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Florida residents travel to Venezuelan consulate to vote


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Luis Giraldo/WUFT-FM

It was dark for most of the journey.

Some rode as many as 15 hours.

But this was no ordinary bus trip from Florida to New Orleans.

For those onboard, the trek represented an opportunity to change the political course of their native Venezuela.

A Florida contingent joined more than 8,000 U.S.-based Venezuelans heading to the polls Monday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans who hoped to unseat Hugo Chavez, the leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

Venezuelans abroad can ordinarily vote at the nearest consulate, but the Chavez government closed its embassy in Miami in January after the State Department expelled consul Livia Acosta Noguera, who was implicated in an Iranian plot for a cyber-attack against the U.S.

The closure meant Venezuelans in the southeastern United States would have to venture to the next-closest consulate in New Orleans to cast their ballots.

Chavez, the 58-year-old head of state, has held a dictatorial stronghold over the South American country ever since his election to the presidency in 1999. Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young opposition candidate, tried to challenge the Chavez regime that forced thousands of compatriots to flee the country fearful for their safety.

The hope for change spurred Venezuelans at home and abroad to flock to the polls. They rallied around cries for proper government and a safer country for future generations.

In spite of the opposition’s efforts, Chavez secured more than 54 percent of the vote, holding off Capriles to secure another six years in command, CNN reported. It was his narrowest margin of victory since first taking office.

George Pappas wrote this story online.

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