Steve Mort is an Emmy nominated journalist and videographer for Feature Story News. His reporting, shooting and editing is seen on client TV and radio broadcasters around the world, including PBS NewsHour.
See his latest reports from Florida below:
Political leaders in Venezuela are trying to figure out ways to tackle the country's violent crime epidemic.
But as President Nicolas Maduro’s government grapples with the issue many Venezuelans are feeing the South American nation. Many head to Florida, citing personal security fears as a reason to leave their homeland. The killing of the 2004 Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, and her ex-husband, in a gun attack on their car, brought those fears into stark relief.
Among those deciding to leave in large numbers are members of the country's Jewish community, who say that a lack of security, combined with growing anti-Semitism, makes like in the country too hard.
Paul Hariton is one of about 260,000 people of Venezuelan origin in the United States. Born in Venezuela, he moved to the US 12 years ago just after Hugo Chavez returned to power following a failed coup. "I think the government is not friendly with Israel. It's not friendly to the Jewish cause,” said Hariton sitting in his living room in Hallandale Beach.
Hariton is an architect and property developer in Miami’s high-rise real estate market. Just to the north, the city of Aventura has become home to a growing population of Jews from Venezuela. In the 1990s, some 25,000 Jews are thought to have lived in Venezuela. Today that number is estimated to be as small as 9,000.
"It's a big loss for the country because all my friends' kids who are here and going to Harvard and Stamford and Yale are going to be great professionals here instead of going back as I did. I went to school in New York and when I graduated I went back to Venezuela. I worked there for almost 30 years. And that's it's loss. That won't happen again, “ said Hariton.
One of those left Venezuela and took up residence in Aventura is Pynchas Brener - a former Chief Rabbi at the largest Ashkenazi Synagogue in Caracas. In that capacity he met with some of the world's leading political and religious figures. "There is just no security in Venezuela,” says Brener, “you go to Caracus and after 6 o'clock in the evening you wont see anybody in the street. You see very few cars that venture out because they have to do something extremely important. Many people have bullet proof cars that didn't exist before the Chavez years."
Brener says a series of raids on Jewish schools and synagogues has added to the insecurity of the Jewish community in Caracus: "The people are not anti-Semitic and the government is trying to teach them…of course, you don't know how things will develop. But there is no question that, for the first time since the coming of Chavez into power, anti-Semitism has become something in Venezuela that didn't exist before."
Brener says he fears a brain-drain is taking place in his country as educated families leave Venezuela and while lower-skilled workers arrive. But the International Organization for Migration says that traditionally, Venezuela's been a receiving country for migrants. The World Bank says that between 2009 and 2013, 40,000 more people migrated to Venezuela than left the country. But the country's Jewish population has more than halved in the last decade, a trend that the community here in Florida says is likely to continue.
NASA AND RUSSIA
NASA’s decision last year to cut most of its contacts with Russia has sparked concern among some veterans of America’s space program. The US space agency’s move to sever some areas of cooperation came in response to the on-going stand-off with the Kremlin over Ukraine.