Their bags and pillows packed, thousands of South Florida’s Venezuelans waited in long lines at a Doral park Saturday just for a spot on one of a dozen buses headed to New Orleans.
Andrea Bauza said they have “a right as Venezuelans to go and vote.”
"The fact that we're here to make a better future for our country, I think that's really important,” the 22-year-old said at J.C. Bermudez Park. “And as young people I just wanna say that all of us should be doing it. It's our future."
Bauza, like all those waiting in line, believes the 32-hour round-trip road trip is worth it to vote in the election that will determine who will govern Venezuela for the next six years – incumbent Hugo Chavez or his challenger, Henrique Capriles.
In the past most Venezuelans living in the United States have voted at the nation’s consulate in Miami, but Chavez’s government closed that office earlier this year after the U.S. State Department expelled one of its diplomats.
The future of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution movement to make Venezuela socialist hangs in the balance on Sunday.
Supporters of the 58-year-old president say he has paid more attention to the poor than any politician. But since coming to power in 1999 he has gradually assumed almost complete control of the government, and human rights and press groups call him repressive.
If Capriles is elected, he would become the youngest Venezuelan president ever at age 40. He is a self-described center-left politician who is pro-business.
Voter Marco Sanjoa said he came to the U.S. “because there is a very rough political and economic situation going on in our country."
"I still have my family and friends, my girlfriend is still in Venezuela. And I feel that I have this responsibility for them,” Sanjoa said. “And I want to support them at least from here, and this is the best way I can do it."
Several groups of buses are taking voters who live in South Florida to New Orleans.
The nonprofit organization Voto Donde Sea – meaning “I’ll vote wherever” – is making the trip possible. Organizer Vanessa Duran said “the government in Venezuela assigned an electoral precinct more than 1,400 kilometers away, 16 hours away from where we live. We in our role as facilitators, we are giving an alternative to vote at a cheaper price."
She added “that if you really want something, you go for it.”
“It doesn't matter where you have to go, how long you have to travel,” Duran said.