Over the past decade, Broward County's fastest-growing demographic was Venezuelan, and the conventional explanation most bureaucrats, demographers, and activists deployed to explain this trend: Hugo Chavez.
El Comandante's socialistic and populist style of governance, which extolled the virtues of the impoverished class while demonizing the wealthy and upper-middle class, was anathema to many of those who came to South Florida during that period. And when the dude croaked the other day, the celebration in Weston was merry indeed.
So, does that mean there will soon be an exodus of Venezuelans who've recently settled in Broward County?
"We need to clarify what happened," said Ernesto Ackerman, president of Independent Venezuelan-American Citizens. "Chavez is dead, but the other crooks are still alive and are in power. Chavez is dead, yes. But the problem continues. It's not that Chavez is dead and the problem is gone."
In 1999, just a year after Chavez took office, the number of Venezuelans living in Broward and Palm Beach counties was 12,034 -- but in 2011, that figure had exploded to nearly 25,000.
In Fort Lauderdale, Venezuelans were tops among home buyers.
What that has meant, Ackerman said, is that Venezuelans -- regardless of who's in power in Caracas -- are here to stay.
In fact, their numbers may increase even more.
"A lot of Venezuelans are starting businesses and buying properties, so they'll need someone to come from home and help with the business," Ackerman said. "There's no way I see this stopping."
He said until the country solves its "security problems," Venezuelans' immigration to Florida will continue. And while Chavez's death may ultimately push the country toward that solution, it's jetting into contentious elections in a few months to elect a new leader -- which may be anything but stable and secure.
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