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Boca’s Venezuelans gather to discuss the crisis

Boca’s Venezuelans are watching as two presidents vie for control and their country dissolves into chaos.

U.S. backed Juan Guaidó’s recent uprising failed to oust Nicolás Maduro. The BBC just reported 4 million people have fled, creating a refugee crisis.

There was so much interest in Boca Chamber’s International Business Alliance on Venezuela, it sold out immediately, Chamber executive v.p. Sarah Pearson said.

“We are a problem for the world. No one is prepared to receive so many people,” said speaker Belen Marrero, a TV presenter and actress. “Two weeks without electricity. In hospital, you die. No press, no news. No certainty what’s going on.”

A thriving black market operates behind the scenes. Terrorist organizations operate with impunity, she added.

“Who qualifies for asylum? Normally, Venezuelans fleeing a socialist dictator would get protected status,” said Mary Sol Gonzalez, who founded the alliance.

She’s seeing more rejections of relatives who have nieces and nephews here, even people in their 70s, an immigration attorney said.

“I don’t think they’ll be hunted down or sent back to genocide,” said former U.S. senator George LeMieux and Senate Armed Services Committee member, the other speaker.

He predicted the Senate will pass a bill before the August recess. U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have “a sense of urgency,” he added.

“But there’s a chance nothing will get done until the elections,” said LeMieux, chairman of the Gunster law firm.

He would give Maduro a 60-day deadline and an exit strategy, “even if he takes money,” LeMieux said. “I’d be very surprised if by Oct. 1 nothing has happened. But even if you get rid of Maduro and hold a free election, that’s just the first step.”

What can people here do?

Food for the Poor’s Jon Sahn told the group the organization is helping refugees who fled to Colombia.

Gonzalez held an April fundraiser for bottles and baby formula and partnered with Mas is More Foundation to deliver the donations. She brought the two women in charge to the chamber meeting.

Lynn University’s Barbara Cambia hosted the monthly luncheon as usual in the Wold Performing Arts Center on campus. The school has an international student population with 28 students from Venezuela, she said.

By Marci Shatzman

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