BATTLE LINES ARE BEING DRAWN: An anti-government demonstrator is held on the ground along with others, as he is detained during clashes May 14 at a protest in Caracas, Venezuela. Members of Venezuela’s opposition pulled out of crisis negotiations with the government as security forces arrested scores of people in fierce clashes with demonstrators.
By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI —Venezuelan business owners who profit from their ties to the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro while living the good life in Florida are in the crosshairs of federal lawmakers.
Locally, they’re called “los enchufados” – literally “the plugged in.”
In one recent account, owners of Venezuela’s Goblovisión – a network committed to advancing that country’s socialist agenda – were reportedly living in million-dollar mansions, motoring around in mega yachts, and splurging on trips to Miami.
“There are two kind of businessman coming here,” said medical equipment retailer and manufacturer Ernesto Ackerman, a Venezuelan-American who came to the U.S. in 1995. “The decent businessmen, and the other kind who steal money from the Venezuelan government and come here to do business. We don’t want that, we don’t need that. That’s why we want the U.S. government to impose sanctions against those kind of businesses.
“The U.S. government and the FBI have the tools to investigate those people,” he said, referring to the specialized software that tracks money trails.
Ackerman recently organized a trip to Washington, D.C., to ask Congress to sanction anyone involved with human-rights abuses in the socialist nation. Punishments would include the yanking of visas, freezing bank accounts and imposing trade embargoes.
Two proposals are moving through Congress. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week greenlighted sanctions, while a similar bill advanced in the House last week.
Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson caused a stir last week when she told a Senate hearing that sanctions would undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts in Venezuela. Targeting the guilty would be difficult, she said.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla, offered to help Jacobson find the politically connected businessmen.
“They live in Miami, where they own a mansion worth millions of dollars in Cocoplum,” he shot back. “They drive luxury cars and they laugh at you and at us because they know they can do that with impunity.”
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Rubio wrote:
“Either the State Department made a mistake, or it is relying on unfounded information as its basis for opposing sanctions on Venezuelan regime officials at this time. In either case, I am deeply troubled about the mixed signals and message of impunity the Administration is sending to the Maduro regime and its enablers as its repressive machine ramps up the brutality of human rights abuses inflicted on peaceful demonstrators, including more than 240 students arrested the morning of May 8 — the same morning the Senate Foreign Relations Committee examined these matters.”
Ackerman said he wants President Obama to do what he did with Honduras.
“In a few hours he imposed sanctions against formerPresident Micheleti, which last until today.”
Ackerman said he has no idea why the U.S. won’t sanction politically connected Venezuelans, but implied it may have something to do with “some U.S. congressmen having friendships with Maduro.”
Meanwhile, some think Venezuela could beat the U.S. to the punch and impose its own sanctions on American businesses.
Foreign Minister Elías Jaua announced Sunday that Venezuela will file a formal complaint at the United Nations against the United States for its alleged violation of the U.N. charter. The government accuses top U.S. officials and organizations of supporting local elites in a plan to oust Maduro, elected last year after Hugo Chávez’s death, according to media partners PanAmericanPost.
Ackerman pleaded: “Mr. President, please put the sanction in place.”
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Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.