Miami in the Meantime

With the future of their country in flux, Venezuelans are setting up shop, and opposing camps, in Florida

But El Venezolano has also managed to raise the ire of confirmed Chavistas in Miami, because Muñoz lends his pages to Chavez opponents. "I think it is important to have opposition," he says. "It gives oxygen to the democratic system."

Manuel Corao, who runs Venezuela al Día, El Venezolano's competition, doesn't see it that way. "We can't create an opposition that doesn't exist," he declares. "What the country needs now is to support Chavez. The day he doesn't make us happy, we will substitute him."

The biweekly newspaper is also located in an industrial section of west Miami-Dade, and Corao claims the circulation is 21,000. Venezuela al Día is a family business run by Corao and his wife, Amelia. The paper has opened its pages to Chavistas in Miami such as Jesus Soto.

All the news that President Hugo Chavez wants printed will be found in El Correo del Presidente
photo courtesy Jesus Soto
All the news that President Hugo Chavez wants printed will be found in El Correo del Presidente

Corao echoes Muñoz with his dismissal of Salas Römer. "It is not that Salas Römer is discredited; it's that he has no resonance in the country," he says.

But he is more skeptical that an anti-Chavez editorial slant in El Nuevo is the work of Cubans. "The fear of leftist dictatorships is so big in the world that it's not just a problem of Miami," he says. "Chavez didn't understand the global communication system. A couple of years ago no one paid attention to what he was saying."

Of course it didn't help matters that Chavez has had two separate visits with Castro.

"Fidel Castro in South Florida is like a red flag to a bull," he says with a grin. "If you want an instant block of opposition all you need to say is 'visit' or 'dialogue' with Fidel Castro."

Still he believes the president understands the danger. "This is why Chavez is trying to change his image," he advances. "That is why he wants his own media."

On October 27 "the official organ of the historic process" will be unveiled for distribution at 55 locations in Miami (it's been published in Venezuela for three months). The editor in chief of El Correo del Presidente is Hugo Chavez. The first issue will be 48 pages, divided in two sections. Future editions will be sixteen pages. Here in the United States the paper will be distributed for free, whereas in Venezuela it is sold six days per week for about thirteen cents. Started by business supporters of the president in Venezuela, Chavez's newspaper has a reported circulation there of 150,000.

Every day the news is good in El Correo del Presidente. The September 16 headline says it all in bold letters that fill a quarter of the page: "Investors Believe in Venezuela." The mail section is a crosscut of praise and supplication. Several articles proclaim the rebounding economy and how Venezuela is forging a new path. The paper also has an international section, a children's section, a sports page, and a cultural page.

The publishers of the newspaper plan to debut three editions in the United States. They insist it is a private enterprise that does not take state money. The idea is to produce different supplements for three separate cities: Houston, New York, and Miami. The goal of the supplements, which will each have a 5000 circulation, is simple: to reassure investors about economic developments in Venezuela. For the Houston edition, the focus will be primarily on oil. The New York issue is aimed at Wall Street and is likely to be printed in English. In Miami the focus will be on economic issues as well, but printed in Spanish. They also hope to expand to the Caribbean.

"It's not political," insists a source involved in the paper's expansion to the United States.

He is right only in the strictest sense. While there is a long tradition in Europe and Latin America of newspapers affiliated with political parties or ideologies, a Chavez broadsheet may be viewed simply as propaganda. "We want to promote investment in Venezuela," says the source, who requested anonymity because he claims he doesn't want to distract attention from the paper. "If it is not political it is more attractive to advertisers."

A Venezuelan restaurant called Caballo Viejo stands in a strip mall in Westchester. On a weekday afternoon, while a hard rain pounds outside, three sets of diners eat a late lunch; a raft of native specialties, such as guasacaca, spicy avocado sauce, accompanies their repast. The décor is simple but with a national accent: Tourism posters and baseball jerseys hang on the wall; the television is tuned to Venezuelan programs.

Behind a long bar stands owner Nilma Fernandez, taking a break from work in the kitchen. She wears a hairnet and apron. She says she didn't take a conventional route to life as a restaurateur. Until recently she was a top-level executive in a Venezuelan multinational, a position she trained for in part by earning a master's degree in business in the United States. She came to Miami for work and to visit family as often as twice a month. (Now, she says with a laugh, she visits Venezuela about as often.) But when Chavez came to power she decided it would be prudent to leave for a while. She says she detests the way the president behaves. Whenever he comes on the television she turns if off. She saw a for-sale advertisement for the restaurant in a Caracas newspaper. By February she was its owner.

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