Thousands travel to New Orleans to vote in Venezuelan election

Miami precinct shut down; New Orleans is the closest one

MIAMI – By about 11 p.m. Sunday, the once rowdy crowd became silent outside El Arapazo 2 in Doral. Tears streamed down many faces as people realized that Hugo Chavez won the race for president again in Venezuela.

Earlier in the day, thousands of Venezuelans who call South Florida home, flew or drove to New Orleans, Louisiana to vote at the nearest precinct, hoping to push him out of office. Chavez shut down the consulate in Miami earlier this year after the United States expelled one of its diplomats, making it extremely difficult for 19,000 people to cast a ballot.

Critics said the move is an effort to disenfranchise voters, critics of Chavez, living in South Florida.

"Our government is making us travel 900 miles in order to exercise our right to vote.," said Juan Carlos Sanchez, a Venezuelan voter.

On Sunday, six planes, each carrying 250 people, flew back and forth. The flights had names like Union, Liberty, and Democracy.

Chavez is facing his closest election yet. Henrique Capriles has promised not to end the social programs Hugo Chavez has set up, but has vowed to take on corruption and crime.

Voters told Local 10 the line to vote in New Orleans is about a mile long, with some people waiting as long as eight hours to cast a ballot.

"It was something I've never seen before. For us, it is the most important thing," said Leila Aliaga, who voted in New Orleans.

A coalition of political groups pitched in using social media to organize a voting convoy used to carry South Florida Venezuelans to New Orleans. They also collected donations for those who couldn't afford the trip.

"How badly do you want him out?" asked Local 10's Sasha Andrade.

"So badly. He destroyed our country and we deserve something better," replied one woman in the crowd.

But the huge effort wasn't enough to make the difference. Chavez defeated Henriquez Capriles and will be in power another six years.