Venezuelan tourists hoping to find fun in Floridas sun are being told to make their plans on the cheap.
New regulations imposed by the Venezuelan government restrict vacationers planning trips to Florida, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru to a $700 spending limit and $300 cash.
The new spending limits, however, dont include other U.S. states or other destinations like Cuba and Asia. In those places, the previous $2,500 limits for credit purchases and $500 in cash will continue.
Luis Ramirez, president of the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce of the United States, said the new credit card and spending limits are another attempt by the Venezuelan government to curb the capital flight out of the South American country. Money started flowing out of Venezuela after late President Hugo Chavez introduced currency controls in 2008 to limit the amount of foreign currency Venezuelans could legally purchase from the government.
Its a very difficult incentive to fight, but it is caused by a bad policy, Ramirez said, referring to the unintended consequences of the governments failing economic policies.
Everything originates from an economic policy that has restricted economic activity, and now people are looking to profit from the exchange rates because Venezuela is becoming a country increasingly dependent on imports, Ramirez said.
The government is trying to act against those who, motivated by profit, are using the foreign exchange quota allocated by the government, and who come to Miami to do what is called the card thing. Thats illegal here and in Venezuela, he said.
The card thing is an elaborate scheme involving government officials, local merchants, Venezuelan travelers and middlemen, and where eye-popping profits are being made simply by using credit cards to purchase dollars at the official rate -- currently 11.3 bolivars to the dollar -- and later selling them on the black market for much more.
Attorney Maria Trina Burgos, co-founder of Justicia Para la Democracia, an organization of Venezuelan-American lawyers who devote their time and energy to achieving democratic values and justice in Venezuela, said the recent spending change punishes Venezuelans residing in Florida -- about 50 percent of all Venezuelans living in the U.S. -- as well as their visiting relatives.
The flight from Caracas to Miami is two and a half hours, and this is a favorite destination for Venezuelans traveling abroad, she said.
The $700 spending limit would barely cover the cost of admission to Walt Disney World in Orlando for a family of six, she said.
Ramirez said the restrictions will cost Florida about $1 billion in lost revenue. He calculated that about 60,000 Venezuelans take the direct Caracas-to-Miami flight each month, amounting to about 720,000 annual visitors, each of whom were spending an average of $1,800.
Those who stand to lose are the hotels, car rental agencies, electronics retailers (Venezuelans like to buy electronics in the U.S. because they are cheaper) and, of course, the airlines will also feel the decline, he said.
Ramirez said he doesnt believe the new limits will solve Venezuelas currency problems and will only end up punishing innocent people.
The problem is that everyone pays for the sins of a few, because everyone is affected by a small group looking to speculate, Ramirez said. The government is discouraging travel to South Florida and encouraging other travel destinations like Cuba and Surinam, where the spending limits are higher.
The spending restriction in Florida is just another dart thrown at Venezuelan nationals who have taken up residency in the Sunshine State. In 2012, Chavez ordered the closure of the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami when the State Department ordered Consul Livia Acosta Noguera to leave the country. Chavez died in March 2013.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.