Thousands of Venezuelans living in the southern United States made their way to New Orleans to vote in their country’s presidential election. Despite the long and costly journey, they were celebrating.
Busloads of people arrived at the Convention Center early Sunday morning. The line stretched a mile long, but the mood was festive. Venezuelan flags flew from cars passing the crowds.
Venezuelans living in the U.S. are critical of President Hugo Chavez. Most are professionals who left after he took office in 1999. Dr. Richard Smith of Windermere, Florida, is anxious for change.
“We want Venezuela to be the leader in America of democracy. And we have a dictatorship right now.”
Many came from Miami. There had been a consulate there serving four states, but it was closed this year by Chavez after a diplomatic incident.
Antoinette Siem spent her birthday on a bus, coming from Gainesville, Florida.
“My husband had to vote in Venezuela because unfortunately he’s not registered in Miami. Miami consulate was closed when he went. And I am here. And we are pleased. It’s not easy but for the freedom of Venezuela it’s worth it.”
Nathalie Condjahn drove with three others from Miami in a rental car, stopping overnight and sharing expenses. She says the cost and inconvenience wouldn’t stop her voting.
“It hasn’t been a democracy. And people in Venezuela are living — it’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare.”
Voter turnout was high in Venezuela, where Chavez won a fourth term.