Venezuelan expats in southeastern US trek to New Orleans to vote after Chavez shut down Miami consulate

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

Venezuelan citizens living as expatriates in Miami are trekking to New Orleans to vote in Sunday’s election, which sees socialist president Hugo Chavez is in the fight of his political career against centrist challenger Henrique Capriles.

Andrew Morrison, a cofounder of the Venevox Foundation — an apolitical organization dedicated to ensuring “Human Rights and Democratic Values of the Venezuelan people around the World” — told The Daily Caller that his organization has pulled together enough funding to bring between 6,000 and 7,000 people from Miami to New Orleans to vote Sunday. They’re travelling by planes, cars and buses.

“In June of this year, they announced all registered voters in Miami would need to travel to New Orleans to exercise their right to vote,” Morrison said in phone interview from Miami. Morrison said he’s on his way to New Orleans personally.

“When you start analyzing the distance and the complexity of having 19,542 people go all the way to New Orleans, you start realizing it is impeding that right to vote for a large percentage of those voters,” he said. “Why not allow the voting population here in Miami, which is the largest population of registered voters outside of Venezuela, to vote here in Miami? This would be the largest Venezuelan voting center in the world: It’s larger than any voting center in Venezuela.”

Morrison said many more could make the journey to New Orleans on their own.

Venezuela’s government closed its consulate in Miami earlier this year. According to the Associated Press, the Miami mission was closed “after the State Department expelled consul Livia Acosta amid an investigation into recordings that seemed to implicate her in an Iranian plot for a cyber-attack against the U.S.”

“The closure affected nearly 20,000 Venezuelan voters living in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina who had registered to vote at the Miami consulate,” the AP reported. “Most Venezuelan voters in the United States live in the Miami area and the vast majority of those are critical of the Chavez government.”

Morrison said he believes that is “the true reason why it was closed — it has nothing to do with whether the electoral center closed,” Morrison told TheDC. “The consular [affairs office] is in charge of consular activities and the electoral center is in charge of electoral activities. They’re completely independent branches of the government, and all the government would have had to do would be to send electoral representatives to Miami to habilitate a voter center here.”

But, Morrison said, that’s not what happened. Instead, Chavez’s administration “blamed the U.S. for Venezuelans not being able to vote here.”

Morrison said he suspects Chavez wrongfully closed the Miami voting center because “historically, 90 percent of the people here vote in favor of change.”

“These are two separate issues that they’re trying to combine for political gain,” he explained.

But Morrison observed renewed interest among Venezuelan ex-patriots living the U.S., and said it may lead to increased turnout. “It is already working against them [the government],” he said.

As Venezuela’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Diego Arria, pointed out in a Fox News op-ed Saturday, the election will be close. And Chavez may end up losing.

“As this Sunday’s presidential election in Venezuela looms, voters are daring to think the unthinkable: the fourteen year reign of Hugo Chavez may finally be coming to an end,” Arria wrote.

There are six flights heading to New Orleans over the course of Saturday and Sunday, each named for a principle shared by those making the trek. “None of the flights have a ‘flight number,’” Morrison said. “They each have a ‘flight name.’ For instance, the flight that left today — its name is ‘Future.’ Then the ones leaving tomorrow are called ‘Democracy,’ ‘Justice,’ ‘Union,’ ‘Peace’ and ‘Liberty.’”

About 1,200 people are making the trip via airplane.

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