MIAMI (CBSMiami) – More than a thousand Venezuelans who live in South Florida boarded buses and caught flights bound for New Orleans on Sunday so they could cast their ballot in their homeland’s presidential election.
The government of President Hugo Chavez earlier this year closed the country’s consulate in Miami, where most Venezuelans living in the U.S. have cast ballots in the past. It later said voters would have to travel to New Orleans if they want to participate in the October 7th election.
Numerous groups surfaced to assist U.S.-based Venezuelan voters, with information distributed on the Internet and social media, as well as at coffee shops and bookstores frequented by Venezuelans.
The groups include Voto Joven and Voto Donde Sea, comprised mostly of young people, and the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, or Democratic Unity Table, a coalition of political parties backing opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
Many making the trip from South Florida hope the fresh-faced Capriles can pull off a win.
“He is so enthusiastic. He loves Venezuela and you can see it,” Maria Verde said.
“We need the change,” Greeny Valbuena said.
The trek to the “Big Easy” was a hardship in terms of time and money for many voters. But some, especially those who want to stop Chavez from being re-elected to another 6 year term, made the trip anyway.
“Yeah we’re frustrated. Yes we’re angry,” said Verde. “But it’s our way of showing Chavez that no matter what road block you put up there, we’re ready to take the challenge.”
More than 1,200 South Floridians traveled to New Orleans from South Florida as part of “Voto Donde Sea”.
“We’re not promoting a candidate or a special political ideology,” said “Voto Donde Sea” director Vanessa Duran. “We just want people to participate and strengthen democracy in our country this way.”
About 15,800 Venezuelans in the U.S. voted in their country’s Dec. 2006 presidential election, three-quarters of them in Miami. Of the 10,800 Venezuelans voting in Florida, 98 percent cast ballots for the opposition candidate and 2 percent for Chavez. Thirty-four percent of registered voters did not participate, according to figures from Venezuela’s Elections Council.
Most Venezuelans in the U.S. are professionals or business people who left their country after Chavez became president in 1999. The number of Venezuelans in the U.S. burgeoned from 91,500 in 2000 to 215,000 in 2010, according to the 2010 Census, with 57 percent of them living in Florida.