By Gary Nelson

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In a historic vote, millions of Venezuelans turned out in full force to vote on President Nicolas Maduro’s controversial plan to rewrite the Constitution.  In Florida, organizers say more than a hundred thousand Venezuelans voted.

Venezuelans hope the vote brings an end to the violent clashes that have claimed dozens of lives in the past few months, and persuade Maduro to back off his hopes of transforming the country into a Cuba-type model.

The vote is not legally binding and President Maduro says he will not recognize the results. Organizers say more than seven million people voted, 98 percent of them against the Maduro plan to alter the constitution.

“The significance of this vote is letting the Maduro regime know that 7.1 million Venezuelans are against his attempt to change the constitution in a couple of weeks,” said Helena Poleo, a journalist who covered Venezuela for years and whose family still owns one of the few remaining opposition newspapers there.

While Maduro calls Sunday’s vote illegitimate, Poleo says the growing opposition cannot be dismissed.  Many of those now battling the Maduro government are former supporters.

“They have changed over to the opposition simply because they are hungry,” Poleo said. “They don’t have food. They don’t have medicine. They were not given what the government promised them.”

The referendum may not carry legal weight but it has heavy meaning for South Florida’s Venezuelan community which turned out to vote in large numbers. Some locations even stayed open past their official closing time so that everyone in line could vote.

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.

Back in May, President 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. 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,” said organizer Mario Di Giovanni.

On Monday night, the Trump administration released a statement on the situation in Venezuela. It read:

“Yesterday, the Venezuelan people again made clear that they stand for democracy, freedom, and rule of law.  Yet their strong and courageous actions continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.

“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.  If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”

For months, Venezuelans have taken to the streets in opposition of President Maduro.  At least 100 protestors have been killed by government riot troops.  During Sunday’s vote, a woman was shot dead in Venezuela and four others wounded at a polling place by gunmen believed to be loyal to the Maduro regime.

There is little belief Maduro will abandon his efforts to become a Castro-esque dictator.  There are no protesters in the streets of Cuba, however, tens of thousands have filled the streets at times in Venezuela, protesters who are showing no signs of going away.


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