Bus after bus arrived at J.C. Bermudez Park in Doral Monday morning as Venezuelan voters returned home after casting their ballots in their country's election in New Orleans. Voters Elmer Briceno and Michael Scott talked about the experience.
Bus after bus arrived at J.C. Bermudez park in Doral Monday morning, where organizers helped thousands make the trip to New Orleans to cast their ballots at the Venezuelan consulate in the country's election.
The Miami consulate closed earlier this year amid controversy. That left thousands to make a 14-hour road trip to the Big Easy.
The ex-pats in South Florida overwhelmingly voted against Socialist president Hugo Chavez, who beat challenger Henrique Capriles Sunday.
Elmer Briceno rode one of several dozen buses to cast his ballot for Capriles.
"It's very difficult" said Briceno. His own father, sister, and cousins are Chavez supporters, a divide so strong it keeps them apart on holidays.
"We can't get together," he explained. "Because of politics."
"It's sad" said Cristina Keller, who said she had hoped for change.
On Sunday, crowds gathered at Doral's El Arepazo 2 restaurant to watch the results of the presidential election come in. The mood was hopeful for those critical of Chavez' rule and who wanted to see a change in leadership.
"Capriles is the change, the new future," said one man waving a Venezuelan flag.
"I think its inspiring to have everyone come together for one cause," said student Kimberly Morles.
Many wore t-shirts with the slogan "Hay Un Camino," or "There's a way." It was the slogan of centrist opposition candidate Capriles.
Even as the polls remained open in Venezuela, the celebrations in Doral were in full swing. Families danced to traditional songs. "Long Live Venezuela," they sang.
"The middle class is here and we came here not because we choose to. We came here looking for a future," said Olga Ivi, a Capriles supporter.
But the celebrations came to an abrupt end when the National Electoral Council announced that Chavez would stay in power for another six-year term. After some initial audible expressions of shock, there was silence.
What started as a hopeful day for the hundreds who showed up to vote ended in tears for many. Some said they feared for relatives back home in Venezuela. Others said Capriles' loss means they won't be able to return to their country any time soon.
"I have no words," said one woman, physically shaking after hearing the news.