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Venezuelans In Houston React To Presidential Standoff

Venezuelans are one of the fastest-growing immigrant groups in the Houston metro area. Over three million people have already left the country, fleeing the ongoing crisis and making new homes in countries around the world.

Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-run congress, declares himself interim president of the nation until elections can be held during a rally demanding President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Venezuelans in Houston are reacting to news that they may have a new president, after opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president on Wednesday, amid widespread national protests.

The U.S. and most Latin American countries recognize Guaidó as the country's interim leader, while authoritarian president Nicolas Maduro maintains his regime is still in charge.

The political standoff could have big impacts on Houston, which refines Venezuelan oil and has received a significant number of immigrants fleeing the country.


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"In Houston, there's a big population of Venezuelans that work in the oil industry, work in education, that work in the medical center. If this conflict escalates, we may expect an increase in the exiles of Venezuelans in Texas,” Julian Cardenas, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, told Houston Matters. Cardenas is also a former career diplomat for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela.

The ongoing conflict has already led to a sharp increase in the number of Venezuelans moving to Houston. In the last seven years, the number of Venezuelans in Houston more than tripled, from 10,000 in 2010 to 33,000 people in 2017, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute.

Venezuelans make up the 12th largest immigrant group in Houston, and are tied with Cubans as the fastest-growing group of immigrants in the metro area.

“The Venezuelan community both in Houston and around the world are very encouraged and hopeful that the crisis and the problem that is happening in the country will be resolved,” Eduardo Hurtado, a Venezuelan political analyst and author, said in Spanish.

“This is a problem that affects both those that live in Venezuela and those who live abroad because we have to work twice as hard to support our families that live in the daily decline of this failed model of socialism,” he said.


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As the news broke Thursday, Venezuelans in Houston also shared their reactions on social media.

Francisco J. Monaldi, a Fellow in Latin American energy policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute, wrote on Twitter, referencing the national anthem: “Glory to the brave people who shook off the yoke… an anthem that begins like this doesn’t bode well for the dictator.”

Gulf Coast refineries would be most hurt by U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil

If Maduro refuses to step down, the Trump administration could decide to place sanctions on Venezuelan oil, as he has formally broken diplomatic relations with the United States.

Houston and other Gulf Coast refineries depend on heavy Venezuelan crude to cut with lighter crude coming from West Texas, according to the firm Rystad Energy.

"Venezuela is very important for oil markets, not so much the sheer volumes but rather for the quality of their crude. Sanctions would make US Gulf coast refiners the biggest loser," said Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez-Masiu.

Rystad Energy