“The government then had a decision to make: bow to private pressure or give the price regulations teeth by expropriating those who refuse to follow them,” albeit with compensation, said George Ciccarielo-Maher, a Drexel University professor and author of We Created Chavez. “In every case it’s a question of negotiation between social demands and market demands, private profit and public good.”
As Venezuelans pulled their money out of their home country, the Dominican Republic counted itself among the many beneficiaries. Through the years, South Florida with a population of more than 70,000 Venezuelans also has reaped the benefits of capital and know-how from Venezuela.
In recent years, Venezuelan investments have changed Santo Domingo’s skyline, planting an office tower with an art house movie theater below, hotels, and a shopping mall replete with Cartier and Louis Vuitton shops.
Outside the capital, Venezuelans built a $120 million golf resort and an oceanfront residential development with an artificial island.
“As painful as it has been for many Venezuelans to leave the country, there has also been a veritable growth of businessmen abroad," said Moises Bittan, director of a Caracas-based consultancy, Finantop, which advises business on how to expand abroad.
In recent years Venezuelan companies have invested $920 million in the Dominican Republic, according to the Dominican Republic Export and Investment Center.
Forbes magazine ranks Gustavo Cisneros as Venezuela’s richest man. But now Cisneros, who is also a shareholder in the Sambil company, holds Dominican citizenship and his daughter, Adriana — recently named chief executive of the Cisneros Group — is overseeing development of an enormous tourist development in the untouched rural northeast of the Dominican Republic.
Although the Cisneros Group still has substantial holdings in Venezuela, it moved its operational headquarters to Coral Gables in 2000.
In the Dominican Republic, few projects have been as visible as the Sambil mall, the country’s largest shopping center.
Shoppers filter past vintage sports cars that line the hallways. The aquarium, offering starfish petting tanks, draws a long line of gawkers.
“We get people from all over the country to visit. It’s an experience,” said Alexis Hernandez, the Sambil executive who is managing the mall’s opening.
Hernandez acknowledged Chávez’s expropriation of the Candelaria mall in Caracas, but said it had not affected the company’s investment strategy. The company declined to say whether it had received compensation for the Venezuelan mall.
“As a company, we felt that it was time to use our experience and success in Venezuela to branch out,” he said.
The company has seven malls in Venezuela, including a popular shopping center in Caracas. It is also building a mall in Curaçao in the southern Caribbean.
“We continue to look for opportunities to expand in Venezuela,” Hernandez said.
However, in private discussions with U.S. officials in Venezuela, company officials expressed their dismay over the government’s handling of the Candelaria mall.
A 2009 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, stated the principal owners of the company, the Cohen family, were “ready to negotiate, to give the government what it wants … but no one will talk to them,’” a lawyer who represents the family said, according to the cable.