Miami woman to receive letter from Obama on Venezuela

04/26/2014 7:27 PM

04/27/2014 10:32 AM

Congressman Joe Garcia plans to meet with a Kendall constituent in his office Sunday, but it won’t be a routine visit.

Garcia will deliver a letter to Ruth Alcalá — from President Barack Obama.

The letter is in response to a request Alcalá sent Obama two months ago asking him to publicly condemn Venezuela’s crackdown on protesters.

While he wouldn’t disclose the letter’s contents, Garcia, a Miami Democrat, said Obama wrote “to say he is concerned about what’s going on with Venezuela and what’s going on with the Venezuelan people.”

Alcalá, a 57-year-old Venezuelan who moved to Miami 24 years ago, found out Saturday that the letter awaits her.

“I’m so thrilled that the president would take the time to answer my letter,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to it. Only in America.”

While she said she won’t know until after reading it whether she’s satisfied with Obama’s response, Alcalá called it a “privilege” to have her concerns addressed at least in some way by the White House.

A few days ago, Alcalá posted her letter online on the petition website Change.org, collecting signatures urging Obama for a response. The posting includes a video featuring Alcalá speaking into the camera, pleading for U.S. attention toward her native country.

She wrote to the president on Feb. 24. A few weeks later, she sent it again, this time with 121 signatures in support.

On March 31, with 1,400 signatures, Alcalá, a Democrat, handed her letter to an unlikely ally: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.

The governor had spoken to an enthusiastic crowd at a Venezuelan restaurant in Kendall, criticizing Obama for “not caring” about the turmoil in the South American country. Scott promised to deliver Alcalá’s letter to the White House. His office did so, a spokesman said Saturday.

At the time, Democrats decried Scott’s remarks as election-year pandering to Hispanic voters, noting that Obama criticized Venezuela on Feb. 19 for expelling three U.S. diplomats and arresting protesters.

But that was early on, and the president hasn’t weighed in since.

Garcia, who said his office also forwarded Alcalá’s letter to Obama and asked for a response, said that just because the president hasn’t said much doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.

“The president obviously thinks that this is important, but his role is not to play Goliath to clown David,” he said, referring to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. “The assumption that the U.S. government isn’t doing something is probably pretty naive. We are working with allies in the region, and we have been very supportive of the civil society in Venezuela.”

Local politicians from both parties have taken up the Venezuelan cause, with Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, making an appeal earlier this month for the Obama administration to take a stronger position against Maduro’s government.

Like Scott, the two senators called for sanctions, which are also supported by Garcia, Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

“Republicans and Democrats are behind us. We need all the voices we can get, and that’s all I want,” Alcalá said. “Whoever takes my voice, I will appreciate it very much.”

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