Venezuelans in Miami organized charters to go vote against Chavez

27 September 2012

 In an election that was presented as the toughest to Chavez, Venezuelans who fled to Florida since he took power in 1999 are mobilizing online to achieve his departure from the presidency.

At least two groups have pledged to carry thousands of voters in charter flights and buses to a polling belonging Venezuela’s consulate in New Orleans so they can vote on October 7.

Only 2% of Venezuelans in Florida voted for the Bolivarian leader in his landslide victory in 2006, reveal the official results, which means that expatriates might give an advantage to the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles in a close contest. However, for most foreign Venezuelan community, to exercise the right to vote is something that has been hampered by Chavez’s decision to close the consulate in Miami after allegations of espionage by the United States.

Chavez, 58, often described as “fugitives” to Venezuelans living in Miami, referring to opponents and former allies who moved there to escape the trials. Equating anti-Castro Cuban community in Florida, Chavez said that Miami has become a focus of conspiracies against his government.

Although 100,495 Venezuelans registered to vote abroad represent 0.5% of the electorate, this election could be tight enough to change the outcome expatriates, according to Gustavo Rojas, director of consultancy Polinomics.

“This could be an election very, very close. So when it comes to Miami, we are talking about a significant number of voters, “said Rojas.“Fundamentally, they are people who left Venezuela because they believe that the Chavez government has reduced the opportunities,” he added.

Eduardo Silva, professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans, however, said that in Miami there are not enough voters to turn the election.

Pollsters are divided, although none shows Chávez dominate as in 2006, when he won with 63%. Capriles had a support of 48.1% against 46.2% for Chavez in a poll conducted in late August by Consultores 21.In another survey, Datanalisis Chavez scored 49.4% compared to 39% of former governor of Miranda.

One initiative is to facilitate voting, whose founder, Andrew Casanova said he will fly to voters in 1114 for free to New Orleans. Another group, VotoDondeSea, aims to give discounts to 1,100 people in the passages of the buses that go to that city .

Both groups say they are not accepting donations from supporters and members of all political orientations, but none revealed who give them financial support. They are also mobilizing voters to travel to New York, Chicago and other U.S. cities where Venezuela has consulates. None plan to travel to the Caribbean country.

Although not actively campaigning in Miami, Capriles has highlighted the importance of voting for expatriates. “Venezuelans there are not refugees, they are mostly young people who were looking for work, they are spending money we do not have to go out and vote,” he said a few days ago.

The National Electoral Council of Venezuela decided not to open a polling place in Miami after Chavez closed the consulate in January in retaliation for the expulsion of the consul, accused of spying for the United States.

The Ministry of Information did not return calls from Bloomberg News to ask if the government was trying to prevent the votes from Miami.

The anti-Chavez vote has gained strength because for the first time the Venezuelan opposition has united behind a single candidate. That fervor is palpable in the city of Doral, Miami and neighboring residence of many Venezuelans who has been called “small Caracas”. Customers of a local restaurant called The Arepazo eat arepas and take soursop juice while watching activities Capriles campaign live on TV. The restaurant sells bracelets and stickers with the name of Capriles.

“People are exhausted after more than a decade of Chavez,” said Luis Alberto Schilling, owner of The Arepazo. “I never saw such enthusiasm about going to vote.”