The last time Venezuela was South Florida’s top trading partner was in 1993. It has been dethroned by Brazil and ranked fifth last year with a total trade of $6.7 billion, but Venezuela is importing more now from South Florida than ever.
“Eighty-nine cents of every dollar of our trade with Venezuela was an export,” said Ken Roberts, president of WorldCity, a South Florida media company that analyzes trade data.
But with another devaluation of the bolivar last month, Venezuela’s ability to buy has diminished and it could be a tougher year for South Florida traders and retailers.
“Through the years Venezuelans have dealt with many crises,” Lasaga said, “but they realize Miami is a safe haven.”
For Peñalver, who came as a student, it has become home. He got married, had two daughters, bought a home in the Westchester area and established his own business here. After getting a degree in computer science, he spent 15 years selling computers and software in Latin America.
“I sold quite a bit in Venezuela and did a lot of business with the Venezuelan government,” said Peñalver, 51.
But as the profit margin in the computer business fell, he decided to establish his own company, Logistical Outsourcing, which provides corporate clothing, trade show banners, promotional items and marketing solutions.
The business he started in his home has grown to 11 employees, a 5,000-square-foot warehouse and annual revenue of more than $2 million.
Concerned with crime and insecurity in his homeland, he recently brought his 81-year-old mother here, and she has become a permanent resident. “I wanted her to participate in my success,” he said.
“This is home, but I hope for the best for my country,” Peñalver said. “Sometimes I remember Venezuela and I cry. The country I remember isn’t there anymore. I wish I could show my kids where I played, where I lived, all the little places I remember when I was growing up.”