Venezuelans' bus in 'Trip For Freedom' on the road to Washington

Regular updates from Local 10 News team traveling with the group

Local 10 News team reporter Carlos Suarez and photojournalist Brian Ely travel with group of Venezuelan activists to Washington, D.C.
Local 10 News team reporter Carlos Suarez and photojournalist Brian Ely travel with group of Venezuelan activists to Washington, D.C.

ON THE ROAD TO WASHINGTON – About 300 Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans from South and Central Florida were on their way to Washington, D.C., Thursday night.

The caravan was part of a nationwide campaign, now known in social media as the "Trip For Freedom," to lobby Congress for economic sanctions against the government of President Nicolas Maduro after four months of student protests in Venezuela.

About 150 people traveled in three buses while about 50 more cars followed. They were all part of a growing caravan traveling through several states to go to Capitol Hill and the White House Friday.

As of Friday morning, the group was in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Live coverage: Follow journey's updates

On Twitter:  Follow late night updates with #Local10Venezuela

On Instagram: Follow Local 10 News photojournalist

Watch video: Thursday night report near Charleston, S.C.

Watch video: Afternoon update from the bus in Florida

Watch video: Midday Thursday report from the bus on the road in Florida

Watch video: Early Thursday morning report from a restaurant in Doral

View photos: Local 10 News team crosses Florida in  group's bus

View photos: Stretching legs and flags during stop at Palm Coast, Fla.,

On the road in Florida: Bus breaks down in Palm Coast

Despite a schedule delay and a bus breaking down, the group was in good spirits Thursday afternoon.

For the first two hours on the road, Venezuelans in one of the buses talked about social media updates from Caracas and Tachira.

University student Angelly Pernia was beaten in Tachira. Activist Rodrigo Diamanti was detained. Army was confronting sit-in protesters near United Nations offices.

Some shared stories about being homesick, their children's cultural dislocation, the loss of private property and their friends and family's loss of constitutional rights and individual liberties back home.

About 1:15 pm., the caravan passed through the Daytona Beach area on the Florida Turnpike, and about 2 p.m. they made their first stop at Palm Coast, Fla., and after resolving some mechanical problems were back on the road about 4:30 p.m.

'Dorazuela' departure:  Serving 'arepas' and 'cachapas' with patriotism

Hundreds gathered early Thursday morning at El Arepazo 2 restaurant, 3900 NW 79th Ave., in Doral.  Restaurant workers served dozens of breakfast "arepas," "cachapas," and "empanadas."

A group of religious leaders, spoke to the group about peace. Dozens stood in the restaurant parking lot to listen. The mayor of the city that is also known as "Dorazuela" for having the highest percentage of Venezuelan migrants in the U.S. was also there. 

"We're defending the future generation because if we don't do something now it will be too late," said Mayor of Doral Luigi Boria.

To ride in the buses, some participants drove to Doral from Naples and Weston, also known as "Westonzuela," for having the second highest percentage of Venezuelans in the country.

The majority of participants were part of waves of middle and upper class migrants who began to flee in 1999 when former president Hugo Chavez started to impose his socialist  policies.

Their painful exodus to South Florida was similar to that of the Cuban migration that Chavez's close ally Fidel Castro prompted after overthrowing Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

The Venezuelan community in the U.S. grew more than 94 percent  from 2000-06, according to census data. The growth remains unclear as many have overstayed their visas to reside in South Florida illegally.

There were three large buses and about 40 cars, vans and pick-up trucks with "SOS Venezuela" stickers and patriotic signs.

Loud honking and clapping prompted some tears and cheer.