Venezuelans in US trek far for presidential vote
By plane, train and automobile, Venezuelans in the southern United States head this weekend to their national consulate in the city of New Orleans to vote in Sunday's presidential election.
The election pits acting President Nicolas Maduro, who has vowed to continue the leftist policies of the late Hugo Chavez, against unified opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans live in the United States. Many of them fled their country in disagreement over the policies of Chavez, who first took power in 1999.
The majority of US-based Venezuelans live in Florida, especially in Miami, where nearly 20,000 are registered to vote in their national election.
Results from previous elections show that US-based Venezuelans are overwhelmingly opposed to Chavez's policies and will likely vote for Capriles.
Perhaps sensing this groundswell of opposition, Venezuela in January 2012 closed its Miami consulate. That leaves the New Orleans consulate, located 1,072 kilometers (666 miles) away at the mouth of the Mississippi river, as the closest place to vote.
US-based Venezuelans have formed civil associations and non-profit foundations to ease travel to New Orleans.
Rafael Nunez, 51, plans make the 32 hour round-trip to New Orleans on a chartered bus from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Voting "is an issue of conscience," said Nunez. Voters like him "are living outside the country and do not experience the terrible things that the rest of our compatriots endure," he told AFP.
One group called Aerovotar was founded in June 2012 and flew 1,200 voters to New Orleans to vote in the October presidential election. On Sunday they plan to fly 850 Venezuelans to New Orleans aboard five flights departing from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
"We didn't ask any of the passengers who they were going to vote for," said Aerovotar co-founder Andres Casanova. "It was enough that they were Venezuelans, had identification cards and were registered to vote."
Voters from a region that includes the states of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Louisiana can also cast ballots in New Orleans.
A survey in Venezuela by pollsters Datanalisis, published Thursday by Credit Suisse bank, gives Maduro a 9.7-point lead over Capriles. The poll was conducted between April 1-5.