Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart dislikes Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro so much that he framed the notice banning the congressman from the country, hung it in his office and bragged about it on social media.
But the Miami Republican’s wife promoted travel to Venezuela two years ago. In 2016, a year after the ban on Diaz-Balart was announced by Maduro, Tia Diaz-Balart posted a list of “best places to visit in Venezuela” on the website for Ladat Travel, a company founded by the congressman’s wife to create “custom-tailored dream vacations” for clients and groups. The posts mostly describe tourist attractions like Venezuela’s Angel Falls, the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall. Tia Diaz-Balart’s LinkedIn page says she founded the company in August 2014 and worked there until September 2017, and the company’s associated LLC shows up in Diaz-Balart’s 2014 federal financial disclosure.
When asked by the Miami Herald, Diaz-Balart’s campaign said Mario and Tia Diaz-Balart never made any money off tourists traveling to Venezuela or anywhere else because the business venture never got off the ground.
“She never made any money off of any tour or travel anywhere,” Diaz-Balart campaign representative Cesar Gonzalez said. “It was kind of like this idea that she had of starting this travel agency. It never took off.”
Gonzalez said Tia Diaz-Balart never did any work for Ladat beyond designing some websites. Ladat’s travel website with the Venezuela quotes was deleted after the Miami Herald brought it to the attention of Diaz-Balart’s campaign, and an associated Twitter account was scrubbed on Tuesday.
“Thanks for visiting — our travel blog is no longer active. Have a great day!” Ladat’s Twitter bio reads. A Yelp page associated with the business describes it as “concierge travel services to design the dream trips for vacations, group or corporate travel” and the State of Florida lists Ladat LLC as an active company in its corporate database.
Diaz-Balart is one of Maduro’s biggest critics in Congress and represents Doral, the city with the highest percentage of Venezuelan residents in the U.S. He has repeatedly attacked Maduro for his close relationship with the late Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro and is pushing for sweeping sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector as the South American country deals with rampant inflation and starvation.
“What you have in Venezuela is a regime that continues every day to become more violent, more aggressive and anti-democratic,” Diaz-Balart said last year ahead of a vote to consolidate Maduro’s power. “What we are doing is demonstrating solidarity with the Venezuelan people.”
The only year where Ladat is listed in Mario Diaz-Balart’s federal financial disclosures is in 2014, and no income amount for the business is listed. Since 2014, Tia Diaz-Balart’s employment has been listed as “Dog Dude Ranch of Miami,” a cage-free dog kennel in Kendall. Diaz-Balart has attacked former judge Mary Barzee Flores, his Democratic opponent in the upcoming general election, for her husband’s income as an attorney who defended clients accused of terrorist activities and murder.
“Why is household income relevant? Because it’s what you bring home to pay your bills,” Diaz-Balart said to the Miami Herald’s editorial board during a recent interview, arguing that Barzee Flores’ day-to-day life is financed through her husband’s work defending suspected criminals.
“Legal, constitutional, but you make choices,” Diaz-Balart said, arguing that Barzee Flores’ household income is of more relevance to voters than a $1,000 campaign contribution he received from the National Rifle Association after the Parkland shooting because campaign contributions can’t be used for personal use.
Gonzalez said the Diaz-Balarts never made any money from the travel venture beyond a few dollars from advertisements posted on the now deleted website.
“The posts have to do with the waterfalls, she was just talking about how pretty they are,” Gonzalez said. “It was just kind of like one of her ideas that she had. She’s never arranged a trip anywhere in the world, not Key West, not Venezuela.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gamez Torres contributed to this report.
Alex Daugherty, @alextdaugherty, 202-383-6049