By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — A Florida congressman is calling on President Obama to grant political asylum to Venezuelans caught in a rising tide of violence in the South American country.
“As conditions continue to worsen in Venezuela and current civil unrest shows no sign of ending, the United States must provide refuge for those fleeing Venezuela or fearful of returning. I urge you to use your executive authority to provide relief to these individuals,” U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., wrote to the president Monday.
Garcia also wants the president to halt deportation of Venezuelans who may be in this country illegally.
The plea comes just days after Florida U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Balart pushed Congress and the president to impose restrictions that would block visas, property purchases and financial transactions of people involved in human-rights violations. The two also want restrictions on oil and gasoline imports from Venezuela.
Annette Taddeo-Goldstein chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee, said Garcia’s call for action “has nothing to do with partisan politics.” Because the congressman and the president are Democrats, “it’s easier for us, of his own party, to ask the president to do this and we are doing that.”
She said Obama has the executive authority to provide the relief and that “congressional action is not necessary,” although she could not say how many people would be affected by Garcia’s proposal.
This is not the first time Garcia has sought special treatment for Venezuelans. Last year, the congressman sought permanent residence to undocumented Venezuelans who had come to the U.S. before the late President Hugo Chavez came to power, though his proposal, along with immigration reform, failed.
Venezuelans make up a sizeable community in Florida. According to a 2010 census, the number of Venezuelans living in the country has doubled since 2000 to about 215,000.
Much of what’s going on in Venezuela isn’t new. Repression has been the order of the day for more than 14 years.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla., said Venezuela’s unrest is a result of Cuba’s close ties to the country.
“The government of Venezuela is a puppet of Havana” and is “completely infiltrated by Cubans and foreign affairs military officials” because “the Venezuelan government is giving them cheap oil,” said Rubio, whose family fled Cuba in the 1950s.
“This is a government that supports Cuba,” he said. “It’s shameful that many members of Congress who traveled to Venezuela and were friendly with Chavez sit and say nothing while this is going on.”
On Tuesday,the Obama administration expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to their Feb. 17 expulsion of the three U.S. embassy officials in Caracas.
Sixteen people have died and hundreds have been injured in the recent unrest in the Venezuela.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter