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By Oralia Ortega

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The lines outside the Watsco Center at the University of Miami stretched as far as the eye could see as Venezuelans turned out in full force all across South Florida to reject the government’s controversial plan to rewrite the constitution.

gettyimages 815736196 Venezuelans Vote For Unofficial Plebiscite To Challenge Maduro

Venezuelan citizens line up to vote in a non-binding referendum against the Venezuelan governement’s plans to re-write their constitution to stay in power in Miami, Florida, on July 16, 2017.
(Photo by RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)

“We’re estimating over 100,000 people participating and voting only in South Florida,” said organizer Mario Di Giovanni.

Back in May, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced plans for a July 30th vote to elect members of a special assembly that will restructure Venezuela’s constitution.

“One particular thing that makes this act unlawful is that they never consulted with the people, if they people want to change the constitution,” said Di Giovanni. “This was a typical step in the constitution of Venezuela. This was the same step that was taken in the last referendum to change the constitution.”

Maduro’s plans to change the constitution is what lead Venezuelans across the globe to come together Sunday to vote on this symbolic referendum that has no legal impact — and one that the country’s leader calls illegitimate.

“How does this government dare to even say ‘illegitimate’ when they have a process in 15 days that is completely out of the constitution,” said Beatriz Olavarria.

For the past several months, Venezuelans have taken to the streets in opposition of President Maduro.

Voters across the seven different voting locations in South Florida are hoping the turnout sends a message to the Venezuelan government to listen to the people and end the violent clashes that have claimed dozens of lives.

“It’s been 20 years already and we haven’t had the freedom, so that’s what I’m here for, voting for my country,” said Viviana Salazar.

For many, the frustrations have been mounting.

“I’m tired of hearing stories of my friends and family getting hurt, things that they can’t find what they need in the supermarket, the fact that there’s no medicine for the old people that are sick in the hospital, the fact that everybody’s out there fighting the national government that’s being oppressive because we can’t be free,” said Santiago Mata.

Protesters say Maduro is seeking to consolidate a dictatorship in the oil-rich nation and must be stopped before critical food and medicine shortages worsen.


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