, including oil subsidies for Cuba.
Carlos J. Arboleda , a corporate strategy executive with South Florida-based COI access, who knows many Venezuelan bankers, said, “Chávez’s death should encourage the flow of commerce, as well as money coming into the U.S. from Venezuela, because the risk of alienation or repercussion is mostly gone based on one man’s passing. Individual and corporate investments originating from Venezuela should increase significantly, and specifically affect South Florida in a positive way. We also expect institutions and entities operating in South Florida currently, to be able to do more in terms of expansion or M&A as a result.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said: “With the passing of Hugo Chávez, hopefully there will be a peaceful transition of power in Venezuela with real, meaningful democratic reforms.”
The Venezuelan economy has shown signs of stress.
In early February, the Venezuelan government devalued the bolívar by 32 percent and eliminated its authorized system for foreign exchange.
In the Miami Customs District, which stretches from the Florida Keys to Port St. Lucie, Venezuela is the No. 5 trading partner, with $6.7 billion in total trade in 2012, according to WorldCity.
The devaluation of the bolívar and the lack of an exchange system may impact many Venezuelans who were on the fence about buying property, Manuel Lopez, branch manager of Cambridge Mercantile Group’s Florida office, said prior to Chávez’s death. It also impacts their spending in other areas, such as commercial real estate and direct investment in businesses.
In 2012, Venezuelan buyers made up 7 percent of home sales to international buyers in Florida, according to the National Association of Realtors.