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Venezuela business owners flee in silence to Florida

Venezuela business owners flee in silence to Florida

MIAMI — Political unrest in Venezuela is driving scores of business owners to seek refuge the U.S., but they’re not loudly proclaiming their new-found freedom.

Instead, they are working in silence, performing a delicate balancing act between the two countries.

Ernesto Akerman, a prominent businessman in South Florida’s Venezuelan community and founding president of Independent Venezuelan-American Citizens, said most of the wealthy Venezuelan entrepreneurs prefer to remain out of the spotlight out of fear for family and friends who remain in the country.

“Look, do you see these two phones?” asked one businessman who asked to remain unidentified. “One is my local number in Venezuela and the other is my local phone here. People can call me on my number from Venezuela and not know I’m here.

“My family lives here and I travel every week and I have a hair salon here in Miami that employs 16 people. But I don’t want (the people in Venezuela) to know, because they take it as a betrayal and I fear reprisals,” he said.

Other sources confirmed that they were doing the same thing but refused to talk on record.

Tax consultant and auditor Roberto Macho recently spoke with about 30 mostly Venezuelan business people, warning them that if they spend more than 183 days in the U.S.,  they will have to pay a U.S. income tax on money earned here.

Patricia Andrade, a founder of the Venezuela Awareness Foundation, said inquiries are flooding in from citizens of the South American country.

“Those who come with nothing ask for political asylum. Business owners want advice on liquidating and bringing at least some of their assets and money,” she said.

Until they have sever ties with Venezuela, they prefer remaining anonymous, she said.

Jesus Aveledo, of the law firm Aveledo Urdaneta & Associates, is a director of the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce of the United States. He said the number of Venezuelans seeking refuge in the U.S. is growing, especially in the past five years.

Those who can, are getting out as violent protests continue to grip Venezuela.

“It’s a community that has come to the U.S. with assets,” Aveledo said. “Many of them studied in the United States, and who know the American way of life.

“They are making investments in real estate, hotels, factories and media,” he said.

Others, like Luis Barnola and Claudia Felisce, left say they left Venezuela so quickly they don’t know what will happen to their property.

The couple arrived in Miami just two weeks ago after winning the visa lottery. They dream of starting an Italian foods distribution business with the cash they managed to bring with them.

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.

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