They say death and taxes are life’s only certainties. But any Venezuelan knows there’s a third inevitability: after el bonche comes el ratón.
Bonche (pronounced BONE-chay) is slang for a party. Ratón (literally, “mouse” in Spanish) is Venezuelan argot for a hangover. Right now, South Florida’s Venezuelan expats are politically enratonados – especially after Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship tightened its grip on power on Sunday by sweeping rigged parliamentary elections.
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But chamo, what a bonche it was! For two years, Doralzuela (the nickname for Doral, if you just arrived in Miami-Dade County) was a prime presidential destination – and not just because President Trump has a golf resort there. He dropped in so regularly to schmooze “my Venezuelans” you’d have thought he’d given up McDonald’s cheeseburgers and fries for arepas and tequeños.
Since winning Florida’s Latino votes was a domestic policy priority for Trump, freeing Venezuela from President Nicolás Maduro’s disastrous regime – and thereby crippling its dependent ally, communist Cuba – became a top foreign policy crusade.
And kudos to him: I applaud any U.S. president whose attention span on Latin America lasts longer than the average left-turn signal.
Because Trump recognized – rightly – opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s constitutionally legitimate president, Venezuela’s catastrophic humanitarian crisis and the brutal collapse of its democracy got a greater global spotlight. So I can’t really blame Florida’s Venezuelan voters – as many as two-thirds of whom supported Trump, according to polls – for dancing with the guy who made them feel as important as the state’s Cuban voters always feel. Joe Biden barely seemed to cross the salsa floor in comparison.
But like any good bonche, this one lost sobriety. Too many MAGAzuelans, as Venezuelan Trumpers are known, became inebriated with the delusion that the Guaidó gambit alone was enough to topple Maduro. That it would make Venezuela’s military honchos locate their consciences – as if the same colonels and generals under indictment in the U.S. for allegedly running a multi-billion-dollar drug cartel have consciences to locate – and nobly abandon Maduro for the restoration of democracy.
Like any good Venezuelan bonche, the MAGAzuelan revelry lost sobriety — and Maduro’s rigged election victory on Sunday was the ratón (the hangover) to reckon with.
And if that brass wouldn’t cooperate, much of Doralzuela actually believed Trump would fix it all by invading Venezuela. That fantasy became so entrenched in Doral you could hear people greeting each other not with “Good morning” but with “All options are on the table.”
Just as remarkable as what the MAGAzuelans believed is what they wouldn’t believe. Namely, that the guy they were dancing with had two left foreign policy feet – and was, ultimately, just using them to get those 29 Florida electoral votes.
COLD WAR COWBOYS
Trump and his team squandered the international support their Guaidó stratagem won early on, when almost 60 other countries also decided Maduro was an illegitimate president. They acted like Cold War cowboys instead of doing the diplomatic legwork that might have nudged Venezuela’s military. Worse, when Trump himself realized the Maduro regime wouldn’t fall before Election Day, he lost interest in the campaign – except, of course, the part about securing Venezuelan, Cuban and other critical Latino votes in Florida.
But the ugliest bonche behavior was the way so many MAGAzuelans falsely demonized Biden, Democrats, Black Lives Matter – and anyone else not hollering in their Trump tent – as “socialistas” in diabolical league with Maduro. That’s the part you hope will cause the sharpest ratón head-pounding in the weeks and months to come, if and when the anti-socialista revelers locate their own consciences.
For the moment, Biden’s aboveboard victory over Trump last month, and Maduro’s underhanded victory over Guaidó last weekend, are ratón enough. They should be ample convincers that the bonche is over, that Maduro is in power for the long haul – and that Venezuela’s expats are at a crossroads now.
They can take the path of so many Latin American exiles before them and keep lashing out at anyone who doesn’t genuflect to their demand for instant, forceful regime change back home – thereby alienating folks domestic and foreign from their just cause. Or they can drink a few jugos de patilla (watermelon juice – the best ratón remedy I discovered while living in Venezuela) and work with Biden to do the diplomatic due diligence that’s required now.
That is, so that the next bonche will be the one celebrating Maduro’s exit.